Extreme Weather and Climate Change: The Northeast
WHAT WE KNOW
Devastating deluges, record floods and deadly heat waves have raised the question of whether there’s a connection between these events and global warming.
The bottom line answer is yes: Heat waves are longer and hotter than they used to be and some regions are suffering from catastrophic drought. Heavy rains are more frequent and can be more intense and rainfall records have been smashed. These events fit a pattern that climate scientists have long expected to appear as the result of increased greenhouse gases in our atmosphere. That doesn’t mean global warming is the only culprit: extreme weather was happening before global warming began. But there’s general scientific agreement that global warming has contributed to a trend toward more intense extremes of heat and precipitation around the world, is partly to blame for specific extreme weather events over the last decade and will continue to influence both in the future.
Major Rainstorms and Floods of 2011
A quick summary of 2011 weather highlights would read approximately like this: Devastating snowstorm, devastating snowstorm, blizzard, heat wave, heat wave, torrential rains, hurricane (more torrential rains), floods, hurricane remnants (even more torrential rains), worse floods, even more devastating snowstorm—and that only takes you through October. The details follow.
RECORD SMASHING RAIN
All-Time Rainiest Month:
Rainiest August of All Time
Rainiest September of All Time
Rainiest August-September of
Rainiest Year Ever *
In late August, Hurricane Irene became the first hurricane to make landfall in New Jersey in more than 100 years, dumping 6 to 8 inches of rain in parts of New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Vermont. This was on top of the 6 to 8 inches that had already fallen in August.
In early September, Irene was followed by more heavy rain due in part to the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee which caused several Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern states to experience historic flooding (Pennsylvania, New York and Virginia) and in Pennsylvania alone forced 75,000 people to evacuate and destroyed 2,000 homes.
The September rains swelled the Susquehanna and Delaware Rivers to record-breaking levels in Binghamton and Owego, NY, and Waverly and Wilkes-Barre, PA, to name just a few.
In Hershey PA, Swatara Creek crested at 26.8 feet, beating the previous record by more than 10 feet.
Flood damage, which is estimated at around $1 billion, was especially severe because the rains fell on a region that had already been saturated with drenching rainfall in the preceding weeks and months including from Hurricane Irene in late August.
- On September 8th, a whopping 7.03 inches of rain fell in Ft. Belvoir, VA., in just three hours. According to the National Weather Service (NWS), that amount of rain in that amount of time was “off the charts above a 1000-year rainfall (based on precipitation frequency from Quantico).” Largely due to Tropical Storm Lee, Pennsylvania recorded its rainiest September on record, according to the National Climatic Data Center.
January through September was the rainiest such period on record in New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Vermont.
Major Snowstorms of 2011
The blizzard that paralyzed New York City shortly after Christmas 2010 was followed by record-breaking snowstorms in the Northeast and Midwest during January and February.
Six cities saw their snowiest January on record: Hartford, CT (57.0 inches), Bridgeport, CT (42.0 inches); Newark, NJ (37.4 inches); Central Park, NY (36.0 inches); Islip, NY (34.3 inches); and LaGuardia Airport, NY (32.6 inches).
Hartford’s 57 inches of snow in January made it the city’s all-time snowiest month on record.
Thanks to reduced sea ice in the Arctic Ocean in summer and fall, the Arctic has been unusually warm. Recent research suggests this may have changed air circulation patterns in winter, pushing colder than normal air down toward North America and Europe (22, 23, 24).
An unusually early major winter storm that struck the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast in late October, 2011 caused widespread tree damage and power outages and contributed to 22 deaths. The storm, nicknamed “Snowtober”, knocked out power to more than three million customers from West Virginia to Maine and resulted in the largest power outage in Connecticut’s history. Dropping up to 32 inches of snow, it was the most severe early-season snowstorm in New England since before the Civil War.
- According to one insurance company estimate, Snowtober resulted in upwards of $3 billion in damage.
