Celebrating Eight Years of Writing about Weather and Climate

It is hard to believe, but today marks the eighth anniversary of The Weather Gamut.

Initially begun as a way to deepen and share my knowledge about weather and climate change, this blog has allowed me to expand on my interests and concerns in ways that I never thought possible. This past year, I gave a variety of presentations on creative climate communication and was invited to share my climate-related artwork in several exhibitions around the world.

Producing this blog has been an interesting journey that has taught me a great deal about the science of weather and climate as well as the art of writing. It has also put me in touch with many wonderful people working in this fascinating field. I am grateful for all their support and encouragement.

As always, thank you for reading!

Weather History: Thomas Jefferson and the Temperature on July 4, 1776

As the main author of the Declaration of Independence and the third President of the United States, Thomas Jefferson is regarded as one of this country’s Founding Fathers. He was also an astute and systematic weather observer.

Portrait of Thomas Jefferson by Rembrandt Peale, 1805. Credit: NYHS

In the summer of 1776, Jefferson was in Philadelphia, PA attending the Second Continental Congress, which adopted the Declaration of Independence.  While there, he purchased a thermometer and a barometer – new and expensive weather equipment at that time. On July 4, Jefferson noted that the weather conditions in Philadelphia were cloudy with a high temperature of 76°F.

For the next 50 years, he kept a meticulous weather journal.  He recorded daily temperature data wherever he was – at home in Virginia or while traveling.

In an effort to understand the bigger picture of climate in America, Jefferson established a small network of fellow observers around Virginia as well as contacts in a few other states. According to records at Monticello, his estate in Virginia, he hoped to establish a national network for weather observations. While this plan did not come to fruition during his lifetime, today’s National Weather Service considers him the “father of weather observers.”

Happy Independence Day!

An excerpt from Thomas Jefferson’s Weather Journal, July 1776. Credit: NCDC

How Trees Help Fight Climate Change

Today is Arbor Day, a holiday that honors trees. While their beauty has been celebrated in countless poems and images over the years, trees are much more than aesthetic figures in the landscape. They are an essential part of the global ecosystem and play an important role in fighting climate change.

Trees are natural carbon sinks. They absorb and store carbon dioxide, and release oxygen via photosynthesis. Through this process, forests offset 10% to 20% of American greenhouse gas emissions every year, according to the US Forest Service. Moreover, they absorb other air pollutants and particulate matter produced by the burning of fossil fuels. Scientists say trees remove over 35 billion pounds of pollution annually in the US, directly benefiting human health.

Trees also provide shade. In cities, this helps reduce the urban heat island effect.  More specifically, according to studies by the US Forest Service Center for Urban Research, neighborhoods with well-shaded streets can be 6-10°F cooler than communities without trees. This natural cooling benefit, in turn, lessens the need to run energy-consuming air conditioners during the warm summer months.

With rising temperatures leading to more heavy rain events, trees also help mitigate the impacts of flooding and landslides. Their root systems catch rainwater and reduce soil erosion. Climate Central, a non-profit environmental news organization, says trees help prevent nearly 400 billion gallons of runoff every year in the contiguous US.

So, as the saying goes “The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”

Credit: Climate Central

Why Earth Day Matters

Every day is Earth Day, as the saying goes. But, today marks the official celebration.

The first Earth Day – spearheaded by Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin – was held on April 22, 1970.  An estimated 20 million people attended rallies across the US to protest against rampant industrial pollution and the deterioration of the nation’s natural environment. Raising public awareness and shifting the political tide, these events helped put environmental issues on the national agenda. They helped lead the government to create the EPA and the pass of the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act.

Today, forty-nine years after the original, Earth Day is celebrated in nearly 200 countries around the world. Some communities have even expanded the celebration into a series of events for Earth Week or Earth Month. These continuing efforts to raise environmental awareness are more important than ever as we face the global challenges of climate change.

The scale of the problems presented by our changing climate are massive and require a government level response. But, individual actions also add up and can collectively put pressure on elected officials to respond to the issue.  To learn more about the personal actions you can take to protect the environment, visit: https://www.earthday.org/take-action

Image Credit: William Anders/NASA

A Look at Rainbows and their Legendary Pots of Gold on this St Patrick’s Day

According to Irish folklore, a pot of gold can be found at the end of a rainbow. In reality, however, it is impossible to locate the terminus of this optical phenomenon.

Refraction and reflection inside a raindrop. Credit: Met Office

For a rainbow to form, rain has to be falling in one part of the sky while the sun is out in another. The water droplets in the air act like prisms that refract and reflect the sunlight, revealing the colors of the visible spectrum. Red is refracted the least and is always on the top of a single bow while blue is on the bottom. Since we only see one color from each drop, it takes a countless number to produce a rainbow.

A double rainbow is seen when the light reflects twice inside the raindrops. Since each reflection weakens the intensity of the light, the second bow appears dimmer. The order of the colors is also reversed, with blue on top and red on the bottom.

That said, these colorful arcs are not physical entities that can be approached. No matter how close they appear to be, they are always tantalizingly out of reach. Nevertheless, most people consider seeing one to be a treasure with no gold required.

With a little luck, you can spot a rainbow if you face a moisture source – rain or mist from a waterfall – while the sun is at your back.

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!

