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 led to the creation of the EPA and the passage of the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act.

This year, with the rise of “alternative facts” and the Trump Administration’s rollback of US climate change policies, the date is more significant than ever.  In the spirit of the original event, concerned citizens across the US are gathering for marches in support of science and fact-based environmental policies.

Blue Marble 2012. Credit: NASA

 

April Marches

April is famous for its showers, but this year it will be known for marches. After the rise of “alternative facts” and the Trump Administration’s rollback of US climate change policies, many concerned citizens will be making their voices heard at rallies this month in support of science and climate action.

The March for Science will be held on Earth Day, April 22, and the Peoples Climate March will take place the following week on April 29. The main events for both will be in Washington, DC, but satellite marches will be held in many cities across the US and around the world.

For more information, look at the links below:

Credit: March for Science and Peoples Climate Movement

President Trump’s Executive Order Rolls Back US Climate Policies

With the stroke of a pen at a signing ceremony inside EPA headquarters on Tuesday, President Trump issued an executive order that rolls back his predecessor’s efforts to protect the environment and combat climate change.

The main target of this sweeping directive is the Clean Power Plan (CPP). Developed under the umbrella of the Clean Air Act by an executive order from President Obama, this set of EPA regulations aimed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants. More specifically, its goal was to cut emissions 32% below 2005 levels by 2030.  It also sought to replace the coal-fired plants with a mix of natural gas, solar, wind, and hydroelectric power. Now, with this new Trump order in place, the EPA will have to begin the process of re-writing and withdrawing these policies.

Other key points of this omnibus executive order include: nullifying rules on methane emissions from oil and gas operations, lifting the moratorium on coal leases on federal lands, and scrapping the requirement for government agencies to consider the climate impact of policy decisions – the so-called “social cost of carbon”.

Just before signing the document, President Trump, who has called climate change a hoax, said, “My administration is putting an end to the war on coal.” According to Federal Reserve Economic Data, however, coal mining jobs have been declining for decades largely because of automation and the availability of cheap natural gas.  Moreover, the US Department of Energy reports that the number of coal jobs in the US is less than 75,000 while there are nearly 650,000 people employed in renewable energy.

Given the variety of items included in this presidential order, its full implementation is expected to play out over two very different time scales. Policies about coal leases and the social cost of carbon, for example, are expected to go into effect straight away. However, it will likely take years for the EPA to fully revise or withdraw all the Obama-era climate regulations. There will also certainly be a plethora of legal challenges from environmental groups and states, which will slow the process. New York and California have already declared their intentions to fight any effort to lift greenhouse gas regulations.

On the international front, the order did not say whether the US will remain a formal party to the Paris Agreement – the global pact signed in 2015 to combat climate change.  But in gutting the CPP, the Trump Administration has sent a clear message that it has no intention of following through on the greenhouse gas reduction pledges made by the US as part of the non-binding accord.

Executive orders give presidents the opportunity to promote their policy priorities in lieu of Congressional action. However, as seen on Tuesday, they are fragile things that can be easily undone by the next occupant of the Oval Office. In the end, this type of waffling back and forth on environmental policy generates a number of problems, both domestically and internationally. It creates an atmosphere of uncertainty that makes planning for long-term projects, like energy infrastructure and global agreements, extremely difficult.

Smoke billows from a coal-fired power plant near Farmington, NM. Credit: DOE/Los Alamos National Laboratory

February 2017: Second Warmest February on Record for US

February 2017 was the second-warmest February ever recorded in the continental US.

The average temperature of the lower 48 states, according to NOAA’s National Centers of Environmental Information, was 41.2°F. That is a whopping 7.3°F above the 20th-century average and only 0.2°F shy of the record that was set in 1954.

From the Rocky Mountains to the East Coast, thirty-nine states were warmer than normal and sixteen were record warm. Cooler conditions prevailed in the west, but no state in the region was record cold.

