Winter: Worse than They Thought

by Marlo Lewis on February 15, 2015

in Blog, Features

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“According to the National Weather Service, the low temperature Sunday at Dulles Airport was about 6 degrees at 7:30 a.m. That breaks the record for the date of 7 degrees set in 1965,” the AP reports.

In addition, “At BWI-Thurgood Marshall Airport outside Baltimore, the low of 6 degrees Sunday matched a record set in 1943.”

Yet as of September 2014, global annual carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions were on track to hit a record 40 billion metric tons — 4 billion more than the previous record set in 2013 of 36 billion tons — and roughly 3.5 times more emissions than in 1965 (11.487 billion tons) and 10 times more than in 1943 (4.007 billion tons).

More importantly, atmospheric CO2 concentration today is 399.85 parts per million (ppm), compared to just 320.23 ppm in 1965 and 310.5 ppm in 1943.

Although only halfway through, February is Boston’s “snowiest month on record,” the NWS reported on its Twitter feed. The city has received 58.5 inches of snow, breaking the previous monthly record of 43.3 inches in January 2005.

And who can forget the Buffalo-area snowstorm of November 2014. The town of Cowlesville, New York, about 25 miles south of downtown Buffalo, got 88 inches of snow (7.3 feet) in just five days — an amount approximately equal to the average Buffalo snowfall in an entire winter.

Although 2014 was supposedly the warmest year on record, in the USA between Nov. 10 and Nov. 19, “there were 4,163 record low temperatures set or tied compared to just 465 warm record temperatures set or tied.”

This year’s winter conditions contributed to at least 10 deaths, suspended or delayed train service, cancelled more than 1,800 flights, and closed schools, businesses, and non-essential government offices.

None of this is intended to deny the reality of anthropogenic global warming. The point, rather, is to put things in perspective.

Despite alarming predictions in the early- and mid-2000s that winter snow storms would soon be a “thing of the past,” for millions of Americans, winter remains the greatest climate-related threat to public health and welfare.

Moreover, despite global climate change, weather as experienced by human beings remains emphatically local and regional. And what chiefly determines weather, extreme or moderate, is natural variability.

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Update Monday Feb. 16, 2015

The Weather Channel (1:54 pm) reports “arctic blasts bring record cold to the Northeast.” Some excerpts:

Buffalo, New York, logged its coldest day in 21 years on Feb. 15. The day’s high of 2 degrees – observed at 12:20 a.m. – was the city’s coldest since Jan. 19, 1994, as was the daily mean temperature of 4 below zero. Shortly before midnight at the end of the day, the mercury touched 10 below zero for the first time since Jan. 6, 1996. It was the coldest February temperature in Buffalo since 1979.

New York City’s Central Park dropped to 4 degrees just before the end of Feb. 15, tying the low of 4 during the so-called “Polar Vortex” cold snap on Jan. 7, 2014. The temperature then fell to 3 degrees on Feb. 16, making it the coldest reading in the Big Apple since Jan. 16, 2004.

The frigid air mass also set record lows on Feb. 16.

In fact, Erie, Pennsylvania, tied its all-time record low of minus 18 degrees, set on January 19, 1994. Watertown, New York, recorded its coldest February temperature in records dating back to 1949 with a low of minus 36 degrees.

Daily record lows were tied or broken on Feb. 16 in Baltimore (5 degrees), Syracuse, New York (minus 17 degrees), Toledo, Ohio (minus 9 degrees), Cleveland (minus 12 degrees), Trenton, New Jersey (1 degree), Wilmington, Delaware (2 degrees), Detroit (minus 9 degrees) and Flint, Michigan (minus 21 degrees).

Cleveland’s daily record low of minus 12 degrees was the coldest temperature in the city since 2009. In Syracuse, New York, the low of minus 17 degrees was the coldest temperature there since January 2005.

Yet another blast of bitterly cold air was headed for the central and eastern states for the end of February, and may set more records.

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Update Monday Feb. 23, 2015: More Cold Records Set 

On Saturday (Feb. 21), the Weather.Com reported that “Hundreds of daily record lows and at least three all-time record lows were set” in the previous three days.

Some excerpts:

Lynchburg, Virginia, plummeted to 11 below zero Friday morning (Feb. 20), setting a new all-time record low for any day of the year. The previous record was 10 below zero on Jan. 21, 1985, and Feb. 5, 1996. Impressively, Lynchburg’s temperature records go all the way back to 1893.

Flint, Michigan, tied its all-time record low of 25 below zero, originally set Jan. 18, 1976. Weather records in Flint began in 1921.

Earlier this week Erie, Pennsylvania, had tied its all-time record low when it reached 18 below zero Monday (Feb. 16). That tied the record set Jan. 19, 1994. Not far away, Jamestown, New York, set an all-time record low of 31 below zero Tuesday, though its records only go back to 1960.

At least 72 daily record lows were set Friday morning from Connecticut to Florida to as far west as Indiana, including major cities such as New York, Baltimore, Washington, Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Charlotte, Miami, Detroit and Cincinnati.

According to NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center, 647 record lows were tied or broken Sunday through Thursday. This figure includes not only major airport reporting stations, but also smaller cooperative observation sites in rural areas.

All-time February record lows: Cleveland has broken its all-time record low for the month of February, reaching 17 below zero. The previous February record was minus 16 on Feb. 10, 1899, in the nation’s worst arctic outbreak in modern memory. It is also Cleveland’s coldest day since Jan. 19, 1994, when the city set its all-time record of 20 below zero.

Toledo, Ohio, also broke its all-time February record low as it sank to 19 below zero. Youngstown, Ohio, tied its February record low of 16 below set Feb. 9, 1934.

A Kentucky Mesonet site east of Richmond, Kentucky, reported a low of 32 below zero. According to the Kentucky Climate Center, this ties the all-time February record low for the state set in Princeton on Feb. 2, 1951. Kentucky’s all-time record low for any month and day was 37 below zero in Shelbyville on Jan. 19, 1994.

Coldest so late in the season: Norfolk, Virginia, reached 9 degrees. That city had never recorded a single-digit temperature this late in the season before; previously the latest single-digit low had been on Feb. 14 in 1899. Lexington, Kentucky, reached 18 below zero – also beating February 1899 for the coldest reading so late in the season.

Pittsburgh hit 10 below; the city has never before hit double digits below zero this late in the winter.

Again, I want to be very clear what these facts mean and don’t mean. They don’t mean global warming is a hoax, or that 2014 was not one of the warmest years on record, or that last month was not one of the warmest Januaries on record.

What it means is that for people living on the U.S. eastern seaboard and Midwest, global warming has done nothing for us lately. Climate change has had no discernible impact on current East Coast and Midwest winter weather conditions. The record lows are a reminder that all weather is regional (or even local), and regionally, natural variability still rules.

Bob Bingham February 18, 2015 at 2:26 am

The people who don’t understand global warming/climate change are the people who don’t want to understand. The world is warming and this is disrupting the weather and some times it results in a cold storm. The heat and drought is still continuing in Australia/California.

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