Record Low Temperatures and First Freeze of the Season for NYC

After a record warm October, a blast of frigid arctic air plunged into New York City this weekend.

The temperature in Central Park dropped to 25°F late Friday night and hit 24°F early Saturday morning, setting new record lows for both dates. According to the NWS, the previous records of 27°F for November 10 and 28°F for November 11 were set in 1914 and 1933, respectively.

The high temperature on Saturday only reached 38°F, which is 5°F colder than the normal low for this time of year. Overall, it felt more like January than November for the BIg Apple.

This cold plunge also marked the city’s first freeze of the season. While more extreme than normal, the timing of these frosty conditions is about average as the city typically sees its first freeze in mid-November. The earliest first freeze on record occurred on October 19 in both 1940 and 1974. The latest was on December 22, 1998.

Produced by a deep dip in the jet stream, these chilly conditions are not expected to last long. Temperatures are forecast to rebound to more seasonable levels in the next few days.

An Arctic blast sent temperatures plunging in NYC. Credit: The Weather Gamut

La Niña is Back and Likely to Stick Around Through the Winter

La Niña, the cooler counterpart of El Niño, has returned for the second year in a row.

It is a natural event associated with the larger El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) climate pattern and is marked by cooler-than-average ocean water in the central and eastern tropical Pacific. More specifically, a La Niña event is declared when sea surface temperatures in that region are at least 0.5°C below average and accompanied by a consistent atmospheric response. This includes more clouds and rain over the western Pacific and less over the central part of that basin. Stronger than average upper-level wind is also a key atmospheric indicator.

The relatively cool water associated with La Niña creates an area of high pressure over the Pacific and pushes the jet stream northward. This, in turn, affects weather patterns around the globe.

In the US, a La Niña event typically brings the southern states conditions that are warmer and drier than normal. The northern tier, on the other hand, usually experiences below average temperatures with the northwest and Great Lakes regions receiving above average precipitation.

That said, every La Niña event is different. There are also other atmospheric factors, such as blocking patterns, which can influence the weather.

According to NOAA, there is a 65%-75% chance of weak La Niña conditions continuing through the winter months.

Typical Winter La Niña jet stream pattern over North America. Credit: NOAA/Climate Prediction Center.

Syria Signs Paris Climate Agreement, Leaving US as Lone Holdout

The United States is now the only country on the planet not part of the Paris Climate Agreement.

On Tuesday, Syria announced that it would sign the historic accord to limit global warming. The surprising declaration came at COP23, the UN Climate Change Conference that is currently taking place in Bonn, Germany. The move comes on the heels of Nicaragua signing the pact in October.

Years in the making, the Paris Agreement set the target of holding global warming to 2°C (3.6°F) above pre-industrial levels. To achieve this goal, nearly 200 countries submitted individual voluntary emissions reduction plans known as nationally determined contributions (NDCs).

When the deal was struck in 2015, Syria was in the midst of a destructive civil war and Nicaragua refused to sign because if felt the agreement did not go far enough to rein in carbon pollution. The US on the other hand, under the Obama Administration, played a critical role in making the deal a reality. But President Trump, who has called climate change a “hoax”, announced plans to withdraw the US from the global pact earlier this year.

Following the rules of the agreement, however, the US cannot officially pull out of the deal until 2020. In the meantime, the administration says it will only re-enter the global accord if it can renegotiate more favorable terms. The rest of the world, however, seems ready to move forward on this critical issue without the US.

The US is the only country not part of the Paris Climate Agreement. Credit: Quartz

Massive Federal Science Report Says Humans Cause Climate Change

The Fourth US National Climate Assessment (NCA4) was released on Friday. It clearly states that climate change is real, it is happening now, and human activities are the main cause.

The first volume of the assessment – the Climate Science Special Report – says the average global temperature has increased 1.8°F (1°C) during the past 115 years (1901-2016). “This period is now the warmest in the history of modern civilization,” according to the report. It also says that “it is extremely likely that human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse gases, are the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.” Going even further, the report concludes, “there is no convincing alternative explanation supported by the extent of the observational evidence.”

