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

2016 was Second Warmest Year on Record for US

2016 was the second-warmest year ever recorded in the continental US.

The average annual temperature of the lower 48 states, according to NOAA’s National Centers of Environmental Information, was 54.9°F. That is a whopping 2.9°F above the 20th century average and only 0.4°F shy of the record that was set in 2012. This also marks the 20th consecutive year that the annual average temperature for the contiguous US was above its long-term norm.

From coast to coast, every state posted one of their top-seven warmest years. Georgia was record warm and Alaska, the nation’s northern most state, had its third consecutive warmest year on record. “The breadth of the 2016 warmth is unparalleled in the nation’s climate history,” NOAA said. “No other year had as many states breaking or close to breaking their warmest annual average temperature.”

Credit: NOAA

2016 was also notable for its unusual number of weather and climate disasters that each totaled more than $1 billion in damages. In all, fifteen such events collectively caused $46 billion in direct costs and claimed the live of 138 people across the US. These incidents included drought, wildfire, four inland floods, eight severe storms, and a tropical cyclone. Only 2011, with sixteen events, produced more billion-dollar disasters.

Credit: NOAA

The exceptional warmth of 2016 was driven by a combination of strong El Niño conditions at the beginning of the year and the long-term trend of human-caused climate change. These soaring temperatures, however, were not limited to US borders. Later this month, NOAA is expected to announce that 2016 was the planet’s warmest year on record for the third year in a row.

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

GOES-R Satellite will Improve Weather Forecasts

Satellites have helped forecasters predict the weather for more than forty years. Now, they are getting a major upgrade.

Launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Saturday night, the GOES-R is the newest model in NOAA’s Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite series. It has been nearly a decade since the last upgrade and this one is loaded with new technology.

Carrying 34 different weather products, the main instrument is the Advanced Baseline Imager (ABI). Essentially a camera that views the western hemisphere’s weather, oceans, and environment, it offers 3 times the spectral information, 4 times the spatial resolution, and temporal coverage that is five times faster than the previous GOES model. In other words, it will provide a clearer and faster image of what is going on in the atmosphere than ever before, allowing for better forecasts. This, in turn, means improved protection for lives and property, which is the main mission of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Other instruments onboard include a lightning mapper, which will continuously measure the lightning activity over both North and South America. This information is important because the rate of lightning is related to a storm’s updraft. Better lightning data can increase the lead-time for warnings on storms that could produce severe weather. Another important device is the magnetometer. It will monitor space weather such as solar storms  that produce the northern lights and can, when strong enough, disrupt power grids and telecommunications.

Once in orbit, GOES-R will become known as GOES-16 (letters are only used while it is in development on the ground). After a calibration and testing period of several months, its data will become available to forecasters. If all goes well, it should be online by next year’s hurricane season.

GOES-R satellite. Credit: NOAA

GOES-R satellite. Credit: NOAA

Drought Update: Autumn 2016

This autumn has been marked by heavy rain and catastrophic flooding in some parts of the United States.  Drought, however, continues to plague large sections of the country.

According to the latest report from the U.S. Drought Monitor, 49% of the nation is dealing with drought. While this number represents a slight improvement for parts of the west, both the southeast and northeast have been drying out.

Currently, 57% of the southeastern US is in some form of drought and 21% is suffering from conditions of extreme drought. These parched conditions, which have been building for months, are now fueling wildfires across the region. According to the US Forest Service, 59 of the 61 active large wildfires burning in this country are in the southeast.

Another hard hit area is the northeast, where 19% of the region is in severe or extreme drought. Water restrictions are in place in parts of Massachusetts and communities in New Jersey are asking residents to conserve water voluntarily.

On the other side of the country, California – now in its fifth year of drought – received some much-needed rainfall recently. However, most of it fell only in the northern counties. Overall, 88% of the Golden State remains in some form of drought with 21% in exceptional drought, the worst possible category.

The Drought Monitor is a weekly publication produced by a partnership of government agencies, including the National Drought Mitigation Center, the United States Department of Agriculture, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Credit: US Drought Monitor

Credit: US Drought Monitor