Rainbow and faint second rainbow form after a rainstorm in Bermuda. Credit: Melissa Fleming

Weather and Art: “Love of Winter”

Today is Valentine’s Day, a holiday when chocolate treats and images hearts abound. But for me, it is George Bellows’ Love of Winter that always comes to mind as we mark the mid-point of what is usually New York City’s snowiest month of the year.

A longtime personal favorite, this 1914 painting captures the spirit of those who embrace the season. Filled with the blurred movement of skaters on a frozen pond and accented with spots of bright color that pop against the white snow, it conveys the joy of being out in nature on a cold winter day.

While Bellows is better known for depicting scenes of boxing matches and urban life, art historians say he enjoyed the challenge of painting the varied lighting conditions produced by a snow-covered landscape. In fact, he wrote a letter to a friend in January 1914 complaining about the lack of snow in the New York City area that winter. He said, “There has been none of my favorite snow. I must paint the snow at least once a year.” Then, on February 13, a blizzard hit the region. The wintry conditions inspired him to create this timeless painting.

Love of Winter is part of the Friends of American Art Collection at the Art Institute of Chicago.

“Love of Winter”, 1914 by George Bellows. Collection of the Art Institute of Chicago

The Folklore Behind Groundhog Day

Today is Groundhog Day, the midpoint of the winter season.

On this day, according to folklore, the weather conditions for the second half of winter can be predicted by the behavior of a prognosticating groundhog. If the groundhog sees its shadow after emerging from its burrow, there will be six more weeks of winter. If it does not see its shadow, then spring will arrive early.

The practice of using animal behavior to predict future weather conditions goes back to ancient times. The particular custom that we are familiar with in the United States grew out of the old world tradition of Candlemas that German settlers brought to Pennsylvania in the 1880s. Today, many communities across the U.S. and Canada continue this age-old ritual with their own special groundhogs.

The most famous of these furry forecasters is Punxsutawney Phil from Pennsylvania. He gained celebrity status after starring in the 1993 film, “Groundhog Day”. Here in New York City, our local weather-groundhog is Charles G. Hogg. A resident of the Staten Island Zoo, he is more popularly known as “Staten Island Chuck”. This year, both groundhogs are calling for an early spring.

But long-range forecasts can be a tricky business, so we will have to wait and see what actually happens. Either way, the spring equinox is 46 days away.

Credit: CBC

 

The Historical Chances for a White Christmas

The Holiday Season is here and many people are dreaming of a White Christmas. The likelihood of seeing those dreams come true, however, are 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 and its moderating influence on the temperature.

This year, with temperatures forecast to be in the 40s on the big day, the city’s already minimal chance for snow has largely melted away.

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

Source: NOAA

Cold and Windy Conditions Expected for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in NYC

The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is a long-standing holiday tradition in New York City.  For 92 years, it has marched rain or shine. Nevertheless, the weather has been a factor in the event several times over the years.

Famous for its giant character balloons, high winds are the main weather challenge for the parade. According to city guidelines, the multi-story balloons cannot fly if there are sustained winds in excess of 23 mph or gusts higher than 34 mph. These regulations were put in place following a 1997 incident where gusty winds sent the “Cat in the Hat” balloon careening into a light post, which caused debris to fall on and injure spectators.

The only time the balloons were grounded for the entire parade was in 1971, when torrential rain swept across the city. In 1989, a snowstorm brought the Big Apple a white Thanksgiving and the “Snoopy” and “Bugs Bunny” balloons had to be pulled from the parade because of damage from high winds.

This year, the wind could potentially be a problem again. Gusts are forecast to be between 20 and 30 mph during the parade hours. Temperatures are also expected to be a challenge. They are forecast to hover near record cold levels, with readings not getting out of the 20s. When the wind chill is factored  in, it will feel more like the single digits to low teens. This extreme cold will be more than a nuisance for holiday revelers, it will be dangerous. Frostbite is a real threat for anyone with exposed skin. So, bundle up if you are planning to be outside along the parade route.

Marching from West 77th Street to West 34th Street in Manhattan, the 92nd Annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is scheduled to begin at 9 AM on Thursday morning.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Paddington Bear Balloon floats down 6th Ave in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Credit: Macy’s

Thomas Jefferson: Founding Father of Weather Observers

As the main author of the Declaration of Independence and the third President of the United States, Thomas Jefferson is regarded as one of this country’s Founding Fathers. He was also an astute and systematic weather observer.

Portrait of Thomas Jefferson by Rembrandt Peale, 1805. Credit: NYHS

In the summer of 1776, Jefferson was in Philadelphia, PA to sign the Declaration of Independence.  While there, he purchased a thermometer and a barometer – new and expensive weather equipment at that time. For the next 50 years, he kept a meticulous weather journal.  He recorded daily temperature data wherever he was – at home in Virginia or while traveling.

On July 4, 1776, Jefferson noted that the weather conditions in Philadelphia were cloudy with a high temperature of 76°F.

In an effort to understand the bigger picture of climate in America, Jefferson established a small network of fellow observers around Virginia as well as contacts in a few other states. According to records at Monticello, his estate in Virginia, he hoped to establish a national network for weather observations. While this plan did not come to fruition during his lifetime, today’s National Weather Service considers him the “father of weather observers.”

Happy Independence Day!

An excerpt from Thomas Jefferson’s Weather Journal, July 1776. Credit: NCDC