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
Aside from the Thornthwaite Climate Classification system which was reported upon a couple months ago (go here to read that article), the classification system that came before Thornthwaite’s time is the Koppen Climate Classification. The classification was first published by Russian climatologist Vladimir Koppen in 1884. Although it was published in 1884, it wasn’t completed until 1936 after several modifications by Koppen. To add several more modifications, climatologist Rudolf Geiger introduced several other changes that were needed. The two climatologists and their work is what gives this classification system the name of Koppen-Geiger climate classification. But, for the sake of title and to give credit to the creator, it is commonly known as the Koppen climate classification.
Koppen’s aim was to devise formulas that would define climatic boundaries in a way that would correspond to vegetation zones, known as biomes, which were being mapped out during his time. The system divides climates into five main climate groups, with each group being divided based on seasonal precipitation and temperature patterns. These groups are represented by capital letters A, B, C, D and E. All of which, except for B, are defined by temperature criteria. Type B looks more at the amount of precipitation or dryness rather than temperature. The climate designations are as follows: tropical, A; dry/arid, B; temperate, C; continental, D; and polar, E.”
Along with the capital letters to represent the type of climate, Koppen wanted more specific factors to truly identify the climate of a given area. With this in mind, he designated numerous other letters to represent the other features that a climate could have:
As shown in the table above, the lower case letters represent the kind of climate an area possesses. The overall differentiation is based upon temperature with precipitation dividing the classification further. Koppen wanted to show how climates are split up based upon vegetation and the precipitation they receive. He created just that, but with more concentration on temperature and precipitation. This differs from the Thornthwaite Classification System by relying upon the temperature and precipitation of the area. Thornthwaite, who grew up as a farmer and was educated in botany, expanded his system to the characteristics of the area; such as the vegetation type. Thornthwaite measured the precipitation and evaporation of the climate to classify it. To learn more about the Thornthwaite system refer to the link which was provided earlier in this article.
The Koppen classification system was the first of its kind that measured both temperature and precipitation and how they both effect the climate of a given area. Koppen’s system is still heavily used to this day and helps climatologists, along with other scientists, determine how to classify the climate of region.
To learn more about other interesting stories related to global climate issues, be sure to click on the following link: www.globalweatherclimatecenter.com/climate
©2019 Weather Forecaster Alec Kownacki
Los Angeles as seen from Griffith Park on January 10th, 2019, just days before an Atmospheric River moved into the region. Source: Gerardo Diaz Jr.
After spending a few days soaking in the Southern California sun, I was about ready to head back up to my home in the Midwest. That being said, my last morning in LA was anything but sunny. The sky was grey and traffic was backed up for miles on several of the freeways as rain slowly moved its way into the normally picturesque blue skies of the famed Golden Coast. Indeed, these conditions had only just begun to roll into the region after months of historic wildfires that left many parts of the State in ruins, including well-known towns such as Malibu. And while the region is renowned for having near-perfect weather all year round, these sudden and often abrupt rain events are an integral piece to the region’s climate.
Grey skies over the Santa Monica Pier. Source: Gerardo Diaz Jr.
Atmospheric Rivers, or ARs, are the transport of moisture from the tropics into higher latitudes. In the case of California, moisture tends to be transported over from the warm tropical waters of the West Pacific. As the moisture is carried over a landmass, the continental air mass will become saturated, resulting in the release of moisture in the form of precipitation. This process is so frequent and comes at such a varying degree of intensities on the West Coast that it is colloquially referred to as the Pineapple Express. Overall, ARs bring both benefits and challenges to the State, all while playing an important role in supplying and maintaining the entire region’s water sources.
Cloudy skies overlooking downtown Santa Monica on the morning of January 14th, 2019, as more and more moisture was advected onto shore. Source: Gerardo Diaz Jr.
In terms of their benefits, ARs are responsible for providing much of the annual precipitation for places like Southern California, along with the vast majority of the snow pack for higher elevations all along the entire stretch of the West Coast. The improvement of snowpack following a severe drought is critical for ski resorts all along the State. The lack of snow over much of the Sierra Range was a major cause for concern for resorts all across the State, especially in North and Central California. Thankfully, much of the region as of the time that this article was released has experienced a rejuvenation in its snow pack thanks entirely to the most recent AR. In fact, according to NWS Sacramento, many parts of the Sierra and outlying towns hare now at or even above average precipitation levels for the first time in months. As such, ARs can significantly help in alleviating drought conditions and can bring an immediate and sudden end to wildfire seasons, as has been the case over the last couple of years in California. The most recent and devastating fires across the State were essentially washed away by the introduction of moisture into the region via ARs.