Across the country, a substantial number of local temperature records were challenged during the month. In all, 11,743 daily warm records were tied or broken compared to only 418 cold records. Experts say if the weather pattern was “normal”, records events would be unlikely. If it were volatile but balanced, a similar number of record highs and lows would be expected. However, February’s pattern was extremely lopsided.

On a day-to-day basis, these remarkable conditions were driven by a persistent ridge in the jet stream over the eastern US and a trough in the west. That said, the bigger picture of global warming cannot be discounted. According to World Weather Attribution, a partnership of international scientists, “the chances of seeing a February as warm as the one experienced across the Lower 48 has increased more than threefold because of human-caused climate change.”

February also closed out the country’s sixth warmest meteorological winter. Weather records for the contiguous United States date back to 1895.

February 2017 was the second warmest February on record for the US. Credit: NOAA

Survey Says… Art Can Help Broaden the Public Conversation on Climate Change

Art and science are two different disciplines, but it is exciting when they work together. This week, I will be presenting a poster titled “Art Can Help Broaden the Public Conversation on Climate Change” at the 105th Annual Conference of the College Art Association in New York City. This is the same presentation that I made at the Annual Meeting of the American Meteorological Society last month, where it received a positive response and sparked a number of interesting conversations.

Building on the qualitative aspect of my talk, “The Art and Science of Climate Change”, this poster project quantified the influence climate-art has on people’s opinions. As Lord Kelvin said, “When you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it…”

Using Survey Monkey, I conducted a national poll where participants were asked comparison questions about the influence of traditional graphs vs. artistic interpretations of climate change. The graphs were sourced from the IPCC’s fifth assessment report and the artwork came from both photojournalists and conceptual artists.

When compared to a graph, the different styles of art received different reactions. On average, however, a significant number of the participants (34%) related more to the issues of climate change via art than through traditional charts and graphs. Overall, 64% of participants said art had changed the way they thought about a subject in the past.

These results show art to be a powerful tool of communication that helps to broaden the public conversation on climate change. They also highlight the fact that a variety of visual outreach methods are needed to reach the entire population on this critical issue that affects us all in one way or another.

The survey shows art can help broaden the public conversation on climate change. Credit: The Weather Gamut.

Weather Gamut Founder Talks about Winter in NYC on WUTV

It was both an honor and a thrill to be asked back to The Weather Channel’s WUTV show on Monday night. As a New York City-based contributor to their PWS network, we discussed the temperature roller coaster that the city has been riding this winter and its impact on local snow cover.

The show, which dives into the science behind different weather events, airs weeknights from 6 to 8 PM EST on The Weather Channel.

Weather Gamut writer, Melissa Fleming, talks with Alex Wilson and Mike Bettes on WUTV. February 6, 2017. Credit: TWC and Melissa Fleming.

Why Today is National Weatherperson’s Day

Today is National Weatherperson’s Day in the United States. While not an official federal holiday, it is a day to recognize the work of all individuals involved in the field of meteorology – not just prognosticating groundhogs.

According to the NWS, today’s designation honors the birthday of Dr. John Jeffries who was one of America’s first weather observers. Born in 1744, this Boston-based physician had a deep interest in weather and kept detailed records of daily conditions from 1774 to 1816. He also took the first known upper air observations from a hot air balloon in 1784.

Since the 18th century, the weather industry has grown by leaps and bounds. Utilizing radar, satellites, and computer models, meteorologists today provide forecasts and warnings to the public in an effort to protect lives and property. But in the end, weatherpersons, like Dr. Jeffries, are fascinated by weather and are always seeking to improve their understanding of its complex processes.

Dr. John Jeffries taking weather measurements from a hot air balloon. Source: Wonderful Balloon Ascents.

Survey Says… Art Can Help Broaden the Public Conversation on Climate Change

The 97th Annual Meeting of the American Meteorological Society is taking place this week in Seattle and I will be presenting a poster titled “Art Can Help Broaden the Public Conversation on Climate Change.”

