Jim Spencer

Checkup says earth is running a temperature

July 22nd, 2014 at 1:54 pm by under Weather


(Climate Central) Looking at the state of the climate, you can see heat everywhere. From the top of the globe to the depths of the oceans and everywhere in between, the climate is warming and changing in ways humans have never experienced.

Last year was between the globe’s third- and sixth-warmest year on record, including record heat in Australia. The frequency of hot days in 2013 was also among the top 10 years while cold nights were among the bottom 10 years. And heat content in the upper ocean reached record highs as did sea levels.

A map showing global surface temperature anomalies averaged over 2013 compared to 1981-2010 average.
Credit: climate.gov

Those changes and more are chronicled in a new report published on Thursday in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society. This is the 24th straight year of the report, which amounts to a global health checkup. Except in this case, instead of one doctor doing the exam, it was 425 scientists from 57 countries around the globe contributing to the nearly 260-page report.

It’s a massive undertaking to synthesize global climate data, which is why the report takes so long to put together and release.

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“The take-home message here is that the planet — its state of the climate — is changing more rapidly in today’s world than at any time in modern civilization,” said Tom Karl, director of NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center, in a call with reporters.

The global average temperature, which is a broad baseline used to measure the climate, was about 0.4°F above average according to four datasets most commonly used by scientists. That was high enough to rank 2013 as up to the third-warmest year since 1880. All 10 of the warmest years have come since, with 2010 topping the charts.

Global hot spots for 2013 included parts of Russia and Eastern Europe, as well as Australia and Northern Africa. One of the only land areas with cooler-than-normal temperatures was the eastern half of North America.

The frequency of hot days is another indicator of the world’s continued warm streak. Last year was also in top 10 territory, driven in part by the extremes in Australia and Europe. In contrast, cool nights were in shorter supply, with 2013 ranking in the bottom 10 years.

A map showing ocean heat content anomalies averaged over 2013 compared to 1993-2013 average.
Credit: climate.gov

Ocean surface temperatures in 2013 were also among the top 10 warmest. But more notable is the amount of heat stashed in the upper half mile of the ocean, which has increased steadily and reached a record high in 2013.

“Warming in the upper (up to 700 meters) oceans accounts for about 63 percent of the total increase in energy storage in the climate system from 1971 to 2010,” the report said.

Scientists have posited that the apparent “pause” in global warming is being driven by increased heat storage in this layer of the ocean. Ocean warming coupled with melting ice has contributed to sea level rise, which also reached record highs in 2013.

Arctic sea ice extent, glaciers and late spring snow cover all felt the heat last year as well. Each continued a trend in line with the impacts of climate change.

The other notable record, and one which connects the dots between a number of the trends outlined in the report, is atmospheric carbon dioxide. Levels of CO2 and other greenhouse gases that are helping drive climate change were at record highs in 2013. CO2 crossed a notable milestone, hitting 400 parts per million for the first time in human history. Of course, 2014 is on track to smash the records set in 2013, with CO2 levels spending 3 months above the 400 ppm threshold.

Beyond global trends, the year was marked by regional extremes. Australia had its hottest year on record and parts of China experienced record summer warmth. However, the biggest single weather event of the year was Super Typhoon Haiyan, which killed more than 6,000 and left 2 million homeless.

At its peak, sustained winds from the storm reached 196 mph, which is 15 mph faster than the previous record according to James Renwick, a climate scientist at the New Zealand Climate Change Center (Renwick also edited one of the chapters of the new report). Haiyan’s storm surge did most of the damage. Scientists are still assessing just how high it rose but estimates put it in the  range of 24 feet.

While the connection between the rapid intensification and strength of Haiyan with climate change is still being studied, sea level rise represents a more direct climate change link. The Philippines have seen as much as 7 inches of sea level rise since 1970. To put that in perspective, the planet as a whole has seen 8 inches of sea level rise since 1900.

“Sea level rise is much higher than the global average in this part of the world, so the sea’s are already a little higher. If you put a storm surge on top of higher sea level, it amounts to a greater extent of coastal inundation.” Renwick said.

With 2014 halfway over, there are no signs that the globe’s hot streak is ending. Data through May shows that this has been the planet’s fifth-warmest start to the year on record. Jessica Blunden, a scientist who works with NCDC, said that preliminary data show that June’s ocean temperatures were the hottest on record, a sign that 2014 is  on track to be one of the hottest years recorded. Another factor tipping the scales in that direction is the impending El Niño, a climate phenomenon that usually boosts global temperatures. Other indicators like greenhouse gas emissions, Arctic sea ice and deep ocean heat are also likely to keep following suit.

