The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Chicago's sinking, but don't worry

Wherever a landmass had several kilometers of ice on top, it deformed. Glaciers covered much of North America only 10,000 years ago. Since they retreated (incidentally forming the Great Lakes and creating just about all the topography in Northern Illinois), the Earth's crust has popped back like a waterbed.

Not quickly, however.

But in the last century, Chicago has dropped about 10 cm while areas of Canada have popped up about the same amount:

In the northern United States and Canada, areas that once were depressed under the tremendous weight of a massive ice sheet are springing back up while others are sinking. The Chicago area and parts of southern Lake Michigan, where glaciers disappeared 10,000 years ago, are sinking about 10 to 20 cm each century.

One or 2 millimeters a year might not seem like a lot, but “over a decade that’s a centimeter. Over 50 years, now, you’re talking several inches,” said Daniel Roman, chief geodesist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “It’s a slow process, but it’s a persistent one.”

While Chicago’s dipping is gradual, this dynamic could eventually redefine flood plains and work against household sewer pipes that slope downward to the sewer main.

The same phenomenon has affected the UK as well. Scotland is popping up and England is sinking, as are other pairs of regions similarly glaciated. (Sterling, however, has a long way to go...)

How to cut 50% of our carbon emissions for only $14 trillion

Andrew Sullivan points to an energy source we already know how to build that can completely eliminate greenhouse-gas emissions wherever it comes online:

Here’s a suggestion: Focus on a non-carbon energy source that is already proven to be technologically feasible, can be quickly scaled up, and can potentially meet all our energy demands. What we need, given how little time we have, is a massive nuclear energy program. Sure, we can keep innovating and investing in renewables, and use as much as we can. But they are not going to save us or the planet in time. We know nuclear works and does so quickly. As argued in Scientific American:

The speediest drop in greenhouse gas pollution on record occurred in France in the 1970s and ‘80s, when that country transitioned from burning fossil fuels to nuclear fission for electricity, lowering its greenhouse emissions by roughly 2 percent per year. The world needs to drop its global warming pollution by 6 percent annually to avoid “dangerous” climate change in the estimation of [respected climate scientist James] Hansen and his co-authors in a recent paper in PLoS One.

What’s the catch? It’s superexpensive. While the price of renewables keeps falling, nuclear remains very costly. The plants take a long time to build, and they’re difficult to site. One estimate is that it would cost $7 trillion to build a thousand nuclear plants, which would allow us to get a quarter of our energy from this non-carbon source. For the U.S. to get half its energy from nuclear would cost around $14 trillion. But if we committed to a huge nuclear investment, and the innovation that comes with it, that cost would come down. Compared with one estimate of $93 trillion for the Green New Deal, it’s a bargain.

Illinois used to have a lot more nuclear power. Vermont, at one point, got 100% of its electricity from the Yankee One plant. Maybe we can get back there, and cut greenhouse gas emissions in the balance?

London sets record for warmest day in winter

The UK Met has kept temperature records since 1910, and in all that time, London has never experienced a warmer day in winter than yesterday:

Temperatures in Kew Gardens, south-west London, reached 21.2°C, breaking the record for the warmest February day. The Met Office defines winter from the beginning of December to the end of February, so Tuesday’s sunny spell is also a winter record.

The record had already been broken on Monday, when temperatures exceeded 20°C during winter for the very first time. This week’s unseasonably warm weather differs dramatically from the beginning of the month, when sub-zero temperatures were recorded across the country.

The previous winter record had been 19.7°C in Greenwich, south-east London, in 1998.

“The average temperature for this time of year is 9°C in London and 9°C in north Wales, so what we’re seeing is Δ9°C degrees above average,” said Martin Bowles, a Met Office meteorologist.

Bowles said: “We can’t blame climate change directly because we’re talking about weather, not the climate. But it is a sign of climate change. There’s been a gradual increase of temperatures over the last 30 years so the extreme weather has also been increasing.”

Parts of Britain on Tuesday were hotter than Malibu, Athens, Crete and Barcelona.

The warmest day I ever experienced in London was in August, 2009, when the temperature hit 31°C. Yesterday was almost that warm, and August is still six months out.

Can't wait to see what the summer is like.

Lunchtime reading

I had these lined up to read at lunchtime:

Meanwhile, for only the second time in four weeks, we can see sun outside the office windows:

What a strange week in Chicago weather

A week ago at this hour, it was -17°C outside and we had 230 mm of snow on the ground. Then the Polar Vortex hit, followed quickly by the biggest warm-up in Chicago history:

From 17:37 CST Tuesday the 29th until 23:51 Thursday the 31st, the temperature hung out below 0°F. But it had already started rising, from the near-record-low -30.6°C Wednesday morning until yesterday afternoon's near-record-high 10.6°C—a record-smashing total rise of Δ41°C.

