Earth headed for its hottest year on record

October 21st, 2014 at 10:03 am by under Weather

(Courtesy: Dr. Jeff Masters, Weather Underground)

Figure 1. Departure of temperature from average for September 2014, the warmest September for the globe since record keeping began in 1880. Record warmth was notable in much of northwestern Africa, coastal regions of southeastern South America, southwestern Australia, parts of the Middle East, and regions of southeastern Asia. In total, 31 countries and territories from all seven continents around the world had at least one station that reported record warmth. Cooler than average temperatures were uncommon world-wide. Image credit: National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) .

September 2014 was Earth’s warmest September on record, the period January – September was tied with 1998 and 2010 as the warmest first three-quarters of any year on record, and the past 12 months–October 2013 through September 2014–was the warmest consecutive 12-month period among all months since records began in 1880, said NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) today. NASAalso rated September 2014 as the warmest September on record. If 2014 maintains the same temperature departure from average for the remainder of the year as was observed during January – September, it will be the warmest calendar year on record. September is the fourth time NOAA has ranked a 2014 month as the warmest on record; May, June, and August 2014 were also the warmest such months on record. (April 2014 was originally ranked as tied for warmest April on record, but has since been revised downwards to the second warmest April on record.) Global ocean temperatures during September 2014 were the warmest on record, and the 0.66°C (1.19°F) ocean temperature anomaly was the highest ever measured, beating the record set just the month previously in August 2014. Global land temperatures in September 2014 were the 6th warmest on record. Global satellite-measured temperatures in September 2014 for the lowest 8 km of the atmosphere were the 14th or 7th warmest in the 36-year record, according to Remote Sensing Systems and the University of Alabama Huntsville (UAH), respectively.

Orionid meteor shower early Tuesday morning

October 20th, 2014 at 3:58 pm by under Weather



In 2014, the annual Orionid meteor shower is expected to rain down the greatest number of meteors before dawn on October 21, perhaps as many as 25 meteors per hour. But the hours between midnight and dawn on the mornings of October 20 and 22 may offer a decent sprinkling of meteors as well.

The Orionids radiate from a point near the upraised Club of the constellation Orion the Hunter.  The bright star near the radiant point is Betelgeuse.

The Orionids radiate from a point near the upraised Club of the constellation Orion the Hunter. The bright star near the radiant point is Betelgeuse.

What are the prospects for this year’s Orionid shower? In short, the prospects are good because there’s little or no moon to wash out the meteors this year. Find a dark sky for the 2014 Orionids, lie down on a reclining lawn chair in comfort and look up! Give yourself at least an hour of watching time for meteors tend to come in spurts, and are interspersed by lulls. Remember, also, that it takes about twenty minutes for your eyes to adapt to the dark.

When is the best time to watch for the Orionids? As with most (but not all) meteor showers, the best time to watch the Orionid shower is between the hours of midnight and dawn. The Orionids don’t really begin to streak the nighttime sky until late evening, when the magnificent constellation Orion ascends over the eastern horizon. After their radiant point rises, you see many more meteors, and as the radiant rises higher in the sky throughout the night, the meteors will increase in number. That’s why the wee hours before dawn are usually the best.

Where do I look in the sky to see the Orionids? Yes, meteors in annual showers are named for the point in our sky from which they appear to radiate. The radiant point for the Orionids is in the direction of the famous constellation Orion the Hunter. Hence the name Orionids.

If you trace the paths of these Orionid meteors backward, they seem to come from the Club of Orion. You might know Orion’s bright, ruddy star Betelgeuse. The radiant is north of Betelgeuse.

But you don’t need to know this constellation to see the meteors. The meteors often don’t become visible until they are 30 degrees or so from their radiant point – and remember, they are streaking out from the radiant in all directions. So the meteors will appear in all parts of the sky.