Forecasters to test experimental lightning data

July 21st, 2014 at 1:39 pm by under Weather

Screen Shot 2014-05-15 at 10.48.39 AM

(NSSL)  NOAA National Weather Service (NWS) forecasters will test how lightning data impacts the warning process during convective events in the NOAA Hazardous Weather Testbed from July 21-August 29. The project is a collaboration between NSSL and Earth Networks, Inc., a private weather company.

Earth Networks has indicated the potential for its continental scale total lightning network (ENTLN) data and associated “Dangerous Thunderstorm Alerts” (DTAs) to increase forecaster situational awareness and lead times. Prior limited studies have shown the use of total lightning detections and associated derivative products could have positive impacts on the warning process.

During the tests, Earth Networks lightning data and its DTA products will be implemented into NWS operational software (AWIPS2) in the NOAA Hazardous Weather Testbed. Forecasters will complete a series of weather-warning scenarios in displaced real time, ranging from marginally severe to high-impact tornadic events for a variety of geographic locations.

These tests will evaluate the feasibility of using this data in warning operations, as well as the impact on warnings issued by NWS forecasters. The final outcome of this project is to make recommendations on possible product improvements, and determine whether Earth Networks products should become part of the operational product suites available to NWS offices nationally.

More rainfall expected this week

July 15th, 2014 at 10:43 pm by under Weather

Many areas enjoyed beneficial rainfall Tuesday, and we are expecting more this week. We will likely see a bit of a lull Wednesday, but an upper level disturbance will bring another good chance of showers and thunderstorms by Thursday, into Friday.

Click here to see Tuesday’s rainfall totals.

Locally heavy rain of 1 to 2 inches in a short period of time may occur with storms on Thursday and Friday. This may result in localized minor flooding. As always, do not drive where water covers the road. Turn Around, Don’t Drown.

Kaxan reminds you to protect your pet from summer heat

July 14th, 2014 at 3:50 pm by under Weather

Kaxan found this great video online from Discovery News he wants to share with everyone. It is about keeping your pets cool in the summer. Click here to check it out!

car heat

Please read this important information from the Humane Society of the United States:

The summer months can be uncomfortable—even dangerous—for pets and people. It’s difficult enough simply to cope with rising temperatures, let alone thick humidity, but things really get tough in areas that are hit with the double blow of intense heat and storm-caused power outages, sometimes with tragic results.

We can help you keep your pets safe and cool this summer. Follow our tips for helping everyone in your family stay healthy and comfortable when the heat is on (and even if the power isn’t).

Practice basic summer safety

Never leave your pets in a parked car

Not even for a minute. Not even with the car running and air conditioner on. On a warm day, temperatures inside a vehicle can rise rapidly to dangerous levels. On an 85-degree day, for example, the temperature inside a car with the windows opened slightly can reach 102 degrees within 10 minutes. After 30 minutes, the temperature will reach 120 degrees. Your pet may suffer irreversible organ damage or die. Learn how to help a pet left inside a hot car »

Print our hot car flyer [PDF] and spread the life-saving word »

Watch the humidity

“It’s important to remember that it’s not just the ambient temperature but also the humidity that can affect your pet,” says Dr. Barry Kellogg, VMD, of the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association. “Animals pant to evaporate moisture from their lungs, which takes heat away from their body. If the humidity is too high, they are unable to cool themselves, and their temperature will skyrocket to dangerous levels—very quickly.”

Taking a dog’s temperature will quickly tell you if there is a serious problem. Dogs’ temperatures should not be allowed to get over 104 degrees. If your dog’s temperature does, follow the instructions for treating heat stroke.

Limit exercise on hot days

Take care when exercising your pet. Adjust intensity and duration of exercise in accordance with the temperature. On very hot days, limit exercise to early morning or evening hours, and be especially careful with pets with white-colored ears, who are more susceptible to skin cancer, and short-nosed pets, who typically have difficulty breathing. Asphalt gets very hot and can burn your pet’s paws, so walk your dog on the grass if possible. Always carry water with you to keep your dog from dehydrating.

Don’t rely on a fan

Pets respond differently to heat than humans do. (Dogs, for instance, sweat primarily through their feet.) And fans don’t cool off pets as effectively as they do people.

Provide ample shade and water

Any time your pet is outside, make sure he or she has protection from heat and sun and plenty of fresh, cold water. In heat waves, add ice to water when possible. Tree shade and tarps are ideal because they don’t obstruct air flow. A doghouse does not provide relief from heat—in fact, it makes it worse.

