Weatherdem's Weblog

Bridging climate science, citizens, and policy


Leave a comment

Climate and Energy Stories May 11, 2014

The following are stories that I recently found interesting:

Research: Natural Variations in Atlantic Drive Extreme Winters (abstract here).  This research identifies the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation as the primary driver of blocking patterns (via the North Atlantic Oscillation) that have caused extreme cold winters over Europe and east US in recent years.  This Oscillation is a natural feature of the climate system.  This means that anthropogenic effects on extreme winters are likely not the dominant factor.  This challenges many climate activists’ statements that extreme weather we experience today are man-made.  The actual message is more nuanced.  The work combines 20th century observations with climate model results.  They write “A negative NAO in winter usually goes hand-in-hand with cold weather in the eastern US and north-western Europe.” The observations also suggest that it takes around 10-15 years before the positive phase of AMO has any significant effect on the NAO.  The AMO has been positive since the early 1990s.

German electricity demand and generation changing, but are the assumptions valid?  The figure below shows German government power generation historically and for the next 15 years:

 photo Germanpowergenerationprojection201405_zps8395b943.png

As indicated in the graphic, fossil power generation could hold constant until 2029, then decline as additional renewable power comes online.  In the aftermath of Japan’s Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster, Germany is decommissioning their nuclear power plants.  What I find interesting in this graphic is Germany projects renewables will pick up the electricity generation lost by nuclear power in the next 15 years as well as satisfy new electric demand.  Only after that would renewables eat into fossil power generation.  I’m not an expert on the German energy system, but I do know based on my expertise that this projection means Germany will not accelerate system decarbonization until 2030, give or take a few years.  By direct consequence, Germany’s CO2 emissions will likewise not decline until 2030.  This provides additional evidence that CO2 emissions will not decline soon enough to avoid 2C warming by 2100.  We don’t have 15 more years to act if that’s really the goal.  Emissions have to start declining in 2014-2015 if 2C is the goal.  This projection tells me Germans are more willing to accept unknown but certain and common climate change risks but are unwilling to accept known but rare nuclear power risks.

Two new solar projects will be built in Arizona.  This news isn’t terribly unique; companies make similar releases regularly now.  What I wanted to point out is the scale of the projects compared to the scale of electricity needed.  These systems will generate 42.76MW of electricity.  The mean size of a coal plant in the US is 667MW.  Thus, 15-16 new solar projects of this size have to be built to substitute solar generation for one coal plant.  Remember, then number of coal plant retirements is increasing.  Demand is also increasing.  As in the case of the graphic above, renewable energy generation has to replace existing generation but also meet demand that doesn’t currently occur.  In 2012, coal generated 1,514,043 thousand MWh, natural gas generated 1,225,894 thousand MWh, and renewables generated 218,333 thousand MWh (141,000 by wind; 4,000 by solar).  To displace coal and later natural gas in the next 50 years, we have to boost the number of solar and wind projects by 10-100X.  I cheer every new project announcement; we need many more of them.

3 Dont’s: Ed Maibach, director of George Mason University’s Center for Climate Change Communication, says there are at least three things “we know that you shouldn’t do,” when communicating the science: don’t use language people don’t understand, don’t use too many numbers, and don’t talk about “plants, penguins and polar bears” instead of people. Maibach says another error is talking about the threat of climate change without giving people solutions.

Guess what most activists do (and did historically)?  They use inappropriate language, they talk mostly about numbers, and they talk about polar bears.  Moreover, they talk about threats (devastation, civilization ending, epic disasters, apocalypse , trouble, strife, etc.) and don’t offer solutions.  Is it any wonder most people remain disconnected on the topic?  It’s not to me.  What makes this worse?  People “aggressively filter” information that doesn’t conform to their worldview.  The more education they have, they more they filter that information.  Thus, climate believers are more likely to believe in climate change with more education and climate skeptics are more likely not to believe in climate change.  It’s not a matter of education; it’s a matter of values.  Climate communicators therefore need to talk to people about people in their local setting, not obscure numbers of global phenomena.