That’s why it’s best to find a wide-open viewing area than to look in any particular direction. Sometimes friends like to watch together, facing different directions. When somebody sees one, they can call out “Meteor!”

How many Orionid meteors will I see? The word shower might give you the idea of a rain shower. But few meteor showers resemble showers of rain. The Orionids are a relatively modest shower, offering about 10 to 25 meteors per hour.

Meteor showers are more subtle than rain showers, and the Orionid shower isn’t as rich a meteor shower as, for example, the Perseids in August or the Geminids in December. But the dark skies make this year’s orionid meteor shower worth watching!

Orionid meteors are known to be fast and usually on the faint side. But the Orionids can sometimes surprise you with an exceptionally bright meteor – one that would be visible, even in a light-polluted city – that might break up into fragments.

For me … even one meteor can be a thrill. But you might want to observe for an hour or more, and in that case the trick is to find a place to observe in the country. Bring along a blanket or lawn chair and lie back comfortably while gazing upward.

This is the famous Comet Halley. Orionid meteors are debris left behind in its orbit.

What are meteors, anyway? Meteors are fancifully called shooting stars. They aren’t really stars. They’re space debris burning up in the Earth’s atmosphere.

The Orionid meteors are debris left behind by Comet Halley. The object at left isn’t a meteor. It’s that most famous of all comets – Comet Halley – which last visited Earth in 1986. This comet leaves debris in its wake that strikes Earth’s atmosphere most fully around October 20-22, while Earth intersects the comet’s orbit, as it does every year at this time.

Particles shed by the comet slam into our upper atmosphere, where they vaporize at some 100 kilometers – 60 miles – above the Earth’s surface.

The Orionids are extremely fast meteors, plummeting into the Earth’s atmosphere at about 66 kilometers – 41 miles – per second. Maybe half of the Orionid meteors leave persistent trains – ionized gas trails that last for a few seconds after the meteor itself has gone.

Bottom line: In 2014, the Orionid meteor shower is expected to rain down its greatest number of meteors on the morning of October 21. The day before or after might feature meteors, too. Fortunately, in 2014, the thin lunar crescent rising shortly before sunrise won’t intrude on this year’s Orionid meteor shower!

LEDs are a bright idea whose time has come

October 20th, 2014 at 1:23 pm by under Weather

(Climate Central) The day the Nobel committee began announcing its 2014 winners earlier this week, National Geographic published a list of Nobel should-have-beens. Dan Vergano’s contribution—Thomas Edison for the lightbulb—proved prescient. One day later, a Nobel for physics was finally awarded for the lightbulb. Unfortunately for the Wizard of Menlo Park, it didn’t go to Edison. The winners were Isamu Akasaki, Hiroshi Amano, and Shuji Nakamura for their work on blue light-emitting diodes, or LEDs.

LEDs represent a huge increase in the efficiency of lighting.
Credit: John Loo/OnEarth Magazine

Edison was still a genius, and his inventions did change the world, but he’s not exactly an environmental hero. Only about 2 percent of the energy that flows through the filament of an incandescent bulb actually generates light. Edison’s invention is a much better heater than a light source.

LEDs are a dramatic improvement. The most cutting edge claim to be 15 times more efficient than the incandescent bulb and four times more efficient than compact fluorescents (the squiggly ones), which now appear to be little more than a transitional technology. On a global scale, the energy savings from a worldwide switch to LEDs could be massive. In 1997, when incandescent bulbs still ruled the night, Evan Mills of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory estimated that lighting resulted in the emission of 1,775 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents. If, at that moment, we could have immediately replaced all of the world’s incandescent bulbs with LEDs, the greenhouse gas savings would have been like taking 300 million cars off the road.

