The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Winter to spring in 24 hours

Ah, Chicago, your weather really builds character.

Yesterday our official temperature got up to 27°C; today's forecast is 29°C. So it might surprise you that Sunday's low was -1°C, a record fro April 29th.

Or maybe it won't surprise you. Especially given the other records we set in April:

The Chicago area saw a record 16 days in which temperatures were 32 degrees or lower in April, said Kevin Donofrio, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service. The previous record was set in 1874 and 1873 for 15 days freezing or below-freezing temperatures. The average monthly temperature is about 49 degrees, according to the weather service.

In addition, this month may go down as the fourth-coldest April on record for the Chicago area in terms of temperature averages, Donofrio said. The cold start to spring postponed Cubs games and prompted the CTA to keep its “L” platform heat lamps on as commuters slogged through a chilly April.

Snow and cold in Canada was to blame for the lower-than-normal temperatures in Chicago in recent weeks, Donofrio said.

In April, the Chicago area saw six days with accumulating snow and three days with flurries, Donofrio said. The snowfall wasn’t uncommon, though the area did set a record on April 9 for the 2 inches of snow accumulation.

Yes, blame Canada. But really, right now Canada—really just Nunavut and northern Quebec—is the only place in the northern hemisphere with significantly below-normal temperatures. The planet as a whole is 0.4°C above normal, and hasn't been below normal in years. (This has remained true even when the normals are adjusted at 10-year intervals.)

But hey, it's May. I'll take a few spring days before we have to turn the A/C on again.

Three on climate change

Earlier this week, the Post reported on data that one of the scariest predictions of anthropogenic climate change theory seems to be coming true:

The new research, based on ocean measurements off the coast of East Antarctica, shows that melting Antarctic glaciers are indeed freshening the ocean around them. And this, in turn, is blocking a process in which cold and salty ocean water sinks below the sea surface in winter, forming “the densest water on the Earth,” in the words of study lead author Alessandro Silvano, a researcher with the University of Tasmania in Hobart.

In other words, the melting of Antarctica’s glaciers appears to be triggering a “feedback” loop in which that melting, through its effect on the oceans, triggers still more melting. The melting water stratifies the ocean column, with cold fresh water trapped at the surface and warmer water sitting below. Then, the lower layer melts glaciers and creates still more melt water — not to mention rising seas as glaciers lose mass.

"The idea is that this mechanism of rapid melting and warming of the ocean triggered sea level rise at other times, like the last glacial maximum, when we know rapid sea level rise was five meters per century,” Silvano said. “And we think this mechanism was the cause of rapid sea-level rise.”

Meanwhile, Chicago magazine speculates about what these changes will mean to our city in the next half-century:

Can Chicago really become a better, maybe even a far better, place while much of the world suffers the intensifying storms and droughts resulting from climate change? A growing consensus suggests the answer may be a cautious yes. For one, there’s Amir Jina, an economist at the University of Chicago who studies how global warming affects regional economies. In the simulations he ran, as temperatures rise, rainfall intensifies, and seas surge, Chicago fares better than many big U.S. cities because of its relative insulation from the worst ravages of heat, hurricanes, and loss of agriculture.

Indeed, the Great Lakes could be considered our greatest insurance against climate change. They contain 95 percent of North America’s supply of freshwater—and are protected by the Great Lakes Water Compact, which prohibits cities and towns outside the Great Lakes basin from tapping them. While aquifers elsewhere run dry, Chicago should stay flush for hundreds of years to come.

“We’re going to be like the Saudi Arabia of freshwater,” says David Archer, a professor of geophysical science at the University of Chicago. “This is one of the best places in the world to live out global warming.”

There’s just one problem: Water, which should be our salvation, could also do us in.

The first drops of the impending deluge have already fallen. Every one-degree rise in temperature increases the atmosphere’s capacity to hold water vapor by almost 4 percent. As a result, rain and snow come down with more force. Historically, there’s been a 4 percent chance of a storm occurring in any given year in Chicago that drops 5.88 inches of rain in 48 hours—a so-called 25-year storm. In the last decade alone, we have had one 25-year storm, plus a 50-year storm and, in 2011, a 100-year storm. In the best-case scenario, where carbon emissions stay relatively under control, we’re looking at a 25 percent increase in the number of days with extreme rainfall by the end of the century. The worst-case scenario sees a surge of 60 percent. Precipitation overall may increase by as much as 30 percent.