Among other things, the EIA’s January report shows total January energy production in 2014 than 2013 or 2012.  Most of the renewable energy in the graphs are hydroelectric, not wind or solar, which continue to lag far behind other generation sources despite recent year-over-year percentage increases.  It also shows that contrary to pro-fossil fuel industry claims, the cost of residential energy continued to hold steady, as it has for 30 years now.  In other words, adding renewable energy doesn’t significantly impact energy costs.

As the US shifts from coal to natural gas (not coal to renewables), US GHG emissions falls led developed countries in 2012: by 3.4% vs. 1.3% for the EU (see German energy generation above).  That’s one way to measure progress.  Another: actual EU emissions are far lower than US emissions compared to 1990.  That means the US, as the 2nd largest GHG emitter worldwide, has a very long way to go before it achieves stated climate goals.  The Obama administration for instance has a recent talking point that the US will meet 2020 GHG emission cut goals due to their leadership.  The big devil in the details: they’re using 2005 emissions instead of 1990 emissions.  Even if you don’t know the exact numbers, you should be able to state with confidence that 2005 US emissions were higher than 1990 emissions because we weren’t deploying renewable energy, our population grew, and our demand per person grew.  Well, the EU’s emission cuts reference their 1990 levels.  Moreover, peak US GHG emissions occurred in 2005.  It’s easy to hit big percentage cuts from a maximum value; it’s much harder to hit those same percentage cuts from an intermediate value.  The US would have to cut all emissions from 1990 to 2005 and then an additional amount from 1990 to achieve Kyoto goals.  We will not achieve that by 2020 under current policies because we never wanted to.  We may not achieve a 17% reduction in 1990 emissions by 2030.  This constitutes a persuasive argument that <2C warming by 2100 will not occur.

In rereading my list of topics to cover in this post, I found a couple that deserve more singular attention.  More to come later this week.

Advertisements


1 Comment

2014 US National Climate Assessment Released

The US Global Change Research Program issued its latest National Climate Assessment today. There are lots of goodies in it.  I want to focus on a couple of things that caught my eye in an initial skim.

Impacts will increase in frequency and severity (no big surprise there). This assessment includes up-t0-date research results on those impacts.  Like most reports, they leave `Responses` as a final category.  I understand the logic of laying out the evidence of climate change and its impacts prior to discussing solutions, but as I’ve written before today, people primarily respond to solutions and not problems.  Only the most dedicated readers will make it all the way through the report to get to the Response section.  My worry is that the Response section will not be the focus of activists’ attention; a continuation of decades of wasted energy.

Extreme Weather

The report summarizes the state-of-the-science well: “Over the last 50 years, much of the U.S. has seen increases in prolonged periods of excessively high temperatures, heavy downpours, and in some regions, severe floods and droughts.”  That is accurate.  I do not think one example is valid, however.  The report discusses anomalous warmth and dryness in Texas and Oklahoma in 2011.  I do not argue that the event occurred; I blogged about it and the subsequent 2012 Great Plains drought.  Where I deviate from the Assessment is this: there is scant evidence that the 2011 Southern Plains drought had a strong climate signal.  The same goes for the 2012 Great Plains drought.  Instead, these droughts were strongly linked to drier summertime conditions during the recent decade as part of a regime shift, most probably due to natural decadal variability (Hoerling et al. 2014).  The 2011 Texas heat wave was more likely to occur than it was 40 years ago.  This is not the same thing as identifying a clear attribution – something that remains at the cutting edge of climate science.

Likewise, the largest determinant of Atlantic hurricanes remains natural variability.  The Assessment’s statement that Atlantic hurricane activity increased since the early 1980s is true, but there are important details to consider.  The Atlantic signal is opposite the global signal (a small reduction in overall hurricane activity in that same time period), so regional effects are important to consider.  The Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation is currently in a positive phase (since the early 1980s – isn’t that interesting?), which includes a warmer than usual Atlantic Ocean.  All else equal, this facilitates tropical storm development, which we’ve seen.

The Assessment’s conclusion stands in direct contrast to a couple of peer-reviewed papers, including Chylek and Lesins 2008 (we find no increase in the number of major hurricanes (category 3–5); If there is an increase in hurricane activity connected to a greenhouse gas induced global warming, it is currently obscured by the 60 year quasi-periodic cycle.) and Enfield and Cid-Serrano 2009 (Projections to the year 2025 show that the cumulative change in summer warm pool size since 1975 will depend critically on whether a subsequent cooling in the multidecadal cycle occurs, comparable to the warming between 1975 and 2000 AD.)  In other words, determining how man-made warming affects Atlantic hurricanes will not be detectable from the natural signal for many years to come.