2011 Heat Records
April 2011 was the warmest April on record for Portland, ME, New York, NY and Atlantic City, NJ.
June 2011 was the warmest June on record for Philadelphia, PA.
Philadelphia, PA, Trenton, NJ and Atlantic City NJ, all set records for the most days ever above 90°F.
- Summer 2011 was the hottest summer on record for Boston, MA and Windsor, CT.
(1) Hegerl, G.C., F. W. Zwiers, P. Braconnot, N.P. Gillett, Y. Luo, J.A. Marengo Orsini, N. Nicholls, J.E. Penner and P.A. Stott, 2007: Understanding and Attributing Climate Change. In: Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Solomon, S., D. Qin, M. Manning, Z. Chen, M. Marquis, K.B. Averyt, M. Tignor and H.L. Miller (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA.
(2) Identification of human-induced changes in atmospheric moisture content
Author(s): Santer B. D.; Mears C.; Wentz F. J.; et al.
Source: PROCEEDINGS OF THE NATIONAL ACADEMY OF SCIENCES OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA Volume: 104 Issue: 39 Pages: 15248-15253 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0702872104 Published: SEP 25 2007
(3) Trapp, R. J., N. S., Diffenbaugh, and A. Gluhovsky (2009), Transient response of severe thunderstorm forcing to elevated greenhouse gas concentrations, Geophys. Res. Lett., 36, L01703, doi:10.1029/2008GL036203.
(4) Trenberth, K.E., P.D. Jones, P. Ambenje, R. Bojariu, D. Easterling, A. Klein Tank, D. Parker, F. Rahimzadeh, J.A. Renwick, M. Rusticucci, B. Soden and P. Zhai, 2007: Observations: Surface and Atmospheric Climate Change. In: Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Solomon, S., D. Qin, M. Manning, Z. Chen, M. Marquis, K.B. Averyt, M. Tignor and H.L. Miller (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA.
(5a) Stott, P. A., Gillett, N. P., Hegerl, G. C., Karoly, D. J., Stone, D. A., Zhang, X. and Zwiers, F. , 2010: Detection and attribution of climate change: a regional perspective. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change, 1: 192–211. doi: 10.1002/wcc.34;
(5b) Meehl, G.A., T.F. Stocker, W.D. Collins, P. Friedlingstein, A.T. Gaye, J.M. Gregory, A. Kitoh, R. Knutti, J.M. Murphy, A. Noda, S.C.B. Raper, I.G. Watterson, A.J. Weaver and Z.-C. Zhao, 2007: Global Climate Projections. In: Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Solomon, S., D. Qin, M. Manning, Z. Chen, M. Marquis, K.B. Averyt, M. Tignor and H.L. Miller (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA.
(6a) Christidis, N., P.A. Stott, and S. Brown, 2011: The role of human activity in the recent warming of extremely warm daytime temperatures. Journal of Climate doi:10.1175/2011JCLI4150.1http://journals.ametsoc.org/doi/abs/10.1175/2011JCLI4150.1
(6b) Human contribution to the European heatwave of 2003 (vol 432, pg 610, 2004)
Author(s): Stott PA; Stone DA; Allen MR
Source: NATURE Volume: 436 Issue: 7054 Pages: 1200-1200 DOI: 10.1038/nature04099 Published: AUG 25 2005
(7) Droughtunder global warming: a review
Author(s): Dai Aiguo
Source: WILEY INTERDISCIPLINARY REVIEWS-CLIMATE CHANGE Volume: 2 Issue: 1 Pages: 45-65 DOI: 10.1002/wcc.81 Published: JAN-FEB 2011
(8) Detecting the effect of climate change on Canadian forestfires
Author(s): Gillett NP; Weaver AJ; Zwiers FW; et al.
Source: GEOPHYSICAL RESEARCH LETTERS Volume: 31 Issue: 18 Article Number: L18211 DOI: 10.1029/2004GL020044 Published: SEP 29 2004
(9) Relative increase of record high maximum temperatures compared to record low minimum temperatures in the U. S.
