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2008 Temperatures, Atlantic Hurricane Season & More

I wanted to write a post about some datasets that encompass 2008 to put my recent discussions and future posts on climate in perspective.  First up, the World Meteorological Organization’s global temperature dataset.  In a preliminary report issued on 16 Dec, 2008’s global mean temperature was 14.3 °C, making it the 10th warmest year on record going back to 1850.  Despite a lingering La Nina, which is characterized by cooler than normal temperatures, 2008 was warmer than the 1990’s average temperature.  It was almost as warm as 1997, in the runup to the strongest El Nino on record.  It was only 0.2 °C cooler than the 1998 record temperature anomaly.  Those 10 warmest years on record?  All have occurred since 1997.

The La Nina that developed during 2007 and hung around through 2008 was easing back by the end of the year.  November was the 4th warmest all-time (land and ocean combined), as measured by NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center.

  • The November combined global land and ocean surface temperature was 1.06 degrees F (0.59 degree C) above the 20th century mean of 55.2 degrees F (12.9 degrees C).
  • Separately, the November 2008 global land surface temperature was fourth warmest on record and was 2.11 degrees F (1.17 degrees C) above the 20th century mean of 42.6 degrees F (5.9 degrees C).

How much did the La Nina affect global temperatures?  According to NASA, the 2008 meteorological year (Dec 2007 – Nov 2008) was the coolest year since 2000, yet was still the 9th warmest on record (dating back to 1880).  So the coolest year since 2000 is a good thing, right?  Well, until the La Nina subsides.  2003, 2005, 2006 and 2007 were as anomalously warm as the record 1998 year, which had an extreme El Nino event.  How anomalously warm will the next El Nino year be?

More importantly, the trend in the Met Office/WMO and the NASA data continue to show a large and rapidly increasing warm anomaly.  Of particuar worry is the very large warm anomaly found over the Antarctic peninsula and eastern Russia.  The former has seen massive ice sheet calving episodes in recent years and increased ice flow toward the ocean from land as a result.  The latter has seen increasing emissions of methane as the permafrost thaws.  The former will lead to rising sea levels if trends don’t change.  The latter will release a greenhouse gas 20x as effective as CO2 is in energy absorption.  There is a lot of methane trapped in the permafrost.  Thawing the permafrost could initiate a positive feedback loop in which even more methane is released from the ground, which would warm the region and the globe even more.

The above temperature record also occurred in a period of low solar activity, which many climate change deniers claim is the most important factor driving our climate.  Most climatologists acknowledge the sun’s activity as being one input into our climate system, but also recognize that human forcing has likely become a more important climate driver.

NOAA’s 2008 Atlantic Hurricane Report details some of the noteworthy accomplishments of the season:

  • Bertha was a tropical cyclone for 17 days (July 3-20), making it the longest-lived July storm on record in the Atlantic Basin.
  • Fay is the only storm on record to make landfall four times in the state of Florida, and to prompt tropical storm and hurricane watches and warnings for the state’s entire coastline (at various times during its August lifespan).
  • Paloma, reaching Category 4 status with top winds of 145 mph, is the second strongest November hurricane on record behind Lenny in 1999 with top winds of 155 mph).

More items of interest:

Overall, the season is tied as the fourth most active in terms of named storms (16) and major hurricanes (five), and is tied as the fifth most active in terms of hurricanes (eight) since 1944, which was the first year aircraft missions flew into tropical storms and hurricanes.

For the first time on record, six consecutive tropical cyclones (Dolly, Edouard, Fay, Gustav, Hanna and Ike) made landfall on the U.S. mainland and a record three major hurricanes (Gustav, Ike and Paloma) struck Cuba. This is also the first Atlantic season to have a major hurricane (Category 3) form in five consecutive months (July: Bertha, August: Gustav, September: Ike, October: Omar, November: Paloma).

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News Pieces 9/27/08

In a move toward improving the transparency of bills in Congress, PublicMarkup.org has put the original Bush Bailout plan and Senator Chris Dodd’s plan dealing with the same issue up for public view.  The public can also comment on the legislation.

Oh, in case you’re wondering – despite having billions of dollars worth of bad assets and paying executives millions of dollars every year, the financial institutions looking for a $700 billion handout is still paying for lobbyists.  In the millions this year alone.  While families are losing their houses.  That’s immoral.