That doesn’t mean we do nothing.  To the contrary, I argue that we need to adapt our current infrastructure to our current climate.  Multi-billion dollar events occur today.  Most of that is related to increases in population and wealth, as the Assessment reports.  We can lessen impacts by hardening our infrastructure (taking the likeliest climate effects into account) today while simultaneously mitigating future climate effects.  One should not happen without the other, but at a minimum, we need to adapt to today’s climate while recognizing tomorrow’s climate will be different.

Southwest

I want to cite the impacts the Assessment identifies for the Southwest, which includes California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona.  This region is the hottest and driest of the US.  They include: “increased heat, drought, insect outbreaks, and wildfires.  Declining water supplies, reduced agricultural yields, health impacts in cities due to heat, and flooding and erosion in coastal areas are additional concerns.”

Key messages:

  • Reduced snowpack and streamflow
  • Agricultural threats
  • Increased wildfire
  • Sea level rise
  • Heat threats to health

Southwest Responses

I really want to highlight one of the responses.  Without having read through all the responses carefully, I want to point out that I hope other responses are better than this one.  The selected response shows one scenario that could theoretically achieve 80% GHG reductions from 1990 levels by 2050:

 photo SW_energy-generation-by-2045_12447_v10-hi_0_zps2c73bc2c.jpg

I’ll discuss Colorado here; the Assessment included references to exhaustive reports for California, which I’ll cover in the future.

The latest data for Colorado’s net generation shares (2012) demonstrate the immense challenge confronting the scenario shown above.  Broken down by percentage: coal (64.3%), natural gas (20.1%), wind (11.2%), hydroelectric (3.7%), solar (0.3%), biomass and other (0.1% each).  The scenario above (still trying to pin down units) shows that wind can become the dominant source of electricity generation.  In principle, I agree.  But wind would have to switch places with coal as the dominant generation type by 2050 to achieve 80% GHG reductions.  Wind has penetrated the electricity generation market, which I fought for and applaud.  But it still trails natural gas (1/2 the generation) and significantly trails coal (1/5 the generation).  Changing those ratios requires a policy upheaval which I don’t think is likely.  Renewables will eventually supplant fossil fuels as primary generation technologies.  At this time, I don’t think it will happen in Colorado or anywhere else (California has an outside shot) by 2050.

Conclusion

This Assessment is useful for academics and activists, but is probably not useful for the general public.  A brief review of the Response section didn’t convince me that the writers and editors had the public as their primary audience.  I’ve seen Twitter explode today with comments regarding how people were at the forefront of this report, how actionable the information is, etc.  I’m not convinced yet.  Hopefully that will change.


2 Comments

48.2% of US in Moderate or Worse Drought – 17 Sep 2013 (Thank You, Monsoon!)

According to the Drought Monitor, drought conditions worsened slightly across the entire US compared to three weeks ago. As of September 17, 2013, 48.2% of the contiguous US is experiencing moderate or worse drought (D1-D4), as the early 2010s drought continues month after month.  This value is about 11 percentage points lower than it was in the early spring. The percentage area experiencing extreme to exceptional drought decreased from 14.8% last month to 6.9% last week!  This is more than 10% lower than it was six months ago. The eastern third of the US was wetter than normal during August, which helped keep drought at bay.  The east coast in particular was much wetter than normal and the summer monsoon was much more active this summer compared to 2012, assisted by a persistent upper level blocking pattern.  Instead of Exceptional drought in the West like there was earlier this summer, record rains and flash flooding was the story in September.  While this record-breaking series of events broke the drought in some areas of the West, long-term drought continues to exert its hold over the region.  Compared to earlier this summer, drought increased in area and intensity across the Midwest.

 photo USDrought20130917_zps29a0436a.gif

Figure 1US Drought Monitor map of drought conditions as of September 17th.