The average amount of water that has fallen over parts of Central and Northern California this season. Source: National Weather Service, Sacramento.
With that all being said and done, moderate to strong ARs can have dramatic and extreme impacts to unsuspecting residents, especially if they occur immediately following a prolonged dry-spell. In fact, during this most recent rain spell alone, LA has seen over half of the rain it typically experiences in a single year, placing it in a much better situation than where the region was during the end of last year in terms of drought conditions but in a much more serious risk for flash flooding and landslides. Indeed, an immediate and large introduction of moisture to such a concentrated region just weeks after it experienced severe fire damage is a recipe for new challenges, including mudslides, and landslides, if said areas are introduced to large amounts of precipitation. This was exactly what occurred on January 17th, 2019, as reports of cars being either washed away or struck directly by mud and debris were reported all across the Pacific Coast Highway in Southern California. Simply put, the dried and burnt up mountains and hills in the region simply could not absorb the large quantities of precipitation that fell in the region during such a short amount of time. It also should be noted that Northern California is just as susceptible to extreme moisture introduction following heavy drought and fire weather conditions.
Damage along the Pacific Coast Highway due to a heavy rain-induced mudslide. Source: Courtesy Caltrans(@CaltransDist7).
It is an understatement to say that this atmospheric process is an important part of the climate system of the region. Without ARs, the state of California, and indeed the entire West Coast of the United States, would experience a much more arid climate and subsequently would struggle to maintain its current population. Nevertheless, when strong ARs bring large quantities of moisture are advected into the region in a short amount of time, the consequences can be extreme, especially in those areas that experience drought conditions immediately before the moisture advection. As such, understanding ARs is important for both meteorologists who forecast them and for those who live along the West Coast and experience their effects first-hand.
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© 2018 Meteorologist Gerardo Diaz Jr.
Image credit: NBC News
Increasing ocean temperatures are one of the best indicators of how Earth’s climate is changing. This is because the oceans absorb excess heat in our planet’s system before the atmosphere does. While ocean heat storage is somewhat beneficial in the sense that it keeps heat out of the atmosphere, there are numerous consequences associated with warming oceans. Unfortunately, a recent study has shown that ocean temperature increase is accelerating – confirming predictions previously made by climate models. This accelerated warming spells danger for ocean ecosystems and for people as well.
Many species of ocean plants and animals can only live within specific temperature ranges. As ocean temperatures change, species that can move will migrate to places with more appropriate temperatures. Species that cannot move will perish. We currently see this happening in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, which lost roughly half of its coral between 2016-2018. This loss can be attributed to elevated water temperatures in the Australian area of the Pacific Ocean.
These changes in aquatic ecosystems affect economies worldwide. First, many people around the world depend on fishing and selling their catches. Changes in fish/shellfish species in an area mean changes to how – or even whether – these people are able to make a livelihood. Other economies depend on ecotourism, which is when people visit a destination for experiences like scuba diving or snorkeling. As ecosystems that lend themselves to such activities disappear, tourism in these areas will collapse, bringing local economies with them.
Warming oceans also provide fuel for devastating hurricanes. These storms form where water is warm, and use the energy provided by warm water to grow in size and strength. Warmer ocean temperatures mean there is more energy available for hurricanes to grow. The more energy in a hurricane, the more rainfall it produces, and the higher winds it carries. Wind and rain cause the devastating impacts of hurricanes, from flooding to downed trees and power lines. It is likely that with warmer oceans, we will see more catastrophic hurricanes like Harvey, Irma, Maria, and Florence that have hit the United States in the past two years.
The best course of action in response to this information is to increase the amount of electrical power generated by renewable sources like wind and solar energy. However, technologies like fish farming and aquaculture may serve as a good adaptation to changing oceans and ensure that people who make their living by fishing can continue to earn money; and economies that rely heavily on this industry can continue to function.
©2018 Meteorologist Margaret Orr
For more about the Great Barrier Reef: https://www.forbes.com/sites/trevornace/2018/04/19/half-of-the-great-barrier-reef-coral-has-died-since-2016/#3954b37e5f9f
Barrier islands are important and dynamic geographic features that are essential to both humans and natural ecosystems. Recently, they have been struggling to remain intact. In the past, barrier islands have stayed above water by having their sands shifted towards the mainland by ocean waves, where the elevation is higher. When people build on these islands, it blocks the natural flow of sand that keeps the island alive. On top of this, climate change has increased the rate of sea level rise, making it harder for the islands to compensate with their shifting sands, putting barrier islands at even greater risk. So, the barrier islands are in trouble, but why are they so important?