And in today's Times, Justin Gillis and Hal Harvey argue that cars are ruining our cities as well as our climate:

[T]he truth is that people who drive into a crowded city are imposing costs on others. They include not just reduced mobility for everyone and degraded public space, but serious health costs. Asthma attacks are set off by the tiny, invisible soot particles that cars emit. Recent research shows that a congestion charge in Stockholm reduced pollution and sharply cut asthma attacks in children.

The bottom line is that the decision to turn our public streets so completely over to the automobile, as sensible as it might have seemed decades ago, nearly wrecked the quality of life in our cities.

We are revealing no big secrets here. Urban planners have known all these things for decades. They have known that removing lanes to add bike paths and widen sidewalks can calm traffic, make a neighborhood more congenial — and, by the way, increase sales at businesses along that more pleasant street. They have known that imposing tolls with variable pricing can result in highway lanes that are rarely jammed.

We're adapting, slowly, to climate change. Over my lifetime I've seen the air in Chicago and L.A. get so much cleaner I can scarcely remember how bad it was growing up. (Old photos help.) But we're in for some pretty big changes in the next few years. I think Chicago will ultimately do just fine, except for being part of the world that has to adapt more dramatically than any time in the last few thousand years.

Go home, April. You're drunk.

So far, this April ranks as the 2nd coldest in Chicago history. We had snow this past weekend, and we expect to have snow tonight—on April 18th.

So it may come as a surprise to people who confuse "weather" and "climate" that, worldwide, things are pretty hot:

The warm air to our north and east has blocked the cold air now parked over the midwestern U.S. Europe, meanwhile, feels like August. And Antarctica feels like...well, Antarctica, but unusually warm.

Note that the temperature anomalies at the bottom of the image above are based on the 1980-2010 climate normal period, which was warmer than any previous 30-year period. In other words, the poles may be 3-5°C warmer than normal now and also 4-7°C warmer than any point in recorded history.

At least, historically, a cold spring means a cool summer here. Lake Michigan is a very cold 5°C today, a few degrees below normal for this time of year, and a huge sink for summer heat later on. Here's hoping, anyway.

Spring was here, momentarily

We had an absolutely beautiful day in Chicago yesterday. I ate lunch outside after going for a walk to obtain it. Birds sang. Trees started budding. The sun shone.

And then, suddenly, the sun didn't shine anymore:

Chicago lies in the transition zone between cold air to the north and mild, moist air from the Gulf of Mexico to the south, and where the boundary passes a point in its gradual southward push, the temperature drop is remarkable. On Thursday afternoon the boundary, actually a sharp cold front, pushed across downtown Chicago, and the temperature plunged from 22°C at 2:43 pm to 10°C at 2:53 pm — a 12°C drop in 10 minutes.

Yeah, that's my city. Today the weather will be gray and cool, then wet and cold tomorrow, and then Sunday we could have snow. In bloody April.

The irony? The cold weather in Chicago is actually a predicted effect of global warming. Warm polar air and a warm air mass off the east coast of North America have trapped a cold air mass over the prairie provinces and northern Quebec. The world as a whole is warmer than normal today. If you're in Europe, for example, you're having a really nice evening.

Happy February 68th!

It's the 99th day of 2018, and I'm looking out my office window at 25 mm of snow on the ground. It was -7°C on Saturday and -6°C last night. This isn't April; it's February. Come on, Chicago.

The Cubs' home opener originally scheduled for today will be played tomorrow. This is the second time in my memory that the home opener got snowed out. I didn't have tickets to today's game, but I did have tickets to the game on 15 April 1994, which also got snowed out.

(Cubs official photo.)

Because it's Chicago. (Actually, there's a blocking mass of warm air to the east of us causing a bulge in the polar jet stream and pushing cool Canadian air down into the U.S. That sort of thing feels really nice in July; not so much in April.)