If we compare this week’s maps with previous dates (here and here, for example), we can see recent shifts in drought categories.  Compared to mid-August and early September, and despite recent rain events, drought expanded or worsened in the Midwest (Iowa, Missouri, Illinois, Minnesota, and the Dakotas) as well as Louisiana, Arkansas, and Mississippi.  On the other hand, alleviation is evident in small places in the West, as the following map shows.

 photo west_drought_monitor_20130917_zpsd2784c0e.png

Figure 2 – US Drought Monitor map of drought conditions in Western US as of September 17th.

After worsening during late winter into spring 2013, drought conditions steadied in late summer.  The differences between this map and early September’s is the reduction in area and severity of drought, especially in the southern half of the West.  The area experiencing Exceptional drought decreased significantly over the West and the percent area with no drought increased.  Figure 2 also shows that the percent area with no drought is still lower since the start of the calendar year (24% to 18%).

Here are the current conditions for Colorado:

 photo co_drought_monitor_20130917_zps9d17a4ef.png

Figure 3 – US Drought Monitor map of drought conditions in Colorado as of September 17th.

There is evidence of substantial improvement in Colorado since just a few weeks ago and certainly compared to earlier this year, when drought conditions were their worst.  Compared to the start of the calendar year or even three months ago, the percent area of every drought category decreased significantly.  Only 1.5% of the state currently has Exceptional drought.  Only 84% of the state is even experiencing any drought condition today, a far cry from the 100% that lasted for well over one year.  The links in the first paragraph dealing with last week’s rains combine with this graphic to demonstrate that places that receive one year’s worth of precipitation in one week’s time bust their drought!  Many communities would trade those record rains for a little bit of drought, given the extensive damage to infrastructure and the eight people who, as of this morning, perished in the severe weather event.

Let’s compare Figure 3 to similar Colorado maps from earlier in the year.  First, this is what conditions looked like just two weeks ago:

 photo CO_drought_monitor_201309033_zps07464c14.png

Figure 4 – US Drought Monitor map of drought conditions in Colorado as of September 3rd.

The over-active monsoon season helped reduce drought severity from Denver northwest toward the Wyoming border.  I said at the time I hoped that trend continued, but I could never imagine what would happen in the interim.

Here is a look at some of the worst drought conditions Colorado experienced in the past year, from late April 2013:

 photo CO_drought_monitor_20130425_zpsbf9ccb2d.png

Figure 5 – US Drought Monitor map of drought conditions in Colorado as of April 25th.

Conditions were horrible earlier this year.  Reservoir levels declined and crops failed as a result of the higher than normal temperatures and much lower than normal precipitation.  I certainly don’t want to see additional flooding, but I would like to see normal precipitation return to the state and the region.

 photo midwest_drought_monitor_20130917_zpsf91b6be4.png

Figure 6 – US Drought Monitor map of drought conditions in the Midwest as of September 17th.

Drought expanded in the Midwest in the past two weeks: the percent area with no drought decreased significantly from 48% to 43%.  Three months ago, the value was 93%.  This region collected rainfall this month, but the amounts continued to track below average.

 photo south_drought_monitor_20130917_zps76d5a2cf.png

Figure 7 – US Drought Monitor map of drought conditions in the South as of September 17th.

Compared to early summer, drought as a whole expanded across the South in 2013.  Instead of 44% area with no drought three months ago, there is only 16% today.

Policy Context

US drought conditions are more influenced by Pacific and Atlantic sea surface temperature conditions than the global warming observed to date.  Different natural oscillation phases preferentially condition environments for drought.  Droughts in the West tend to occur during the cool phases of the Interdecadal Pacific Oscillation and the El Niño-Southern Oscillation, for instance.  Beyond that, drought controls remain a significant unknown.  Population growth in the West in the 21st century means scientists and policymakers need to better understand what conditions are likeliest to generate multidecadal droughts, as have occurred in the past.  Without comprehensive planning, dwindling fresh water supplies will threaten millions of people.  That very circumstance is already occurring in western Texas where town wells are going dry.  An important factor in those cases is energy companies’ use of well water for natural gas drilling.  This presents a dilemma more of us will face in the future: do we want cheap energy or cheap water?  In the 21st century, we will not have both options available at the same time as happened in the 20th century.  This presents a radical departure from the past.