This was the view from my office Friday evening, when the temperature hadn't been above freezing for a week and the lake was 44% frozen over:

This is half an hour ago:

The forecast calls for even weirder weather the next few days. Tonight we will get a once-a-decade ice storm, then gradually warming temperatures through Thursday and another winter blast Saturday.

Hey. This all builds character, right?

Los Angeles 2069: Hell on Earth

Writing for Medium, Scott Lucas paints a dismal picture of Tinseltown after 50 more years of climate change:

“With the exception of the highest elevations and a narrow swath very near the coast, where the increases are confined to a few days, land locations see 60–90 additional extremely hot days per year by the end of century,” one study concluded. Downtown Los Angeles could experience up to 54 days measuring 95 degrees or higher by 2100, a ninefold jump. By then, temperatures in Riverside could reach over 95 degrees for half the year.

“By the end of century,” the authors of the study found, “a distinctly new regional climate state emerges.” This climate includes a new, fifth season: a super summer, driving people indoors for weeks at a time, stressing the power grid with heavy demand for air conditioning, and wreaking havoc on agriculture and, by extension, the food supply.

Meanwhile, beaches in Los Angeles will be facing their own threats. Rising sea levels will attack the coast in at least two ways: inundating beaches and eroding cliffs. “Our beaches are compromised. Not just from overall sea level rise, but also coastal storm events,” says Lauren O’Connor Faber, the city’s chief sustainability officer.

In 2017, scientists modeled the effects of sea level rise on 500 kilometers of shoreline in Southern California. A sea level rise of 0.93 to two meters, they predicted, would result in the loss of 31 to 67 percent of beaches in Southern California, including some of its most well-known. A separate USC study concluded, “In Malibu, both low and high sea level rise scenarios suggest that long segments of beach will essentially disappear by 2030.”

So this could be a thing of the past during my lifetime:

Still getting warmer

Just 72 hours ago, the official temperature in Chicago was -31°C. Right now, it's 0°C at O'Hare, the first time it's been above freezing since 11am Monday. Our 54-hour stretch of below-0°F temperatures was the 4th-longest such stretch. This has been an extraordinary few days, and it's just going to get weirder.

Bonus: The Tribune has a collection of satellite photos from the European Space Agency of our polar vortex.

Oh, goody: from freeze to flood

The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, the entity responsible for our sewers and rivers in Chicago, warns that the record-breaking warm-up currently underway could overwhelm the system:

As the warmer temperatures melt existing snow, the potential for flooding increases because the frozen ground is unable to absorb water and snow, causing runoff to flow immediately into sewers.

Sewer systems, therefore, can become overwhelmed from the combination of normal sewage flow, rain and snow melt, a scenario that often leads to flooding, according to the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago.

MWRD said Friday that it’s preparing for potential flooding by lowering water levels in Chicago-area waterways to make room for runoff. The agency will also rely on its network of tunnels and reservoirs, which it said are ready to hold more than 11 billion gallons of water.

The agency is also asking Chicago-area municipalities and the public to help prevent flooding by reducing water use, such as by postponing high-water consumption activities like bathing, showering, running the dishwasher and washing clothes.

Well, that stinks. Or rather, we will stink. And let's not even think about what a Δ42.8°C warm-up will do to our roads.

Polar vortex update

My furnace has reached the limits of its ability to keep my apartment warm as the delta between inside and outside temperatures has hovered around Δ40°C for 48 hours now. Even though the temperature has started going up, and will continue to do so until hitting the nearly-tropical 10°C by mid-day Sunday, the outside air still hurts my face.

Yesterday's official high was -23.3°C, and the low was -30.6°C. So we missed setting the all-time record cold high by Δ0.6°C, and we're a few degrees from the all-time record cold low set 20 January 1985. Overall, yesterday was the 5th-coldest day in Chicago history.

Here are the temperatures since noon Wednesday (with room for the chart to grow through the weekend):

Compare that with the last polar vortex in January 2014. This one is colder but shorter, and will have a much warmer denouement. And if we get up to 10°C, the Δ42.8°C warm-up will break the all-time warm-up record set from 25-29 December 1984 (Δ40°C).

I recommend listening to Brendel and Fischer-Dieskau performing Schubert's "Winterreise" while you absorb these other facts:

  • Officials in the Midwest blame only six deaths on the record cold, which speaks to the seriousness with which people are taking this crap.
  • With particular derision directed at the President, this cold snap barely registers globally as scientists report that 2018 was the 4th-hottest year in recorded history—after 2015, 2016, and 2017.

I'm looking forward to the warm-up, even though its leading edge brings some snow with it.