June 2018: Earth’s Fifth Warmest June on Record

Our global temperature continued its upward trend last month with June 2018 marking the fifth warmest June ever recorded on this planet. The ten warmest Junes have all occurred since 2005, with 2016 earning the top spot.

According to the State of the Climate report by NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, Earth’s combined average temperature for June – over both land and sea surfaces – was 61.25°F, which is 1.35°F above the 20th-century average. June also marked the 402nd 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 this June, some places were particularly warm, including much of Europe, central Asia, and parts of the Middle East. Here in the contiguous US, it was our third warmest June on record.

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

Year to date, the first six months of 2018 were the fourth warmest such period of any year on record. Global temperature records date back to 1880.

June 2018 was the planet’s 5th warmest June on record. Credit: NOAA

May 2018: Earth’s Fourth Warmest May on Record

Our global temperature continued its upward trend last month. May 2018 marked not only the fourth warmest May on record, but also closed out the planet’s fourth warmest March to May season, known as meteorological spring 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 May – over both land and sea surfaces – was 60.04°F, which is 1.44°F above the 20th-century average. The years 2014-2018 now rank among the five warmest Mays on record.

This May also marked the 401st 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 this May, some places were particularly warm, including much of Europe and North America. Here in the contiguous US, it was our warmest May ever recorded. The previous record had been in place since 1934.

Globally, the three-month period of March, April, and May was also unusually warm. NOAA reports that Earth’s average temperature for the season was 1.48°F above the 20th century average of 56.7°F. That makes it the fourth warmest such period on record.

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

Year to date, the first five months of 2018 tied 2010 as the fourth warmest such period of any year on record. Global temperature records date back to 1880.

May 2018 was the fourth warmest May ever recorded on Earth. Credit: NOAA

Storm King Art Center Exhibition Focuses on Climate Change

Art and science have come together to expand the public conversation on climate change  at Storm King Art Center in Orange County, NY. In an exhibition called Indicators: Artists on Climate Change, the work of seventeen artists and collectives address the diverse impacts of this critical issue.

Curated by Nora Lawrence, the exhibit is a mix of large-scale sculptures and installations spread out across the open air museum’s five-hundred acres as well as smaller pieces displayed in an indoor gallery.

Credit: Mary Mattingly/Storm King

Notable among the various projects is Mary Mattingly’s installation, Along the Lines of Displacement: A Tropical Food Forest. This stand of palm trees imported from Florida offers visitors a glimpse of what the landscape of upstate New York might look by the end of the century when the average temperature is expected to increase by 7.2°F (4°C) if global warming continues unabated.

Credit: Justin Brice Guarigila/Storm King

Another piece that stands out in Storm King’s bucolic setting is Justin Brice Guarigila’s We Are the Asteroid.  The orange colored, solar-powered LED highway message sign – the sort usually seen flashing information about dangerous situations – displays three-line ecological aphorisms by philosopher Timothy Morton. These include the piece’s moniker as well as things like “Danger: Anthropocentrism” and “Warning: Hurricane Human”.

Credit: Hara Woltz/Storm King

Embracing the science of climate change is Hara Woltz’s “Vital Signs”. In this interactive piece, a working weather station is encircled  by nine cylinders (a reference to the shape of ice-core tubes) that present the idea of albedo and melting sea ice. The top of each cylinder gets darker as a viewer moves around the circle. More specifically, the lighter area decreases by 13% per cylinder reflecting the predicted decrease in Arctic sea ice per decade relative to the 1981-2010 average. The cylinders also progressively get taller, referencing sea level rise. Data from the weather station is displayed in real time on Storm King’s website.

Other exhibiting artists include David Brooks, Dear Climate, Mark Dion, Ellie Ga, Allison Janae Hamilton, Jenny Kendler, Maya Lin, Alan Michelson, Mike Nelson, Steve Rowell, Gabriela Salazar, Rebecca Smith, Tavares Strachan, and Meg Webster.

