The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

What is the plural of "alma mater?"

Two of my almae matres yesterday advanced in the NCAA Men's Basketball tournament. One of them, Duke, didn't exactly struggle, so I'll just acknowledge them for now. Another of them, Loyola University Chicago, didn't even expect to get to the tournament, so their win yesterday felt really great:

Donte Ingram’s 3-pointer just before the final buzzer delivered the 11th-seeded Ramblers’ first NCAA tournament victory in 33 years — a 64-62 upset of No. 6 seed Miami.

As the players partied Thursday afternoon, a 98-year-old nun who serves as the team chaplain was pushed onto the corner of the hardwood in her wheelchair. With TV camera crews trained on her, Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt folded her hands in her lap and smiled, waiting for an embrace from each player as he exited the court.

“She’s just so special, her spirit,” Ingram said. “She’s just so bright.”

After his divine 3-pointer and celebration, Ingram spotted Sister Jean’s outstretched arm as he ran off the court. The undisputed team MVPs for the day hugged.

Call the duo The Shot and The Prayer.

Don't tell anyone, but I'm considering skipping out for a couple of hours to meet some friends at a local wings place. Duke plays Rhode Island tomorrow afternoon, and Loyola plays Tennessee tomorrow evening. (Here's the official NCAA bracket.)

Warming Arctic, chilling Northeast

Writing in the New York Times, University of Washington professor Cecilia Bitz sounds a four-klaxon alarm about the rapidly-warming Arctic:

In late February, a large portion of the Arctic Ocean near the North Pole experienced an alarming string of extremely warm winter days, with the surface temperature exceeding 25 degrees Fahrenheit above normal.

These conditions capped nearly three months of unusually warm weather in a region that has seen temperatures rising over the past century as greenhouse gas concentrations (mostly carbon dioxide and methane) have increased in the atmosphere. At the same time, the extent of frozen seawater floating in the Arctic Ocean reached new lows in January and February in 40 years of satellite monitoring.

In recent years, the air at the Arctic Ocean surface during winter has warmed by over 5 degrees Fahrenheit above normal. So was this recent spate of warm weather linked to longer-term climate change, or was it, well, just the weather?

What we can say is this: Weather patterns that generate extreme warm Arctic days are now occurring in combination with a warming climate, which makes extremes more likely and more severe. What’s more, these extreme temperatures have had a profound influence on sea ice, which has become thinner and smaller in extent, enabling ships to venture more often and deeper into the Arctic.

This coincides with an article in the Washington Post describing new research that the unusually cold and snowy winter just ended in the Northeast U.S. and in Europe is a direct consequence of warmer Arctic weather:

The study, titled “Warm Arctic episodes linked with increased frequency of extreme winter weather in the United States,” shows that severe winter weather, late in the season, has increased over the eastern United States since 1990 as the Arctic has dramatically warmed, faster than any other part of the world.

When the Arctic is warm, the study finds, cold weather and heavy snowfalls in the eastern United States are two to four times more likely than when it is cold.

“This paper argues that the weather was cold not in spite of climate change but likely because of climate change,” said Judah Cohen, lead author of the study.

As Arctic temperatures have warmed in recent decades, late winter weather severity has increased in the East while decreasing in the West, the study found.

Because the increase in winter weather severity in the East has been most pronounced in February and March, when the biggest winter storms tend to form, major East Coast cities have seen an uptick in the frequency of crippling snowstorms. “We found a statistically significant increase in the return rate of heavier snowfall in Boston, New York  and Washington,” Cohen said.

Scientists haven't found the exact causes of the relationship, but evidence for the correlation got a lot more significant this year. But the prediction that anthropogenic climate change would lead to a feedback loop and rapidly-warming Arctic, in combination with extreme weather events elsewhere at the same time, has been around for decades. We're now seeing the predictions come true.

In other words, we're going to experience harsh winters in places that haven't had them for a few years, before the ocean becomes so warm that weather patterns shift again, probably suddenly (i.e., within a couple of decades). We don't know what the next pattern will look like. But we can predict it will be more extreme, and that beachfront property in the mid-Atlantic looks like a bad investment.

Ides of March reading list

I'm writing a response to an RFP today, so I'll have to read these when I get a chance:

There were two more stories in my inbox this morning, but they deserve their own post after lunch.

Historical population data, visualized

Citylab's Map of the Day today comes from Northeastern University history professor Benjamin Schmidt. It visualizes population data from three data sets, one of which came from a single Wikipedia editor:

This is a narrative description of the city populations dataset I’ve assembled for the Creating Data project. The headline here is: Wikipedia editors have created a much more comprehensive database of American city and town populations than historians have had to this point.

I’m writing it up separately and releasing it before any other components of the project for two reasons. First, the data is useful: there are a wide variety of fields where a more comprehensive, long-term database of city sizes is useful, and I’ve already spoken to a few people for whom it might be useful. (If you wish to download the data, you can do it from the github site for this dataset.)

Second, I wanted to use it to try a beta launch for some of the narrative display elements of this project. I’m trying something here that’s a central part of the full project: finding ways to explore through historical data that allow both narrative and exploratory data analysis.