As drought affects regions differentially, our policy responses vary.  A growing number of water utilities recognize the need for a proactive mindset with respect to drought impacts.  The last thing they want is their reliability to suffer.  Americans are privileged in that clean, fresh water flows every time they turn on their tap.  Crops continue to show up at their local stores despite terrible conditions in many areas of their own nation (albeit at a higher price, as found this year).  Power utilities continue to provide hydroelectric-generated energy.

That last point will change in a warming and drying future.  Regulations that limit the temperature of water discharged by power plants exist.  Generally warmer climate conditions include warmer river and lake water today than what existed 30 years ago.  Warmer water going into a plant either means warmer water out or a longer time spent in the plant, which reduces the amount of energy the plant can produce.  Alternatively, we can continue to generate the same amount of power if we are willing to sacrifice ecosystems which depend on a very narrow range of water temperatures.  As with other facets of climate change, technological innovation can help increase plant efficiency.  I think innovation remains our best hope to minimize the number and magnitude of climate change impacts on human and ecological systems.


Leave a comment

Extreme Weather, Climate Change, and Public Reporting

If you have had any exposure to this subject, you probably already have your mind made up about my title. As I’ve gained exposure, via multiple disciplines, I’ve changed my mind. And that allows me to look at climate reporting in new ways.  Take this article and interview for instance. It’s meta-related, masked by the climate’s relationship to extreme weather. There are thousands of examples of conservatives ignoring science when it suits them. Doing so actually has more to do with conservatives operating from their value system. Are there similar examples of others ignoring science when it similarly suits them? I think it would be foolhardy to assume otherwise. Here is what I think about this article.

First, the mask: climate-extreme weather. There is no documented causal relationship between the two. In fact, the number of identified causal relationships between climate change and anything is still relatively small. There is a strong temperature signal. There is a growing ocean acidification signal. The sea level change signal is small but present and growing. How about precipitation? Nothing definitive. How about snowstorms? Nothing definitive.

But those signals are small against much stronger climate signals. Would something like drought or hurricanes or floods or tornadoes exhibit a stronger signal. In a word, no. There simply is not a detectable climate and extreme weather link today. That is not to say a future signal will not exist – there very well might be. But as of today, there is not. What science backs up that claim? The 2008 U.S. Climate Change Science Program’s Synthesis Report for starters (p.42; 2.2.2.1):

When averaged across the entire United States (Figure 2.6), there is no clear tendency for a trend based on the PDSI. Similarly, long-term trends (1925-2003) of hydrologic droughts based on model derived soil moisture and runoff show that droughts have, for the most part, become shorter, less frequent, and cover a smaller portion of the U. S. over the last century (Andreadis and Lettenmaier, 2006).

So as of the early 21st century, U.S. droughts have become less severe, not more. The IPCC’s global analysis on extreme events concurred (p.171):

There is not enough evidence at present to suggest high confidence in observed trends in dryness due to lack of direct observations, some geographical inconsistencies in the trends, and some dependencies of inferred trends on the index choice. There is medium confidence that since the 1950s some regions of the world have experienced more intense and longer droughts (e.g., southern Europe, west Africa) but also opposite trends exist in other regions (e.g., central North America, northwestern Australia).

One big impediment to our extreme event trend ascertainment is our basic inability to monitor events in the first place. But based on the observations made, there is, in the IPCC’s own language, only medium confidence that droughts in some areas of the world are increasing in severity while decreasing in other places. Is climate change increasing extreme events? Not droughts – not yet.

What about storms like Sandy or Katrina (note: the former was a tropical system that changed to an extratropical system at landfall while the latter was a full-fledged hurricane at landfall)? There is at this time no global trend in hurricane frequency or intensity that demonstrates a clear causal relationship to climate change. There are indexes that a few scientists have developed to examine the data in different ways with differing results, but they require fairly complex methodologies to calculate. If I created my own index that demonstrated a relationship between the type of food I ate and climate change, does one cause the other? Certainly not directly. The hurricane-climate change relationship should exhibit a detectable signal in 50 more years or so. Until then, scientists cannot confidently say the data supports such a relationship. Extratropical storms increased in strength a little over the past century, although the locations of increase are limited. Their frequency has not increased.

Quickly, the same thing holds for floods and tornadoes. Datasets are simply too limited in space and time to currently identify a robust relationship.

