The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

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.

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.)

Three in a row

I set a few Fitbit personal records yesterday.

First: it was the first time I've gotten 20,000+ steps three days in a row. Second: it was the fourth-best stepping day since I got a Fitbit (see below). Third: my 7-day total, 147,941, completely blew away the old record of 135,785 set on April 18th last year.

Here are my top-5 stepping days:

2016 Jun 16 40,748
2016 Oct 23 36,105
2017 May 27 33,241
2018 Feb 27 32,747
2016 Sep 25 32,354


On the other hand, Chicago didn't set a weather record, and wasn't in any danger of doing so, despite what I said. I misread the chart: Chicago's record high for February 27th was 23.8°C set in 1975, not 16.7°C, which is the record high for February 28th—and we're in no danger of breaking that one, either. That said, it was, in fact, 16.7°C yesterday.

Today is the last day of meteorological winter, and a cold front is sneaking in from the north. Tomorrow promises to be everything yesterday was not: windy, rainy, and snowy in the evening. I can't wait.

Even better weather

We're now on the third day of spring weather even though spring doesn't technically begin (for climatologists, anyway) until Thursday. Yesterday we got up to 12°C, even more spring-like than Sunday's 10°C. (Those high temperatures are normal for March 31st and 23rd, respectively.)

Today's forecast high is 17°C—normal for April 24th and, if it actually happens, a new record for February 27th. (Note that the current record, 16.7°C, was set in 2016.)

Two things to note: first, weather ≠ climate, though you would be forgiven for freaking out at the Washington Post's latest news on the topic.

Second, this has given me a great opportunity to get steps in.

For the first time ever, I've gotten back-to-back 25,000-step days: 28,828 on Sunday and 28,293 yesterday. This included a lunchtime hike from my office to the end of the 606 Trail and back:

I've hit 25,000 steps only 15 times out of the 1,223 days I've had a Fitbit. That's 1.22%. For comparison, I've hit 20,000 steps only 66 times (5.56%), and 30,000 steps only 6 times (0.49%). I last hit 30,000 on May 27th (33,241), and last hit 25,000 (before Sunday) on August 29th (26,914).

So here's the question: can I do 30k today? Yes. But I'm not entirely sure how yet. Stay tuned.

Another spring day

Yesterday I did, in fact, hit 25,000 steps. I ended the day with 28,828. I considered going for one more 15-minute walk to hit 30,000, but decided I'd had enough for the day, and went to bed—and got 7½ hours of sleep.

This morning it was once again clear and crisp (but above freezing), so I walked to work, just over 6 km and one hour of walking, and about 7,000 steps. So at 11am, I've already got 9,200. With a forecast 11°C and an Apollo Chorus rehearsal 5 km away, I might hit 20,000 again today.

Tomorrow's forecast looks even better for walking. Wednesday looks OK, too. And then it will rain all day Thursday. Still, I'm confident of making a pretty good showing in a Fitbit challenge going on this week.

And as we have just a two more days of meteorological winter, I'm also ever more confident that January 1st will remain the coldest day of 2018. (We'll see what happens in late December.)

And with that, I'm off to Starbucks, and probably 10,000 steps before noon.

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.

So much snow

Over the last two weeks, Chicago tied a record for the most consecutive days with measurable snowfall:

Chicago logged a record-tying ninth consecutive day with measurable snowfall on Sunday, equaling similar nine-day runs from Jan. 29-Feb. 6, 1902 and Jan. 6-14, 2009. Measurable snow has now been logged daily from February 3-11.

No snow is expected Monday, so the record should not be broken.

The past nine days have also completely obliterated the 2017-18 seasonal snow deficit. Through midnight Saturday night/Sunday morning, 625 mm had fallen at O'Hare compared to the normal of 607 mm up to February 11.

As of noon Sunday, there's 330 mm of snow on the ground at O'Hare, 356 mm at Midway, and 381 mm in Arlington Heights.

I should remind readers that the 2017-18 winter was just fine, thank you.

9,971

That was my step total yesterday: 9,971. All I had to do was look at my Fitbit before midnight and take 30 steps right then. So frustrating.

My numbers have been off all year, mainly owing to the bitter cold early on and the buckets of snow in the past week. We've gotten some precipitation every day of the past 8 (and on Monday bitter cold as well), so that this morning there was 300 mm on the ground at O'Hare.

Still, if I got 99.7% of the way to my daily step goal, I could have taken 30 more steps before midnight. That feels way worse than the 6,071 steps I got on Friday.

Bracing for it

While we hope it will not repeat early February 2011, we expect to get up to 300 mm of snow overnight and into tomorrow here in Chicago:

The Chicago area is under a winter storm warning from Thursday evening through Friday night, with the National Weather Service warning that "travel will be very difficult to impossible at times, including during the morning commute."

Much of the area should see 6 to 10 inches of snow between 6 p.m. Thursday and 9 p.m. Friday, though some areas to the north of the city could get hit with a foot of snow while areas to the south could get almost nothing.

Between 6 p.m. and midnight, forecasts predict a little over an inch in Chicago and more in outlying areas. From midnight to 6 a.m. Friday, another 3.3 inches could fall, making for a messy morning commute. During the 12-hour stretch between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m., about 5 more inches could fall, according to the weather service.

"The morning commute is going to be rough," said Amy Seeley, a meteorologist with the weather service. "It will be more impacted than the evening commute."

The storm is approaching out of Montana and South Dakota and is expected to follow Interstate 80 corridor through Iowa, Illinois and Indiana.

Well, tomorrow should be loads of fun...

Extreme weather still a danger in warmer climate

Even though Chicago's winters have gotten milder overall in the last 50 years, extreme temperatures like we had between Christmas and January 7th still kill people:

Unlike other more dramatic types of weather, such as hurricanes, floods or tornadoes, the threat of extreme cold or heat tends to be overlooked, said Laurence Kalkstein, a University of Miami public health sciences professor who studies the effects of climate on human health.

“People don’t think of it as much of a threat mainly because there are no physical signs that a calamity has taken place,” Kalkstein said. “Clearly, it is underestimated as a danger.”

Cold weather has claimed the lives of hundreds of Illinois residents during the past decade. The Illinois Department of Public Health reports 593 people died from exposure to excessive natural cold or hypothermia between 2008 and 2016. The highest yearly total was 110 in 2014, when the polar vortex hit in January.

[T]he overall mortality rate in the winter is about 10 to 12 percent higher than in the summer because of all the indirect ways cold, snow and ice contribute to deaths, including car crashes, falls and heart attacks. There are also a higher number of infectious-disease deaths because influenza thrives when people remain inside because of cold weather....

We had March-like temperatures this weekend, but this morning, it's January again. At least we've got noticeably more daylight, and only 31 more days of meteorological winter.