Wednesday, February 29, 2012

February US Temperatures--More of the Same!

Skiers this winter continue to wait for the other shoe to fall that ushers in cold temps.  It hasn't happened.  Ski clubs are hating this weather as temperatures have been borderline even for artifical snow production.  My flowers have shown their premature heads through the mulch!  Some people have reported their grass has already started to grow...although I am skeptical on that. :)

Temps continue to stay well above normal. Spurts of cold sprinkled in between mild days did nothing to offset the overall trend. Consider that this map is through February 26th with 3 more mild days to go...
As I write this, the 60 degree line is now just a hair north of Cincinnati. Wouldn't be surprised if we hit 63 late today. 
February is now2nd all-time warmest in Cleveland. The top 10 are as follows:

1998  37.1
 2012  34.9 (unofficial)
1984  34.8
1976  34.5
1930  34.2
1954  34.0
1990  34.0
1932  33.8
1949  33.3
2002  33.1

How about March.....will this above normal pattern stay?  Let me just say that the results of this winter's trend forecast humbled me a great deal.  I learned alot. One specific lesson I learned was not to adjust my thinking just because one little piece of data tells a different story. Sometimes bucking the trend doesn't pan out.

Let's wait for the February data to come out.  Perhaps a weakening La Nina, a more variable Arctic and/or North Atlantic. Too many ":what-ifs" right now.

So for all the high school baseball and softball teams waiting to play their first game, this might be another wet start to spring with frequent rainouts and saturated diamonds.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

This Winter vs Northern Ohio's Mildest Winters

Late last fall, many winter forecasts continuously highlighted the fact that this winter 2011-12 would mirror last winter's La Nina characteristics--more cold and snow. Yes, LA NINA returned. But the cold air didn't  Yet, as we all know, this winter has been anything but a mirror image of last winter. (the reasons why are here) Instead of enduring snow squalls off of Lake Erie with 70 days with snow on the ground, we've had saturated backyards and average temperatures resulting in the 3rd warmest winter since 1895!

Was this winter's MILD LA NINA similar to any of the other top ten mildest winters here in Northeastern Ohio?  Does the tropical Pacific Ocean behave similarly in these milder winters?

To review, the top 10 winters in northern Ohio through January (February is running 3 degrees above normal as of this writing) are below:

Each map below are the average sea surface temperatures from November through January in each of the top 10 years listed above. Sea Surface Temperatures prior to the early 1950s are reconstructions. Notice where the warmer water is distributed in each map. Warmer colors indicate warmer water; colder colors, colder water.  I circled the La Nina/El Nino area in red. The first is the winter of 1931-32 right down the list finishing up with the winter of 1952-53.

Aside from each of these winters showing some signs of El Nino (8 of 10), the tropical Pacific Ocean looks very different in each example with each resulting in very mild winters. The 1949-50 winter's weak La Nina was the only one close!

What can we learn from this winter's LA NINA pattern?  I believe we put too much emphasis on the effects of La Nina as the main driver of our patterns in the eastern US and Northern Ohio during the winter months. Judging by these temperature reconstructions, mainly El Ninos result in mild winters. But in some instances like this winter, the opposite is true. La Nina or El Nino signatures are a great first start but in many instances like this winter, we need to look elsewhere (the Arctic) for the reasons we see flowers popping up in February!  The 2011-12 La Nina winter was a fluke. Will it happen again next year?   Will Lake Erie freeze over next winter? 

Thursday, February 16, 2012

How Does This Year's Snow Stack Up: Jan 1 -Feb 17th

One recent commenter asked about this year's snowfall since January 1st through the current date (February 17th). You ask and you shall is this year's snowfall compared to the last 5 years from January 1st through February 17th. Obviously, well below last year. Yet 2008, we had even LESS SNOW through. Interesting...

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Valentine's Day Update: Any Ice on Lake Erie?

Now that the winter weather patterns are becoming more in line with normal Februaries from past winters--more cold and frequent snows--I can't help but look out the newsroom window to survey Lake Erie. Still no sign of any ice along the south shore. 98% of the lake is still open for business.

Environment Canada has a great site that tracks ice concentrations over the Great Lakes and higher latitudes of North America.  So far this winter, overall Great Lakes Ice Cover is at the second lowest level since 1973 when record keeping began.

How about Lake Erie?  2011-12 ice cover is also at the second lowest level since 1973 slightly behind the winter of 1997-98.  This winter:  2.54%   The winter of 1997-98:  2.38%

Here is the actual data is you like numbers!  I highlighted the top 5 lowest Lake Erie ice winters.

What does this all mean? As we've mentioned before, as long as late winter colder periods develops, expect more late season lake effect snows for the rest of February and March.

I'm still projecting between 20 and 25 more inches of snow from Valentine's Day and the end of March!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Where Does This Winter Rank So Far?

I finally checked the numbers from the NCDC (National Climate Data Center) for January across all of Northeastern Ohio. After averaging November and December temperatures and comparing them to all of the winters since the 1895-96 winter, this is where 2011-12 stacks up in the top 10 warmest winters. Each winter's snowfall through January is also included.  Its number 3!

 How about the trends over the last 110+ winters? It seems according to the data that the trend is slightly upward in Northeastern Ohio.

 What does this mean for the rest of winter?

Look at the February temperatures in these winters? Well above normal...

In actuality, the actual temperatures have been even warmer!
How about March in the past years?

Temps stayed above normal in Ohio but they cooled compared to February and January. Notice the below normal temps across the upper Great Plains. A sign of late season colder spells.