The Republican County Clerk in El Paso is illegally trying to prevent students at Colorado College from voting this November.  Why would that be?  Could it be that young voters are breaking 65-32 for Obama over McCain?  Every vote Bob Balink prevents for Obama and other Democrats is one step closer toward his party’s success.  There are 10 days left to register to vote for this year’s election.  How many voters will be unable to vote because of this Republican’s immoral efforts?

While the summer season has drawn to a close for the Arctic, thankfully ending the horrible rate of melt this year, the Antarctic’s winter is also ending.  This winter wasn’t as good to the sea ice in the Southern Hemisphere as last winter was.  The maximum extent was 15 million sq. km, over 1 million sq. km. less than the area last year.  It appears Aug. 2008 wasn’t a good year for ice worldwide as the Southern Hemisphere actually lost over 500,000 sq. km. of ice in a two-week time period.  August also saw the fastest rate of melt of ice in the Northern Hemisphere.  After attaining a +2 million sq. km. anomaly last year, the Southern Hemisphere is lucky to be right at the 1970-2000 mean, and appears to be heading negative as the melt accelerates.

The shuttle mission to Hubble has been delayed by 4 days, from Oct. 10th to the 14th.  Most of the delay was caused by Hurricane Ike’s landfall and damage to the Houston, TX area.  Atlantis is scheduled to make the trip to Hubble.  Endeavour is waiting on a nearby launch pad in the event that Atlantis experiences damage significant enough to prevent a return to Earth.  Endeavour is scheduled to make another construction flight to the International Space Station later this year if the rescue mission is unneeded.

A potential lunar colony site has been mapped in 3-D using camera data that wasn’t meant for 3-D.  I think Mars exploration and colonies should come first, but recognize the long-term importance of the Moon as well.

Gas shortages are occurring across the southern U.S. A couple of factors are causing this situation.  Hurricanes Gustav and Ike shut down drilling and refining infrastructure as well as power delivery systems across the Gulf of Mexico, Louisiana and Texas.  More disturbing is the following:

In its most recent Weekly Oil Data Review, Barclays Capital pointed out that the U.S. gasoline inventory has reached its lowest level since August 1967, when demand was a little more than half its current level of 9.3 million barrels a day. At 178.7 million barrels, inventories are 21.6 million barrels below their five-year average.

Replacing those inventories isn’t easy either.  “Once the refineries get back up and running, they’ll drain the already low crude oil inventories.”  Not discussed in the article is the impact of fuel corporations sitting on millions of acres of leased land without drilling.  Not discussed in the article is the impact of not building additional refining capacity in the last 30 years, making the drilling issue completely irrelevant.  It’s that lack of refining capacity (which are only operating at 67% of capacity right now) that has put a large region of the country in danger of running out of gasoline.  If that situation gets worse, food won’t be able to be supplied.  Then the anger over Bush’s Wall St. Bailout will seem minor in comparison.


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Atlantic Tropical Weather Update 9/15/08

All the major storms in the Atlantic basin have dissipated.  August and September have been very busy and the news has been terrible as far as hurricane-related news goes.  Louisiana is still cleaning up from Hurricane Gustav, which wasn’t as bad as it could have been.  Texas and Louisiana are beginning the cleanup from Hurricane Ike, which also wasn’t as bad as it could have been.  Islands in the Atlantic are cleaning up from all of the above and more.  Cuba, the Bahamas, and Haiti are only a few of the major areas affected by the storms in the Atlantic so far this season.  That’s part of the story: the season is a long way from being over.  September 10th is the climatological average date of the peak of the season.  We might have passed by the hump, but the western Atlantic, the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico still have waters warm enough to support tropical storm development.  But for now, things are quiet.

