Saturday, December 23, 2017

2017 - The Year in Review

For the time being, you can search and download extensive weather and climate reports as well as raw data sets from the websites of NOAA and NASA and I emphasize: for the time being. Sadly, such information is no longer available from the EPA. I make no predictions about the availability of this information next December from any U.S. Government agency.

According to NASA, 2017 is predicted to be the second warmest year on record, exceeding 2015, when a “super” El Nino event was starting and right behind 2016, when this event was tapering off.  In the past, when the Pacific Ocean currents were no longer causing heat to be released into the atmosphere, global temperatures would usually drop, but not this time around.

During October, high temperature records were broken in all six New England states and eastern Canada.

According to the Weather Channel, NOAA’s data show that “Swaths of eastern Africa, eastern Asia, the adjacent Indian Ocean, the central and western Pacific Ocean, the Iberian Peninsula, eastern Asia, and eastern South America have had a record warm January-October 2017.”

In the Pacific Northwest, Seattle and Portland had record high temperatures: 104 and 107 degrees F, respectively. Southern Europe was gripped by hot spells, one of which was labelled “Lucifer”.  Hundreds of wild fires scorched Portugal and northern Spain in October alone, killing dozens.

Back in September, an article in the LA Times quoted an official of the National Interagency Fire Center who was stunned that the fire season had continued into September. As I write this, half way into December, large swaths of outlying Los Angeles are burning, despite the heavy snows of the previous winter and the break from the long lasting drought, creating a hellscape, pictures of which friends of mine from the LA area are posting on Facebook.

A recent article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences stated quite bluntly that “. . . human-caused climate change caused over half of the documented increases in fuel aridity since the 1970s and doubled the cumulative forest fire area since 1984. This analysis suggests that anthropogenic climate change will continue to chronically enhance the potential for western US forest fire activity” as long as there is fuel to burn.

The 2017 North Atlantic Hurricane season had 17 named storms. That is not a record but the total accumulated energy of these storms (a measurement based on sustained wind speed) was the highest ever. Four storms were Category 4 or above. Total damage was almost $370 Billion.

As an aside, most of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands are still struggling with major infrastructure damage and lack of basic utilities. The Death toll in Puerto Rico due to the hurricanes and their aftermaths was estimated by the NY Times to be over 1,000.

Hurricane Harvey dumped record amounts of rain on Houston when the storm stalled over the region due to a weakened jet stream which could not push the storm out of the area.

The jet stream is weak due to a warming Arctic, which slows west-to-east winds and thus slows the movement of weather systems across the US and Europe. According to NOAA, a slow jet stream is increasing the incidence of extreme weather, be it heat waves, flooding and even heavy snow fall in winter. Remember that a warm atmosphere holds more moisture and snow can form as easily at 30 degrees as at 15 degrees.

As of November, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is 405.14 parts per million. Detailed analysis of geologic data shows that the atmosphere has not had this level of CO2 since the end of the Miocene geologic epoch – about 5 million years ago, when sea level was 100 feet higher and  Megalodon sharks which prowled the oceans made the Great Whites seen off of Cape Cod look like guppies.

In other words, a very different planet from the one we inhabit today . . . for the time being.

Happy holidays.

Published in the Westborough News, 12/22/2017