The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Welcome to the new normal

Yesterday in Chicago the temperature bottomed out at -19°C after dumping 50 mm of snow on us. Today the temperature just went above freezing, where it's expected to hover for a while.

So, mild winter indeed, with more ridiculousness to come.

Working from home is still working

While I do get to sign off a bit earlier today, I might not read all of these articles until tomorrow:

Finally, despite today's near-record low temperatures in Chicago, we expect a 12°C increase from earlier this morning until tomorrow afternoon. Hey, if this is the only day all winter that even flirts with -18°C, I'm happy.

Balmy day in Antarctica

The frozen continent hit its all-time-warmest temperature yesterday:

Just days after the Earth saw its warmest January on record, Antarctica has broken its warmest temperature ever recorded. A reading of 18°C was taken Thursday at Esperanza Base along Antarctica’s Trinity Peninsula, making it the ordinarily frigid continent’s highest measured temperature in history.

The Antarctic Peninsula, on which Thursday’s anomaly was recorded, is one of the fastest-warming regions in the world. In just the past 50 years, temperatures have surged a staggering 3°C in response to Earth’s swiftly warming climate. Around 87 percent of glaciers along the peninsula’s west coast have retreated in that time, the majority doing so at an accelerated pace since 2008.

The WMO notes that cracks in the Pine Island Glacier “have been growing rapidly” in the past several days, according to satellite imagery.

Additional extreme warmth is likely in the Antarctic Peninsula in the coming days. Temperatures some 22–28°C above normal are predicted by some models.

Oh dear.

Three strikes against impeachment

Welp, the Senate has acquitted President Trump almost entirely along party lines, as everyone knew it would. Only Mitt Romney (R-UT) crossed the aisle to vote for conviction. Here's a roundup of the news in the last few hours:

About yesterday:

  • The Washington Post has an annotated SOTU.
  • Alexandra Petri clutched every pearl she owned, "and also the pearls of strangers, and some oysters that may contain pearls in the future" after Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) ripped up her copy of the SOTU.
  • NBC called the address Trump's "victory lap." Oh no, NBC; he's got more lapping in him.

In other news:

And it's snowing.

Mild winters in Chicago have a depressing side effect

We conclude January 2020 in Chicago having 16 out of 31 days (including today) with no visible sun, tying the all-time record of 9 consecutive days without sun set on 9 January 1992. We've had only 24% of possible sunlight this month, making this the third-gloomiest January on record after 1998 (20%) and 2011 (23%).

But this is really just a consequence of our unusually mild winter. Since December 1st, we've had 46 out of 60 days above freezing, and only 6 days below -10°C. And mercifully, the forecast for tomorrow and Sunday calls for warmth (11°C on Sunday, fully 9°C above normal) and sunshine (20% predicted for tomorrow, and 90% predicted for Sunday).

So, all right, I can live with more than a week of gloomy skies in exchange for unseasonably mild weather in January.

Personal travel "should die:" New Republic

Chuck Thompson understands why we travel, but still thinks we shouldn't:

As evidence piles up about the deleterious impact of global tourism, the travel media charade is starting to feel like the almost comical hypocrisy of Trump surrogates ginning up increasingly contorted justifications on cable news for a worldview that’s becoming more detached from reality by the day.

All motorized transport is a problem—cruise ships generate 21,000 gallons of sewage per day, much of it flushed into the ocean—but the primary offenders are airplanes. According to U.K.-based Earth Changers, another outfit dedicated to “sustainable tourism,” aviation emissions account for 3.2 percent of total global carbon emissions. That figure could rise to 12 percent by 2050.

Short of regulations and fuel taxes on a scale that would restructure the entire global market, people probably aren’t going to stop traveling. More likely, as the world becomes ever more distressed by over-tourism—the 145 million annual overseas trips currently taken by Chinese tourists alone is expected to surpass 400 million by 2030—the travel journalists we rely on for hot tips and insider advice will simply conjure new ways of assuaging our guilt. That may serve the interests of their airline underwriters, but it won’t be doing the planet any favors.

I take no joy in saying so. I like travel as much as you do, and I’m not stopping either. Where’s the line between hypocrite and addict? I suspect we’re all going to find out sooner than we’d like.

And to think, I just got a brand-new passport...

