Weather Around The World, 2/7/17: Hottest Year; Climate Warning; Smog; Football; Zucchini (Courgette); January Thaw

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Home / Weather Around The World, 2/7/17: Hottest Year; Climate Warning; Smog; Football; Zucchini (Courgette); January Thaw

NOAA reported that 2016 was the hottest year since it began keeping records in 1880. Graphic courtesy of NOAA.

You undoubtedly know that NOAA and NASA have both proclaimed 2016 the hottest year since either of them began keeping track of the temperature.

The last two years have been so far above normal that even skeptics are beginning to pay attention. But that’s old news.

Let’s get to the recent stuff like the new UK Climate Change Risk Assessment, people choking on smog on two continents, an American football game delayed, food shortages in Europe, heating Asia with American gas, and drought relief for California.

Let’s go Around The World

UK Climate Report Raises Alarms

The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) is an independent, statutory body established under the Climate Change Act of 2008. It recently issued its UK Climate Change Risk Assessment 2017 Evidence Report, which lists six major areas for concern:

  • Coastal flooding
  • Risks to health and productivity
  • Water shortages
  • Risks to ecosystems and biodiversity
  • Risks to food production
  • New pests and diseases

The report was announced by the British government with little fanfare and without comment from any government official.

Smog In Europe And Far Off Places

Smog trapped by cold air has blanketed cities in Europe and Asia this winter. Image by Peter Griffin

It’s been a smoggy winter in much of Europe, especially Poland, where Warsaw often rivals Beijing and Kolkata for unbreatheable air. Coal-burning is largely to blame.

When cold winter air settles in, it is hard to dislodge, and the pollutants build up. Smog is not unexpected in industrialized Europe or in the industrializing parts of  the world, but it also occurs in places westerners don’t often think about.

Most people probably regard Mongolia as a place that’s been deserted since Attila took off to conquer Europe. But the Mongolian capital, Ulaanbaatar, has a population of one and one-third million people — and a smog problem that’s sometimes worse than Beijing’s, particularly in the winter.

Recently the problem got so bad that citizens, wearing masks, took to the street to protest. This is even more startling since the temperature was below zero Fahrenheit (below -20 C), as it often is in the Mongolian winter. In fact, Ulaanbaatar is the coldest capital city in the world, with an annual mean temperature below freezing.

The temperature is part of the problem, as the cold, dense air tends to stay near the earth’s surface, trapping pollutants. In addition, many of the residents of Ulaanbaatar are very poor, and to stay warm they burn everything from coal to rubber tires.

Time Of NFL Playoff Game Changed Because Of Predicted Ice Storm

We’ve become accustomed to snowstorms producing traffic jams, hurricanes causing flooding, tornadoes knocking down buildings, and lightning killing whomever it happens to strike. But this is serious: Mother Nature is messing with the National Football League.

At the end of every season of play in American professional football, the twelve best teams engage in a single-elimination tournament to determine who will play in what Americans call the Super Bowl. This year, the second round game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Pittsburgh Steelers, scheduled to begin at 1:05 p.m. in Kansas City, was moved to 8:20 p.m. because of expected freezing rain. Can’t have tailgate parties inconvenienced by ice.

As it turned out, the temperature never got cold enough for freezing rain and the Steelers won 18-16. Kansas City residents are convinced there was a conspiracy and the Chiefs would have won in the daylight. P.S., the Steelers lost to the New England Patriots, who won the Super Bowl. There was no worry about weather interfering with the Big Game — it was played in a domed stadium.

Weather And Commerce

US exports of LNG hit a record in December thanks to demand from Asia. Graphic courtesy of EIA.

Weather affects local commerce in many ways, from supplying little kids with extra income when it snows to putting farms out of business during droughts. But sometimes the weather can affect commerce half way around the globe.

This has been a cold winter in Asia, particularly in Japan, and the result is that the demand for natural gas for heating has surged. US exports of liquefied natural gas (LNG) set a record in December and are running at the capacity of the only US terminal in Sabine Pass, Texas. Expansion of the terminal is expected to be completed by April.

California Drought Gets Some Relief — But ….

This winter’s precipitation along the west coast has been a welcome change from the past four years. Rain has been consistent and heavy as far south as Baja California, including parched southern California. This hopeful tendency comes with addenda, however.

First of all, the winter rain and snow has replenished only 37% of the water-snow deficit.

Second, climate change could affect the balance of snow and rain. Historically, California has received enough precipitation during the winter to satisfy water needs — and then some. Much of the ‘then some’ has fallen as snow in the Sierra Nevada mountains. That snow, melting and running off, has historically provided water for the precipitation-poor summer. Now comes global warming.

The percent of normal precipitation map for the 30 days ending Feb. 5 shows welcome drought relief in California. However, the recent rain and snow have only eliminated 37% of the deficit. Graphic courtesy of NOAA.

As the atmosphere warms, more of the winter precipitation will fall as rain and run off immediately. The logical conclusion is that less melting snow runoff would be available to provide water for the summer dry season. On the other hand, a feedback of global warming is an increase in the ability of the atmosphere to hold water vapor (the warmer the air the more water vapor it can hold). This would logically lead to an increase in total precipitation, which could offset the more rain/less snow factor.

Though recent precipitation has ameliorated the drought, Californians should not become complacent, thinking that the weather has reverted to normal winter precipitation and everything is hunky-dory.

The World Is Interconnected By The Weather

Good luck finding one of these in a London supermarket. The rain in Spain has mainly been a pain to growers and lovers of zucchini. Image by congerdesign.

After three years of drought in Southern Spain, the rains came. And they came. More rain in six weeks than in the previous hundred and fifty-six.

And as the rains came — and then the snow — the vegetable crops dried up. The price of zucchini (courgette to the Continentals) rose sixty percent; the price of eggplant (aubergine) rose twice as much.

The result of this? Bare shelves in supermarkets all over Europe where vegetables should be.

January Thaw In The Eastern US

The temperature forecast for the US for the rest of the winter and start of spring indicates warmth in the south and cold in the northwest. Graphic courtesy of NOAA.

Back in my days as a graduate student at MIT, we often discussed an aberration in the temperature statistics that seemed to indicate that sometime towards the end of January there was an unusually warm (for the season) spell of weather. To many, it seemed like a statistical fluke. NOAA describes January Thaw this way: A period of mild weather popularly supposed to recur each year in late January.

The weather record is still not long enough to make a statistical judgment. Those who believe in the January Thaw give the following explanation.

As the northern hemisphere cools in the fall, the temperatures drop in Canada and the cold air moves south. This surge of cold air gives the US its first shot of winter. Sometime in mid-winter, a flow from the Pacific Ocean pushes eastward and the cold air retreats to recharge in the north; then the second blast of winter hits the lower 48.

This scenario may have some validity; it may also be changing. This year, the entire eastern US was far above normal in January — a virtual month-long thaw — while the west was cold. Is it a sign of climate change? No one can tell. But meteorologists are increasingly concerned that global warming will not be spread evenly over the planet. Large changes in some locations in either temperature or precipitation would create many more problems than if changes are spread uniformly.

Weather For The Next Three Months

NOAA’s forecast for the next three months shows warm weather across the south and cold in the northwest. In next month’s Weather Around The World, to be published March 7, I will try to explain the reason for this pattern. Meanwhile, tell Decoded Science what the weather is like where you are.

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