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.

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.

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.

Long weekend; just catching up

Saturday and Sunday, the Apollo Chorus sang Verdi's "Requiem" three times in its entirety (one dress rehearsal, two performances), not including going back over specific passages before Sunday's performance to clean up some bits. So I'm a little tired.

Here are some of the things I haven't had time to read yet:

Other stuff is going on, which I'll report when I have confirmation.

Spring is here

Which explains why it's just above freezing and pissing with rain.

Yesterday the temperature dropped from 15°C to 5°C in about 90 minutes as a cold front swept in from the north. Today we're living with the result.

Oddly, though, the current temperature (3°C) isn't that far from the normal March 1st temperature (4°C). So perhaps we shouldn't complain. But that taste of spring we got earlier this week made us all anxious for the real thing.

It's Chicago. The weather will change in a day or two.

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.