World Meteorological Day Focuses on Water and Climate Change

Today is World Meteorological Day, which commemorates the establishment of the UN’s World Meteorological Organization (WMO) in 1950.  Each year, the agency celebrates with a different theme. This year, it is focused on water and climate change.

“We feel the effects of climate change mostly through water: more floods, more droughts, more pollution. Just like viruses, these climate and water-related shocks respect no natural boundaries,” said Petteri Taalas, WMO Secretary-General.

Given the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic, the WMO has postponed all in-person ceremonies and activities related to their 70th anniversay.

In the meantime, you can learn more about the issues of water and climate in this short video or by visiting the WMO website.

Credit: WMO

Earth Posts 2nd Warmest February and 2nd Warmest Dec-Feb Season on Record

Our global temperature continued its upward trend last month. February 2020 marked not only the second warmest February, but also closed out the planet’s second warmest December – February season on record.

According to the State of the Climate Report by NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, Earth’s combined average temperature for February – over both land and sea surfaces – was 55.91°F, which is 2.11°F above the 20th-century average. This February also marked the 422nd 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.

It is also important to note that the ten warmest Februarys have all occured since 1998.

The three-month period of December, January, and February – meteorological winter in the northern hemisphere – was also unusually warm. NOAA reports that Earth’s average temperature for the season was 2.02°F above the 20th century average of 53.8°F. That makes it the second warmest such period on record.

While heat dominated most of the planet this season, some places were particularly warm, including much of Europe and Asia. Here in the contiguous US, it was the sixth warmest winter on record.

Coming on the heels of 2019, Earth’s second warmest year on record, these soaring temperatures are largely attributed to the long-term trend of human-caused climate change.

In fact, February’s temperature marked the highest departure from average for any month during ENSO neutral conditions. That means neither El Niño nor La Niña was present in the Pacific to influence temperatures.

Global temperature records date back to 1880.

Credit: NOAA

Cold Snaps are Getting Shorter

Winter is the fastest warming season in the United States. In the northeast, it has warmed three times faster than summer. That said, cold snaps – periods of unusually chilly weather – are still happening, but less often.

According to a study by Climate Central, the frequency and duration of these frosty events in the contiguous US  have been declining as the overall climate warms. Looking at data from cities across the country, the non-profit news organization found that some places, such as Las Vegas, NV, have lost cold days faster than others. Here in New York City, the average reduction was 5 days since 1970.

Credit: Climate Central

January 2020: Earth’s Warmest January on Record

Our global temperature continued its upward trend last month with January 2020 marking the warmest January ever recorded on this planet. The previous record was set in 2016.

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 55.65°F. That is 2.05°F above the 20th-century average. January 2020 also marked the 421st 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.

It is also important to note that the ten warmest Januaries on record have all occurred since 2002 with the four warmest taking place since 2016.

While heat dominated most of the planet this January, some places were particularly warm, including Russia, Scandinavia, eastern Canada, Central Europe, and a large part of eastern Australia. The contiguous US was also above average for the month, posting its fifth warmest January on record.

Coming on the heels of 2019 – Earth’s second warmest year on record – these soaring temperatures are largely attributed to the long-term trend of human-caused climate change. In fact, January’s temperature marked the highest departure from average for any month during ENSO neutral conditions. That means neither El Niño nor La Niña was present in the Pacific to influence temperatures.

Global temperature records date back to 1880.

Credit: NOAA

Winter is Warming Across the US

Winter is the coldest part of the year. But for most of the United States, it is the fastest warming season.

Across the contiguous United States, winter temperatures have increased an average of nearly 3°F over the past fifty years, according to Climate Central. The northern part of the country has seen the largest seasonal increase led by Burlington, VT with 6.8°F of warming since 1970.

Warmer winters may feel like a positive thing for some people, but they do not come without consequences. Periods of consistently cold temperatures help limit pest populations such as mosquitos and other pesky bugs. They also play an important role in plant development, especially for fruit trees that need a period of dormancy. Moreover, warmer winters threaten the livelihood of communities that depend on winter tourism, particularly ski resorts.

Looking ahead, as greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase, so too will the temperature and its associated impacts throughout the year.

Credit: Climate Central

2019: Second Warmest Year on Record for Planet Earth

Its official, 2019 was the second warmest year ever recorded on this planet. Only 2016 was warmer.

According to a report by NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, Earth’s combined average temperature for the year – over both land and sea surfaces – was 1.71°F above the 20th-century average.

2019 also marked the 43rd consecutive year with a global temperature above its long-term norm. That means every year since 1977 has posted a warmer than average annual temperature.

Looking at the map below, it is clear to see that heat dominated most of the planet last year. The only continent that did not post an annual temperature among its top three highest was North America. It ranked fourteenth. The state of Alaska, however, experienced its warmest year on record.

The exceptional warmth of 2019 is largely attributed to the long-term trend of human-caused climate change. While a weak El Niño was present at the beginning of the year, it dissipated by July with ENSO neutral conditions prevailing afterward.

Credit: NOAA

Looking at the bigger picture, the five warmest years on record have occurred since 2015, and nine of the ten warmest have taken place since 2005. The only year from the last century included on the top ten list is 1998, which ranks tenth.

As greenhouse gases – the main driver of global warming – continue to spew into the atmosphere, temperatures will continue to rise and records will likely continue to fall.

Global temperature records date back to 1880.

2019 was Earth’s second warmest year on record. Credit: NOAA

2019: Second Wettest Year on Record for US

The defining weather story of 2019 in the contiguous United States was rain. The year was the second-wettest ever recorded in the lower 48 states. Only 1973 was wetter.