The answer is simple: the utility offered by these islands is irreplaceable. Just a few benefits that barrier islands provide are sanctuaries for shellfish, fish, and birds, wetlands that filter pollutants, food, and protection against storm surge. Additionally, if humans develop on these islands, there is a financial benefit that comes from tourism and fishing. Unfortunately, as mentioned earlier, while human development on barrier islands creates financial benefits, it detracts from ecological benefits. That is why it is critical to consider the environmental impacts of building on barrier islands in order to strike a balance between financial income and environmental preservation.
With the rise in the intensity and frequency of hurricanes and tropical storms over the past decades, it has become even more important to consider the preservation of barrier islands because of their role as a buffer against storms and erosion. When a major storm strikes the mainland, it can experience storm surge, which is a rise in sea level that results from the strong winds of the storm constantly pushing ocean water towards the mainland. If an area experiences storm surge, damaging floods can cause severe damage to life and property. Barrier islands can shield against the brunt of the winds and waves from the storm and shift in response to wave energy to stay alive to protect against other storms.
Of course, barrier islands can’t protect against all the energy from storms that are approaching the mainland, so coastal cities should always have infrastructure that can withstand flooding. However, having a first line of defense against dangerous hurricanes is unfailingly useful and preserving these islands is crucial for our coastal cities in the face of a changing climate.
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© 2018 Weather Forecaster Cole Bristow
In 2016, Hurricane Matthew walloped North Carolina. The state was still recovering from Matthew when Hurricane Florence severely flooded the Carolinas this year. Later in the season, Hurricane Michael hit the western part of the Carolinas as a weakened tropical cyclone after battering the Florida Panhandle.
Hurricane Matthew formed in the Caribbean in early October of 2016. It quickly became a monstrous category 5 storm and barreled through several Caribbean islands, including Haiti and the Bahamas. On October 8th, the storm made landfall on the coast of South Carolina as a category 1 hurricane. The storm caused hundreds of deaths throughout the Caribbean, with 25 in North Carolina and 4 in South Carolina. Water levels were high all along the Southeast coast, but North Carolina recorded the storm’s highest U.S. water level, with Cape Hatteras recording a water level of 5.8 feet above the Mean Higher High Water (MHHW), or the average daily highest tide.
NOAA concluded that eastern North Carolina had been hit hardest by Matthew, with over 100,000 structures damaged in the region. To understand why this part of the state is so prone to flooding and surge from hurricanes, one must understand the geography of the region. North Carolina’s Coastal Plain is the lowest-lying region of the state. The Coastal Plain can further be divided into two sub-regions: the Inner and Outer Coastal Plains. The Outer Coastal Plain consists of the Outer Banks and the Tidewater region. This region is prone to severe flooding and acts as a buffer for the Inner Coastal Plain. Elevations in the Inner Coastal Plain can reach as high as 900-1,000 feet above sea level. However, in the case of Matthew, storm surge and flooding reached the higher elevations of the Inner Coastal Plain, likely due to the state’s expansive river and inlet system.
Residents of the state were still recovering from Matthew even this year. A man in Lenoir County, about 75 miles east of Raleigh, was still waiting on the Lenoir County buyout list for his trailer to be bought—over two years later. In a small town in South Carolina’s Pee Dee region, the town’s main street had been designated a floodplain after Matthew, increasing the cost of building, and thereby slowing the town’s rebuilding process. Stories like this were being reported throughout North Carolina just as Hurricane Florence rattled the state this year. The storm created a flooding catastrophe, with a recorded rainfall of 35.93 inches in Elizabethtown, NC. This broke the previous record rainfall for a tropical cyclone in the state, which was held by Hurricane Floyd which brought 24.06 inches of rain to Southport, NC. The storm slowed down once it hit land, which aided in the flooding aspect of the storm, bringing it to catastrophic levels.