The 4th largest city in America, Houston TX, should remain partially evacuated, according to Texas’ Governor Perry.  Galveston’s city officials are telling the 20,000 residents who “braved” the storm to leave the city because Galveston is unsafe and unhealthy.  Those that evacuated will not be let back in for the forseeable future.  At this point, let me repeat what I wrote above: Hurricane Ike could have been worse.  A lot worse.  It was a borderline Category 2/3 storm at landfall (I think it was a 3; there were political considerations involved in classifying it as a 2).  If Ike hadn’t had to battle the shear that it did, or if the Gulf Loop Current had a larger eddy in the northwest Gulf, Ike would have been a more potent storm.  Ike could have made landfall 40 miles further southwest.  That would have brought the worst of the storm surge ashore at Galveston and dealt Houston a stronger blow with his winds.  But Texas and Louisiana didn’t get all of Ike.  Flooding across the nation, including Chicago, IL, was reported.  Early estimates of storm damage are in the $10 billion range.

As bad as things are right now and while there’s no doubt there is much work to be done in the short-term, the larger issues of global warming and hurricane frequency and intensity need to remain in the public’s attention.  Similarly, the excessive development of our cities and communities along the coast cannot fade into the background of our national discourse.  Hurricane Ike will not be the last hurricane to hit the Gulf coast region.  How many times do major cities have to be evacuated and rebuilt after hurricanes wreck them?  How intelligent is it to continue to base our fuel infrastructure in a region prone to destructive weather events?  Why should we continue to disrupt major sectors of our economy due to our choice to develop along coastlines?

And take note: the east coast has remained out of the paths of hurricanes recently.  There is just as much development, if not more, along the east coast.  At one point, Ike looked as though he would move up the east coast in a similar path that Hanna did, except as a stronger system.  What happens when a Category 2 storm hits northern Virginia or New York City or Boston?  Where are those millions of people going to evacuate to?  How long would recovery efforts take in a wide, densely populated region take?  There are many issues that connect to and interact with this subject.  I’ll discuss those in the days ahead in posts that take on a more political bent.


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Atlantic Tropical Weather Update 9/4/08

[Update 10:30P MDT]:

There was nothing terribly critical with the NHC’s 11P update.

Tropcial Storm Hanna looks more and more certain to make landfall along the North Carolina coast as a Tropical Storm overnight Friday into Saturday.

The last part of Hurricane Ike‘s forecast (Tuesday night) hints at a possible southern Florida landfall, possibly as a major hurricane.  I don’t think the intensity models have properly accounted for these conditions.  Ike should pass over these cooler waters after he stops battling the northeasterly wind shear he’s currently facing.  As time has gone by, Ike’s official track at the end of the period hasn’t curved back toward the NW or N.  This means there is the possibility that Ike could roll over Florida and re-emerge over the Gulf of Mexico after Tuesday.  The suite of model track solutions still shows large variability by the third day.  One model continues to show a glancing landfall off Cuba’s north coast.  One shows Ike moving through the Florida Strait after running over the Bahamas.  Three keep Ike out in the Atlantic.  And one shows Ike moving nearly due west over the next five days.  Some fairly substantial discrepancies will have to be ironed out, and this should happen in the next day or two.

Tropical Storm Josephine has slowly started moving slightly north of due west, with no chance of affecting any kind of land within the next week.  Here are all the storms’ vitals:

Tropical Strom Hanna’s center is located at 26.5N, 76.3W; has maximum sustained winds of 65mph; is moving NW @ 14mph; and has a minimum pressure of 987mb.

Hurricane Ike’s center is located at 23.6N, 59.5W; still has maximum sustained winds of 135mph; is moving W @ 14mph; and has a minimum pressure of 945mb.

Tropical Storm Josephine’s center is located at 15.1N, 33.8W; has maximum sustained winds of 45mph; is moving WNW @ 10mph; and has a minimum pressure of 1002mb.

***

Earlier update and original post below the fold.

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Atlantic Tropical Weather Update 9/3/08

[Update 9:30P MDT]:

One major update among the range of updated information is available tonight. Forecasts are notoriously difficult for hurricanes. Ike exploded in the past eight hours. More details on him below. As usual, the updates are alphabetical.

Tropical Depression Gustav remains stuck over eastern Oklahoma/western Arkansas. There hasn’t been any change to his future.

Tropical Storm Hanna has maintained herself quite nicely in the face of very unfavorable environmental conditions. Her vitals include: center located at 23.2N, 72.1W; maximum sustained winds of 65mph; moving NNW @ 12mph; minimum pressure of 989mb. So Hanna has begun moving just west of north. Her path should move a little more west in the next day and continue thereafter.