In real life, the changeover from incandescent to compact fluorescent to LED bulbs has had a less dramatic impact, for a variety of reasons. The most depressing candidate is known as the “rebound effect,” as Brad Plumer points out at Vox. The theory goes that when lighting (or any technology) becomes more efficient, it gets cheaper. When something gets cheaper, people use more of it. The rebound effect, however, is a hotly disputed phenomenon. Physicist David Goldstein and his colleagues at NRDC (which publishes OnEarth) argue that the rebound effect is at best negligible on a societal scale. Their data shows that people use only a tiny fraction of their energy savings to buy more lighting (or heating or refrigeration or whatever the more efficient technology may be). “Policies and consumer preferences are steadily pushing in the opposite direction—saving more energy, not less,” Goldstein writes.

Another challenge with LEDs, known as droop, has troubled physicists for years. As you increase the current flowing through an LED, the efficiency plummets from 300 lumens per watt of power down below 100 lumens, which isn’t much better than a compact fluorescent bulb (which costs a small fraction of the LED’s current price tag). A few people, including recently minted Nobel laureate Nakamura, have proposed explanations for what causes droop, but no one is entirely certain. Once physicists find the answer, it will still take engineers years to design a solution. Until then, producing bright light with low amounts of energy requires lots and lots of small LEDs stacked together, which is a problem from both a cost and an engineering standpoint.

Approximately 19 percent of the world’s population lacks access to electricity. LEDs could eventually offer a cheap, low-carbon light.
Credit: Tony Webster/OnEarth Magazine

Fortunately, the LED light may play a role in training the scientist who will eventually solve this problem. Approximately 19 percent of the world’s population lacks access to electricity, and there are surely many geniuses among them. The LED’s tiny energy demands make it possible for off-grid communities to store enough solar power in low-cost batteries (see “India Calling”) to provide light after sunset.

Why does that matter? My father-in-law grew up in a small village in India. When the sun went down, he had to stop studying, because his family couldn’t provide enough light to read. He still managed to earn a Ph.D. in chemical engineering, but I often wonder how many kids like him were held back by darkness — an absurd obstacle to academic achievement in the modern world. Maybe one day the Nobel Prize will go to a child who can thank today’s winners for all those late nights spent studying under their creation.

This article is provided by NRDC’s OnEarth magazine, a Climate Central content partner, and appears online at

If the climate is warming, why is Antarctic ice expanding?

October 19th, 2014 at 9:27 am by under Weather

The planet as a whole is doing what was expected in terms of warming. Sea ice as a whole is decreasing as expected …’


Sea ice is expanding around Antarctica, and scientists say wind, snow and melting land ice are key factors in the growth bberwyn photo.

The map at right shows Antarctic ice concentration on September 22, 2014, the date of the record high. Areas where the surface was less than 15% ice covered are deep blue; areas that were up to 100% ice covered are shades of light blue to white. The orange line shows the 1981-2010 median extent for September 22. (Median means in the middle: half of the years in the record had smaller ice extents than this, and half had larger extents.) The graph below the map shows daily Antarctic sea ice extent over the course of the year. The black line traces the 1981-2010 average, and the gray shading shows the range of variability (2 standard deviations from the mean). The previous record high extent (2013) is a dashed green line; the 2014 year to date is a light green line. NSIDC reported that the 2014 extent rose nearly 4 standard deviations above the 1981-2010 mean.

The map above shows Antarctic ice concentration on September 22, 2014, the date of the record high. Areas where the surface was less than 15% ice covered are deep blue; areas that were up to 100% ice covered are shades of light blue to white. The orange line shows the 1981-2010 median extent for September 22. (Median means in the middle: half of the years in the record had smaller ice extents than this, and half had larger extents.)

The graph below the map shows daily Antarctic sea ice extent over the course of the year. The black line traces the 1981-2010 average, and the gray shading shows the range of variability (2 standard deviations from the mean). The previous record high extent (2013) is a dashed green line; the 2014 year to date is a light green line. NSIDC reported that the 2014 extent rose nearly 4 standard deviations above the 1981-2010 mean. Courtesy NOAA.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Along with shifting wind patterns in the southern hemisphere, melting land ice may be contributing to recent record extents of floating sea ice around Antarctica. The melting ice and snow adds fresh water — which freezes morel easily — to the salty Southern Ocean, scientists said in a release this week, explaining the multi-year trend of expanding Antarctic sea ice.

