Weatherdem's Weblog

Bridging climate science, citizens, and policy


Northeastern Canada 38°F Warmer Than Usual For An Entire Month This Winter

In my last 2 State of the Pole posts (Dec and Jan), I noted that the Hudson Bay, the Baffin and Newfoundland Seas and Canadian Archipelago region was witnessing something astonishing: sea ice was forming weeks to months late.  I identified a leading cause for this condition: for the 2nd winter in a row, the North Atlantic Oscillation and Arctic Oscillation were registering historical negative values.  When they’re in their negative phase, both of these climatological phenomena allow arctic air to flow south and impact the U.S. and Europe because the polar jet stream weakens and meanders further south than it normally does.  As colder air is allowed to move south, warmer air is allowed to move north.  While the eastern U.S. and Europe have experienced a colder than normal winter along with more precipitation than normal, northeastern Canada has experienced the opposite: the warmest 30-day period in mid-winter on record.  Of course, the fact that the Arctic has undergone rapid, significant changes in the past decade are also part of the reason for this occurrence.  Our influence on the climate system has loaded the die.  With each toss, there is a higher chance that extreme weather events will occur.

The climate change denial zombies love to point out snowstorms and cold air outbreaks in the U.S. during winter.  They somehow think it means their patron saint James Inhofe was correct when he stated that global warming is the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on mankind.  While they’re busy pointing out that yes, indeed, it does snow in winter, they try very hard to ignore the fact that seas that should be frozen by December 1st remain unfrozen in late January.  Has it been cold along the eastern U.S.?  Yes, 5–11°F below average for the 30-day period between 17 December 2010 to 15 January 2011.  During that same time, however, northeastern Canada witnessed surface temperatures from 16 to greater than 38°F above average – for 30 days!  Recall that in my write-up of NASA’s and NOAA’s global temperature analysis for 2010, both agencies identified December as being among the warmest Decembers on record globally.  Despite one of the strongest La Ninas on record and a slow emergence from the sun’s latest cycle minimum, December was still warm compared to over 100 years of global temperature records at 0.67°F above average.  One of the drawbacks of looking at the global average is the possibility of masking averages that might indicate something important occurring over smaller regions – like northeast Canada.

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2011 SOTU Does Not Include “Global Warming” Or Even “Climate Change”

The Democrats’ overall inability to craft a strong, sustainable message on … nearly anything … could very well seal our planet’s fate for the next few thousand years.

The chief orator of our times, President Obama, will deliver a State of the Union Speech tonight and advance copies of that speech are missing critical words: “global warming” and “climate change”.  This issue will become the leading issue of our time.  I think Obama gets that on some levels.  But it has never made it to the top of his public list of “very important things” on which to work.

Thankfully, those speech copies indicate he will spend some time discussing energy and infrastructure and investment.  Again, I think on some level, he does want to make some progress on the issue.  I’m left wondering if he wants it bad enough.  Will he be known as one of the last American Presidents who issued talk on the subject, but didn’t demonstrate the amount and type of leadership required by that subject?  Only time will tell.

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Climate Tipping Points Better Defined: Likely Nearby; Strong Action Critical

NASA’s James Hansen and Makiko Sato have a new draft paper that brings potential climate tipping points into more focus and the results are incredibly important.  They examine some differences between two recent geologic times, the Eemian and the Pliocene, and today.  During the Eemian, sea levels were 15-20 feet higher than today.  During the Pliocene, sea levels were 82 feet higher than today.  If we maintain our business-as-usual (BAU) greenhouse emissions path, the authors state that multi-meter sea level rise within this century becomes “almost dead certain” because of nonlinear responses to that forcing.  To be clear, that means that future temperature increases will not be equal for the same amount of future emissions.  Instead, future emissions will cause a radical and unreversable jump in global temperatures, which will lead to radical jumps in sea level rise.  We won’t have a 1″ per year increase in sea level.  The difference year after year will be greater and greater as the climate system attempts to find a new stable region.

I want to point out that Hansen and Sato use extremely strong language for climate scientists.  Will it be strong enough to generate the political will necessary to take us off that path?

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House Republican Teabaggers Vote To Increase Deficit By $1.25T; Does Teabagger Base Care?

I’m guessing not, since today’s vote in the House to repeal the Affordable Care Act was simply the culmination of a go-nowhere strategy that was well publicized since last year and the Teabagger base hasn’t interrupted Republican Teabagger town halls or offices to date.  You see, they only care when Democrats spend more than is available.  When their Teabagger Representatives vote to do the same … there’s nothing but silence.

Teabaggers, whether the base or in office, don’t care that they want to jack up the deficit by $1.25 Trillion.  As long as they can symbolically vote against the duly elected President of the United States who happens to be a Democrat, that’s all that matters.  Stay classy, folks.