After Florence, public opinion concerning the climate seemed to have changed. Elon University conducted a poll of over 840 registered voters and found that nearly 83% of all registered voters in the state believed that climate change will have a negative impact on coastal communities. The needed policy change came this year, when Governor Roy Cooper committed to cutting greenhouse gas emissions in the state 40% by 2025. This is a move that is in line with the Paris Climate Agreement, the agreement that set strict global standards to cut carbon emissions. While the US withdrew from this agreement, North Carolina is taking measures to mitigate climate change that are in line with the agreement. The Governor went a step further by issuing an executive order in October which outlined the state’s rigorous plan to combat climate change. Part of this plan is to move hog farms and communities away from the coast via buyouts. North Carolina is one of the top ten states for agricultural production, according to the USDA, and it is a leader in the production of certain commonplace goods, especially beef. Hog farmers in the state are extremely concerned about their future. While coastal communities will always be more likely to sustain significant damage, they are also more likely to have the money to rebuild. 33 of the state’s 3,000 hog farm lagoons were breached, causing the spilling of hog waste that could spread diseases and infections. Many of these lagoons are located in more impoverished areas of the state, and some were actually bought out by the state’s government after Hurricane Floyd in 1999. The program was canceled, but then revived by Cooper after Matthew. Buyouts were ramped up even more this year after Florence. To top it all off, a major hog producer, Smithfield, proceeded with their own plans to cut emissions 25% by 2025 by collecting methane energy at its hog farms. That little push from the private sector may give the state the momentum needed to enforce adaptation plans for the nearly 120,000 residents at risk of coastal flooding in the state.
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© 2018 Weather Forecaster Jacob Dolinger
Carbon dioxide gas in the atmosphere is the primary driver of human-caused climate change. When we talk about carbon in the atmosphere, carbon sources and carbon sinks are often mentioned. But what is the difference between a source and a sink?
A carbon source is just what it sounds like – something that puts carbon dioxide gas into the atmosphere. The largest source of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is burning fossil fuels for electricity generation and transportation.
A carbon sink is something that takes carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. Plants are very effective carbon sinks, as they take in carbon dioxide during the process of photosynthesis. The ocean also functions as a sink for carbon dioxide from the atmosphere – however, the combination of water with carbon dioxide forms carbonic acid, which results in ocean acidification and causes other environmental issues like coral bleaching.
One of the key ways in which we can fight climate change is by employing these carbon sinks. Although large forests like the Amazon are vital natural carbon sinks, important research is taking place every day to develop and discover new potential, technologies, and strategies for carbon removal. One of these strategies is reforestation, where new trees are planted in previously-forested areas where trees had been cut down for development or to provide resources. Another carbon sink technology is biochar – partially burned crop waste that, when added to soil, enriches the soil for plant growth and functions as a carbon sink. Other interesting carbon sink strategies and technologies can be found at this link
Aquatic plants have great potential to be grown as carbon sinks, as the ocean is home to many diverse species of plants. One recent study has shown that seagrasses in deep waters are able to store large amounts of carbon – just like their shallow-water counterparts. It was previously thought that deep water meadows would not store as much carbon, because the grasses are shorter and less dense than their shallow water meadows; and less sunlight reaches deeper parts of the ocean. A deep seagrass meadow that covers the same area as Switzerland, located near the Great Barrier Reef, has great potential to function as a carbon sink and help fight climate change. For more information on this study, check out this link
While large-scale carbon sinks are a key element in preventing worst-case climate change, individual efforts are also an important piece of the puzzle. Adding a garden to your yard is a great way to help take carbon out of the atmosphere and increase air quality in your area. Gardening is a great hobby, but of course, not everyone has time to maintain a full garden. To make this easier, try adding some low-maintenance plants to your yard to increase your home’s potential as a carbon sink.
©2018 Meteorologist Margaret Orr
For more information about climate, visit https://www.globalweatherclimatecenter.com/climate-topics
Sometimes it can be unclear how natural and anthropogenic heating of the Earth are different. Throughout Earth’s history, it has gone through phases of frigid temperatures (ice ages) and hot temperatures (interglacial periods). The process responsible for this natural climate change is called the Milankovitch Cycle, named after the Serbian astronomer who calculated the three major factors in the cycle that change the climate. These three factors are:
These three factors all deal with the positioning of the Earth relative to the Sun. The first factor is eccentricity, or the shape of Earth’s orbit around the Sun. Over time, Earth’s orbit will become more or less elliptical on a 100,000-year cycle, changing how close it gets to the Sun as it orbits. You can imagine this by taking a circular orbit and flattening it to make an oval-like orbit. After a while, the now-squashed circle will return to its original form. You can see that, as the shape gets more oval-like, the Earth will get closer and farther away from the Sun as it orbits, much more than when the shape is more circular. Right now, we have a more circular orbit around the Sun.
Next, is the axial tilt of the Earth. This is just as the name implies: the change of tilt of Earth’s axis. Earth’s axis changes from an angle of 21.5 degrees to 24.5 degrees over 41,000 years, which in turn changes how much solar radiation the polar regions receive. The steeper the angle of the Earth’s tilt, the more solar radiation the polar region that faces the Sun receives, and the less solar radiation the opposite polar region receives.