The exhibit is on view through November 11, 2018.

Catastrophic Flooding Hits Ellicott City Twice in Two Years

For the second time in less than two years, heavy rain unleashed catastrophic flooding in Ellicott City, Maryland this Sunday.

According to the NWS, the area received between 8 and 12 inches of rain in less than four hours. On average, the area gets 4 inches of rain for the entire month of May. This massive amount of precipitation in such a short period overwhelmed streams throughout the region and turned Ellicott City’s historic Main Street into a raging river. The floodwater, which reached as high as the second floor of most buildings, damaged or destroyed numerous businesses and swept away dozens of cars and trees. Local officials say that one man, a sergeant with the National Guard, was killed while trying to rescue people from the fast flowing water.

This type of rainfall is considered a one in one thousand year event. However, that does not mean it can only happen once every thousand years. It is the recurrence interval, a statistical calculation that means an event has a one in one thousand chance (0.1%) of happening in any given year in a given location. Ellicott City experienced an eerily similar event in July 2016.

There were several drivers behind this deadly deluge. First, “training” thunderstorms developed along a stationary front. This is a situation where strong thunderstorms continuously form over the same area – like train cars traveling along a track – dumping excessive amounts of rain.

Although climate change did not cause these storms, it has altered the environment in which they form and is making them more common. As greenhouse gases warm the atmosphere, the air is able to hold more water vapor. More specifically, according to the Clausius–Clapeyron relation, for every increase of 1°F, the saturation level of the atmosphere increases by about 4%. That means there is more evaporation from oceans, rivers, and lakes, and therefore more water vapor available to condense and fall as precipitation.

Another major player in Sunday’s flood was the area’s topography. Founded as a gristmill town in 1772, Ellicott City sits in a valley surrounded by several streams that feed into the Patapsco River. Just ten miles outside of Baltimore, it is a highly urbanized area with extensive amounts concrete and asphalt. These impervious surfaces leave the rainwater with no place to go but racing downhill and through the town.

All of these factors will have to be considered as Ellicott City decides how to rebuild for the second time in two years.

Torrential rain turned Main Street in Ellicott City, MD into a raging river. Credit: S. Baranoski

April 2018: Earth’s Third Warmest on Record

Our global temperature continued its upward trend last month with April 2018 marking the third warmest April ever recorded on this planet. Only April 2016 and 2017 were warmer.

According to a report by NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, Earth’s combined average temperature for the month – over both land and sea surfaces – was 58.19°F. That is 1.49°F above the 20th-century average. April was also the 400th 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 this April, some places were particularly warm, including Central Europe, eastern Russia, and parts of both South America and Australia. These soaring global temperatures are largely attributed to the long-term trend of human-caused climate change. In fact, ENSO neutral conditions were present in the Pacific during April, meaning neither El Niño nor La Niña influenced temperatures.

For many people in the US, however, especially in the eastern part of the county, this April was relatively cold. For the lower 48 states as a whole, it was the 13th coldest April on record. To put this disparity into context, consider that the contiguous United States constitutes less than 2% of the total surface of the Earth. This detail highlights the fact that climate change is a complex global phenomenon that involves much more than the short-term weather that is happening in our own backyards.

Year to date, the first four months of 2018 were the fifth warmest such period of any year on record. Global temperature records date back to 1880.

Credit: NOAA

What is Normal Weather?

When a significant weather event occurs, we often hear it being compared to “normal”. While this helps put an event into perspective, you may wonder – what is normal?

Climate normals, according to NOAA, are defined as the 30-year average at a given location. They are calculated for several climatological variables, including temperature and precipitation. Updated every decade, the current set of averages is based on the weather from 1981 through 2010.

These statistical measurements also help put climate trends into context. As greenhouse gas emissions continue to spew into the atmosphere, it should not come as a surprise that “normal” these days is warmer than it used to be. For the continental US, according to Climate Central, the average temperature has increased 1.4°F since 1980.

