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Bridging climate science, citizens, and policy

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Carmakers Agree To Near-Doubling of mpg: 54.5 by 2025

I didn’t think I’d see this day come any time soon: U.S. and foreign carmakers have agreed with the Obama administration to increase miles-per-gallon standards of cars and light trucks sold in the U.S. to 54.5mpg by 2025.  This follows news that standards will be increased to 35.5mpg by 2016.

Note that both of these standards are well within reach of today’s technologies.  Nothing revolutionary has to happen in the next 14 years to achieve these standards, as carmakers have already demonstrated in Europe and Asia.  What’s been missing in America is the will power to do the strategically correct thing: reduce fuel consumption, which will help ease the impact on Earth’s climate system, save consumers money, and boost our national security standards, all at one time.

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Tropical Storm Don Will Land Along Far Southern Texas Coast; Will Drought Be Impacted?

Tropical Storm Don continues to fight dry air and northerly wind shear as it moves WNW across the Gulf of Mexico.  As of this morning, it looks increasingly likely that T.S. Don will make landfall somewhere along the far southern Texas or far northeastern Mexican coast late tonight or early tomorrow morning (local time).

This track is somewhat unfortunate for most of Texas, since T.S. Don is expected to curve toward the WSW as it continues moving inland over Mexico.  The far southern portion of Texas is experiencing drought conditions (see map from yesterday), but they are of lesser magnitude than portions of Texas to the  north.  Still, rainfall is needed in southern Texas and northern Mexico also.  Hopefully T.S. Don will begin shifting conditions in the region.  Tropical moisture entering the region can be recycled a number of times as the North American monsoon continues to push storms up from Mexico into the southern U.S.

For those interested in tropical meteorology, another tropical disturbance is moving across the Atlantic, moving west toward the Lesser Antilles.  The National Hurricane Center is giving the system a 30% chance of developing into a named storm in the next 48 hours.

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Tropical Storm Don Should Land Along Texas Coast; What Will Effect On Drought Be?

A tropical wave that didn’t look terribly impressive as it traversed the Atlantic from Africa to the Caribbean intensified into the 4th named storm of the 2011 season: Tropical Storm Don.  Don is a small storm and is being impacted by dry air over the western Gulf of Mexico and northerly wind shear that isn’t allowing for a stacked system to develop.

All in all, that might be the best scenario for Texas, which is suffering through its worst drought in recorded history:

Brought about by climate change and La Nina, a drought of this magnitude can feed on itself by evaporating most of the soil moisture over a large area, thereby reducing the chance of thunderstorms to form and rain to fall.  This is where T.S. Don comes in.  If it stays on the small and weak side, downpouring rain and wind won’t be factors after landfall.  A sizable amount of rain will still likely fall, but hopefully flooding won’t be as much of a problem as it would be if Don were much larger and stronger.

It will take a week or two after projected landfall (this Friday) to ascertain how much of an impact Don has on the Texas Drought.

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Chicago Daily Precipitaiton Record Set

I caught this short post over at Capital Climate:

The National Weather Service (NWS) reports that the 6.86″ of rainfall at Chicago on Saturday, July 23, broke the record for the date of 2.79″ set just last year. It also set an all-time calendar day precipitation record, surpassing the 6.64″ on September 13, 2008. The 8.20″ of rainfall in a 24-hour period ending 7 am CDT Saturday was below the record set on August 13-14, 1987, however.

With one week remaining in the month, the July total of 9.04″ is now slightly over half an inch below the July monthly record of 9.56″ in July 1889. The 0.45″ of rain which fell through the first 3 weeks of the month would have made this the 3rd driest July in 140 years of Chicago records dating back to 1871.

7 inches of rain falling anywhere is incredible.  This is a reminder that extreme weather events like this will become more and more common the longer we continue to pollute heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere.  This kind of event puts incredible strain on infrastructure, which needs to be maintained and repaired.  Such endeavors will only become more expensive because the powered elite want to transfer Americans’ wealth to dirty energy corporations.

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NASA’s Discovery Class Missions: Discovery 12 Pre-Selection Made

I definitely missed this a couple of months ago:

NASA announced three future key missions preselected as part of the Discovery program named GEMS, TiME and Comet Hopper.

The Geophysical Monitoring Station (GEMS) will perform for the first time an in-situ investigation of the interior of Mars.

The Titan Mare Explorer (TiME) [...] proposes to determine the composition and depth of the seas of Titan their variation over time and their relation with meteorology and the geography of their surroundings.

The Comet Hopper (Chopper) mission proposes to study in detail a comet over its full revolution around the sun.  The spacecraft will “hop” on the small comet nucleus and collect data about its surface composition and properties. Taking advantage of the weak gravity of the comet nucleus, it will be able to go back in orbit (a “sortie” as shown in the figure above) and remains around the nucleus to study as well the cometary coma to understand the link between the surface activity and the cometary activity.

All three sound like fascinating missions.  Unfortunately, only one will be selected for funding.

The NASA Discovery program is a low-cost mission ($425 million FY2010) program aimed at developing and supporting a well-defined and narrow-range science mission in the field of planetary exploration.