Building on my talk, The Art and Science of Climate Change, I was curious to know if climate-art was influencing people’s opinions. Therefore, moving from the qualitative to the quantitative, I conducted a national poll using Survey Monkey. Participants were asked comparison questions about the influence of traditional graphs vs. artistic interpretations of climate change. The graphs were sourced from the IPCC’s fifth assessment report and the artwork came from both photojournalists and conceptual artists.

When compared to a graph, the different styles of art received different reactions. On average, however, a significant number of the participants (34%) related more to the issues of climate change via art than through traditional charts and graphs. Overall, 64% of participants said art had changed the way they thought about a subject in the past.

These results show art to be a powerful tool of communication that helps to broaden the public conversation on climate change. They also highlight the fact that a variety of visual outreach methods are needed to reach the entire population on this critical issue that affects us all in one way or another.

Climate-Art Survey shows that art can help broaden the public conversation on climate change. Credit: The Weather Gamut.

A Look at Why Death Valley is the Hottest, Driest, and Lowest Place in US

Death Valley National Park is famous for being the hottest, driest, and lowest place in the United States. The interesting thing about all these extremes, as I learned during a recent visit, is how they interconnect.

Situated in eastern California near the Nevada border, the park’s topography is known as basin and range. This is where the earth’s crust is rifting apart, creating mountains in some areas and deep basins in others. Death Valley is a long, narrow basin that reaches a depth of 282 feet below sea level. It is also in the rain shadow of four different mountain ranges to the west – the Coastal Range, the Sierra Nevada, the Argus Range, and the Panamint Range.

As storms move inland from the Pacific, they must rise up and over each range. In doing so, they cool and their water vapor condenses into rain or snow that falls on the western side of these mountains. By the time a storm system reaches Death Valley, it has lost most of its moisture. The average annual rainfall in the park, according to NOAA, is just 2.36 inches.

These dry conditions, along with the valley’s below-sea-level elevation, help to produce the park’s famous heat. With cloud free skies and sparse vegetation, a maximum amount of sunlight can reach the ground. The rocks and parched soil absorb the heat and radiate it into the air. The warm air rises but becomes trapped by the steep valley walls. After cooling slightly, it is recycled back toward the valley floor where it is heated even further by atmospheric compression. During the summer months, this process generates hot winds and sizzling temperatures. The average high temperature in the park ranges from 67°F in January to 116°F in July. The hottest temperature ever recorded was 134°F on July 10, 1913 – a world record.

Looking ahead, as the climate changes, the southwestern region of the US is expected to become even hotter and drier. It seems like only a matter of time before Death Valley breaks its own heat record.

At 282 feet below sea level, Basin in Death Valley National Park is the lowest point in the US. Credit: Melissa Fleming

Intense Rain Puts a Big Dent in California’s Drought

Over the past week, a cavalcade of intense rain and snowstorms battered the west coast of the US and put a major dent in California’s five-year drought.

According to the latest report from the US Drought Monitor, the northern third of the Golden State is now drought free. This is a major change from just three months ago, when the entire state was in some form of drought.

Across the region, copious amounts of precipitation were reported. More than a foot of rain fell in the Sierra Nevada, with 20.7 inches measured locally at Strawberry Valley, CA. Higher elevations saw tremendous snowfall totals. Heavenly Ski resort in South Lake Tahoe, according to the NWS, received an incredible 12 feet of snow in just one week.

These staggering totals came courtesy of a weather phenomenon known as an “atmospheric river”. These are narrow, but intense bands of water vapor sourced from the tropics. Often originating near Hawaii, this fire hose of moisture is sometimes called a “pineapple express.”

While this excessive rainfall did cause flooding events across the region, reservoir levels have benefited. Lake Shasta, the largest largest reservoir in California, is currently at 81% of total capacity and 126% of its historical average for the date.

Southern California also picked up some much-needed rainfall, but still remains in drought. That said, only 2% of the state is currently in exceptional drought, the worst possible category.

Northern California is drought free for the first time in five years. Credit: US Drought Monitor