It's one of the most interesting geographic data visualizations I've seen in a while. You don't have to be a geography nerd to enjoy it.

Hell of a week

In the last seven days, these things have happened:

Meanwhile:

Can't wait to see what the next week will bring...

Gun stupidity

Soon-to-be-ex-Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner vetoed a bill that would have required licensing for gun stores:

The governor, who is a hunter and told the station he is a member of the National Rifle Association, noted that the federal government already regulates firearms retailers. He said the proposal would create bureaucracy "that doesn't really keep our communities safer."

The Democratic-controlled General Assembly sent the bill to Rauner a couple of weeks ago, and the governor could have waited to act until after his March 20 primary matchup against state Rep. Jeanne Ives. She voted against the legislation and pushed Rauner not to sign it. Instead, the governor’s veto will come a week before the election and could take a line of attack away from the more conservative Ives.

In the weeks since the bill landed on Rauner’s desk, Democrats including Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago aldermen have pressured the governor to sign it.

“The governor's decision was cruel, it was cold and it was calculated to benefit his own politics at the expense of public safety. "When is the right time? Only one person can answer that," Emanuel said in a statement Tuesday.

Meanwhile, in Florida, a gun-rights activist who touted her shooting skills was shot in the back by her toddler.

Long weekend; just catching up

Saturday and Sunday, the Apollo Chorus sang Verdi's "Requiem" three times in its entirety (one dress rehearsal, two performances), not including going back over specific passages before Sunday's performance to clean up some bits. So I'm a little tired.

Here are some of the things I haven't had time to read yet:

Other stuff is going on, which I'll report when I have confirmation.

Florida votes to secede from the Eastern time zone

Florida's legislature has voted overwhelmingly to change the state's clocks:

The Florida Senate passed the Sunshine Protection Act on Tuesday, three weeks after the state’s House of Representatives, and sent it to Gov. Rick Scott for his signature or veto. (Asked on Wednesday whether Mr. Scott would sign it, and why or why not, his press secretary, Lauren Schenone, said only, “The governor will review the bill.”) The margins of victory in both chambers were overwhelming — 33 to 2 in the Senate and 103 to 11 in the House — and the measure has considerable public support.

The problem? Florida doesn’t have the authority to adopt daylight saving time year-round.

15 USC 260a allows states to adopt year-round standard time, but not year-round daylight saving time. The Department of Transportation is in charge of what states go in what time zones.

In any event, what the bill's sponsors really want, but didn't know how to ask for, is to move Florida from the Eastern time zone (UTC-5 standard and -4 DST) to the Atlantic time zone (UTC-4 standard), and then exempt the state from DST. The intent is simply to put Florida on UTC-4 year-round.

What would that look like, though? From mid-March to early-November, it would look exactly the same, since they're on UTC-4 when on Eastern Daylight Time. Sunrises in would occur between 7:30am mid-March and 6:30am mid-June, sunsets between 7:30pm mid-March and 8:15pm mid-June.

In the winter, mornings would be pretty dark, but there'd be a lot of evening light. The sun would rise just after 8am on December 21st, but set around 6:30pm. In Jacksonville, way up north, the sun would rise about 20 minutes later. But farther west, in Pensacola, the sun wouldn't come up until 8:45am on December 21st, potentially obviating any benefit of the sun setting close to 7pm.

Note that Pensacola, at 87°11' W, is almost due south of Chicago. Miami (80°17' W) is nearly due south of Pittsburgh. But Florida's latitude reduces the differences between summer and winter daylight hours, compared with what we experience farther north.

Should Florida move to UTC-4? It might not be a bad move, if having daylight extend later in the evening makes up for the later sunrises. It would not, however, actually change the astronomical reality of how many hours of daylight they get.

We'll see if the Department of Transportation or the U.S. Congress gives them the authority to hop.

Youth is wasted on the young, EU railways edition

The European Union will let every 18-year-old citizen travel its railways for free this summer:

This summer, the European Commission is offering 18-year-old European residents a free Interrail ticket—a rail pass that permits travel across 30 European countries for a month. What’s more, they’re not just offering it to one or two teenagers. With a budget of €12 million for this year, the commission plans to fund trips for 20,000 to 30,000 young people, with the possibility of more passes in the years to come. Exact details of how to apply and who will be get an Interrail pass, worth up to €510 ($628), will be released in the next few months. But one thing is already clear: A large town’s worth of European 18-year-olds will be able to travel from Lapland to Gibraltar by train this summer, and the price they will pay is precisely nothing.

Visiting any major European station 25 years ago, you would have found the summer platforms packed with young people using Interrail passes, heading off to pretty much wherever they fancied on a whim. Its price—a then-steep £27.50 ($38) when first launched in 1972—meant that the experience was largely confined to young people who had middle- or upper-income parents, or who had jobs to help them save up. In an era when flights were still an exorbitant luxury and part-time jobs for teenagers more readily available, it was still a great deal. Night trains made it possible to cut accommodation costs, and the sheer range of countries included—all of Western Europe and even much of the Eastern bloc before 1989—was dizzying.

I got a 15-day pass in 1992 for about $300, or about $500 today. I wish I could do that again. Oh to be 18 and European...