If these comparisons are even slightly close to this March, expect temperatures to run closer to normal to slightly above normal which range from 41 on March 1st to 53 on March 31st. As for snow? We will look at those numbers next week.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Climate and Weather: Complete Reporting by the Media is Paramount

In recent weeks, several articles have been published that reignite the anthropogenic (man made) Global Warming debate.  Several surveys including one on climate knowledge to lists of scientists who are considered skeptics have made their way online. At roughly the same time, a new website was launched that aims to list all television meteorologists who have made their opinions public against Anthropogenic Global Warming. All of this has run congruent to the abnormally mild winter we've experienced in Cleveland and across most of the US.  

People have started asking me again what I think of these articles and what my stance is on global warming/climate change. While I purposefully steer clear of this polarizing debate, I always try to give answers that describe the meteorological drivers of our weather patterns. Often time after explaining this year's pattern, I quickly get blank stares when I describe the arctic and its behavior this winter even without using fancy science terminology. By no means is this a way of tap-dancing around the question but rather an opportunity to present additional information that might not be known in a comfortable, conversational setting.

Most people don't want to be “taught" subject matter when watching a news program. Viewers become uneasy when the news feels more like school than an informative telecast. Most people cringe at science even more. They want their news simple and easy to understand. Unfortunately, the world of atmospheric science—science in general--is anything but simple. I’ve found that the general public knows the terms "El Nino" or "La Nina" but little else.

How do we combat this lack of basic weather/climate science knowledge?  The answer is easy. Educate your viewers with reporting the COMPLETE story. Yet most media outlets won’t and don’t do it. Why?

As a television meteorologist, you are taught to “know your viewers”. So we have to cater our weather casts to fit what viewers are comfortable with. Most don’t want to know “why is this happening”. They want the “whens” and “how much”. This makes sense. Weather impacts every aspect of their lives in the short term. 

Viewers are impatient. They want quick, “to-the-point” news and weather. Unfortunately, when a major weather events occurs, the media explains the events in a highly, over simplified manner to fit what viewers are used to during ordinary forecast segments. Key elements are either watered down or left out entirely. The “dumbing” down of weather and climate science stories into "easy-to-digest“ bullet points only perpetuates weather and climate science as simple disciplines and fails to accurately AND COMPLETELY present the reasons why our weather and weather patterns behave the way they do. I'm not advocating long, drawn out, convoluted television "seminars" devoted to weather and science just more complete reporting.  Reporters still need to do their due diligence by researching the drivers of these events and include them in stories before defaulting to the "Its Global Warming or Cooling" card. Worst of all, it wouldn't take long to find.  

Here are some examples:

  1. Alabama Tornado Outbreak

The Xenia tornado outbreak in 1974 was also during a La Nina. The link above shows that there may be a link to tornado outbreaks and La Nina episodes in early spring.

2. New York Hurricanes - Irene in 2011 et all

East coast landfall hurricanes occur more when the Atlantic is in its "warm mode". This mode is called the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation. Hurricane Irene last year tracked north into New England.

Back in 1938, a category 3 hurricane made landfall near Bellport, New York. The Atlantic was also in its warm mode.

 Historic east coast landfalls compared to the state of the AMO

3. Drought in Texas

Another extreme associated with La Nina. 20 La Nina events over the last 120 years. 19 of those resulted in below normal precipitation in Texas. Look back at 1918 and 1956. Major drought centered in Texas from the Great Plains occurred during a La Nina.

 How about 2011?

For comparison sake, here is the dust bowl drought of 1934

4. Alaska extreme cold

The long term Pacific Ocean cold pattern called the PDO (Pacific Multidecadal Oscillation) has been linked to colder than normal temperature regimes. This study outlines the PDO and other influences like El Nino and La Nina

Here are the January 1971 average temps along the side January 2012 average temperatures. Both of these months occurred during a negative PDO.

The PDO isn’t the only driver but the comparisons are significant. Some links between the cold PDO and the western trough along the west coast reinforcing the ridge which set the stage for the above normal temperatures during the summer of 2011

5. Mild winter across the eastern 2/3 of the US

The Arctic Oscillation and North Atlantic Oscillation has been strongly positive. (NWS Chicago has an excellent write up here.

The last two winters, these indices have been strongly negative. One PhD in atmospheric science recently told me that these oscillations are "stochastic processes".  In other words, they are random pattern shifts that the computer models have a tough time predicting.

My previous blog post on the winter pattern so far

Is this over simplification in weather/climate science reporting more a reflection of today’s impatient,      “Youtube-ified” society?  Probably. Television news is far different than it was 15 or 20 years ago. News is not a ½ hour event like the good old days. News is produced in smaller increments to fit our fast paced lives.  Mobile devices and other information gathering technology further reinforces the need for quick, one to two minute news bits.  But when it comes to complex science topics like weather and climate reporting, this format doesn’t work nor should we force science into this highly compact template.  Let me be clear on this. I am not against Climate Change reporting.  My intention is not to debate climate change. I'm not here to analyze temperature data or to follow the political money trail. I just want COMPLETE REPORTING that isn’t watered down.  

Allow me to get a bit defensive: If someone wants to label me as a member of one of the climate groups that’s routinely talked about as either pro or anti-AGW, go ahead. If you do than you are missing my point entirely. My goal isn't to refute arguments for or against.

My goal of this post is to emphasize better quality and COMPLETE science reporting on weather and climate related stories through some basic research by the media. We serve our viewers better if we abandon the practice of watering down weather/climate science stories and explain the short-term drivers of weather events/trends within the AGW context. Does this mean that we shouldn’t explain AGW? Absolutely not. Yet continual pointing at AGW as the ONLY first order mechanism in the place of other drivers easily obtained through basic research by reporters through credible sources (NWS, NOAA or NCEP) doesn’t do the science or the journalism justice.