The Active Atlantic Hurricane Season of 2016 Comes to a Close

The 2016 Atlantic Hurricane Season officially ends today.  Not only was it above average, as predicted, it was the basin’s most active season since 2012.

According to NOAA, there were fifteen named storms this season. Of these, seven developed into hurricanes and three – Gaston, Nicole, and Matthew – were major hurricanes with ratings of category 3 or higher on the Saffir-Simpson Scale. An average season produces twelve named storms, six hurricanes, and three major hurricanes.

This season’s Accumulated Cyclone Energy (ACE), which measures the intensity and duration of storms, was also above normal. On average, a season will post an ACE of 104 in the Atlantic. This year, according to hurricane researchers at Colorado State University, it was 134.

Officially running from June 1 to November 30, the 2016 season got off to an unusually early start. Hurricane Alex developed in January and made landfall in the Azores. It was the first Atlantic hurricane to occur in January since Hurricane Alice in 1955.

Of the season’s 15 named storms, five made landfall in the US –  Bonnie, Colin, Julia,  Hermine, and Matthew. Hermine was the first hurricane to make landfall in Florida in 11 years, ending the Sunshine State’s so called “hurricane drought”. The biggest headliner of the season, however, was Hurricane Matthew.

Matthew was the first storm to reach category-5 strength in the Atlantic in nine years. It weakened as it moved northward parallel to the US coast, but unleashed powerful winds and a damaging storm surge in Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina. The storm officially made landfall in South Carolina as a Category-1 hurricane, but its rain bands reached well inland and caused catastrophic river flooding in both North and South Carolina. In Fayetteville, NC – 100 miles from the coast – 14.82 inches of rain was reported.

This active hurricane season was largely the result of above average sea surface temperatures in the Atlantic and ENSO neutral to cool La Niña conditions in the Pacific. With warm water to fuel storms coupled with reduced wind shear across the Gulf of Mexico, tropical development in the Atlantic basin was essentially unhindered.

Despite this busy season, the US has luckily not been hit by a major hurricane since Wilma in 2005. With records dating back to 1851, it is the longest such stretch on NOAA’s books.

Source: NOAA

Source: NOAA

Rainstorm Brings NYC its Wettest Day of the Year

A rainy day in New York City is typically nothing to write home about, but Tuesday’s precipitation was extreme. Heavy downpours brought the city more than half a month’s worth of rain in a single day.

According to the NWS, 2.2 inches of rain was measured in Central Park. Not only is that a new daily record for the date, it was the wettest day the city has seen so far this year. On average, we normally get 4.02 inches of rain for the entire month of November.

Suffering through moderate to severe drought conditions for several months, this rainstorm was largely beneficial for the area even if did put a damper on the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony. That said, even more rain is needed to bust this drought completely. Year to date, the city’s rainfall deficit is 7.24”.

This type of heavy rain event, according to NOAA, is expected to become more common in the northeast as global temperatures rise and precipitation patterns change.

Weather and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is a long-standing holiday tradition in New York City.  For 90 years, it has marched rain or shine. Nevertheless, the weather has been a factor for 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 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 with 4.7 inches of snow measured in Central Park. The parade marched on that year, but without the “Snoopy” and “Bugs Bunny” balloons as they were damaged by high winds earlier that morning.

This year, the wind is not expected to be a problem. Temperatures, however, are forecast to be a bit chilly – mostly in the mid-40s.  So, bundle up if you are planning to watch the parade in person.

Marching from West 77th Street to West 34th Street in Manhattan, the 90th 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 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.  Credit: Macy's

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

Outcomes of the UN Climate Change Conference in Marrakesh

The UN Climate Change Conference in Marrakesh, known as COP 22, concluded on Saturday. Building on the momentum of the 2015 Paris Agreement, it began the process of putting the details of that historic accord into action.

Years in the making, the Paris Agreement set the target of holding global warming to 2°C (3.6°F) above pre-industrial levels. To achieve this goal, nearly 200 countries submitted individual voluntary emissions reduction plans known as nationally determined contributions (NDCs). Based on the current collection of NDCs, which vary widely in ambition, the agreement will only cut greenhouse gas emissions by about half of what is necessary to reach the 2°C (3.6°F) goal. It does, however, legally obligate countries to publically report how much emissions they have actually eliminated and to reassess their plans every five years.

One of the main goals of the Marrakesh meeting was to create a standardized rulebook to monitor and report on these independent undertakings. But after two weeks of negotiations and to the dismay of those hoping for quicker action, the diplomats agreed on 2018 as the deadline for setting up this vital framework. The finance of climate adaptation – the touchy subject of who will pay for what in terms of helping poor nations adapt to climate change – was also punted two years down the road. However, they did issue the Marrakech Action Proclamation re-affirming their commitment to the Paris Agreement and their promises to combat climate change.

Although ratified in record time, the Paris Agreement is a fragile accord. All commitments are voluntary and vulnerable to the political will of individual governments – both now and in the future. Moreover, there are no penalties for those who do not live up to their promises. This is why the election of Mr. Trump as the next US President sent shockwaves through the meeting in Morocco.

The President-elect has famously called climate change a “hoax” and said he would withdraw the US from the Paris Agreement. While only time will tell if Mr. Trump will follow through on his rhetoric of climate change denial, the rest of the world seems willing to move forward with plans to tackle this critical issue.

