The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Unprecedented heat in Northern Europe

London has very few air conditioners compared with North American cities, because the 30°C temperatures they've got right now happen so rarely it hasn't made a lot of sense to install them. But this heat wave is different:

The average July high in Stockholm, for example, is usually 23°C; this week, temperatures will crest 32°C, and there are 21 wildfires currently blazing across Sweden during its worst drought in 74 years. Some municipalities have resorted to sending leaflets to older residents to give them tips on how to manage the heat. Hospitals are shipping in otherwise rarely needed air conditioning units. Swimmers might be tempting to cool off in the city’s many waterways, but hot weather has caused giant algae blooms to appear within the Stockholm Archipelago, making the water unhealthy to swim in.

In the UK, severe dry conditions have also fed wildfires. Earlier this month, a large section of the grassy meadows at Wanstead Flats, on London’s eastern edge, burnt to ash—only to reignite again during another fire yesterday. This summer parts of the London region have received only six percent of their normal rainfall, leaving parks brown and reservoirs dry.

Parts of the UK may hit 36°C later this week, with torrential downpours predicted for Friday—a recipe for flash floods and massive property damage:

Several places have now had 54 consecutive dry days – meaning less than 1mm of rain – stretching back to 30 May, the longest spell since 1969 when 70 days passed with no significant rainfall, according to the Met Office.

The longest run of days with no rain at all this summer is 48 at Brooms Barn, near Bury St Edmunds.

A Met Office spokesman said: “For the UK as a whole we’ve only seen about 20% of the rainfall we’d normally expect throughout the whole summer. Parts of southern England have seen only 6%.”

Several longtime Daily Parker readers live in or are this week visiting the UK. Guys: how bad is it where you are? I'll be in the Big Stink on August 31st to find out for myself. I hope it's not as grim by then.

Warm nights getting much warmer

A predicted consequence of anthropogenic climate change is that the air won't cool as quickly overnight, leading to ever-increasing temperatures overall. It's happening, and it's dangerous:

Nationwide, summer nights have warmed at nearly twice the rate of days, with overnight low temperatures increasing 0.8°C per century since 1895, when national temperature records began, compared to a daytime high increase of 0.4°C per century. (Nights have warmed faster than days during other seasons, too.)

While warm summer nights may seem less concerning than scorching afternoons, “the combination of high daytime and high nighttime temperatures can be really lethal because the body doesn’t have a chance to cool down during the nighttime hours,” said Lara Cushing, professor of environmental epidemiology at San Francisco State University.

Those risks are higher in places where temperatures have historically been cooler, like coastal California. There people are less physiologically acclimated (the body can get used to higher temperatures up to a point) and less behaviorally adapted to hot weather.

“A hundred and five degrees in San Francisco is going to have a bigger impact probably than 105 degrees in Houston, Tex., where everybody has air conditioning and people are accustomed to dealing with high temperatures,” Dr. Cushing said.

Older people, the sick, and young children are especially at risk. So are agricultural, construction and other outdoor workers, who can no longer avoid the heat by shifting their hours to work earlier or later in the day. Similarly, homeless people who bear the full brunt of the elements get little relief.

Never mind the rest of the local environment. Slower overnight cooling puts stress on plants as well.

Multiple heat records set this week worldwide

Large areas of the planet are experiencing record heat this week, as predicted by the anthropogenic climate change hypothesis:

No single record, in isolation, can be attributed to global warming. But collectively, these heat records are consistent with the kind of extremes we expect to see increase in a warming world.

  • Denver tied its all-time high-temperature record of 105 degrees on June 28.
  • Burlington, Vt., set its all-time warmest low temperature ever recorded of 80 degrees on July 2.
  • Montreal recorded its highest temperature in recorded history, dating back 147 years, of 97.9 degrees (36.6 Celsius) on July 2. The city also posted its most extreme midnight combination of heat and humidity.
  • Scotland provisionally set its hottest temperature on record. The U.K. Met Office reported Motherwell, about 12 miles southeast of Glasgow, hit 91.8 degrees (33.2 Celsius) on June 28, passing the previous record of (32.9 Celsius) set in August 2003 at Greycrook. Additionally, Glasgow had its hottest day on record, hitting 89.4 degrees (31.9 Celsius).

As we reportedQuriyat, Oman, posted the world’s hottest low temperature ever recorded on June 28: 109 degrees (42.6 Celsius).

That's right; in Oman overnight on June 28th, it never got below a potentially lethal temperature.

It's beginning to look a little like Christmas...on Venus.

Hottest May in Illinois history

Illinois State Climatologist Jim Angel has a report:

Based on preliminary data, the statewide average temperature for May in Illinois was 21.4°C, 4.4°C above normal and the warmest May on record. The old record was 20.8°C set back in 1962. A brief examination of daily records indicates that Springfield, Champaign, Quincy, and Carbondale all had daily mean temperatures at or above normal for each day of the month. On the other hand, Chicago, Rockford, and Peoria had a few dips into the below-normal territory but overall finished above-normal for the month.

In Chicago, we also had the warmest last week of May ever. Fun times. And today, it's 14°C by the Lake.

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.