About Melissa Fleming

Melissa Fleming is both an environmental communicator and visual artist. Researching the ways art and science interact, she has presented at a variety of venues, including national and international conferences.

Climate Communication: Using Art to Get Beyond the Numbers

Climate change is a complex scientific subject with a plethora of data-rich reports that detail its causation and diverse impacts. However, as important as all that information is, not everyone responds well to facts and figures or charts and graphs. That is why art, which taps into human emotion and tells visual stories, can help create new pathways to understanding this vital issue that affects us all.

On Tuesday, January 9, I will be giving a presentation titled “Climate Communication: Using Art to Get Beyond the Numbers” at the 98th Annual Meeting of the American Meteorological Society in Austin, Texas. The theme of this year’s conference is “Transforming Communication in the Weather, Water, and Climate Enterprise“.

Building on my previous interdisciplinary art-science projects, this talk will review the results of a recent national survey that shows how art can help to broaden the public conversation on climate change. It will also highlight specific artworks that speak to the assorted impacts of this critical issue and its possible solutions.

Credit: AMS

Massive Winter Storm Sets New Daily Snowfall Record in NYC

A massive winter storm – known by some as Grayson – slammed the eastern US on Thursday. Producing heavy snow and strong winds, its impact was felt from northern Florida to New England.

Here in NYC, the storm dumped 9.8 inches of snow in Central Park, setting a new daily snowfall record for the date. The previous record of 4 inches was in place since 1988. The city, on average, gets 7 inches of snow for the entire month of January.

Developing as a classic nor’easter, this storm became an over-achiever as it rapidly intensified over the warm waters of the Gulf Stream. It underwent a process called Bombogenesis, the threshold for which is a drop in pressure of 24mb in 24 hours. This storm dropped 59mb in 24 hours, producing very powerful winds. At JFK airport, wind gusts up to 55mph were reported.

The snow left behind by this storm will not be going anywhere anytime soon. A re-enforcing shot of cold arctic air moved in behind the storm and dangerously cold temperatures are expected to remain in place through the weekend. Bundle up!

The first big winter storm of 2018 brought NYC 9.8 inches of snow. Credit: Melissa Fleming

Fun Facts about Snow

If you enjoy winter and a good snow day, here are some fun facts about snow to ponder when the flakes fall:

  • All snowflakes, regardless of shape, have six sides.
  • Snow crystals are translucent, not white. The white color we see is caused by sunlight that is reflected off the crystals.
  • Most snowflakes fall at a speed of two to five feet per second. That is roughly the same speed as a person walking casually.

Enjoy the snow!

Snowflakes come in a variety of shapes, but all have six sides or points. Credit: Wilson “Snowflake” Bentley

Weather and Art: Charles Burchfield at the Montclair Art Museum

The weather was a muse for artist Charles Burchfield (1893-1967) and is the subject of a special exhibition of his work at the Montclair Art Museum in New Jersey.

“Charles E. Burchfield: Weather Event” displays more than forty paintings and sketches of specific atmospheric phenomena as seen by the artist in the Buffalo, NY area during the early part of the 20th century. Co-curated by Dr. Stephen Vermette, a climatologist at SUNY Buffalo and Tullis Johnson, the archive manager at the university’s Burchfield Penney Art Center, the show is a thoughtful blend of art and science.

Grouped by themes, such as the sky, cloudscapes, changing seasons, heat waves, and moon halos, the wall text for each piece highlights the artistic processes involved and explains the meteorology portrayed in the different scenes. Some of the artworks are also accompanied by a phone number that viewers can call on their cell phones to listen to a simulated weather forecast for the specific date and location depicted in the image.

Burchfield was a visionary artist for his time and was given the first solo exhibition ever offered at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City in 1930. He was also an imaginative interpreter of nature. To convey the non-visible aspects of the natural world, he developed a vocabulary of various signs and symbols. These included chevrons in the sky to show wind and undulating lines across the landscape to express heat. He was truly captivated by the workings of the atmosphere and in 1943 said: “To me, the artist, interested chiefly in weather—all weather is beautiful, and full of powerful motion.”

The show is on view at the Montclair Art Museum through January 7, 2018.

“Sunburst”, 1929-31 by Charles Burchfield. Credit: Burchfield Penney Art Center.

Perihelion 2018: The Earth is Closest to the Sun Today

The Earth reached its Perihelion today at 5:34 UTC, which is 12:34 AM Eastern Standard Time. This is the point in the planet’s orbit where it comes closest to the Sun.

This annual event is due to the elliptical shape of the Earth’s orbit and the off-centered position of the Sun inside that path. The exact date of the Perihelion differs from year to year, but it’s usually in early January – winter in the northern hemisphere. The Earth will be furthest from the Sun in July.

While the planet’s distance from the Sun is not responsible for the seasons, it does influence their length. As a function of gravity, the closer the planet is to the Sun, the faster it moves. Today, the Earth is 147.1 million kilometers (91.4 million miles) away from the Sun. That is approximately 5 million kilometers (3 million miles) closer than it will be in early July. This position allows the planet to speed up by about one-kilometer per second. As a result, winter in the northern hemisphere is about five days shorter than summer.

The word, perihelion, is Greek for “near sun”.

Earth is closest to the Sun during the northern hemisphere’s winter. Credit: TimeandDate.com

2017 Ties for 10th Warmest Year on Record in NYC

New York City experienced some noteworthy weather in 2017, especially the swings between record cold and record heat. However, the warmth won out in the end. The city’s average temperature for the year in Central Park was 56.3°F, which is 1.3°F above normal. That means 2017 tied 2001 for NYC’s tenth warmest year on record!