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Mars Science Laboratory Landing Site Decided: Gale Crater

In an update to my post earlier this week, NASA has decided that the Mars Science Laboratory’s target landing site will be Gale Crater.

Gale crater is about 96 miles (154 kilometers) wide and has a mountain at its center that rises higher, from the crater floor up, than Mount Rainer near Seattle. The crater, which is named after Australian astronomer Walter F. Gale, is so large that the U.S. states of Connecticut and Rhode Island could fit inside it, NASA officials said.

Launch is set for November of this year, with touchdown expected in August 2012.

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Another Republican In Favor Of Bigger Government

Not that the rabid right-wing teabaggers will deign to realize the irony of the situation, but Sen. Shelby (RTB-AL) wants to break the Consumer Financial Protection Board under the weight of unnecessary, bloated government.  Instead of letting the agency do its duly appointed business, Shelby wants to set up a five-member panel over the director, give Congress control over its finances and give corporate mega-banks that caused the Great Recession veto power over new regulations.

Stay classy, you big-gubmint lover.

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NASA & NOAA: June 2011 Among Top 10 Warmest On Record

According to data released by NASA and NOAA this month, June 2011 ranked among the top 10 warmest Junes on record: NASA recorded the 8th warmest June in its dataset; NOAA recorded the 7th warmest June in its dataset.  The two agencies have slightly different analysis techniques, which actually helps to reinforce the results from each other.

The details:

June’s global average temperatures were 0.50°C above normal (1951-1980), according to NASA.  The warmest regions on Earth are exactly where climate models have been projecting the most warmth to occur for years: high latitudes (think Arctic & Antarctic Circles).  The past three months have a +0.49°C temperature anomaly.  And the latest 12-month period (Jul 2010 – Jun 2011) had a +0.52°C temperature anomaly.  Additionally, the March-April-May period of 2011 tied for the 7th warmest on record.

According to NOAA, June’s global average temperatures were 0.58°C (1.04°F) above the 20th century mean of 15.5°C (59.9°F).  NOAA’s global temperature anomaly map reinforces the message: high latitudes are warming at a faster rate than the mid- or low-latitudes.  The extreme warmth over Siberia is especially worrisome due to the vast methane reserves locked into the tundra and under the seabed near the region.  Methane is a stronger greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, the leading cause of the warmth we’re now witnessing.

These placements high on the list of recorded temperatures come at a time when the recent strong La Nina is coming to an end (which means anomalously cool Pacific waters return to normal temperatures), and when solar irradiance remains at relatively low levels as the most recent solar cycle continues to ramp up.  Recall that a favorite talking point of Deniers is the sun remains the only important component of climate system drivers.  This has been proven false, as 2010, tied for the warmest year on record with 2005, occurred when solar output was at its most recent minimum.  Humans have become the dominant forcing mechanism – a role that doesn’t look likely to end within the next 50-100 years.

Many future Junes will have the opportunity to pass this year’s values.  That’s because the overwhelming majority of heat that has been absorbed in the climate system has been stored in the world’s oceans:

That heat will eventually be released into the atmosphere, making the surface warmer and warmer year after year, decade after decade.  Right now, the atmosphere is being affected by heat that was absorbed by the ocean 50-100 years ago.  The heat absorbed from 1980-current won’t really impact conditions until 2030-2060.  The heat wave impacting the U.S. this year?  That will likely become commonplace by mid-century.  Think about what kind of extreme weather conditions will occur then.

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Polar Bear Cubs Die More Often With Less Arctic Ice

As Arctic ice thins and melts more and more every year, polar bear cub mortality is rising.  Compared to cubs that don’t have to swim as far to reach sea ice, which had a 19% mortality rate, cubs that are being forced to swim for days without reaching ice had a 45% mortality rate in a recent study.

With less body fat, the cubs can’t maintain their internal body heat as long as adults and they aren’t as buoyant in the water.  The cubs either drown because they can’t keep their noses above water or they succumb to the colder water.

I will point out that this is only one species.  There are many other species we didn’t even know existed that are under similar pressures from our greenhouse pollution.  On top of that, there are yet more species whose fate are being sealed every day we don’t reduce that pollution.

The Anthropocene is underway.  What happens in this Epoch is up to us.

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Mars Science Laboratory: Down To 2 Potential Landing Sites

And then there were two.   Two potential landing sites are possible for the Mars Science Laboratory, which is slated to blast off no earlier than November 25th, 2011.  It is due for arrival at the Red Planet in August 2012.

The two sites are:

Gale crater and Eberswalde crater

Eberswalde could have been part of an ancient river delta (liquid water did once exist on Mars, though now it does not).  Gale crater has a mountain nearly 3 miles high.  For what it’s worth, I’m pulling for Eberswalde.  It seems to have more promise for delivering information regarding potential for life.

The MSL is about the size of a Mini Cooper.  Its primary mission is to help assess whether Mars ever was, or is still today, an environment able to support microbial life.  It will also be the first probe flown that will utilize a precision-landing technique.

Much more if you want it from


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