Author(s): Meehl Gerald A.; Tebaldi Claudia; Walton Guy; et al.
Source: GEOPHYSICAL RESEARCH LETTERS Volume: 36 Article Number: L23701 DOI: 10.1029/2009GL040736 Published: DEC 1 2009
(10) Global observed changes in daily climate extremesof temperature and precipitation
Author(s): Alexander LV; Zhang X; Peterson TC; et al.
Source: JOURNAL OF GEOPHYSICAL RESEARCH-ATMOSPHERES Volume: 111 Issue: D5 Article Number: D05109 DOI: 10.1029/2005JD006290 Published: MAR 15 2006
(11) Single-step attribution of increasing frequencies of very warm regional temperatures to human influence
Author(s): Stott Peter A.; Jones Gareth S.; Christidis Nikolaos; et al.
Source: ATMOSPHERIC SCIENCE LETTERS Volume: 12 Issue: 2 Pages: 220-227 DOI: 10.1002/asl.315 Published: APR-JUN 2011
(13) Confalonieri, U., B. Menne, R. Akhtar, K.L. Ebi, M. Hauengue, R.S. Kovats, B. Revich and A. Woodward, 2007: Human health. Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, M.L. Parry, O.F. Canziani, J.P. Palutikof, P.J. van der Linden and C.E. Hanson, Eds., Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, 391-431.
(14) Easterling, W.E., P.K. Aggarwal, P. Batima, K.M. Brander, L. Erda, S.M. Howden, A. Kirilenko, J. Morton, J.-F. Soussana, J. Schmidhuber and F.N. Tubiello, 2007: Food, fibre and forest products. Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, M.L. Parry, O.F. Canziani, J.P. Palutikof, P.J. van der Linden and C.E. Hanson, Eds., Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, 273-313.
(15) Human-induced changes in the hydrology of the western United States
Author(s): Barnett Tim P.; Pierce David W.; Hidalgo Hugo G.; et al.
Source: SCIENCE Volume: 319 Issue: 5866 Pages: 1080-1083 DOI: 10.1126/science.1152538 Published: FEB 22 2008
Times Cited: 151(from Web of Science)
(16) Climate and wildfire area burned in western U. S. ecoprovinces, 1916-2003
Author(s): Littell Jeremy S.; McKenzie Donald; Peterson David L.; et al.
Source: ECOLOGICAL APPLICATIONS Volume: 19 Issue: 4 Pages: 1003-1021 DOI: 10.1890/07-1183.1 Published: JUL 2009 Times Cited: 44(from Web of Science)
(17) Solomon, S. et al. , 2011, Climate Stabilization Targets, NRC Report. The National Academies Press. Washington, DC, 286 pp.
(18) Distinct causes for two principal US droughtsof the 20th century
Author(s): Hoerling Martin; Quan Xiao-Wei; Eischeid Jon
Source: GEOPHYSICAL RESEARCH LETTERS Volume: 36 Article Number: L19708 DOI: 10.1029/2009GL039860 Published: OCT 8 2009
(19) Dominant modes of moisture flux anomalies over North America
Author(s): Dominguez F; Kumar P
Source: JOURNAL OF HYDROMETEOROLOGY Volume: 6 Issue: 2 Pages: 194-209 DOI: 10.1175/JHM417.1 Published: APR 2005
(21) Anthropogenic greenhouse gas contribution to flood risk in England and Wales in autumn 2000
Author(s): Pall Pardeep; Aina Tolu; Stone Daithi A.; et al.
Source: NATURE Volume: 470 Issue: 7334 Pages: 382-385 DOI: 10.1038/nature09762 Published: FEB 17 2011
(23) Francis, J.A., W. Chan, D.J. Leathers, J.R. Miller, and D.E. Veron (2009), Winter Northern Hemisphere weather patterns remember summer Arctic sea-ice extent, Geophys. Res. Lett., 36, L07503, doi:10.1029/2009GL037274.