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Surging population, recent hurricane drought put Florida at extreme risk

October 18th, 2014 at 8:07 pm by under Weather

Hurricane Andrew, 1992. (NASA)

Hurricane Andrew, 1992. (NASA)

(Washington Post): Florida has gone 3,270 days without a hurricane – nearly nine years and, by far, the longest stretch on record (the next longest streak is 5 seasons from 1980-1984, in records dating back to 1851). Meanwhile, the Sunshine state’s population and development have boomed.

Florida is long overdue for a destructive hurricane and has never had so many people and so much property in the way. This dangerous state of affairs is compounded by the potential for complacency and lack of recent experience. When hurricanes don’t strike over such a long period of time, some people may be lulled into a false sense of security and/or forget how horrible hurricanes can be.

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Where is El Nino?

October 18th, 2014 at 9:34 am by under Weather

Climate Central: That El Niño we’ve been tracking for months on end — the one that is taking its sweet time to form — still hasn’t emerged, forecasters announced Thursday.

The climate impacts typically associated with an El Niño during the months of December, January, and February.
Credit: NOAA

But the reason we still care so much about it, following all of its tiny fluctuations toward becoming a full-blown El Niño, is that it can have important effects on the world’s weather, including in the U.S. It can even boost global temperatures, helping set the planet on the course to be the warmest year on record.

In their monthly update, scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center and theInternational Research Institute for Climate and Society at Columbia University said there is still a two-thirds chance that a weak El Niño event emerges and that it will likely do so in the October-to-December timeframe, lasting until spring 2015.

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On to the 7th Annual Dogtoberfest at the Domain!

October 17th, 2014 at 1:51 pm by under Weather

CLICK HERE for complete details about Saturday’s Dogtoberfest!

Dogtoberfest 2013 - Courtesy of Nicole Mlakar Photography

Dogtoberfest 2013 – Courtesy of Nicole Mlakar Photography

3rd Annual DogtoberTROT!

Join us from 8am-10am on October 18th for a 1K fun walk around the block with your two-legged and four-legged friends! Registration is only $30/team (1 human + 1 canine), $10 for each additional member under 12, and $30 for each additional Trotter over 12.

Learn More >
Register >

Day of Event Schedule

8:00 – 10:00
DogtoberTROT at Phase II by iPic Movie Theater

10:00 – 11:30
Registration for Wiener Dog Races at Central Texas Dachshund Rescue Booth ($10 Entry Fee)

10:00 – 2:30
Registration for Canine Costume Contest at KXAN Booth ($5 Donation)

10:00 – 4:00
Whole Foods Photo Booth ($5 per Photo)

11:00 – 4:00
Domain Food Booths and Cru Beer & Wine For Sale on Rogers Road

Barkitecture Sunday at Triangle Park

October 17th, 2014 at 12:51 pm by under Weather

A winning design from Barkitecture 2013

CLICK HERE for details on Sunday’s annual Barkitecture event!

Since its inception in 2005, Barkitecture has become an Austin favorite, and is gaining national exposure. Presented by Animal Lovers of Austin, Inc., this architectural dog-centric fundraiser showcases doghouses created by some of Austin’s best and brightest architects, designers and builders. Attendees will have the opportunity to bid on these unique doghouses, play at the “pup-stop”, participate in a Lofty Dog Howl-o-Ween costume contest, learn about adoption opportunities from local area rescue groups, shop at local vendor booths, let your pup enjoy a spa experience at our exclusive puppy “SPAW” and more.