The third and final factor that influences climate in the Milankovitch Cycle is Earth’s “wobble.” This “wobble” refers to where the Earth’s imaginary axis points to arbitrary areas in space. Over about 23,000 years, the axis will complete a circular pattern where it points to different stars in the sky. A common star that is used for reference for this is Polaris, the north star.
This image shows the current phase of “wobbling” of the Earth, compared to the future “wobble” phase of the Earth (Credit: Edward Hahn).
How do these changes in the orientation of the Earth relate to our current problem with climate change? In order to answer this question, we can use the history of Earth’s climate and past CO2 levels in order to understand how we are impacting the natural cycles of change in the global temperature as well as atmospheric CO. Starting at 400,000 years ago, we see from the graph below that Earth’s temperature follows a pattern that oscillates up and down constantly, as do the CO2 levels of Earth. The dips in the graph represent ice ages, while the peaks represent warm interglacial periods.
This graph demonstrates the relationship between CO2 levels and temperature and how they change over time (credit: Environmental Dense Fund).
From the graph, it is evident that CO2 has a strong correlation with the temperature of the Earth, and that CO2 levels are higher than they have ever been in Earth’s recent history. The alarming spike in recent years in CO2 can lead to the conclusion that temperature will also spike like it has in the past. The problem with climate change becomes clear when we closely inspect the cycle’s pattern. The Milankovitch Cycle’s pattern indicates that we should expect to experience falling global temperatures soon, but there is no sign that we will be experiencing any global declines in temperature in the foreseeable future. There is more work to be done in climatological research to discover what impacts humans have had or may have on the planet, and what measures may be taken to avoid potentially dangerous temperature changes.
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© 2018 Weather Forecaster Cole Bristow
DISCUSSION: As planet Earth continues to evolve with time, there is little to no debate that global climate change issues will continue to impact various aspects of the global economy. The greatest concerns are tied to the fact that as the Earth’s average seasonal temperatures continue to gradually increase with time, there will continue to be a proportional increase in the respective energy demands by people from around the world. More specifically, with hotter Summer days, there will be more and more demands for air conditioning resources around the world as well as water demands for both general day-to-day hydration and cool showers. To get a bit more into this issue, there is an exact excerpt attached below from a recent article which was published by the online science writer team from Climate Central which goes into greater detail regarding how this issue has evolved over time.
“Summers are getting hotter and this is coming with a cost. As greenhouse gases build in the atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels, the number of hotter average and extreme temperatures continues to mount. To better understand how this is impacting local communities, Climate Central analyzed trends in cooling degree days and minimum temperatures for cities across the U.S. in a special report: The High Cost of HOT.
Our study analyzed the number of nights each year when the temperature remained above 65°F (for cities that rarely experience nights above 65°F, we chose 55°F), which is an engineering temperature standard for keeping buildings cool. In our analysis of 244 cities across the U.S., we found that 87 percent are having more of these warm nights since 1970, with the biggest increase in the Southwest. Warming nights are driving the increase in average temperatures. According to NOAA/NCEI, overnight lows since 1900 are warming at a 20 percent higher rate than the daytime highs.
Another way to measure the increase in heat is cooling degree days (CDD), which are used to determine how much cooling is needed to keep a building at a comfortable temperature. CDDs do not actually measure days at all. Rather, they measure the number of degrees that the daily average temperature is above 65°F. So, if the average temperature for a day is 80°F, there were 15 CDDs in that day. Some of the largest increases in CDDs are also seen in the Southwest, however CDDs are increasing sharply in places that traditionally did not need air conditioning in the summer months. For example, the number of CDDs has nearly doubled in San Francisco and Portland, Oregon in the last half-century.”
However, another major issue is the corresponding increase in the cost to power such facilities which are responsible for providing cooling resources. This is a very complicated issue but can nonetheless be addressed through a brief overview of the topic which was reasonably well captured as well by the Climate Central team’s investigations Thus, attached below is another excerpt from the corresponding article which discusses the issues of cost in much greater detail.
“Cooling costs are rising as a result. Air conditioning already makes up the largest share of residential electricity use (17 percent) in the U.S., with Americans spending over $27 billion to cool their homes in 2015. The average annual cost for homes with air conditioning across the U.S. is approximately $250, but in the high use areas of the South, air conditioning costs are almost $450 a year. A 2014 Climate Central analysis of projected future summer temperatures shows that by 2100, New England summers will be as hot as current summers in Florida, dramatically increasing the need for artificial cooling.”
To learn more about the actual warming projections as investigated from across the United States courtesy of the corresponding article generated by Climate Central research team, click here!
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© 2018 Meteorologist Jordan Rabinowitz