Weatherdem's Weblog

Bridging climate science, citizens, and policy

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Colorado Drought Eases; Texas Drought Worsens

With over 5″ of rain in some areas of Colorado during the month of May, drought conditions have eased, especially in northeastern Colorado.  That’s the good news, at least locally.  The bad news?  An increasing proportion of Texas is being classified as being in ‘Exceptional’ drought conditions.

As seen in the figures below, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor (via NOAA’s NCDC), 4 Colorado counties that were under ‘Severe’ drought a month ago are now not designated as being in drought.  And instead of being in severe drought, 8 additional CO counties are now only ‘Abnormally Dry’.  Some of those counties are found in the Denver metro area and include Adams, Broomfield, Boulder, Denver, Jefferson and Arapahoe.  Additionally, counties to the southeast of the Denver area are now only in ‘Moderate’ instead of ‘Severe’ drought.  Unfortunately, the southeastern portion of Colorado remains in at least ‘Severe’ drought, with at least some portion of 5 counties experiencing ‘Extreme’ drought while one county (Baca) is also running into ‘Exceptional’ drought conditions.

The following two figures show where more intense drought conditions have eased in the past couple of weeks.  Keep in mind that in order to achieve these drought condition reductions, 1/3 of our annual average precipitation had to fall in the month of May.  It is unlikely that similar above-average precipitation will occur in June.  Therefore, if less than average precipitation falls, we are likely to slide back into more intense drought conditions.

Figure 1 – Drought conditions for Colorado as of May 17, 2011 (2 weeks ago).

Figure 2 – Drought conditions for Colorado as of May 24, 2011 (1 week ago).

Finally, a word on Texas.  Instead of easing, the drought in Texas has intensified in strength and increased the areal coverage of the most intense drought condition.  Again, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, ‘Exceptional’ drought now afflicts a very significant portion of Texas.  Many Texas counties are now experiencing the worst drought in modern recorded history.  Crop losses are mounting and will likely top $1 Billion by the end of the year.  Thousands of fires have occurred across Texas, setting records for acreage burned by this calendar date in the year.

In a similar vein, widespread and intense drought is also affecting southern China.  A Chinese water expert has warned the drought is a “warning signal” of negative effects to come to China’s fragile water system.  35 million people are currently affected in 5 provinces.  Imagine what cascading effects will occur when that figure reaches 9 digits.

Cross-posted at SquareState.

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Will The Economy Grow Or Slow?

Generally, good economic discussion occurs at this blog.  There is a little too much commentary regarding what other folks are saying at other blogs (put another way, too much navel gazing and chest thumping).  The comparison between the first blog’s authors and others is especially silly when the following two statements were made in the same blog post:

In other words, the blogospheric Doomgasm has been prompted by fears that the economy will grow 1% more this quarter than last quarter!

For the record, I still see a slowdown or stall this quarter and/or next.

Look, either you think the economy will grow or slow this quarter.  It can’t do both at the same time.  Make a prediction based on what data you think you have that can support that prediction.

I don’t, for instance, write that I think the next 10 years will be hotter than the last 10 in one sentence, then write that I think cooling will occur.  It always amazes me how people slam climate science predictions (which have been correct more often than not, by the way) but let economists and economic commentators get away with double-speak.  Economists are not infallible gods.

By the way, I think I’ll listen to what Paul Krugman has to say about the potential future state of the U.S. economy.  He has earned a Nobel Prize, after all.

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2-3 Year Supply of Foreclosed Homes Means Economic Recovery Will Remain Weak

28% of all home sales in the first quarter of 2011 were foreclosures.  In a healthy economy, that number doesn’t rise above 5%.

158,434 homes in some stage of foreclosure sold in the first quarter.  With around1.9 million homes remaining in foreclosure, the supply of just these types of homes will last between 2 and 3 years.  If no other major economic disruptions occur in the meantime, it will only be after that time that any economic recovery from 2007 can truly occur.

I’m not an economist, but I don’t see that as likely, quite frankly.  Seven years after the last recession started will be a prime time for another to start.  And the Federal Reserve and Treasury Department has done more to prop up billionaires than lower and middle class Americans, despite the fact that the latter sets are what actually drive the U.S. economy toward growth.  Moreover, those two institutions have run out of actions they can take.  Interest rates continue to hover near zero for banks (not that you and I see any tangible benefits) while trillions of dollars (literally) have been loaned to banks at those near-zero interest rates.  And that’s only a couple of examples of how close to the end of the string they are.

What left?  Well, the government abdicated its responsibility to ensure that a large enough economic stimulus was provided in 2009.  Politicians of both major parties refused to listen to economists who were experts on how we exited the Great Depression.  As a result, we’re left with a tepid economy and even worse disparate wealth differences between the top and bottom than prior to 2007.  I don’t see the situation improving appreciably any time soon.