This may seem like a small number, but it is having big impacts. It reflects the increasing number of extremely hot days and the decrease in extremely cold days. Looking at daily temperature records across the US, record highs have outnumbered record lows in 26 of the last 30 years. In 2012, that ratio was as high as 7:1.  These changes and the effects they have are what is meant by human caused climate change ushering in a “new normal”.

Credit: Climate Central

Red, Blue, and Green: The Environment Was Not Always a Polarized Issue

Earth Day is a time to focus on the environment. These days, however, it is hard to discuss the topic in the US without politics coming into play. While there have always been debates about land and resource uses, the issue today is more polarized then ever with the division almost always running down party lines. Those in favor of environmental protection and conservation are usually Democrats and those pushing for economic and commercial development tend to be Republicans. This type of tribal divide, however, was not always the case. There is a long history of Republicans taking action to protect the environment.

In 1864, President Abraham Lincoln, a Republican, signed the Yosemite Land Grant. This piece of legislation gave Yosemite Valley and the nearby Mariposa Big Tree Grove to the state of California. Championed by Senator John Conness (R-CA), it was first time in US history that land was designated for preservation and public use.

This historic legislation set the precedent for Yellowstone, which spreads across Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho to become this country’s first official National Park in 1872. Established by Congress, it was signed into law by President Ulysses S. Grant, a Republican.  Yosemite eventually also became a National Park in 1890 under President Benjamin Harrison, also a Republican.

Coming into office in 1901, Theodore Roosevelt, a Republican from NY, became known as the “Conservation President.” Using the power of the presidency, he protected approximately 230 million acres of public land. According to the NPS, this included the establishment of 150 national forests, 51 federal bird reserves, 4 national game preserves, 5 national parks, and 18 national monuments.

While also steadfast in his belief about utilizing the country’s natural resources, he understood the necessity of ensuring their sustainability. As such, he created the US Forest Service in 1905 as a division of the Department of Agriculture. He wanted to conserve forests for continued use.

By 1916, there were 35 National Parks and monuments across the US. To manage them all, President Woodrow Wilson – a Democrat – signed the Organics Act, creating the National Parks Service as a bureau within the Department of the Interior.

In the 1970’s, the environment returned to the national agenda, but with a new focus. After the 1969 Cuyahoga River fiire and the oil spill off Santa Barbara, CA, the rampant industrial pollution and deterioration of the nation’s natural environment became apparent. These human-caused disasters occurred around the same time as the publication of Earth Rise, a photograph taken by NASA astronaut William Anders as he looked back toward the planet. The image was a powerful reminder of how also fragile and unique the Earth really is. Together, these events led to the first Earth Day in 1970, where millions of people across the US came out to demand protection for the environment. As a result, President Richard Nixon – a Republican  – created the EPA. Soon afterwards, his administration passed the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act.

By the 1980’s, the hole in the ozone became an international environmental concern because of the adverse effects it could have on human health and the environment. Under the UN’s Montreal Protocol, governments around the globe agreed to phase out the use of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and halons. When released into the atmosphere, these gases, formerly found in aerosol spray cans and refrigerants, reduced the ozone’s capacity to absorb ultraviolet radiation. President Ronald Reagan, a Republican, signed the international agreement in 1988.

In the 1990s, climate change was beginning to be recognized as a serious environmental problem.  To address this issue, the UN organized the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. There, President George HW Bush – a Republican – signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). This international environmental treaty was the first step on the long and often bumpy road toward the Paris Climate Agreement of 2015.

The current Republican administration, however, has called climate change a “hoax”. It has announced plans to withdraw the US from the Paris Agreement and is rolling back the nation’s Clean Power Plan. So, it is safe to say that the Republican Party has been stepping back from its green legacy in recent years. In fact, we often hear Republican politicians and pundits say things like environmental regulation is detrimental to the economy.