There is some distance between Hanna and the Bahama Islands. They’re not experiencing drenching rains so much as they’re seeing winds just under tropical storm strength that get gusty at times and the surf is getting kicked up a bit. The official intensity forecast calls for Hanna to reintensify to hurricane strength by Friday morning. As you’ll read below, her intensity could jump up unexpectedly as she moves over warmer, but shallower, waters on her way toward the U.S. By Friday night, Hanna should be located off the coast of South Carolina. The next day’s worth of motion and investigation will really affect her exact path and potential landfall sites.

Somewhere near this same time, she should once again shift her trajectory back toward the north, then the northeast. This could keep her from making landfall over South Carolina and instead do so over eastern North Carolina. The official track forecast still keeps Hanna close to either the ocean or the shore, depending upon the eventual track. Regardless, she looks likely to affect a lot of square miles as she makes her way northeast from North Carolina, possibly getting up toward New Jersey by Saturday night as a Tropical Storm.

Hanna should continue to make her way around the periphery of the high pressure system responsible for her steering. She could affect the remainder of the New England region and southeastern Canada before she moves away from land around 50N by next Monday.

Okay – the big news of the day. Tropical Storm Ike became Hurricane Ike earlier this afternoon. Since then, his intensity has simply exploded. Hurricane Ike is now the third major hurricane of the 2008 Atlantic season. In fact, Ike blew through Categories 2 and 3. He is now a Category 4 storm! Here are his vitals as of tonight:

Center located at 22.1N, 54.1W; maximum sustained winds of 135mph!; moving WNW @ 17mph; minimum pressure of 948mb!! I’ll look for the official measurement, but it seems to me like Ike’s pressure dropped 36mb in about 6 hours. That is incredible intensification and is indicative of the massive heat content available in the Atlantic Ocean. Beneficial environmental conditions haven’t hurt him any, obviously. Ike still has a very small, tight eye on satellite imagery. Additional intensification is possible in the next 12 hours, but any further changes will be dependent on eye-wall replacement cycles.

In between 12 and 72 hours (.5 – 3 days), Hurricane Ike will experience northeasterly shear as the upper level low that was affecting Hanna makes its way eastward across the Atlantic. The official intensity forecast calls for slight weakening during that time period. Ike’s official track forecast calls for him to continue his general northwestward motion over the next 24-36 hours. Starting Friday morning, Ike should curve back toward the southwest as a ridge restrengthens after the low passes through the region. Ike should pass well north of Puerto Rico Friday night through Saturday morning. Saturday night could see Ike north of the Dominican Republic, again at a good distance.

The ridge that should push Ike southward in the 2-4 day time period should shift around late day 4 and then in day 5 as well. Similar to Hanna’s track around the ridge, Ike should move around the southwestern periphery of the same feature. That means Ike could move through the southern portion of the Bahamas (not much change from earlier) on his way through the central Islands by the time Monday night rolls around. During the 4-5 day time period, the official forecast calls for Ike to reintensify back to a Category 4 storm.

So starting at the beginning of next week, things are going to get exciting for the U.S. Will Ike make landfall over Cuba? Will he make landfall over the U.S.? Will he move through the Florida strait into the Gulf of Mexico? If he makes landfall over the U.S., where will that occur? Will he follow Hanna’s path around the edge of the ridge and possibly miss land altogether? Also of importance: Hanna has stirred up the Atlantic around the Bahamas for quite some time now. Ike could encounter much cooler surface waters than Hanna had available to her. Will that work to weaken Ike somewhat or quite a bit? There are lots of questions. We’ll just have to keep watching.

Tropical Storm Josephine’s future hasn’t changed since this afternoon. Let’s start with her current vitals: center located at 13.9N, 30.7W; maximum sustained winds of 50mph; moving W @ 12mph; minimum pressure of 1000mb. Josephine is still forecasted to begin moving more north of west in the next couple of days, albeit a little more slowly than her current speed. She is still forecasted to weaken to Tropical Depression status by Saturday, if not sooner.