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NASA: Globe In April Was 4th Warmest On Record

Even with a strong La Niña (see figure 2 below) and a slow exit from a deep solar minimum (see figure 3 below), the globally averaged temperature tied for the 4th warmest April on record, according to NASA’s GISS.  At 0.55°C above the 1951-1980 average, April 2011’s warmth trails only 2005, 2007, and 2010.  It tied with 2002 and just beat 1998.  It is worth noting that in 2010 and 1998, strong El Niños were occurring.  Such is the state of the climate having been forced by our species’ greenhouse gas pollution.  April’s 0.55°C anomaly follows March’s 0.57°C anomaly.

The location of warm and cool temperature anomalies across the globe has shifted somewhat from the patterns observed in 2010, as the first figure below shows.  While cooler than normal temperatures have occurred over the Canadian Arctic, the Eurasian Arctic remains much warmer than normal.  The broad stretch of below average temperatures across the central-eastern Pacific are the remnants of the waning La Niña.  Within 3-6 months, I expect to see more areas impacted by above average temperatures as the effects of La Niña go away.  And unless a major volcano event occurs within the next two years, I expect that 2012 will challenge 2010 for the warmest year on record.

Figure 1 – NASA GISS‘s plots of temperature anomaly for April 2011 (top-left), Feb.-Apr. 2011 (top-right), May 2010-Apr. 2011 (bottom-left) and the GISS 12-month running mean time series dating back to 1880.  The retreat from 2010’s record warmth can be seen by the latest 5 data points.

Figure 2 – Australia’s BOM time series of sea surface temperatures in the Nino3.4 region.  The anomalously cool temperatures from Jul 2010 through March 2011 are indicative of La Niña conditions.

Figure 3 – Physikalisch Meteorologisches Observatorium Davos, World Radiation Center‘s time series of solar irradiance through early 2011.  The extended “tail” to the right of the last solar peak in 2001 represents a deep, long-lived solar minimum.  Some of the Earth’s warmest annual global temperatures were recorded during this time period, which ends the silly argument that the sun alone is responsible for the warming observed on Earth.

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U.K. Announces Aggressive Emissions Cuts – Will They Follow Through?

The U.K. has announced a policy that should be lauded:

Energy Secretary Chris Huhne told Parliament that Britain would reduce the emissions by about 50 percent from benchmark emission levels in 1990, part of its legally mandated commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 60 percent by 2030, and 80 percent by 2050.

This news is huge.  Note first the benchmark: 1990 emission levels.  The U.S.’s wasted effort at a needed emissions policy change was going to use 2005 as a benchmark – which was woefully inadequate.  Of course, the policy never got changed so our trial benchmark is irrelevant.

What we need to know – and we obviously cannot for the time being – is whether this policy proposal will be watered down and if so by how much.  No other European country has yet proposed such an aggressive cut in emissions.  So while the U.K. is first and that’s a good thing because it moves the debate forward, the sorry state of politics in general likely means that the target won’t stand when put into place.  But as long their efforts move actual policy forward, that’s a good thing.  I just hope it’s enough and in time.

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Ed Schultz & bin Laden

The assassination of Osama bin Laden generated, as it should have, a considerable amount of coverage from all over the political spectrum.  As the discussion progressed, but before hard-hitting questions could be explored, camps inevitably formed.  From my perspective, radio and TV pundit Ed Schultz took a lead position in the “Rah-rah” camp.  This group decided early on that the President and his advisors should be supported, no matter what.  As long as they said things should have been done, that’s pretty much good enough for them.  I don’t consider myself to be a member of this camp.  I continue to have serious reservations about how the operation was carried out and worry about what kind of a precedent was set for future executives, including Barack Obama in the near future.

As many know, Michael Moore and others also don’t consider themselves members of this camp.  For this, they were called out by Schultz and the “Rah-rah” camp.  Schultz called Moore and others who expressed their reservations “intellectual hand-wringers”.  I personally found it offensive that citizens trying to demand answers from a Democratic President were insulted by a Rah-rah-er.  Schultz and other so-called liberals bashed conservatives for years for falling in line behind the Bush Regime and not performing their required duties as American citizens.

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Bad Decision: Australia’s Energy Problem vs. Deficit

One region where global warming is starting to really make its influence felt is Australia.  They have experienced a deep and long drought in the past decade and what Australian officials called “biblical” floods in 2010.  Those floods were caused by rains from storm systems that had passed over record warm seas.  So what does the country do in response?  Well, by continuing to listen to the same “free-marketeers” that sent the rest of the world into the Great Recession in 2007/2008, they decided that the greatest threat facing their country was their deficit.  In so doing, they decided that cutting A$220 million from their Solar Flagships program, set up in 2009 to be able to provide 20% renewable power by 2020 would be good policy.

Pay less now and guarantee that more will have to be paid later.  What programs will Australia cut in the future (because we all know the rich pay too damn much in taxes already) in order to deal with worsening global warming effects because the Australians of today decided they didn’t want to have deal with it?