Outside of the formal COP meetings, the positive spirit of the Paris Agreement pushed forward. Four countries – Canada, Germany, Mexico and the US – announced their climate action plans through 2050. With one of the more aggressive proposals, Germany aims to essentially stop using fossil fuels and reduce its emissions between 80% and 95% by mid-century. Furthermore, a group of forty-eight developing nations, members of the Climate Vulnerable Forum, declared their intention to switch to 100% renewable energy between 2030 and 2050.

The Marrakech meeting was the 22nd session of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The next conference (COP 23) will take place in November 2017 in Bonn, Germany.

Credit: UN

Credit: UN

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

October 2016: Third Warmest October on Record for Planet Earth

Our global temperature continued its upward trend last month with October 2016 tying 2003 as the third warmest October ever recorded on this planet.

According to a report by NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, Earth’s combined average temperature for the month – over both land and sea surfaces – was 58.4°F. That is 1.31°F above the 20th-century average and only 0.47°F shy of the record that was set last year.

While heat dominated most of the planet this October, some places were particularly warm, including parts of Canada and Greenland. Here in the contiguous US, it was our third warmest October on record and warmest since 1963.

These soaring global temperatures are attributed to the long-term trend of human-caused climate change. Whereas El Niño gave temperatures a boost earlier in the year, it dissipated in June. In fact, its cooler counterpart, La Niña,  prevailed in October.

Year to date, the first ten months of 2016 were the warmest of any year on record. This significantly increases the likelihood that 2016 will surpass 2015 as the Earth’s warmest year ever recorded. Global temperature records date back to 1880.

October 2016 was Earth's third warmest October on record. Credit: NOAA

October 2016 was Earth’s third warmest October on record. Credit: NOAA

Weather and Health: Seasonal Affective Disorder

Autumn, with its crisp temperatures, is a favorite season for many. But for others, the decreasing daylight hours can bring on a condition known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

According to the Mayo Clinic, SAD is a “subtype of depression that comes and goes with the seasons” and is most common in fall and winter. Its exact cause is not fully understood, but researchers say a reduction of sunlight can disrupt the production of serotonin and melatonin – chemicals in the brain that regulate mood and sleep patterns. SAD symptoms include low spirits, lack of energy, difficulty concentrating, and changes in both sleep and eating patterns.

SAD is typically found in places that are far from the equator where daylight is at a minimum in the winter months. A report by the American Academy of Family Physicians says about 6% of the US population suffers from some degree of SAD, with most cases occurring in Alaska.

The most common treatment for SAD is light therapy. This involves sitting in front of a special lamp that gives off light that is similar to natural sunshine. It has been shown to trigger the brain chemicals that regulate mood. The more serious cases of SAD could require advanced talk-therapy or even medication.

While everyone can feel a little “blue” once in awhile, SAD is characterized by a prolonged feeling of depression. It can be a serious condition and should be diagnosed by a medical professional.

SAD. Credit: hercampus

The most common type of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) occurs in fall and winter. Credit: hercampus

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

NYC Election Day Weather

Weather does not subscribe to any political party, but it can play a major role on Election Day. Studies show that it strongly influences how many people head out to the polls, especially if poor conditions are forecast.

Here in New York City, the weather is picture perfect this year. With blue skies and temperatures in the 60s, voter turnout is expected to be high.

The exact date of Election Day varies every year, but it is always the Tuesday after the first Monday of November. Below are some interesting local weather facts about the big day.


The exact date of Election Day varies every year, but it is always the Tuesday after the first Monday of November. Credit: The Weather Gamut.

The UN Climate Change Conference in Marrakesh is Underway

COP 22, the UN Climate Change Conference in Marrakesh, Morocco, is underway. The goal of this massive meeting is to turn the ideas outlined in the 2015 Paris Agreement into action.

Years in the making, the Paris Agreement set the target of holding global warming to 2°C (3.6°F) above pre-industrial levels. To achieve this goal, nearly 200 countries submitted individual voluntary emissions reduction plans known as nationally determined contributions (NDCs).

Moving into the next phase of this historic agreement, the diplomats attending the Marrakesh meeting will hash out the framework needed to monitor and report on these independent undertakings. The ideal system would involve an independent panel with consistent standards that monitors countries to see if they are following through on their greenhouse gas reduction pledges. This type of reporting, it is believed, would encourage accountability as it applies the power of public scrutiny. Some countries, however, are expected to argue for a self-monitoring system. China and India, two of the world’s largest polluters, are likely to push for this less public path.

Another big topic at the Marrakesh meeting will be money. During the Paris talks last year, the wealthy nations of the world said they would create a fund and spend $100 billion a year to help poor nations adapt to climate change. Negotiators will have to work out the details of where and how this money be spent.

Although ratified in record time, the Paris Agreement is still a fragile accord. All commitments are voluntary and vulnerable to the political will of each individual government. Moreover, there are no penalties for those who do not live up to their promises.

That said, expectations going into Marrakesh are high as governments around the world have shown a willingness to act on climate change outside the parameters of the Paris Agreement. Last month, global leaders agreed to reduce the use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), a potent greenhouse gas commonly used as a coolant in refrigerators and air-conditioners. They also agreed to make airplanes more fuel-efficient and reduce the overall carbon footprint of air travel.

The Marrakesh conference runs through November 18.

Credit: UN

Credit: UN