NYC Monthly Summary: November 2014

November 2014 was another rollercoaster of a month in New York City in terms of weather. We had highs ranging from a relatively balmy 69°F to a chilly 36°F. In the end though, with 17 out of 30 days posting below average readings, the cold won out. The extended cold snaps helped lower the city’s mean temperature to 45.3°F, which is 2.7°F below normal.

Precipitation this November was fairly abundant. NYC received 4.51 inches of rain, which is 0.49 inches above average. Most of this fell during two significant rain events that each produced more than an inch of rain in 24-hours. The city also saw its first measurable snowfall of the season with 0.2 inches accumulating in Central Park. Nonetheless, following a parched August and September, the city is still listed as “abnormally dry” on the latest report from the US Drought Monitor.

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Rain-Nov

A Winter Preview in NYC

The official start of winter is more than a month away, but New York City is experiencing an early preview.

A deep dip in the jet stream has ushered in cold arctic air and sent local temperatures plummeting. After reaching an unseasonably warm high of 65°F on Wednesday, the high in Central Park today was only 42°F. That is a difference of 23°F in just 48 hours. The city’s normal high for this time of year is 54°F.

The cold air also helped produce the city’s first snowflakes of the season. While nothing accumulated on the ground, the National Weather Service reported a trace of snow in Central Park early Friday morning. A trace of snow is defined as less than 0.1 inches.

Unlike earlier cold snaps this season, these current chilly conditions are expected to linger for at least a week.

Art and Climate Change: Sebastião Salgado’s “Genesis”

Science and photography have joined forces to increase public awareness about the pressing issues of climate change and the environment. Sebastião Salgado’s Genesis, on view at the International Center of Photography in NYC, is a series of 200 black and white photographs that document what society has to lose if actions are not taken to mitigate climate change. They are the product of an eight-year global survey of landscapes, seascapes, wildlife, and indigenous peoples.

Inspired by nature’s ability to restore itself on his family’s former cattle ranch in Brazil, Salgado’s photographs capture the beauty and grandeur of what remains of this planets’s pristine wilderness. In a statement written on a wall of the exhibition, Salgado and his wife/curator, Lélia Wanick Salgado, say, “As well as displaying the beauty of nature, Genesis is also a call to arms. We cannot continue to pollute our soil, water, and air. We must act to preserve unspoiled land and seascapes and protect the natural sanctuaries of ancient peoples and animals. And we have to go further: we can try to reverse the damage we have done.”

Using the images as a springboard for discussion, the ICP has arranged a number of events to accompany the exhibition. These include a series of lectures and panel discussions as well as a schedule of gallery walks where climate scientists from Columbia University explain the environmental issues facing the particular regions represented in Salgado’s photographs.

The exhibition runs through January 11, 2015.  For the full schedule of events, visit: http://www.icp.org/museum/exhibitions/icp-talks

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The eastern part of the Brooks Range, The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska, USA, 2009. © Sebastião Salgado.  Credit: Sebastião Salgado/ICP

NYC Monthly Summary: October 2014

October was a bit of weather roller coaster in New York City this year. We had highs ranging from a chilly 53°F to a balmy 77°F. In the end though, with 19 out of 31 days posting warmer than average readings, the warmth won out. All together, the city’s mean temperature for the month was 59.6°F. That is 2.6°F above average.

In terms of precipitation, the city was fairly soggy this October. Central Park measured 5.77 inches of rain, which is 1.37 inches above normal. Most of this came down during three significant rain events that each produced more than an inch of rain in a 24-hour period.  Nonetheless, following a parched August and September, NYC and its surrounding area is still listed as “abnormally dry” on the latest report from US Drought Monitor.

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Credit: The Weather Gamut

Oct2014_Rain

Credit: The Weather Gamut

Super-Storm Sandy: Two Years Later

Two years ago today, Super-storm Sandy slammed the New York City tri-state area.  Despite being downgraded from hurricane to post-tropical status just prior to landfall, Sandy was the second costliest natural disaster in U.S. history, following Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The question is, can it happen again?

Coming ashore with tropical storm-force winds at high tide during a full moon, Sandy was an unprecedented storm. It formed late in the season, grew as it moved north, and instead of turning out to sea like most tropical systems, it made that now famous left hook toward the coast. Statistically, Sandy’s unusual trajectory was a 1-in-700-year event, according to a recent study by researchers at NASA and Columbia University. That said, as sea levels continue to rise, future storm surges will have a higher starting point and be able to reach further inland. So, a lesser storm could produce similar, if not worse, flooding in the future. A different study in the journal, Nature Climate Change, predicts that a current “500 year” storm surge event in NYC could happen every 50 to 240 years by the end of the century.

Sandy caused a record 13.88-foot storm surge at the Battery in lower Manhattan.  It flooded many low-lying areas, including parts of the NYC subway system.  The massive storm, according to the CDC, directly claimed the lives of 117 people in the U.S – mostly by drowning. Damaging or destroying more than 650,000 homes, Sandy displaced thousands of people and caused approximately $70 billion in property damage in addition to knocking out power to 8.5 million people for multiple days.