***

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Atlantic Tropical Weather Update 9/2/08

Lots of changes in the Atlantic basin since yesterday. Gustav has continued to weaken, from Hurricane strength down through Tropical Storm and is a Tropical Depression this morning over the TX/LA border. Hanna strengthened to a Hurricane, then weakened back to a Tropical Storm. Then, Tropical Depression Nine formed between the Leeward Islands and the Cape Verde Islands. Then T.D. 9 strengthened and was named Tropical Storm Ike. Then T.D. 10 organized from Invest-99 between the Cape Verde Islands and Africa. Development didn’t stop there: T.D. 10 strengthened and Tropical Storm Josephine formed. That’s all in less than 18 hours. The Atlantic basin is pretty much full of storms.

Let’s start with Tropical Depression Gustav’s vitals: center located at 31.7N, 93.4W; maximum sustained winds of 35mph; moving NW @ 10mph; minimum pressure of 985mb. Gustav’s main threat now is lots of rain that could cause flooding. A secondary threat remains tornadoes. Gustav is forecasted to curve toward the northeast over the next five days, but the distance covered shouldn’t be too great. He should move into northeast Texas, southeast Oklahoma, then western Arkansas by early Friday morning.

Yesterday, Hanna was a Category 1 hurricane. She stalled off the eastern side of the Bahamas as her steering currents weakened. She followed by weakening back to a Tropical Storm, where she remains this morning. Steering has picked back up this morning and Hanna is back on the move. Her vitals: center located at 21.0N, 73.5W; maximum sustained winds of 70mph; moving WSW @ 5mph; minimum pressure of 987mb.

Hanna is forecasted to begin moving back toward the northwest later today, then continue that general movement through the next few days. She is also forecasted to regain hurricane strength by tomorrow afternoon as she moves through the Bahamas. From Thursday to Friday, Hanna should be moving by the east coast of Florida, but no landfall is expected on that state. Sometime during the day on Friday, Hanna is expected to come ashore along the Georgia border, an event that is very rare due to the orientation of the coast and the climatological movement of storms along the eastern seaboard. By the time Hanna reaches the Georgia/South Carolina border, the model track solutions diverge. Some show her moving into West Virginia before curving toward the northeast. Some show her moving through the Carolinas before turning northeast and along the east coast. That’s some time away, so the details will have to wait.

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Atlantic Tropical Weather Update 9/1/08

[Update 11:45A MDT]:

Tropical Storm Hanna has strengthened to a Category 1 hurricane.  An Air Force reconnaisance plane investigating the storm found winds strong enough at flight level to support the decision to characterize the storm as a hurricane.  Her updated vitals:

Center located at 22.4N, 72.6W; maximum sustained winds of 75mph (just over category 1 threshold); moving WSW @ 4mph; minimum pressure of 985mb (9mb less than the previous update).  The lowering pressure should allow Hanna to continue to slowly strengthen into a moderate Category 1 hurricane.  The intensity forecast has been updated to reflect this status in the short term.  At this time, the models are not indicating a strengthening to Category 2 strength.

***

Hurricane Gustav made landfall within the past hour or two (currently 9:30A MDT) on Louisiana’s southern coast, near Cocodrie, Louisiana, which is south of Houma, Louisiana.  He made landfall as a strong Category 2 storm.  Reports are coming in that levees in New Orleans, to Cocodrie’s north, are being overtopped by the storm surge and waves.  I’m sure additional reports will come in throughout the day.  His vitals:

Center located near 29.2N, 90.8W; maximum sustained winds of 110mph; moving NW @ 14mph; minimum pressure of 955mb.  Those sustained winds are the threshold between a Category 2 and Category 3 storm.

Gustav’s future looks radically different than it did last night in the long-term.  He is expected to slow down over the next day or so as he moves across Louisiana and eastern Texas, weakening the entire way.  Between Tuesday and Wednesday, Gustav should turn toward the north (instead of the south, as was indicated last night) and his forward speed should continue to decrease.  Friday could see Gustav still moving slowly to the north into Oklahoma.  By the end of the week, another synoptic trough should be moving across the United States.  That trough right now looks less robust than the one currently making its way from west to east, but Gustav’s remnants should get caught up in the larger scale flow and advected out of the Texas/Oklahoma region.

So beyond additional levee failures in the New Orleans area, the main threat from Gustav will gradually shift toward flooding as he stalls and rain falls over the same area for many hours.

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