President Obama’s Climate Change Plan

The Obama Administration is tackling climate change.  In a speech delivered at Georgetown University yesterday – outdoors in sweltering 90°F heat – the President outlined his plan to combat this pressing issue.

The three key points of his strategy are: cutting carbon pollution in America, preparing the U.S. for the impacts of climate change, and leading international efforts to cut global emissions.  While highlighting a number of measures in each category, one of the most significant aspects of this plan is to cut carbon dioxide emissions from both new and existing power plants. Coal-fired power plants are responsible for one-third of this country’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Emphasizing the need to act quickly, these measures will be put in place by executive order and not Congress. The President stated, “Americans across the country are already paying the price of inaction” and he would not tolerate politicized attempts to cast doubt on the scientific consensus of climate change.  Putting it bluntly, he said, “We don’t have time for a meeting of the flat earth society.”

Heat Index

Temperature is one of the basic elements of weather.  Our perception of it, however, is often influenced by other factors.  In summer, this is usually humidity.

The heat index, developed in the late 1970’s, is a measure of the apparent or “real feel” temperature when heat and humidity are combined.  Since the human body relies on the evaporation of its perspiration to cool itself, the moisture content of the air affects comfort levels. Basically, as humidity levels increase, the rate of evaporation decreases and the body can begin to feel overheated.  For example, an air temperature of 92°F combined with a relative humidity level of 60% will produce a heat index value of 105°F.

The National Weather Service issues heat advisories when the heat index is forecast to be at least 95°F for two consecutive days or 100°F for any length of time.  Extended exposure to high heat index values can lead to serious health hazards.

Heat-IndexImage Credit: NOAA

Summer Solstice 2013

Today is the June Solstice, the first day of summer in the northern hemisphere. The new season officially began at 5:04 UTC, which is 1:04 Eastern Daylight Time.

Astronomical seasons are the result of the tilt of the Earth’s axis, a 23.5° angle. Today, as summer begins, the northern half of our planet is slanted toward the sun.  This position allows the northern hemisphere to receive the sun’s energy at a more direct angle, warming the entire region.

The summer solstice is often called the “longest day of the year”.  This, however, is a bit of a misnomer as one day always contains twenty-four hours.  Nonetheless, today is the day with the longest duration of daylight. Since the winter solstice in December, the sun – in its apparent seasonal journey across the sky – has been making its way north. Reaching its northern-most position at the Tropic of Cancer today, it stopped.  This phenomenon is where today’s event takes its name. Solstice is a word derived from Latin meaning, “sun stands still”.

SeasonsImage Credit: NASA

Record Heat in Alaska

Extreme heat is baking Alaska. In fact, some parts of this subarctic state were as warm or warmer than Miami, FL this week.

According the National Weather Service, the temperature in Talkeetna, AK reached a sweltering 96°F on Monday, smashing the previous record of 91°F set in 1969. Cordova and Valdez, each reported readings of 90°F.  In Anchorage, the mercury only made it to 81°F on Tuesday, but it was still enough to break a daily record that was in place since 1926. The average high for this time of year in south-central Alaska is in the mid-60s.

This unusual heat was the result of a strong ridge of high-pressure locked in place over the region for the past few days.  These soaring temperatures, however, are not likely to last much longer.  Forecasters expect conditions to cool down by the end of the week.

Weather and Art: Rain Room

Have you ever wanted to control the weather?  Rain Room, a large-scale interactive art installation at MoMA/PS1 in New York City, is offering a simulated experience.

Created by Random International, a London-based team of artists, Rain Room allows visitors to walk through an indoor downpour without getting wet.  The secret to staying dry is a combination of multiple 3-D sensors installed around the room and the motion of museum visitors themselves.  When the sensors detect the presence of a human body, they pause the precipitation in precise locations giving people the feeling that they control the rain.