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Choices: Fuels, Efficiency, Transit vs. Drilling

I keep writing that we as a society and a species have choices that we’re continually making today that will affect the climate of tomorrow.  Most choices involve spending some small outlay of money today in order to not have to spend much larger sums just to adapt tomorrow.  The choice I’ll write about today deals with one of the Republican Teabaggers’ favorites: gradually use less fossil fuels in our transportation sector or “Drill, bagger, drill!”  As usual, the Teabaggers are on the wrong side of the issue, as this chart from the NRDC, using data from the Energy Information Administration shows:

The black line on top would be the pathetically measly result of opening up new drilling areas to the dirty energy corporations: less than 1 million more barrels of oil per day by 2025.  Real energy independent, eh?  Aside from the fact that oil corporations will sell that oil to whomever will buy it most expensively (i.e., not in the U.S.), three of the other measures would prevent the use of the same amount of oil by themselves.   Combined with other measures, the total number of barrels of oil that wouldn’t have to be bought and used is 5x the amount made available by opening up new drilling areas.

The results of using 5 million fewer barrels of oil per day by 2025 can’t be understated: less environmental damage in all aspects of the drilling process; real steps toward energy independence; freedom to keep more money in Americans’ pockets (isn’t that what Teabaggers are supposed to be all about, anyway?); more efficient transportation system.  And on and on it goes.

Going the drilling route couldn’t be more stupid.  This choice, as is the case for others, is pretty simple.

[h/t MB @ dKos)

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Record Drought, Wildfires & Record Flooding in U.S. = New Normal

If you encounter national news with any regularity, you’ve probably heard separate news stories that are very much connected.  The first are the record wildfires plaguing Texas – while relatively few in number, the acreage they’ve burned has set a number of records.  The wildfires are accompanied by record drought conditions.  The extreme drought conditions cover a large majority (73.73%) of Texas as of May 3, 2011, as the figure below from the U.S. Drought Monitor shows.  Exceptional drought conditions now affect a whopping 25.96% of Texas.  No part of the state is doing better than abnormally dry this week, which is actually somewhat of an improvement over conditions a week ago.

For many parts of the state, these conditions are more severe than those encountered at any time during the Dust Bowl years, or at any point since record keeping began.

Combine this terrible news with the ongoing saga of record flooding occurring across the middle and southern Mississippi River as well as water sources that feed the river.  Depending on the specific location, this is either the highest the river has ever been or comes in at a close 2nd place.  Those 2nd place finishes are largely a result of decades of levee construction designed to prevent flooding in population centers.  In order to spare those places, planned destruction of levees has taken place in selected locales.  The high rivers and flooding are expected to affect the region for weeks to months to come.  Look at the before and after picture near Memphis, TN.

These sets of simultaneous disasters have preliminary cost estimates of hundreds of millions of dollars.  That figure is likely to rise.

What’s causing these disasters?  The effects of the strong La Nina of 2010-2011 that is currently subsiding.  These effects are likely to continue for a few more months before conditions return to a more normal state.  Underlying the La Nina effects is, of course, global warming.  These type of conditions have been projected to occur for years.  And now the important part: as bad as things are today, they are only likely to get worse in the years and decades ahead.  Precipitation patterns are expected to grow in intensity but fall in frequency.  That means fewer days with rain every year, but when the rain does come, it will come hard and fast.  Worsening drought conditions are likely to spread across the country’s interior.  Those conditions are likely to be interspersed with record rainfall and record flooding.

The science has indicated that these conditions would occur.  The only thing that was mis-projected was the timing: these conditions weren’t supposed to occur for another decade or two.  These conditions will probably grow less severe in the months ahead.  That’s the nature of both the climate system and weather conditions over time.  As stated above, the waning La Nina should allow “normal” weather patterns to return by this fall.  What won’t go away are the new base conditions from which daily weather and future El Ninos and La Ninas exist.  The next flood or drought or wildfire season may not be as bad as this one.  In fact, they probably won’t be.  But the next 10 or 100 floods, droughts and wildfire seasons are likely to be worse, on average, than this one because of the man-made global warming conditions that continue to worsen because of our decision not to act.  Those next sets of disasters will only grow more expensive in terms of lives lost, crops lost, towns affected and ecosystems permanently altered.

The point at which we realize those costs are too high and the cost of taking action on global warming has always been lower will mark a momentous change in our societies.  The bad news is that change will not instantly reduce the severity of disasters yet to come – decades’ worth of warming will still exist in the climate system.  If you don’t like this drought or this wildfire season or this flooding, the solution is clear: it’s time to stop polluting our planet with man-made greenhouse gases.

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April 2011 CO2 Concentration: 393.18ppm

An average of 393.18ppm CO2 concentration was measured at NOAA’s Mauna Loa, Hawai’i’s  Observatory during April 2011.

That value is the highest in recorded history.  Last year’s 392.49 was the previous highest April value ever recorded.  This year’s value is 0.69ppm higher than April 2010.  It is 0.76ppm higher than March 2011.

A rough extrapolation of the last few months’ concentrations projects out to 394-395ppm in May, the month during which the yearly maximum concentration is typically recorded.

This will likely be the last year that CO2 concentrations will fall below 390ppm during any calendar month.  The aggressive march toward 400ppm continues.  Keep in mind that scientists have recommended that 350ppm is the current target for which humanity should aim in order to keep climate extremes from overwhelming our civilization.


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