In reaction, many government agencies – at all levels – have been re-evaluating their strategies for dealing with future storm surge flood disasters.  The National Hurricane Center changed its policy for issuing warnings on post-tropical storms and has developed an experimental Potential Storm Surge Flooding Map that depicts the risk associated with a storm surge during a tropical cyclone. In NYC, the Office of Emergency Management   re-drew its hurricane evacuation zones to reflect the threat of higher sea levels.

As these types of important improvements are being made, the arduous process of rebuilding homes and installing physical defenses against future storms is still ongoing, especially in  the region’s hardest hit areas.

NYC Sea Level Rising Faster than Global Average

Sea level is on the rise around the globe. Some areas, such as New York City, however, are seeing the water rise faster than others.

According to the latest IPCC report, the average global sea level has risen about eight inches since 1880.  Locally, in New York Harbor, the water has risen by more than a foot in the past century. The graph below shows the upward sea level trend at the Battery, Manhattan’s southern tip.

In general, sea level rise has two main drivers. They are thermal expansion – a process in which water expands as it warms – and the melting of land based ice, such as glaciers and ice sheets. Both are the result of rising global temperatures. On the local level in NYC, there is also the issue of glacio-isostatic adjustment. This process is not caused by current glacial melt, but rather by the modification of the Earth’s surface as it slowly responds to the removal of the massive weight of ancient glaciers. Overall, it causes some land surfaces to rise and others to sink.  In NYC, the land is slowly sinking.  This combination of factors is expected to intensify future storm surge events in the city.

Sea level in NY Harbor is rising faster than the global average.  Credit: NOAA

Sea level is rising in NY Harbor.   Credit: NOAA

“Extreme Whether” – A Play about Climate Change

Science and the performing arts have joined forces to expand the public discourse on climate change.   In Extreme Whether, a play written and directed by Karen Malpede, the issue is viewed through the personal lens of a bitter family fight over land stewardship.

Set during the record warm summers of 2004 and 2012, the “eco-drama” unfolds on a private wilderness estate in the northeastern U.S.  Leading one side of the battle is a famous – and frequently criticized – climate scientist. Heading up the other side is his twin sister, a spokesperson for the energy industry. While all the characters in the play are fictional, some of them are inspired by the work of real scientists.  These include,            Dr. James Hansen, who testified before Congress about the dangers of global warming back in the 1980s; Dr. Jennifer Francis, who researches connections between melting ice in the arctic and wavier jet stream patterns in the mid-latitudes; and Dr. Michael Mann, author of “The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars.”

Extreme Whether is currently playing at the Theatre for the New City in Manhattan’s East Village. It runs through October 26th.  In conjunction with the show, the theatre is also hosting a “Festival of Conscience” where various climate and environmental experts speak with audience members after the play. For the schedule of speakers, visit: http://theaterthreecollaborative.org

LDEO Open House 2014

The Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory – part of Columbia University’s Earth Institute – will be hosting an Open House on Saturday, October 11th. This public event offers tours, lectures, and panel discussions on a range of earth science topics, including climate change.  The program also includes a talk about the long and short term responses to Superstorm Sandy.

For more information, including directions and the day’s schedule, visit the LDEO website.

NYC Monthly Summary: September 2014

September 2014 was warm and dry in New York City. The month saw temperatures reach into the 90s on two separate occasions and it even produced our hottest day of the year. All together, despite a few cooler than average days in the middle of the month, the city’s mean temperature for September was 69.9°F. That is 1.9°F above average.

In terms of precipitation for September, rain events were few and far between. Only 1.21 inches of rain was measured in Central Park, which is 3.07 inches below normal. That makes September 2014 the city’s driest September in nine years. As a result, the city, along with most of the southeastern section of New York State, is currently listed as “abnormally dry” on the U.S. Drought Monitor.

Graph Credit: The Weather Gamut

Graph Credit: The Weather Gamut

Credit: US Drought Monitor

Credit: US Drought Monitor

Massive Turnout for the People’s Climate March in NYC

More than 400,000 people took to the streets of New York City on Sunday for the People’s Climate March. Calling for action on climate change, organizers say it was one of the largest environmental demonstrations ever held.

From scientists to activists to parents concerned for the future of their children, this massive grassroots event attracted people from across the country and around the world. It even included some boldface political names like former U.S. Vice President Al Gore (founder of the Climate Reality Project), NYC Mayor Bill DeBlasio, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, as well as high profile environmentalists like Jane Goodall and Leonardo DiCaprio.

The message of this enormous rally was aimed at the more than 120 heads of state that will be attending the U.N. Climate Summit this Tuesday in NYC.  The summit is an effort to mobilize political will ahead of the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Paris next year where the objective is a binding global agreement on greenhouse gas emissions.

Demonstrators making their down Sixth Ave in mid-town Manhattan during the People's Climate March.  Image Credit: Fox News/AP

Demonstrators making their down Sixth Ave in mid-town Manhattan during the People’s Climate March.  Image Credit: Fox News/AP