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New Study Shows With Big Effort, World Could Go 100% Renewable By 2030

Yes, that’s correct, the world could be running completely on renewable energy by the year 2030.  There are no technological obstacles preventing it.  There are no economic obstacles preventing it.  Well, if that’s the case, you’re likely saying, then what’s preventing it?  The same thing that has prevented the world from going 100% renewable by 2000 or 2010 or any other year: political will.  Without political will, we will remain stuck near the 13% (including biomass) we’re at today.

A study released by Mark Delucchi, of the Institute for Transportation Studies at the University of California Davis, and Mark Jacobson, of the civil and environmental engineering department at Stanford University, adds to the growing body of literature demonstrating the feasibility of successfully undertaking an energy revolution within many of our lifetimes.  It won’t be easy.  Anybody who claims it will be easy has no idea what they’re talking about.  It is feasible, but challenging.  What would it take?

For instance, the world would need nearly 4 million wind turbines, and they’d be big ones—rated at 5 megawatts (MW). That’s two or three times the capacity of the majority of turbines on the market; 5 MW turbines were an innovation introduced offshore in Germany in 2006, and China just built its first 5 MW wind turbine last year.

The pair estimate that the world would need 90,000 large-scale solar plants, each with a capacity of about 300 MW—both those that rely on photovoltaic panels that make electricity directly, and concentrated solar power plants that focus the sun’s rays to boil water to drive electric generators. At present, fewer than three dozen such utility-scale solar plants are in operation worldwide; most are far smaller.

And the big solar systems wouldn’t displace the need for rooftop power; the researchers estimate a need for 1.7 billion 3-kilowatt solar PV systems as well. Think of that as one rooftop PV system for every four people on the planet.

Note that this study does not address energy generation and transmission issues.  It simply lays out a case demonstrating some of the potential of renewable energy.  More work is needed on generation and transmission.  That work is currently underway.  I have very little doubt that such work will come to many of the same conclusions: technical or economic obstacles do not present significant enough problems to prevent us from achieving the goals necessary to keep the climate recognizable and amenable to contemporary ecosystems.  The only thing that will be missing – still – is the political will.  What a silly thing to plunge the world into a new climate regime.


2010 Warmest Year On Record, Says NASA & NOAA

The news is in and it isn’t good.  Despite a strong La Nina during the second half of the year and cold air able to escape the Arctic and affect Europe and the eastern U.S., 2010 was the warmest year since 1880.

The top-10 warmest years in the NASA record are now:

2010, 2005 (actually 0.018°F less than 2010), 1998, 2002, 2003, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2004 and 2001.

9 out of the 10 warmest years on record have now all occurred since 2002.  The 12 warmest years on record have occurred since 1997.  Global warming has not stopped.  Global warming will not stop unless and until we stop polluting the climate system with greenhouse gas emissions at a tiny fraction of our current pace.

NOAA has put together their annual global report, which acts as confirmation of the NASA result: 2010 is statistically tied with 2005 as the warmest year in their dataset.

To the climate zombies that infest the discussion over what to do about global warming, consider the following: 2010 was “only” 1.12°F (0.62°C) above the 20th century average of 59.0°F.  Our current emissions trajectory is closest to the A1FI emissions scenario in the IPCC’s SRES family.  Results of running that scenario through climate models produced the following results: best estimate temperature rise of 7.2°F with a likely range of 4.3 to 11.5°F (4.0 °C with a likely range of 2.4 to 6.4 °C).

Multiple extreme weather events also characterized 2010 and continue to do so in early 2011.  From a heat wave worse than any seen in the past few thousand years across eastern Europe and Russia that claimed many lives and spawned massive wildfires to related Pakistani floods that affected tens of millions of people to floods in Australia that cover more area than several countries in Europe, loaded die are starting to land.  The costs of these disasters already reach into the tens to hundreds of billions of dollars.  If these kinds of horrific events are already occurring with only 1.12°F warming, what will happen when the globe warms by an average of 4.3°F, 7.2°F, or even 11.5°F?  It can be summed up simply: stress will move beyond impacting disparate societies; our civilizations will be stressed to breaking points, to say nothing of ecosystems across the planet.

Cross-posted at SquareState.


State of the Poles – 1/6/2011

The state of global polar sea ice area at the beginning of 2011 continues the trend present throughout most of 2010: well below climatological conditions (1979-2009).  Sea ice in the Arctic continues to track far below average while Antarctic sea ice has tracked closer to average from above average the past couple of months.  Overall, the rate at which Arctic sea ice is refreezing and Antarctic ice is melting is not out of the ordinary.  The locations where freezing and melting is occurring is once again news this month.  Global sea ice is rapidly decreasing, as is normal for this time of year due to Antarctic environmental conditions.  The value of global sea ice area has already fallen below the average level of 16 million sq. km.  The yearly absolute minimum should occur within the next month or so, at which time we’ll be able to determine whether 2011’s minimum is more like 2005, 2009 and 2010 (~15 million sq. km.) or whether 2011’s minimum is more like 2006 and 2007 (~14.5 million sq. km.).

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