With a focus on the US, the report says the average annual temperature in the contiguous forty-eight states has increased by 1.2°F (0.7°C) since 1986, relative to the previous century. It is projected to increase 2.5°F (1.4°C) by 2050.

In addition to warming, other aspects of climate change are highlighted in the massive report. One of these is sea level rise. Since 1900, the average global sea level has gone up 8 inches. Of that total, a 3-inch rise has occurred since 1993. This rate of rising, according to the report, “is greater than during any preceding century in at least 2,800 years.”

Moving forward, all projections show sea level continuing to rise. An increase of several inches is likely in the next fifteen years and 1 to 4 feet is estimated by 2100. A rise of as much as 8 feet by the end of the century, however, “cannot be ruled out”, the report warns. This is especially true if the ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica prove to be more sensitive to rising temperatures than expected. In cities along the Gulf Coast and Eastern Seaboard, where daily tidal flooding is already a problem, sea level rise is forecast to be even higher than the global average.

The report also contains details on how extreme weather is changing across the US. For example, heavy rainfall events are ”increasing in intensity and duration” nationwide with the biggest increases happening in the northeast. In the west, the incidence of large forest fires has been rising since 1980 and is expected to increase even further in the coming years. Heat waves, unsurprisingly, have also become more frequent while cold waves have become less frequent.

Looking beyond the next few decades, the NCA says the magnitude of climate change depends on the amount of greenhouse gases that are added to the atmosphere. The level of carbon dioxide in the air today has already passed 400 parts per million, a number not seen in 3 million years. If emissions are not reined in, the average global temperature could increase by as much as 9°F (5°C) by the end of this century. According to the report, “the further and the faster the Earth system is pushed towards warming, the greater the risk of unanticipated changes and impacts.”

Mandated by Congress under the Global Change Research Act of 1990, this exhaustive climate report was produced by hundreds of experts from government agencies as well as academia and was peer-reviewed by the National Academy of Sciences. Published every four years, it is considered this country’s most authoritative statement on climate change.

Its findings, however, are in stark contrast to the words and actions of the Trump Administration. The President has called climate change a “hoax” and in June announced that he is withdrawing the US from the Paris Climate Agreement – an international accord that aims to reduce greenhouse gases and limit global warming to 2°C (3.6°F). The US and Syria are now the only two countries not part of the historic agreement.

Global annual average temperature (left) and surface temperature change for the period 1986–2016 relative to 1901–1960. Credit: NCA4

October 2017: Warmest on Record in NYC

October 2017 was New York City’s warmest October on record. Its average temperature of 64.1°F was a staggering 7.2°F above the long-term norm. The previous record of 63.6°F was set in 1947 and tied in 2007.

Overall, twenty-six out thirty-one days were warmer than normal. Four of those produced readings in the 80s. Two record warm minimum temperatures were also set during the month. On October 8 and 9, the Big Apple only cooled down to 72°F and 71°F respectively. The average low for those dates is 52°F.

In terms of precipitation, the city was mostly dry. The weather station in Central Park reported 4.18 inches of rain, which is 0.22 inches below average. Of this total, 3.03 inches fell in a single day at the end of the month. This type of heavy rain event, according to NOAA, is expected to become more common in the northeast as the average global temperature increases and precipitation patterns change.

October 2017 was the warmest October on record in NYC. Credit: The Weather Gamut

Art Installation Marks the 5th Anniversary of Superstorm Sandy

Five years ago today, Superstorm Sandy slammed New York City. Its record storm surge flooded many low-lying areas and claimed the lives of forty-four people across the city. Of that number, twenty-four were on hard-hit Staten Island.

To mark this anniversary, local artist Scott LoBaido created a temporary installation in his home borough. Honoring each local victim, he constructed unique figures out of chicken wire and battery-operated LED lights. Scattered across Midland Beach, the display is a poignant reminder of the deadly storm and the dangers of rising sea levels. It is on view through 11 PM on October 30.