The Rain Room is part of Expo1: New York, a multi-venue exhibition that explores challenging environmental issues.  According to MoMA’s website, Rain Room “invites visitors to explore the roles that science, technology, and human ingenuity can play in stabilizing our environment.”

Rain Room runs through July 28th.

rain-room-at-moma-2Image Credit: MoMA/Random International

Andrea Shatters Rainfall Record in NYC

The remnants of Andrea, the first named storm of this Atlantic hurricane season, drenched most of the northeastern United States on Friday.  In fact, it shattered daily rainfall records in numerous communities along the Eastern Seaboard.

In New York City, the storm dumped 4.16 inches of rain in Central Park.  That is more than double the previous record (1.95 inches) for the date, which was set in 1918.  On average, the city usually receives 4.41 inches of rain for the entire month of June.

This was the second time in less than a month that a daily rainfall record was broken in NYC. More rain and flood watches are in the forecast for this afternoon.

The Perception Gap on Climate Change

Climate Change seems to be suffering from a public relations problem.  Despite the fact that extreme weather events like heat waves, droughts, and floods are becoming more prevalent around the world, there is still a perception gap between the scientific community and the general public.

According to a study recently published in the journal, Environmental Research Letters, 97% of climate scientists agree that climate change is real and that it is the result of human activities. The study, led by John Cook of the University of Queensland and founder of the website, examined nearly 12,000 peer-reviewed climate papers published in more than a thousand different journals between 1991 and 2011.  While there have been similar surveys in the past – with comparable results – this one was the broadest to date and re-affirmed the scientific consensus.

In contrast, pubic opinion is still uncertain. A poll taken by the Pew Research Center last autumn shows that while most Americans acknowledge the climate is changing, only 42% believe it is a human-caused problem. This disconnect is very troubling, because before a problem can be addressed, let alone solved, it needs to be acknowledged.


Widest Tornado on Record Strikes El Reno, Oklahoma

A massive twister struck the town of El Reno, OK on Friday.  Measuring 2.6 miles across, it was the widest tornado ever recorded.

According the National Weather Service, the winds of this violent storm reached as high as 295 mph.  On the ground for forty minutes, it traveled more than sixteen miles. This powerful twister and the flooding rains associated with it claimed the lives of nineteen people, including three storm chasers.

Initially classified as an EF-3, the NWS upgraded this storm to an EF-5 – the highest ranking on the Enhanced Fujita Scale – after evaluating the damage. This was the second EF-5 tornado to strike Oklahoma in less than two weeks.  The other leveled the nearby city of Moore.

Since 1950, according to NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center, sixty EF-5/F-5 tornadoes have struck the United States.  Eight of these touched down in Oklahoma.

NYC Monthly Summary: May 2013

May 2013 was warm and soggy in New York City.  Despite a number of chilly days, the city’s average monthly temperature was 62.9°F.  That is 0.9°F above normal.  The heat wave at the end of the month helped contribute to this slightly above average reading.

In terms of precipitation, rainfall was abundant this May.  In fact, this was New York City’s seventh wettest May on record. The city received 8.00 inches of rain, which is 3.81 inches above normal.  Most of this fell during a few heavy rainstorms, including the torrential downpours on May 8th that set a new daily record with 3.02 inches measured in Central Park.  This was a significant departure from last month’s unusually dry conditions.

May_rainChart: The Weather Gamut

A Late Spring Heat Wave in NYC

Temperatures have been soaring in the northeastern United States.  In fact, it feels like mid-summer and the start of that season is still more than two weeks away.

In New York City, temperatures reached 90°F for three consecutive days.  This marks the city’s first official heat wave of the season.  Our normal high for this time of year is a more moderate 75°F. This extreme heat also caused a number health concerns, including air quality alerts.

The dramatic rise in temperature across the region was the result of a Bermuda High – an area of high pressure that steers hot air from the Gulf of Mexico toward the northeast.  The summer-like conditions of this weather pattern, however, are expected to come to a stormy end late tonight as a cold front moves into the area.