October 16th, 2014 at 12:25 pm by under Weather

NOAANOAA: Another warm winter likely for western U.S., South may see colder weather

Repeat of last year’s extremely cold, snowy winter east of Rockies unlikely

October 16, 2014

Below average temperatures are favored in parts of the south-central and southeastern United States, while above-average temperatures are most likely in the western U.S., Alaska, Hawaii and New England, according to the U.S. Winter Outlook, issued today by NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center.

While drought may improve in some portions of the U.S. this winter, California’s record-setting drought will likely persist or intensify in large parts of the state. Nearly 60 percent of California is suffering from exceptional drought – the worst category – with 2013 being the driest year on record. Also, 2012 and 2013 rank in the top 10 of California’s warmest years on record, and 2014 is shaping up to be California’s warmest year on record. Winter is the wet season in California, so mountainous snowfall will prove crucial for drought recovery. Drought is expected to improve in California’s southern and northwestern regions, but improvement is not expected until December or January.
“Complete drought recovery in California this winter is highly unlikely. While we’re predicting at least a 2 in 3 chance that winter precipitation will be near or above normal throughout the state, with such widespread, extreme deficits, recovery will be slow,” said Mike Halpert, acting director of NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center. “This outlook gives the public valuable information, allowing them to make informed decisions and plans for the season. It’s an important tool as we build a Weather-Ready Nation.”

El Niño, an ocean-atmospheric phenomenon in the Tropical Pacific that affects global weather patterns, may still develop this winter. Climate Prediction Center forecasters announced on Oct. 9 that the ocean and atmospheric coupling necessary to declare an El Niño has not yet happened, so they continued the El Niño Watch with a 67 percent chance of development by the end of the year. While strong El Niño episodes often pull more moisture into California over the winter months, this El Niño is expected to be weak, offering little help.

The Precipitation Outlook favors above-average precipitation across the southern tier, from the southern half of California, across the Southwest, South-central, and Gulf Coast states, Florida, and along the eastern seaboard to Maine. Above-average precipitation also is favored in southern Alaska and the Alaskan panhandle. Below-average precipitation is favored in Hawaii, the Pacific Northwest and the Midwest.
Last year’s winter was exceptionally cold and snowy across most of the United States, east of the Rockies. A repeat of this extreme pattern is unlikely this year, although the Outlook does favor below-average temperatures in the south-central and southeastern states.
In addition, the Temperature Outlook favors warmer-than-average temperatures in the Western U.S., extending from the west coast through most of the inter-mountain west and across the U.S.-Canadian border through New York and New England, as well as Alaska and Hawaii.
The rest of the country falls into the “equal chance” category, meaning that there is not a strong enough climate signal for these areas to make a prediction, so they have an equal chance for above-, near-, or below-normal temperatures and/or precipitation.
The U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook, updated today and valid through January, predicts drought removal or improvement in portions of California, the Central and Southern Plains, the desert Southwest, and portions of New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts.  Drought is likely to persist or intensify in portions of California, Nevada, Utah, Idaho, Oregon and Washington state. New drought development is likely in northeast Oregon, eastern Washington state, and small portions of Idaho and western Montana.
This seasonal outlook does not project where and when snowstorms may hit or provide total seasonal snowfall accumulations. Snow forecasts are dependent upon the strength and track of winter storms, which are generally not predictable more than a week in advance.

NASA: September was the warmest on record worldwide

October 14th, 2014 at 9:38 am by under Weather


This September was the warmest on record since 1880–the year scientists first began to track global data on temperatures.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s announcement clips on the heels of what was also the warmest August on record, which NASA said suggests an unfortunate trend in global heating.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration anticipates that an El Niño will start by the end of the year, due to warmer temperatures in the Pacific Ocean, and continue into spring 2015. An El Niño can have devastating impact across the globe, with repercussions that include abnormal temperatures and extreme weather. The last strong El Niño occurred in 1997-98.

More details will become available on global temperatures during the month of September when NOAA issues their monthly “State of the Climate” report in the coming days.