The Caribbean recovers

Climate change, in part, destroyed two of my favorite places in the world last year, but they're recovering slowly. Yesterday, the New York Times reported on the progress of both. First, Sint Maarten:

Passengers arriving at Princess Juliana International Airport, on the Dutch side of the island earlier this month, were directed onto the tarmac, past the battered terminal to a white wedding-style tent for immigration. Outside the parking lot, the Pink Iguana, a tugboat turned dockside bar, remained capsized in the water. Down the road, Maho Village (http://www.mahovillage.com/) was practically a ghost town. Of the roughly 40 bars, shops, restaurants and clubs along its entertainment strip, only a pharmacy, grocery store, real estate office and a few restaurants had reopened. All four of its seaside resorts — Sonesta Maho Beach Resort, Casino & Spa, Sonesta Ocean Point Resort, the Royal Islander Club La Plage and Royal Islander Club La Terrasse — are undergoing major reconstruction. None are scheduled to open before summer or fall.

Yet with another hurricane season fast approaching, much of the tourist zone is not only rebuilding, but undergoing a multimillion-dollar face-lift. The Maho Group alone is putting more than $50 million into a revamp of the Sonesta Resorts, including overhauling the Sonesta Maho Beach Resort, and incorporating a new contemporary design. Sonesta’s Casino Royale, the largest on the island, with more than 21,000 square feet of gaming, plans to reopen this summer with two new bistro-style al fresco restaurants and a rooftop bar and lounge. Shiny new rental cars awaits visitors at the Alamo rental office. The Rainbow Café (http://rainbowcafe.fr/en/home/) in Grand Case has a new whitewashed deck, a reconfigured layout, and chic red-and-white furnishings. “Everything is destroyed, so I tried to do something better,” the owner, Gobert Douglas, said with a French accent. Pointing out that he could have spent less on the renovation, he said, “I prefer to do this, change the floor, all the seating, all the style of the restaurant to make it new.”

I'm glad to see it. When I last visited the island, I spent some time outside the tourist regions and interacting with the people who lived there. It's not an easy life at the best of times. With tourism almost destroyed and their own infrastructure barely usable, it's no wonder both countries on the island have come together to restore what they could. I hope to visit again within the next year.

Vieques, which is part of the United States, also suffered tremendously in the last hurricane season. They've started putting the pieces back together as well:

Locals in frayed T-shirts and dreadlocks rubbed shoulders with people who’d arrived on dinghies from sailboats bobbing in deeper water, and a few other visitors from colder climates. The first one I met, Stephen, from Atlanta, had been a regular visitor since 2000.

“I’ve always thought of Vieques as ‘my’ island,” said Stephen, who was making his second visit since the storms. He’d discovered it when he was living in Boston and spotted a cheap flight to San Juan. “My copy of ‘Let’s Go’ suggested Vieques as a pretty good day trip. So I left my rental car on the ferry dock in Fajardo, figuring I’d be back that night. I ended up staying the whole week.”

Others lured by Vieques’s beauty, lack of pretension and low cost of living, have lived here for decades: In my short stay I ran into a museum director, an academic, artists, a retired nurse and a couple from Colorado, Norm and Deb, who had retired early and moved to the island sight unseen to live, as they put it, “on purpose.” Stephen was staying at El Blok, a Brutalist-style cement hotel at one end of the Malecón. When it opened in 2014 it was hailed as hip, chic and a little fancy, with a menu created by a famous chef — something of an anomaly on Vieques. Now the building has a plywood facade painted with the slogan “Vieques Se Levanta” — Vieques Will Rise. Workers head to the bar after sunset, and the vibe is friendly and a little raucous.

That the rest of the U.S. has made it so difficult for Vieques to rebuild is, I think, criminal. Especially if you put "America First," though those are exactly the people who have prevented restoration funding from flowing to the island.

If you're interested, click through for some of my earlier posts about Vieques and Sint Maarten.

Politically-motivated Spam from an island nation's PR department?

