The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

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.

Did I mention the cold?

First, a helpful diagram from NOAA explaining how global warming has increased the Arctic Oscillation to give Chicago record-cold weather today:

Even though this concept is beyond the ken of some people, global warming increases weather extremes in both directions.

More Chiberia coverage:

Meanwhile, we've still got another 24 hours or so of this vortex to live through. The forecast right now predicts a high today of -26°C and low tonight of -29°C with wind-chill values down to -40°C.

OK, it's a little chilly

The official temperature at O'Hare got down to -31°C before 7am. Here at IDTWHQ it's -28.4°C. We didn't hit the all-time record (-32.8C) set in 1985, but wait! We will likely hit the low-maximum temperature record today.

WGN reports that temperatures under -29°C have occurred only 15 times since records began 54,020 days ago.

And the Wiccan coven next door has just received a shipment of battery-heated, thermal-insulated sports bras.

So, I'll be working from the IDTWHQ today. And tomorrow.

It's worse than that: he's dead cold, Jim

The forecast for Wednesday not only predicts the coldest day since 1996. Now meteorologists predict the coldest day ever recorded in Chicago:

Temperatures are forecast to inch up to a daytime high of about -26°C on Wednesday—the first subzero [Fahrenheit] high temperature in five years and the coldest winter high ever recorded in Chicago—before dipping, again, to about -29°C overnight. The coldest daytime high in Chicago was -24°C on Christmas Eve 1983.

For younger Chicagoans, the burst of Arctic air set to overtake the city this week could be one of the coldest days of their lives. For Generation Z, this week’s predicted low temperatures have only two rivals: -27°C on Jan. 6, 2014, and -28°C on Feb. 3, 1996.

Awesome. Note that I experienced all of those, and blogged about the 6 January 2014 weather right here. 

In no small irony, this cold snap seems directly related to global warming:

The wintry onslaught will be driven by the Northern Hemisphere’s polar vortex, the pocket of cold air sitting atop the North Pole. When temperatures rise in the Arctic, the polar jet stream — the torrent of westerly winds that hold the polar vortex in place — can weaken and dip into parts of North America.

“Occasionally this ring of winds deforms or even splits, which allows the cold air to spill southward over mid latitudes — this is exactly what’s happening now,” said Jennifer Francis, a senior research scientist with Woods Hole Research Center in Massachusetts, in an email. “It just so happens that the lobe of cold air is located over central North America, with Chicago in the crosshairs.”

A growing body of evidence suggests another warming trend in the Pacific Ocean is believed to be causing the jet stream that confines the polar vortex to warp further, with warm air penetrating near the Pacific Northwest and a lobe of cold air sinking into the Midwest and Northeast.

“The stronger ridge does two things: It pumps cold air into central North America, which deepens the downstream trough, and it also becomes more persistent because larger jet stream waves move more slowly than small ones,” Francis said. “This is partly why this jet stream pattern tends to be long-lived once it sets up.”

Whoo boy. Can't wait. Doggie daycare is closed, and Parker's regular dog walker isn't certain he can make it, so I'll be working from home.

Here comes a real winter

We've had some snow, and we've had some cold, but this week we will have both. A lot of both:

Tonight
Snow, mainly after midnight. The snow could be heavy at times. Patchy blowing snow after 11pm. Temperature rising to around -3°C by 5am. Wind chill values as low as -19°C. Breezy, with a south southeast wind 15 to 25 km/h increasing to 30 to 40 km/h. Winds could gust as high as 50 km/h. Chance of precipitation is 100%. New snow accumulation of 80 to 120 mm possible.

Monday
Drizzle and snow, possibly mixed with freezing drizzle before 1pm, then a chance of snow and freezing drizzle between 1pm and 4pm, then a chance of snow after 4pm. Patchy blowing snow before 8am. Temperature rising to near 1°C by 9am, then falling to around -7°C during the remainder of the day. South southwest wind 25 to 30 km/h becoming northwest in the afternoon. Winds could gust as high as 50 km/h. Chance of precipitation is 100%. Little or no ice accumulation expected. New snow accumulation of 10 to 30 mm possible.

Tuesday
Partly sunny and cold, with a high near -16°C. West wind 20 to 30 km/h, with gusts as high as 50 km/h.

Wednesday
Partly sunny and cold, with a high near -23°C.

Yes. A high of -23°C. If it happens, it would be the lowest maximum temperature recorded in Chicago since 3 February 1996. (Sadly, I remember that one too.)

So tempted to work from home...so tempted...

At least the longer-range forecast calls for normal temperatures the week of February 4th.