History, however, has shown this argument to be largely false. In the past, some people saw National Parks as government land grabs that would hinder development. Today, they are among the most beloved landscapes in the country. They also generate millions of dollars every year from tourism for the local businesses that surround them. Regulations for clean air and water also had many positive outcomes. Not the least of which are the improved health of millions of Americans and the reclamation of polluted areas now open to new uses and clean sustainable development.

The lessons of history are clear. So, why is there such a polarized divide in this country over environmental issues? Who is benefiting from this rift? These are some important questions to consider not just on Earth Day, but everyday. After all, as the saying goes, everyday is Earth Day.

Earth Rise. Credit: William Anders/NASA

March 2018: Earth’s Fifth Warmest on Record

Our global temperature continued its upward trend last month with March 2018 marking the fifth warmest March ever recorded on this planet. This latest milestone comes on the heels of the three warmest Marches on record – 2015, 2016, and 2017.

According to a report by NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, Earth’s combined average temperature for the month – over both land and sea surfaces – was 56.39°F. That is 1.49°F above the 20th-century average. March was also the 399th 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 this March, some places were particularly warm, including Alaska, northeastern Canada, and most of Asia. These soaring global temperatures are largely attributed to the long-term trend of human-caused climate change. In fact, La Niña conditions – the cooling counterpart of El Niño – were present in the Pacific during March.

However, for many people in the US, especially in the eastern part of the county, this March was relatively cold. To put this disparity into context, consider that the contiguous United States constitutes less than 2% of the total surface of the Earth. This detail highlights the fact that climate change is a complex global phenomenon that involves much more than the short-term weather that is happening in our own backyards.

Year to date, the first three months of 2018 were the sixth warmest such period of any year on record. Global temperature records date back to 1880.

March 2018 was the fifth warmest March on record for the planet. Credit: NOAA

Why Heavy Rain Events are Becoming More Common

Torrential rain events and the flooding they cause are nothing new. Global warming, however, is helping to make them more likely.

Heavy rainfall trends in NYC. Credit: Climate Central

According to the most recent National Climate Assessment, heavy precipitation events have increased in both frequency and intensity across the United States. While there are seasonal variations with different regions, the greatest increases have been observed in the northeast.

Climate scientists attribute this increase in heavy precipitation to our warming world. As greenhouse gases warm the atmosphere, the air is able to hold more water vapor. More specifically, according to the Clausius–Clapeyron relation, for every increase of 1°F, the saturation level of the atmosphere increases by about 4%. That means there is more evaporation from oceans, rivers, and lakes, and therefore more water vapor available to condense and fall as precipitation.

Heavy rain events have a number of consequences, including an increased risk of both flash floods and river floods. This, in turn, is a threat to life and property. Over the long-term, it also affects insurance rates and property values. According to NOAA, individual billion-dollar flooding events (excluding tropical cyclones) in the U.S. have added up to $39 billion in losses since 2010.

As our global temperature continues to rise, experts say we should expect to see more extreme rain events, even in areas where overall precipitation is projected to decrease. In other words, when it rains, it will likely pour.

Downpours have been getting more frequent and intense across the US. Credit: Climate Central and NCA4

Speaking Event: The Art and Science of Climate Change

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 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 critical issue that affects us all.

On Saturday, April 7, I will be giving a presentation titled, The Art and Science of Climate Change, at the Ann Street Gallery in Newburgh, NY. Blending my two passions, it introduces the basic science of climate change and explores how artists from around the globe are reacting to its various impacts and possible solutions.

Currently on view in the gallery is Anthropocene, a group exhibition in which I am showing pieces from my Under Glass series. Curated by Virginia Walsh, the show has been well covered in the press, including a blog post on Climate You and a nine page feature in Issues in Science and Technology, a magazine published by The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

If you are in the area, please stop in and say hello. The program begins at 2PM and it is also the final day of the exhibition. The Ann Street Gallery is located at 104 Ann Street, Newburgh, NY.

“Memory: 41 years” is on view in the Anthropocene exhibit. Credit: Melissa Fleming