Art installation honors Sandy victims on Staten Island. Credit: Staten Island Advance

Road Trip Highlights US Environmental History and Shows Big Changes are Possible

Last week, I was in Pittsburgh, PA to serve as a Mentor at a Climate Reality Project training event. Having never been in that part of the country before, I spent a few extra days to explore the area. The overall experience felt like a road trip through US environmental history and was a great reminder that large-scale changes are possible, especially in this era of climate policy backpedaling.

First stop: Donora, PA. This Pittsburgh suburb was the site of the “Killer Smog of 1948”. As the longtime home of the Donora Zinc Works Factory and the American Steel and Wire Plant, smoke-filled skies were not unusual here in the early part of the 20th century. In October 1948, however, the air turned deadly. An inversion layer, a weather phenomenon where the temperature in the atmosphere increases with height instead of decreasing, trapped emissions from the factories. The sulfuric acid, nitrogen dioxide, fluorine, and other poisonous gases created a thick, yellowish smog. It hung over the area until the weather pattern changed five days later. As a result, twenty-six people died and thousands of others became ill.

This tragedy garnered national attention and spurred federal regulations on air pollution. In 1955, Congress provided funding for pollution research and later passed the Clean Air Act of 1963. In 1970, the EPA was created and Congress passed the Clean Air Act Amendments, which established national air quality standards.

Donora is proud of their role in this change in national environmental policy. Outside of their local Historical Society/Smog Museum is a sign that says “Clean Air Started Here”.

Another highlight of this trip was Cuyahoga Valley National Park in northeastern Ohio. Established as a National Recreation Area in 1974 and upgraded to a National Park in 2000, it reclaimed and now preserves the natural landscape along twenty-two miles of the Cuyahoga River between Akron and Cleveland, OH. While relatively small, the river is an icon of American environmental history.

Starting in the late 1800s, the river became highly industrialized. For more than a century, the steel mills and factories that lined its banks dumped untreated waste directly into the river. The Cuyahoga became so polluted that it caught on fire thirteen times.

The last time was June 22, 1969, when sparks from a passing train ignited the oil and debris floating in the water. This fire, while not the largest or deadliest in the river’s history, caught the attention of Time Magazine and became national news. Appearing in their August 1 issue, the article described the Cuyahoga as a river that “oozes rather than flows”.

During the late 19th and early 20th century, river fires were common and seen as the price of industrial progress and prosperity. By the 1960’s, however, that way of thinking was starting to change. The country was becoming more environmentally aware and the Cuyahoga River fire put a national spotlight on the need to protect waterways from industrial pollution. The event helped to galvanize the Water Quality Improvement Act of 1970 and the Clean Water Act of 1972.

In the years since, the Cuyahoga River has made an amazing comeback. Bald Eagles – a symbolic emblem of this country – have returned to fish its waters and nest along its banks. In 1998, it was designated as an American Heritage River to recognize its historical significance.

Today, our environmental challenge is the carbon pollution that drives climate change. Its solution, as with conservation issues in the past, lies with policy adjustments. While these types of large changes can sometimes seem impossible, history reminds us that they are not. All that is required is the will to act. As Nelson Mandela once said, “It always seems impossible until it’s done”.

Cuyahoga River, past and present. Credit: Cleveland State University Library

Nicaragua Joins the Paris Climate Agreement, Leaving Only US and Syria as Outsiders

Nicaragua has announced that it will sign the Paris Climate Agreement. This move leaves Syria and the United States as the only two countries that are not participating in the historic pact.

Years in the making, the Paris Agreement of 2015 set the target of holding global warming to 2°C (3.6°F) above pre-industrial levels. To achieve this goal, nearly 200 countries submitted individual voluntary emissions reduction plans known as nationally determined contributions (NDCs). Based on the current collection of NDCs, the agreement will only cut greenhouse gas emissions by about half of what is necessary to reach the 2°C (3.6°F) goal. It does, however, legally obligate countries to publically report how much emissions they have actually eliminated and to ratchet up their plans every five years.