This shouldn't surprise anyone

The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation—read: the government—read: us, as we live in a frickin' REPUBLIC—has taken over the Sears Holdings pension fund because, basically, Eddie Lampert has driven it into the ground:

The agency covers individuals’ pensions, up to certain limits, if an insured pension plan shuts down without enough money to pay all benefits. It estimates Sears’ two pension plans are underfunded by about $1.4 billion. As a creditor, the agency could attempt to recover some of that money through the bankruptcy.

Ron Olbrysh, chairman of the National Association of Retired Sears Employees, said the guarantee means retirees aren’t worried about losing pensions, but they do have concerns about other benefits.

“The pensions are secure through Sears or through the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp.,” he said. “The big impact if Sears does liquidate is that retirees will lose life insurance.”

The Daily Parker has followed the destruction of America's iconic retailer for years, watching the incompetence and self-dealing of Eddie Lampert the whole time. And here we are. Lampert will slide away from Sears with tens, or even hundreds, of millions of dollars, while the people who actually showed up every day to keep the stores open go bankrupt. Ironically, Lampert gets to do this by declaring bankruptcy. And the banks and investors he's stiffing have known this would happen for years. But they'll still show up in Federal court to argue that their claims to Sears' assets trump (no irony there) the employees'.

There seems to me a simple solution to the problem that Lampert's destruction of Sears epitomizes. Let's just change the law slightly to make officers of corporations liable in civil and criminal actions for the behavior of the corporations they represent. It's not a radical idea: corporations already have the right to act as people under the law. This is a simple balancing.

I don't think it's controversial to say that Eddie Lampert should experience all the consequences of his horrible management of Sears, including going down with the sinking ship. Especially because his management of the company was to drill a hole in the keel and then let his managers fight over how to keep the ship afloat.

When the revolution comes, I hope Lampert—and by extension, his adolescent worship of Ayn Rand—will be first against the wall.

There has always been local government capture

I wanted to post this when it came out but life intervened. A couple weeks ago, New Republic reported on the sad tale of exurban town Elwood, Ill., and the "opportunity" they seized on with a giant intermodal freight terminal in 2002:

Fifteen years before Amazon’s HQ2 horserace, Elwood had won the retail lottery. “Nobody envisioned what we have out here,” said Jerry Heinrich, who sat on the board of the planning commission that first apportioned the land for development in the mid-1990s. “It was never anticipated that every major business entity would end up in the area.”

But this corporate valhalla turned out to be hell for the community, which suffered a concentrated dose of the indignities and disappointments of late capitalism in the 21st century. Instead of abundant full-time work, a regime of partial, precarious employment set in. Temp agencies flourished, but no restaurants, hotels, or grocery stores ever came, save for the recent addition of a dollar store. Tens of thousands of semis rumbled through Will County every day, wreaking havoc on the infrastructure. And as the town of Elwood scrambled to pave its potholes, its inability to collect taxes from the facilities plunged it into more than $30 million in debt.

And that was before Big Tech rolled in. Just four years ago Amazon didn’t even have one facility in the region; now, with five fulfillment centers, it’s the county’s largest employer. Growth, once arithmetic, became exponential. Plans were made to build a new facility, this one bigger than the original Intermodal, with room for some 35 million additional square feet of industrial space.

It's astounding, but not surprising, that this would happen. And more than just a cautionary story about getting more than you bargained for, it should remind people that voting in local elections matters a lot.

New digs

I missed posting two days in a row because I've just been swamped. I'll have more details later. For now, here's my new office view:

One of my smartass friends, who lives in Los Angeles, asked what that white stuff was. It's character, kid. It's character.

The bell tolls

Over the weekend, Sears Holdings Corp. started making preparations for winding down the business, after chairman and company killer Eddie Lampert's bid fell apart:

The iconic retailer started laying the groundwork for a liquidation after meetings Friday in which its advisers weighed the merits of a $4.4 billion bid by Lampert’s hedge fund to buy Sears as a going concern, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the discussions are private. If the 125-year-old retailer does die in bankruptcy — like Toys “R” Us in 2018, and Borders Group Inc. in 2011 — it would mark the largest fatality yet in the retail apocalypse prompted by a shift to online shopping.

While Lampert’s ESL Investments has failed to convince the bankers of the viability of its bid, it could still make last-minute improvements before a status hearing on Tuesday. Lampert also has outlined a back-up plan in which ESL would pursue the purchase of some of Sears’s parts, including real estate and intellectual property, such as its brand.

Earlier in the bankruptcy, creditors questioned whether transactions involving Lampert had bilked them of $2.6 billion, setting the stage for conflict over deals with the very investor who is offering to salvage the company. Lampert’s ESL said its transactions were made in good faith and on fair terms to other stakeholders.

I think justice demands that Lampert himself suffer bankruptcy and irrelevance. But, as Robert Heinlein said decades ago, TANJ.