The past few winters have featured unusually cold and snowy conditions in the Eastern U.S. and parts of Europe, causing many to question whether global warming exists at all. In the wake of several Mid-Atlantic and Northeast blizzards, which were given social media-driven monikers such as "Snowpocalypse" and "Snowmageddon," journalists and scientists went to great lengths to explain that heavy snowstorms are actually consistent with global warming. In fact, warming sea and air temperatures are putting more water vapor into the air, which supplies more energy for storms to work with and drives precipitation extremes.
That explains the snow, but not the cold. Last winter, however, I wrote several stories about a tantalizing explanation for the snow and cold, which I called the "Arctic Paradox." In short, it holds that as the Arctic warms up — it's generally warming twice as fast as the rest of the globe — the loss of sea ice and changes in how heat moves between the ocean and the atmosphere is rearranging weather patterns. The result, paradoxically, favors colder and snowier conditions outside the Arctic. In other words, the Arctic gets warmer, while winters in Boston, London, and Paris turn colder and snowier.
Now, two new studies have recently been published that advance this concept. The lead author of both studies, Judah Cohen of Atmospheric and Environmental Research, a private forecasting firm based in Lexington, Mass., has spent years trying to f...
The historic Texas drought that has cost the state several billion dollars in damage to agricultural interests, may also harm an endangered species that has only recently seen a rebound in its population numbers: the whooping crane.
Whooping cranes are listed under the Endangered Species Act after being decimated by the now-banned insecticide DDT. The snowy white birds are North America's tallest bird species, standing up to 5 feet tall, and they can live for two decades or more.
Whooping cranes at the International Crane Foundation in Baraboo, Wisconsin. Credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), the birds' name "probably originated from the loud, single-note vocalization given repeatedly by the birds when they are alarmed." Whooping cranes exist in the wild at just three locations, including the coastal marshes at Aransas, Texas. One population migrates there for the winter, and summers in southern Canada. According to FWS, there were just 383 wild whooping cranes as of 2010.
As the AP reported on Jan. 9, the Texas drought is limiting the food available for the whooping cranes in the marsh areas, which could increase the death rate during the birds' long journey back to Canada. Unlike other birds, whooping cranes do not stop and graze for food during their migratory journeys, so it's critical that they have an adequate supply of food during the winter.
According to the AP story:
"The lack of rain has made estuaries and marshlands too salty for blue crabs to thrive and destroyed a usually plentiful supply...
Longstanding high temperature records were annihilated yesterday in eight states, most especially in North and South Dakota, which are typically among the nation's coldest places at this time of year.
It was warmer in Rapid City, S.D., with a high of 73°F yesterday, than it was in Miami, where the temperature topped out at 69°F. Mitchell, S.D., reached 68°F, an all-time record high for the month of January (recordkeeping began there in 1896).
Aberdeen, S.D., reached 63°F, which was also the warmest temperature ever recorded there during the month of January, and the list goes on.
Climate studies show that because of global warming, there are now many more record highs being set in the U.S. each year compared to record lows. In 2011, the ratio was about three warm temperature records to every cold temperature record.
The National Weather Service said on its Sioux Falls, S.D., website that one sign pointing to the unusual nature of the warm weather was the fact that old records were exceeded by huge margins, as much as 17 degrees warmer than previous records, the agency's website states. As noted by the Weather Channel's Twitter account, the high temperature of 61°F in Minot, N.D., — an all-time January record — was the average high temperature in April, according to The Weather Channel.
The warm weather so far this winter is raising the risks for anyone venturing out on frozen lakes, rivers or ponds in the region. The Weather Service warned that...
By Andrew Freedman
(Originally published on Washington Post's Capital Weather Gang)
In a year marked by a relentless assault of extreme weather, several events stand out. Some, like the tornado that leveled Joplin, Missouri on May 22. were extraordinarily devastating and deadly. Others — such as the “Snowtober” storm that buried the Northeast under a crushing load of heavy, wet snow — were downright freakish. In a typical weather year, one might expect a few extreme events like these.
But this was no ordinary year. At times it seemed as if Mother Nature was on steroids, slamming Americans with one deadly event after another (a good case can be made that Mother Nature is, in fact, on steroids, thanks to global warming). Consider this: according to NOAA, there were at least 12 events that cost a billion dollars or more, an all-time record (there were 14 such events by other measures). More than 1,000 people died from weather-related causes this year, most of them from tornadoes, and more than 8,000 people were injured, according to the National Weather Service.
Here are the top 5 extreme weather events of 2011 . . . (read more at Washington Post's Capital Weather Gang blog)
And for a look at the Top 10 hardest-hit states — topped by Texas, Alabama and Missouri — read Climate Central’s report from earlier this month.
With the end of the year less than a week away, some noteworthy climate statistics are trickling in to the Climate Central newsroom. First up, the worst one-year drought in the history of Texas may help the Lone Star State set a milestone for the warmest and driest year on record there. Through the end of November, the state was on track to set both those marks, so we'll see if recent rain and snow have put these records just out of reach when the final numbers are calculated.
Precipitation departures from normal during 2011 (through December 27). Credit: NOAA.
Climate change projections show that droughts may become more frequent and intense in the Southwest U.S., although this year's drought is thought to have been triggered mainly by La Nina. Some scientists, including the Texas state climatologist, have said the record warmth is likely partly due to global warming.
While Texas and other parts of the Southwest and Southern Plains were parched this year, other areas of the country suffered from a surplus of water. In fact, this year the U.S. saw an unprecedented area affected by extreme drought and unusually wet extremes. For example, in Vermont, Montpelier and Saint Johnsbury have broken their yearly precipitation records, and Burlington only needs 0.15 more inches of precipitation to set a record.
Thanks to a combination of La Niña in the tropical Pacific Ocean and the positive phase of the Arctic Oscillation, the big cities in the Northeast have had a remarkably snowless and mild start to the 2011/12 winter. No snow fell this m...