Over the past few weeks I've gotten several emails from someone purporting to be "Jess Miller" in New Zealand, mentioning she'd noticed a post I did on the Maldives in 2012. That post reported on the violent coup d'état that overthrew the democratically elected government of the island nation just southwest of the Indian subcontinent. And just a few weeks ago, the military dissolved Parliament and threw the country into more unrest. The U.S. State Department has issued a level-2 caution. Understandably, tourism has declined somewhat, which is a pity because it's unlikely the country will exist after another 50 years of climate-change-induced sea-level rise.

Anyway, "Jess" sent me an email about my "wonderful blog post" and called out "a solid blog post [she'd] read in the past," which turned out to be the U.K. Foreign Office travel warning about the place.

Then there's the punchline: "Jess" wants to cross-post with her "best things to do in the Maldives" article on her own site.

I think the best thing to do in the Maldives right now is not to go there.

So, "Jess," your article is very attractive and I think a wonderful list of things to do once the government of the Maldives returns to civilian control, their economy stops its free-fall, tourists stop getting robbed in their hotel rooms, and climate change goes into reverse so they stop suffering the existential peril that is driving all these problems.

Any takers on a bet that "Jess" has funding from a Maldives tourist agency?

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.

Volatility

Late winter and early spring in Chicago have always had some ups and downs in temperature. This year, with a week left to go in meteorological winter, has been nuts.

It got down to -2.8°C just before 8am today. That's not too far from normal—for March 8th. But here are the temperatures over the past 10 days:

Date High Low Avg
Tue Feb 20 18.9°C 1.1°C 10.0°C
Mon Feb 19 15.6°C 2.8°C 9.2°C
Sun Feb 18 5°C -11.1°C -3.1°C
Sat Feb 17 1.7°C -8.3°C -3.3°C
Fri Feb 16 2.8°C -6.7°C -1.9°C
Thu Feb 15 8.9°C 3.3°C 6.1°C
Wed Feb 14 6.7°C -4.4°C 1.2°C
Tue Feb 13 1.7°C -13.9°C -6.1°C
Mon Feb 12 -2.8°C -15.6°C -9.2°C
Sun Feb 11 -5.6°C -11.7°C -8.7°C


But looked at another way, using the normal temperatures for each day in Chicago, we've been all over the calendar:

Date Felt like
Tue Feb 20 May 2 Mar 30 Apr 17
Mon Feb 19 Apr 17 Apr 9 Apr 13
Sun Feb 18 Mar 2 Brrr! Feb 11
Sat Feb 17 Feb 13 Feb 4 Feb 11
Fri Feb 16 Feb 19 Feb 16 Feb 16
Thu Feb 15 Mar 19 Apr 12 Apr 6
Wed Feb 14 Mar 9 Feb 26 Mar 6
Tue Feb 13 Feb 13 Brrr! Brrr!
Mon Feb 12 Brrr! Brrr! Brrr!
Sun Feb 11 Brrr! Brrr! Brrr!


In other words, yesterday's high temperature felt like April 30th; the low felt like March 30th; but the overall temperature of the day felt like May 19th. (Where it says "Brrr!" the temperature was below the normal temperature for any day of the year. In other words, it felt like mid-January on a bad day.) Also: nice going, February 16th! Totally normal day in February.

I should point out, these are the 1981-2010 normals. I'll leave it as an exercise for the reader to recalculate these values using earlier normal sets; 1951-1980 would be particularly interesting, I should think.

It's all part of the fun in a continental climate that has tons more energy, and thus volatility, than it had in centuries past. And thanks to continued anthropogenic climate change, we will continue to have winters that whipsaw between frigid and spring-like for a few decades, until Chicago's climate settles into a subtropical pattern where it rarely freezes. If you remember what Tennessee or North Carolina was like 50 years ago, that's where Chicago is headed 50 years from now.

More stuff to read

What a day. I thought I'd have more time to catch up on reading up to this point, but life intervened. So an hour from now, when I'm cut off from all telecommunications for 9 hours, I plan to sleep. And if I wake, I'll read these articles that I'm leaving open in Chrome:

And now, I head to my airplane.