At the beginning of the year, the city experienced its sixth warmest winter ever recorded, including a record warm February. The temperature on February 24 hit 70°F – marking the first time the city has seen that type of heat in February in twenty years.

Spring was also unusually mild. It included the city’s second warmest April and second warmest Easter on record. It also produced an early heat wave in May.

The summer brought the city a number of oppressively hot and humid days, including thirteen days with temperatures in the 90s. The hottest day came on July 20 when the mercury soared to 94°F. When humidity was factored in, the heat index or real feel temperature was in the triple digits.

Autumn ranked as the city’s fourth warmest on record. It was highlighted by a record warm October.

The end of 2017, on the other hand, was marked by an extended arctic blast that produced the coldest readings of the year. On December 28, the high temperature only made it to 18°F and on December 31 the low was a bone-chilling 9°F – the second coldest New Year’s Eve in NYC history.

Precipitation for the year was somewhat erratic. Despite a few heavy rain events, including some that broke daily rainfall records such as the 3.02 inches that fell on May 5, the city was mostly dry. In fact, only four months of 2017 produced average to above average rainfall. Overall, NYC received 45.04 inches of rain in Central Park for the entire year. That is 4.9 inches below normal. This dearth of rain, according to the US Drought Monitor, caused abnormally dry to moderate drought conditions across the city for part of the year.

Snowfall, despite the warm winter, was abundant. During the year’s few arctic outbreaks, enough moisture was also in place to produce snow. For the calendar year as a whole, the city accumulated 34.7 inches of snow, which is 8.9 inches above average.

Records for the Central Park Climate Station date back to 1873.

Credit: The Weather Gamut

Credit: The Weather Gamut

NYC Monthly Summary: December 2017

December 2017 felt like another temperature roller coaster in New York City. Highs ranged from an unseasonably warm 61°F to a frigid 18°F. But with eighteen out of thirty-one days posting below average readings, including the second coldest New Year’s Eve on record, the chill won out in the end. The city’s mean temperature for the month was 35°F, which is 2.5°F below average.

On the precipitation side of things, the city received 2.21 inches of rain. That is 1.79 inches below normal. December is now the sixth month in a row to deliver below average rainfall in NYC. As a result, the latest report from the US Drought Monitor (12/28) now lists the city as “abnormally dry.” Snowfall, on the other hand, was abundant. The month produced four separate snow events, including the city’s first snowfall of the season. In all, 7.7 inches of snow was measured in Central Park. On average, the city gets 4.8 inches of snow in December.

Credit: The Weather Gamut

New Year’s Eve 2017: Second Coldest on Record for NYC

New Year’s Eve 2017 was one for the record books in New York City.

The midnight temperature in Central Park was a mere 9°F, marking the city’s second coldest New Year’s Eve on record. The coldest was in 1917 when the temperature was only 1°F. The normal low for this time of year is 28°F.

These unusually frigid conditions are the result of a deep dip in the jet stream and a lobe of the polar vortex reaching southward over much of the eastern US. They are expected to remain in place for the near future.

Source: NWS

The Chances for a White Christmas

The Holidays are here and many people are dreaming of a White Christmas. The likelihood of seeing those dreams come true, however, is largely dependent on where you live.

According to NOAA, a White Christmas is defined as having at least one inch of snow on the ground on December 25th. In the US, the climatological probability of having snow for Christmas is greatest across the northern tier of the country. Moving south, average temperatures increase and the odds for snow steadily decrease.

Here in New York City, the historical chance of having a White Christmas is about 12%. This low probability is largely due to the city’s proximity to the Atlantic Ocean, which has a moderating influence on the temperature. This year, with an area of low-pressure developing off the coast and cold arctic air moving in from the northwest, snow is a possibility for the Big Apple. It all depends on the track of the low.  If it stays close to the coast, NYC will see rain or a wintry mix while inland areas will get snow. If the low moves further off-shore, the cold air will be able to push eastward and NYC will get snow for Christmas.

Snow or no snow, The Weather Gamut wishes you a very Happy Holiday!

The historical chances for a White Christmas across the continental US. Image Credit: NOAA

Planet Posts Fifth Warmest November and Fourth Warmest Autumn on Record

Our global temperature continued its upward trend last month. November 2017 tied November 2016 as the fifth warmest November on record and closed out the planet’s fourth warmest September to November period, which is known as meteorological autumn in the northern hemisphere.

According to the State of the Climate report by NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, Earth’s combined average temperature for November – over both land and sea surfaces – was 56.55°F, which is 1.35°F above the 20th-century average. November also marked the 395th consecutive month with a global temperature above its long-term norm. That means the last time any month posted a below average reading was December 1984.

The three-month period of September, October, and November was also unusually warm. NOAA reports that Earth’s average temperature for the season was 1.35°F above the 20th century average of 57.1°F. That makes it the fourth warmest such period on record.

While heat dominated most of the planet this season, some places were particularly warm, including parts of southern North America and southern Asia. For the contiguous US as a whole, it was our tenth warmest autumn on record.

These soaring temperatures are largely attributed to the long-term trend of human-caused climate change. In fact, a weak La Niña – the cool counterpart of El Niño – developed in the tropical Pacific during October and prevailed in November.

Year to date, the first eleven months of 2017 were the third warmest such period of any year on record. With only one month left, 2017 is expected to end up among the top three warmest years ever recorded on this planet and become the warmest year without an El Niño. Global temperature records date back to 1880.

Credit: NOAA/NCEI