Taking a beating on the shore

Lake Michigan continues its record-high levels this month. As of yesterday, the Michigan-Huron system was at 177. 4 m above sea level, 51 cm above last year's level and more than a full meter above average January levels. This has caused massive erosion and the loss of entire beaches in Chicago:

Since 2013, the lake has risen nearly 2 meters, going from a record low to near-record high levels last summer. On Saturday, waves nearing 6 meters pummeled an already drowning shoreline.

A 1-meter wave can pack the power of a small car. A 6-meter wave? Maybe a freight train.

The Chicago Department of Transportation is evaluating the impacts of the storm at Morgan Shoal from 48th to 50th streets and working with the Army Corps to install boulders, according to spokesman Michael Claffey. The work is expected to begin in the coming months.

They'd better get to it. Typically, lake levels are lowest January through April, but so far this month the lake is only 6 cm lower than last July's all-time-record high average.

Hottest decade in history

Data released today by NOAA and NASA confirm a frightening fact scientists had already guessed:

The past decade was the hottest ever recorded on the planet, driven by an acceleration of temperature increases in the past five years....

According to NOAA, the globe is warming at a faster rate than it had been just a few decades ago. The annual global average surface temperature has increased at an average rate of 0.07 degrees Celsius (0.13 Fahrenheit) per decade since 1880, NOAA found. However, since 1981, that rate has more than doubled since.

Alaska also had its hottest year on record in 2019. It included an alarming lack of ice cover during the winter in the Bering and Chukchi Seas, and in the summer the temperature at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport hit 32°C for the first time.

Still, even as millions of protesters have taken to the streets to demand action, world leaders have so far shown little ability to move as fast as scientists say is necessary to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

In a bleak report last fall, the United Nations warned that the world had squandered so much time mustering the willpower to combat climate change that drastic, unprecedented cuts in emissions are now the only way to avoid an ever-intensifying cascade of consequences. The U.N. report said global temperatures are on pace to rise as much as 3.2°C by the end of the century, and that emissions must begin falling by 7.6 percent each year beginning 2020 to meet the most ambitious goals of the Paris climate accord.

But hey, the President wants to make sure your shower and dishwasher waste more water, so that'll help.

Spot the theme

A few articles to read at lunchtime today:

  • Will Peischel, writing for Mother Jones, warns that the wildfires in Australia aren't the new normal. They're something worse. (Hint: fires create their own weather, causing feedback loops no one predicted.)
  • A new analysis finds that ocean temperatures not only hit record highs in 2019, but also that the rate of increase is accelerating.
  • First Nations communities living on Manitoulin Island in Lake Huron—the largest freshwater island in the world—warn that human activity is disrupting millennia-old ecosystems in the Great Lakes.

Fortunately, those aren't the only depressing stories in the news today:

Now that I'm thoroughly depressed, I'll continue working on this API over here...

Lake Michigan-Huron water levels at record highs, again

Climate change has caused water levels in the Lake Michigan-Huron system to swell in only six years, creating havoc in communities that depend on them:

In 2013, Lake Huron bottomed out, hitting its lowest mark in more than a century, as did Lake Michigan, which shares the same water levels, according to data from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Around that time, the lake withdrew so far from the shore around Engle’s resort — then a collection of 12 rustic cabins and three docks — that mud was all that remained beneath his boathouse.

In just 3½ years, levels rose more than 1.3 m and last summer peaked at nearly 1.9 m above the record low.

Climate change is amplifying variability in lakes that are naturally predisposed to fluctuation. Unlike lakes Ontario and Superior, which are regulated by dams and binational regulatory boards, lakes Michigan and Huron, measured as one body of water because they are connected at the Straits of Mackinac, have no such controls and consequently have experienced the greatest variation from record low to high in the Great Lakes.

As the amount of heat-trapping greenhouse gases has spiked over the past century, the Earth’s warmer atmosphere is capable of holding additional moisture, which scientists say is resulting in more frequent and severe storms. Across the Great Lakes region, precipitation has increased 14%, and the frequency of heavy storms has risen 35% since 1951, contributing to widespread flooding. In the past two years, the states of Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana and Ohio each have endured a string of 12 consecutive months that have been the wettest in 124 years.

Here is the latest water-level chart from NOAA. Notice that last year's levels hit record highs during the summer and ended the year just below the record for December--meaning they started January considerably higher than the record for the month:

At least we have a lot of fresh water nearby. That might come in handy someday...