As I wrote above, there are clear signals that we have already detected. The effects of those signals are mostly well-known, although some surprises are certainly in store for the planet. Extreme weather is not one of those signals. At least, not yet. If people are concerned about the level of inaction taken on climate change to date, it is folly to chase down or exaggerate signals that do not yet exist. If arguments based on signals detected are not enough to propel action, then we need to address their sets of values and how we communicate them. Fear-mongering and purposeful ignorance of science are not adequate substitutes.

Finally, I question the following from the article:

“I quote the climate skeptics or deniers — whatever term you prefer — when they’re relevant. So when I’m doing a piece about the science itself and what the latest scientific findings are, especially if that’s a short piece, I don’t necessarily feel obliged to quote the climate skeptics the same way that if you were doing a story about evolution, a New York Times reporter wouldn’t feel obliged to call up a creationist and ask them what they think. On the other hand, the climate skeptics are politically relevant at this point in American history [in a way that] the creationists are not, for example. So we have a fair chunk of the Congress … that sees political traction right now in questioning climate science or purporting not to believe it, so in a political story or in a longer story, I usually do give some amount of space to the climate skeptics.”

This quote comes from Justin Gillis, who writes about climate change for The New York Times. Does any of the above evidence make it into his interview with NPR? Here is my question: is Mr. Gillis a climate change writer or a politics writer? Scientific climate change writers should focus on the science. If Mr. Gillis wants to be a political climate change writer, he and the NYT owe it to their readers to make that distinction clear. Especially when double standards are applied to a different type of science writing. I would argue that creationists have a considerable amount of political traction right now also. I do not agree with their viewpoint, but if Mr. Gillis and the NYT want to write comparison pieces and not news pieces, I do not see why that effort should stop at climate change.


Leave a comment

Weather Extremes and Public Policy

The Philadelphia Inquirer wrote a story yesterday about New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s choices while the NJ coast is rebuilt post-Sandy.  As a scientist, I agree with other experts that planners need to incorporate climate change projections in their work.  As a scientist transitioning to public policy, I agree with Gov. Christie that the causal link between climate change and Sandy doesn’t matter to victims of the storm in the immediate aftermath.  What does matter?  Today’s infrastructure is clearly not capable of withstanding today’s weather extremes, as Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy demonstrated.  Both disasters showed it doesn’t matter whether sub-standard infrastructure protects a location (New Orleans) or whether standard or better infrastructure (NY & NJ) does.  The first issue is our standards, not the weather.  The second issue is mitigation and adaptation to a changing climate.

Of course politics are involved.  Gov. Christie’s reelection is this upcoming November.  If victims think their needs are unmet or the NJ coast is not open for tourism this summer, his reelection chances will take a hit.  This political reality will butt up against physical reality.  Sandy occurred in today’s climate.  She wasn’t particularly strong at landfall as hurricanes go in the Atlantic basin (nowhere near Hurricane Katrina or other historic storms).  A unique set of weather events combined to amplify Sandy’s effects.

The mid-20th century buildup of human infrastructure along the coast with minimal consideration of severe weather effects drove Sandy’s costs.  Without buildings abutting the ocean, the storm surge would not have damaged anything but wilderness (which we evidently don’t value).  It is foolish to rebuild buildings  without consideration of today’s severe weather.  It is more foolish to not plan for tomorrow’s climate, but it is Gov. Christie’s prerogative to choose his own vision.  What should planners include?

Proper preparation could mean “hardening” infrastructure (moving power lines underground, for example), forbidding construction in flood zones, modifying building codes, and lifting homes off the ground onto pilings. It could mean relocating people to denser developments that are less flood prone or building sea walls on the coast.

If people want to build in flood zones, the rest of us should not bail them out post-disaster.  Risky behavior requires appropriate responsibility for engaging in that behavior.  Some areas might not be safely inhabitable.  It is the government’s responsibility to determine those areas’ locations and issue building permits and assign zones accordingly.  In addition to sea walls, planners should include natural barriers to storm surge.

If sea level rises an additional four feet off the NJ coast, what are the implications for NJ infrastructure (i.e., risk and cost)?  We build infrastructure to last 100 years, so we should require robust planning and construction.  How many citizens are put at risk with each foot of sea level rise?  Do New Jersey residents want to invest in the near-term to reduce long-term risk or do they want to confront that long-term risk at some undetermined point in the future?  What about the rest of Americans?  Our elected officials decided to spend $60 billion on post-Sandy work.  Is that the best use of that money?  Do we want to spend some of that $60 billion on adaptation measures, and if so how much?

