That's where Chicago found itself today, inside the warm, dry southern sector of a major winter storm. The temperature got up to 15°C, with 65 km/h wind gusts, but as the cold front has pushed through behind the dry wedge, temperatures have fallen 6°C in the last three hours.
Still, today we finish the 10th warmest winter in recorded history:
Meteorological winter finishes as it began in Chicago---milder than normal. The three month season is noteworthy on a number of fronts. It's the mildest winter in 14 years and has posted more 40-degree (Fahrenheit) and warmer temperatures than any winter in the 80 years since 1931-32. It also ranks 10th mildest of the past 142 winter seasons.
Each of the three months of soon-to-close meteorological winter 2011-12 have posted temperature surpluses. February becomes the fifth consecutive month in Chicago to finish with temperatures which have averaged above normal. And as if that's not impressive enough, a stunning 76 of this winter season's 91 days—84 per cent of them—have finished at or above normal!
Climatologists predict that spring will be warm and wet as well. I can definitely get used to winters like this, though.
We came close. Mid-January it looked like Chicago would have its warmest winter in 80 years, but with the cool-down last weekend, the ranking has slipped a bit:
Two days remain in February and the 2011-12 meteorological winter season! It closes at midnight Thursday and is on track to finish the 10th-warmest December through February period of the past 142 years.
Estimates that this season's average Chicago temperature is to come in at 0.3°C places it 3°C above the long-term average and the mildest here since 1997-98's 0.5°C average.
The chances for a -18°C or lower temperature occurring this late in the cold season are fading fast. Prospects "low" at best. Failure to produce a 0-degree reading would make this only the 13th cold season since the city's observational record began in 1870 to be "zero-free" and mark the first time in the three decades since 1982-83 that a winter has failed to produce a single -18°C temperature here.
While this winter's limited chill and lack of snow have garnered a good deal of attention, so has its generous number of 4.4°C and warmer days. The last winter winter with as many 40s (°F) occurred 80 years ago.
Even though we didn't get quite to the record, we're still quite happy that we went from fall to spring with only about four days of winter. I, personally, could get used to this.
Via Viennese news aggregator Eurozine, an analysis of Vladimir Putin's "managed democracy":
Elections were of critical importance for Putin not only for the sake of legitimacy, but also for the sake of governability. Putin could not have governed for the past decade without the ritualized authorization provided by rigged elections.
Thus, by far the most important political role of sham elections during the past dozen years has been the way they have allowed Putin to display his capacity for manipulating them in an orderly and predictable way and thereby, paradoxically, to demonstrate his authoritarian credentials. Rigged elections, known to be rigged, are the cheapest and easiest way for the regime to mimic the authoritarian power it does not actually possess and thereby to bolster its faltering grip on the country, or at least give itself more breathing room.
By engineering rigged elections that nobody bothered or dared to protest, Putin managed to conceal his regime's deepest secret, namely that Russia, rather than being misgoverned, is governed very laxly if at all. Contrary to the predominant view, Putin's real power has never extended much beyond Moscow. Russia's strongman has been strong enough to prevent anyone from aspiring to replace him; but he has spectacularly failed in his attempts to rule his country.
Truly strong, legitimate leaders can win elections on the merits, as we've demonstrated off and on for almost 230 years in the U.S. But as much as Putin rigs his elections, at least he's not Turkmenbashi.
New York Times blogger Tom Ferrick highlights Rick Santorum's anger that most people in the world don't agree with him:
Santorum’s anger is not an act. It is genuine. It has its roots in the fact that he had the misfortune to be born in the second half of the 20th century. In his view, it was an era when moral relativism and anti-religious feeling held sway, where traditional values were ignored or mocked, where heretics ruled civic and political life. If anything, it’s gotten worse in the 21st, with the election of Barack Obama.
I once wrote that Santorum has one of the finest minds of the 13th century. It was meant to elicit a laugh, but there’s truth behind the remark. No Vatican II for Santorum. His belief system is the fixed and firm Catholicism of the Council of Trent in the mid-16th century. And Santorum is a warrior for those beliefs.
In 2010, Santorum delivered a little-noticed speech in Houston to mark the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s address in the same city before a convention of Protestant ministers. Kennedy went before the group to alleviate fears that if a Catholic was elected president of the United States, the Pope would rule America. As Kennedy said at the beginning of his speech: “I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute.”
[Santorum's] was an angry speech, conjuring up images of people of faith cowering before leftist thought police. Who could rescue us from this predicament? Who could banish the secularists and restore religious morality to its throne?