Nicaragua initially rejected the deal, saying it did not go far enough to fight climate change. They were particularly skeptical of the voluntary pledge system and the lack of an enforcement mechanism for countries that did not live up to their commitments.

Their position, however, has now changed. In a radio interview, Rosario Murillo, Nicaragua’s Vice-President and First Lady, said: “Despite not being the ideal agreement, it is the only instrument we have in the world that allows the unity of intentions and efforts to face up to climate change and natural disasters.”

The US government on the other hand, under the Trump Administration, has rejected the science of climate change and called the deal an economic hindrance. In June, Mr. Trump announced that he is withdrawing the US from the global agreement that his predecessor helped to bring about. Syria, the other country not part of the accord, is in the middle of a civil war.

Nicaragua’s decision to join the Paris Agreement comes just weeks before the next UN Climate Change Conference – COP23 – begins in Bonn, Germany. There, delegates from all the signatories will flesh out the rules of the accord, discuss setting more ambitious emission-cutting targets for 2020, and negotiate the universal sticking point of how to pay for the impacts of climate change.

Credit: USAID

September 2017: Earth’s Fourth Warmest on Record

Our global temperature continued its upward trend last month with September 2017 marking the fourth warmest September ever recorded on this planet. Only September 2014, 2015, and 2016 were warmer.

According to the State of the Climate Report by NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, Earth’s combined average temperature for the month – over both land and sea surfaces – was 60.4°F. That is 1.4°F above the 20th-century average. September was also the 393rd 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.

While heat dominated most of the planet in September, some places were particularly warm, including much of Canada and parts of Asia. For the contiguous US, the month ranked among the warmest third of the historical record.

These soaring temperatures are largely attributed to the long-term trend of human-caused climate change. ENSO-neutral conditions prevailed in September, which means there was neither an El Niño nor a La Niña to influence global weather patterns.

Year to date, the first nine months of 2017 were the second warmest such period of any year on record. Global temperature records date back to 1880.

Credit: NOAA

Ex-Hurricane Ophelia Batters Ireland

The remnants of Hurricane Ophelia, the 15th named storm of the 2017 Atlantic Hurricane season, slammed the Republic of Ireland on Monday. It was the strongest storm on record to hit that country.

Ophelia peaked as a category-3 hurricane near the Azores over the weekend, becoming the most intense storm ever observed that far north and east in the Atlantic Basin. Then, it rapidly transitioned to a post-tropical storm that was labeled Ex-Hurricane Ophelia by Met Éireann, Ireland’s national weather service. This means the storm was drawing energy from the difference in air masses rather than the heat and moisture of the ocean.

Despite this technical downgrade, Ophelia still packed a punch. The storm’s powerful winds, which averaged around 57mph, uprooted trees and downed power lines. It also produced significant storm surge flooding along the country’s west coast. Officials say at least three fatalities have been reported and more than 300,000 people are without power.

At Fastnet Rock, off the coast of County Cork, a wind gust of 119mph was reported. If confirmed, it will be the fastest wind gust ever recorded in Ireland.

On the eastern side of the storm, smoke and dust from the wildfires burning in Spain and Portugal were funneled northward over the UK. This caused the sun and sky to appear red in a large part of the region.

It is not unheard of for Europe to be hit by the remnants of a hurricane. However, the storms typically travel west across the Atlantic Ocean in the Trade Winds and then re-curve to the northeast if they do not make landfall in the US, Mexico, or the Caribbean. Ophelia, however, skipped the transatlantic voyage and moved northeast toward Europe after forming southwest of the Azores.

Scientists say the storm’s rapid intensification and unusual track are the result of warmer than normal sea surface temperatures at northern latitudes and a steering current known as the mid-latitude jet stream. This current of air flows from west to east and carried the storm toward Ireland.

As the climate changes and sea surface temperatures continue to warm, the area of the ocean that supports hurricane development will likely expand northward. This will make Europe even more vulnerable to post-tropical storms.

MODIS satellite image of Ex-Hurricane Ophelia over Ireland. Credit: NASA