The article includes this (emphasis mine):

Meanwhile, Christie faces pushback from a significant interest group, environmentalists, who want a public planning process to determine the future of the Shore. They want decisions made based on science, not politics.

This is a classic environmentalist complaint.  Every decision includes politics.  Climate science is largely federally funded.  Decision makers are largely politicians.  Zoning is political.  There is no pure aspect of science that can issue a non-political decision.  The appeal to scientific purity is a trait of mainstream environmentalism, but it is just as biased as skeptics’ call for no climate science input into decision-making.  Science describes and politics prescribes.  The two are naturally different and intertwined in our technically advanced society.


10 Comments

7th Day of 100+F Heat In Denver, CO; June 2012 Hottest On Record

It’s official: June 2012 was the hottest June on record in Denver, CO (dating back to 1872) with an average temperature of 75F, 7.6F above normal!

Yesterday’s high of 101F added to the total number of days of 100F+ temperatures: to date, there are now 7.  Last week, there were 5 days in a row of 100F+ heat, matching the all-time record for Denver.  The streak included 2 105F readings, which tied for the all-time hottest temperature recorded for Denver.  There was also a 100F+ reading a few days prior to that streak.  For completeness, I want to point out that the 27th through 30th of June weren’t much cooler: it was 97, 97, 98, and 99 on those four days, so we didn’t miss 100 by much.

Here are a few pictures demonstrating the intensity and extent of the heat that not only affected Denver, but much of the High Plains prior to the impacts east of the Mississippi over the weekend:

Photobucket

Figure 1. Contour plot of surface maximum temperatures for July 1, 2012.

Photobucket

Figure 2. Plot of surface maximum temperatures by station for July 1, 2012.

Photobucket

Figure 3. Contour plot of surface maximum temperatures for June 30, 2012.

Photobucket

Figure 4. Contour plot of surface maximum temperatures for June 29, 2012.

Photobucket

Figure 5. Plot of surface maximum temperatures by station for June 26, 2012.  This is one of the two dates that Denver’s temperature tied for the all-time recorded high of 105F.

Context

Last year, there were 50 consecutive days of 90F+ maximum temperatures at Denver, which tied for 9th-longest in our recorded history.  With 7 additional days, it would have been the 3rd-longest streak; 11 more days would have tied the longest streak on record, set in 2000.  Note also that 6 of the 11 longest streaks have occurred in the 21st century!  Normally, Denver experiences ~34 days of 90F+ maximum temperatures.

So far this year, we are in the middle of a 10-day streak.  Today, the temperature has already been over 90 for over 4 hours (now 2:30P local) and the forecast calls for 90F+ for at least the next 5 days.

I couldn’t find records on the average number of 100F days in Denver in a year.  I would venture a guess and say that is because the number is less than one.  I’ll do some more digging and see if I can find out one way or the other.

Climate Projections

It wasn’t that long ago that I first saw projections of potential future climate maps for the US and didn’t think I could imagine what it would be to live through such conditions.  I’m sure there are many people who either similarly couldn’t imagine it because it hasn’t happened yet or who are simply unaware of such projections.  Take a look at the following graphic:

Photobucket

Figure 6. Projection for 2090-2099 of the number of weeks per year where maximum daily temperatures exceed 100F.  This projection used the A1FI SRES scenario, which best represents the globe’s current emissions path.

For the sake of conversation, I will assume that Denver has so far this year experienced 1 week (7 days) of 100F+ temperatures, and will further assume that no additional 100F days will occur in the rest of the year.  Under the A1FI scenario, by the end of this century, such a year would be considered relatively cool!

This shift toward more extreme temperatures can also be represented in this graphical manner:

Photobucket

This graphic shows that the increase in average temperature does not have to be that large in magnitude in order for a sizable number of events at the tail of a distribution (e.g., temperature) to occur.

Millions of people are currently without power (due to violent thunderstorms) and are experiencing 100F+ temperatures in the eastern US.  How many more summers like this do they want to have?  They’re going to find out, that’s very nearly certain now.