The image of Santorum as a frothy mix of reactionary theology and small-mindedness looks more and more accurate the more we see him in action. This man truly wants the U.S. to install a Christianist government, prohibiting social choices not directly traceable to the Bible. He claims to want religious freedom, but like the Puritans kicked out of England in the 1620s, he only wants religious freedom for people like himself. He believes the first amendment guarantees this, but completely fails to grasp (or ignores) the establishment clause.
Santorum is, hands down, the most dangerous (serious) candidate for President since George Wallace.
At this time of year, people from the tropics to the poles really become aware of changes in the lengths of the days. Yesterday Chicago had 11 hours of daylight for the first time since October 18th; we get 12 hours of daylight less than three weeks from now. Tuesday the sun set at 5:30pm for the first time since standard time returned on November 5th; it sets at 7pm on March 16th.
From the solstice through February 1st we only get about one additional hour of daylight (though, because of the Earth's orbit, most of it comes in the evening). But the really dramatic changes are now: from February 20th to April 20th, we get 3 more hours of daylight—an average of 3 minutes per day. Plus, the second weekend of March puts us into Daylight Saving Time, so sunsets occur more than two hours later in April than in February.
A direct result of lengthening days is increasing temperatures. It turns out that summer temperatures don't predict winter temperatures at all, but winter temperatures predict summer temperatures quite well. With only 12 days of snow on the ground this year, the warmest winter since the 1920s has felt more like Raleigh, N.C., than Chicago. This means, of course, next summer will feel like Raleigh as well. I can't wait.
There's ample evidence that the president can't change gas prices. So why do politicians claim he can? It's an old trope:
This happens every few years, and every few years it’s total nonsense.
Since it’s happening again, and since the press seems once again more concerned about the political implications of rising gas prices than with actual forces driving them up, TPM turned to energy expert Robert Rapier for an analyst’s view.
[T]here’s very little policymakers can do today or could have done in the recent past to upset the price increase. In fact, thanks to a persistently low gas tax, the U.S. remains one of the cheaper places to fill up in the world.
“They could subsidize it, they could tax it more or tax it less, they could put import tariffs on oil coming in or export tariffs going out,” Rapier said. “Outside of forcing a recession in China,” Rapier joked, that’s pretty much it.
The only way to spend less on gas, then, is to use less gas. But that would require entirely different land and transport policies for most of the U.S., so we'll just have to blame someone else.
Today is Red Army Day, and one of my co-workers mentioned her Russian friends have posted on Facebook about it. This turned into a discussion of the differences between the Soviet and Russian national anthems (there isn't much), which then went to Germany. In looking for a YouTube video of the German anthem, I encountered this:
Really? The video in question has a performance of the 1841 version ("Deutschland über Alles"), but presents it as an historical fact rather than as a political aspiration. This might offend people? Who are these people?
The German national anthem, "Deutschlandlied," takes its music from Hungarian composer Josef Haydn's "Emperor" quartet, Op. 76 No. 3, with lyrics penned by August Hoffmann in 1841—30 years after Haydn's death. These days Germans only sing the third verse (the second verse praises German women, another controversy apparently); but despite widespread ignorance, the first two verses were not written by the Nazis.
So, on what grounds is this offensive?
Let's see if historical versions of current national anthems are offensive in the U.S. Here is the 1770 text of the U.S. national anthem:
To Anacreon in Heaven, where he sat in full glee,
A few sons of harmony sent a petition,
That he their inspirer and patron should be.
When this answer arrived from that jolly old Grecian:
Voice, fiddle and flute no longer be mute,
I’ll lend you my name and inspire you to boot,
And besides I’ll instruct you like me to entwine
The myrtle of Venus with Bacchus’ vine."
So, who's offended? Anyone?
Nature Nerd Naomi observed ice-free ponds up near Gurnee about three weeks earlier than normal:
Finally, there is no ice at all on the lakes today... late last week, some kids in my neighborhood fell through the ice... meaning that it wasn't thick, but there was an ice cover. Yesterday about half the water area was covered on most lakes, and today, nothing. This is an early ice-off, as you can see if you look at the dates below. (The kids were rescued, btw.)
2006 -- Mar 10
2007 -- Mar 18
2008 -- Mar 31
2009 -- Mar 9
2010 -- Mar 18
2011 -- Mar 18
2012 -- Feb 22!
The astrology nutters who sued the time zone database for copyright infringement have withdrawn the suit.
Plaintiff's attorney Julie Molloy filed the notice of voluntary dismissal today in the District of Massachusetts under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(a)(1).
So, reason prevailed. Good.