The annual precipitation total, according to a report by NOAA’s National Centers of Environmental Information, was 34.78 inches. That is 4.84 inches above the long-term average.

While above-normal precipitation was observed across much of the nation, some places were particularly wet. North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan each posted their wettest year on record. Another 18 states finished in the top ten.

Months-long flooding in the upper Midwest and Mississippi River basin caused a tremendous amount of damage to farms and homes across the region. In fact, the combined cost of the Missouri, Arkansas, and Mississippi River floods was $20 billion. That adds up to about half the total cost of the 14 different billion-dollar weather and climate disasters that occurred in the US during 2019.

Heavy rain events and flooding are nothing new, but experts say climate change is making them worse. As greenhouse gases warm the atmosphere, the air is able to hold more water vapor. With evaporation from oceans, rivers, and lakes increasing, there is more water vapor available to condense and fall as rain.

Weather records for the contiguous United States date back to 1895.

Credit: NOAA

November 2019: Earth’s Second Warmest November on Record

Our global temperature continued its upward trend last month with November 2019 marking the second warmest November ever recorded on this planet. Only November 2015 was warmer. The month also closed out Earth’s second warmest September to November season on record.

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 56.86°F, which is 1.66°F above the 20th-century average. This November also marked the 419th 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 – meteorological autumn in the northern hemisphere – was also unusually warm. NOAA reports that Earth’s average temperature for the season was 1.69°F above the 20th century average of 57.1°F. That makes it the second warmest such period on record. It is also important to note that the ten warmest September-November periods have all occurred since 2005, with the five warmest taking place in the last five years.

While heat dominated most of the planet this November, some places were particularly warm, including Central Europe, eastern Russia, northern Canada, and most of Alaska. For the contiguous US as a whole, November 2019 ranked in the middle third of the historical record.

These soaring temperatures are largely attributed to the long-term trend of human-caused climate change. As greenhouse gases continue to spew into the atmosphere, global temperatures are expected to continue to rise.

Year to date, the first eleven months of 2019 were the second warmest such period of any year on record. At this point, it is very likely that 2019 will finish as the second or third warmest year ever recorded. Global temperature records date back to 1880.

Credit: NOAA

COP 25: UN Climate Talks Come to Disappointing End

After extended negotiations, the UN Climate Change Conference in Madrid, Spain, known as COP 25, came to a disappointing end on Sunday. Delegates from nearly 200 countries failed to reach a consensus on how to finalize the rules and processes needed to translate the spirit of the historic Paris Agreement into action.

Years in the making, the 2015 Paris Agreement set the target of holding global warming to 2°C (3.6°F) above pre-industrial levels and urged countries to pursue an even tighter cap of 1.5°C (2.7°F). To achieve this ambitious goal, almost 200 countries submitted individual voluntary emissions reduction plans known as nationally determined contributions (NDCs). But when added up, the current collection of NDCs, which vary widely in ambition, will miss the 2°C goal. In fact, they would allow for a 3.2°C (5.76°F) rise in our global temperature. For reference, we have already seen a 1°C (1.8°F) increase since 1880.

The main goals of COP 25 were to push for more substantial NDC commitments, set the rules for a carbon trading market, and establish a financial provision to compensate developing countries for “loss and damages” associated with global warming. But in the end, the delegates were only able to agree on vague language supporting the basic essence of the Paris Agreement. They cited the “urgent need” to reduce emissions but pushed off all major decisions to next year.

This unconstructive outcome is particularly notable as the global temperature continues to rise and the resulting impacts – such as more intense storms, wildfires, and sea-level rise – are becoming more apparent. It is also a stark contrast to the fact that Greta Thunberg, the teenage climate activist, was named Time Magazine’s Person of the Year.

The Paris Agreement, although ratified in record time, is a fragile accord. All commitments are voluntary and vulnerable to the political will of individual governments – both now and in the future. Moreover, there are no penalties for those who do not live up to their promises.

In terms of US involvement, President Trump, who has called climate change a “hoax”, has already announced his intent to withdraw from the international accord. The agreement, however, was written to ensure that countries could not begin the formal withdrawal process until four years after the accord officially went into effect. Consequently, the US cannot truly withdraw until November 4, 2020. That is one day after the next presidential election. As such, the role that the US will ultimately play in global climate action rests with voters.

The Madrid meeting was the 25th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The next conference (COP 26) will take place in November 2020 in Glasgow, Scotland.

Credit: UN

Talking About Art and Environmental Policy at AGU

The 100th Annual Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) is taking place this week in San Francisco, CA. Marking its centennial, the conference, which is the largest gathering of earth and space scientists in the world, aims to “celebrate the past and inspire the future”.

Thrilled to be a part of it, I will be giving a presentation titled The Power of Perception: Art’s Influence on US Environmental Policy Past and Present. It looks at the role art has played in helping to build the political will behind several landmark environmental policies over the years and how it can help with climate change communication today.

From the Yosemite Land Grant of 1864 to the present, images have helped give the public, and the policymakers they elected, a new way to relate to and understand the issues of their time. In many cases, images mobilized public concern that helped drive legislation. The publication of photos of the Cuyahoga River fire of 1969 in Time Magazine, for example, helped spur the passage of the Clean Water Act and the creation of the EPA in the 1970s.

While environmental concerns have changed over the years, so too has technology and the way we relate to images. As such, this presentation also poses questions about what form of art will reach the most people and motivate them to speak up on climate change today.

Credit: AGU