Cool your pet inside and out

Whip up a batch of quick and easy DIY peanut butter popsicles for dogs. (You can use peanut butter or another favorite food.) And always provide water, whether your pets are inside or out with you.

Keep your pet from overheating indoors or out with a cooling body wrap, vest, or mat (such as the Keep Cool Mat). Soak these products in cool water, and they’ll stay cool (but usually dry) for up to three days. If your dog doesn’t find baths stressful, see if she enjoys a cooling soak.

Watch for signs of heatstroke

Extreme temperatures can cause heatstroke. Some signs of heatstroke are heavy panting, glazed eyes, a rapid heartbeat, difficulty breathing, excessive thirst, lethargy, fever, dizziness, lack of coordination, profuse salivation, vomiting, a deep red or purple tongue, seizure, and unconsciousness.

Animals are at particular risk for heat stroke if they are very old, very young, overweight, not conditioned to prolonged exercise, or have heart or respiratory disease. Some breeds of dogs—like boxers, pugs, shih tzus, and other dogs and cats with short muzzles—will have a much harder time breathing in extreme heat.

How to treat a pet suffering from heatstroke

Move your pet into the shade or an air-conditioned area. Apply ice packs or cold towels to her head, neck, and chest or run cool (not cold) water over her. Let her drink small amounts of cool water or lick ice cubes. Take her directly to a veterinarian.

Prepare for power outages

Before a summer storm takes out the power in your home, create a disaster plan to keep your pets safe from heat stroke and other temperature-related trouble.

First of three “supermoons” this weekend

July 11th, 2014 at 3:19 pm by under Weather

In June of last year, a full Moon made headlines.  The news media called it a “supermoon” because it was 14% bigger and 30% brighter than other full Moons of 2013.   Around the world, people went outside to marvel at its luminosity.

If you thought one supermoon was bright, how about three….? The full Moons of summer 2014—July 12th, August 10th, and Sept. 9th–will all be supermoons.

A new ScienceCast video counts the supermoons of summer 2014. Play it

The scientific term for the phenomenon is “perigee moon.” Full Moons vary in size because of the oval shape of the Moon’s orbit. The Moon follows an elliptical path around Earth with one side (“perigee”) about 50,000 km closer than the other (“apogee”).  Full Moons that occur on the perigee side of the Moon’s orbit seem extra big and bright.

This coincidence happens three times in 2014.  On July 12th and Sept 9th the Moon becomes full on the same day as perigee.  On August 10th it becomes full during the same hour as perigee—arguably making it an extra-super Moon.”


For the first time, CO2 tops 400 ppm for three straight months

July 11th, 2014 at 2:49 pm by under Weather
Greenhouse gases top 400 ppm for three months in a row at Mauna Loa

(NOAA)  For the first time since carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has been measured, the levels of this greenhouse gas at Mauna Loa, Hawaii, have been above 400 parts per million every single day for three straight months.

“We’ve reached another benchmark, reminding us that carbon dioxide concentrations continue to increase every year as carbon dioxide emissions continue,” said Pieter Tans, who leads NOAA’s measurement program. “Humans have caused carbon dioxide concentrations to rise 120 parts per million since pre-industrial times, with half of that since the early 1980s. Half of all emissions of CO2 from fossil fuel burning have taken place since 1986.”

In 2013, carbon dioxide levels at Mauna Loa, the oldest continuous measurement station operating since the 1950s, reached 400 ppm for several days for the first time during May, but did not stay at this level for an entire month.

Rising greenhouse gases

Rising greenhouse gases

This spring’s readings at Mauna Loa have set a new record for carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere.

This year, the 400 ppm mark was reached two months earlier in March and the average surpassed 400 ppm for the months of April, May and June. You can track greenhouse gas concentrations online at NOAA’s website.

The global average has not yet reached 400 ppm. The global average for May, according to the most recent data, was 398.83 ppm. The average for June is also not expected to reach 400 ppm.

Carbon dioxide concentrations at Mauna Loa begin to decline in June every year as seasonal plant growth drives the uptake of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. This trend is expected to continue until the end of summer in late September as part of the natural seasonal swing.

Other measurement sites

Arctic sites all reached 400 ppm in May of 2012, about a year before Mauna Loa.  Southern hemispheric sites are expected to follow with the South Pole expected to reach 400 ppm in late 2016.

“To reverse this trend of rising greenhouse gases, nations would need to quickly eliminate about half of fossil fuel emissions globally, and gradually continue further reductions until zero net emissions have been reached,” Tans said.

Why haven’t forecasters declared El Niño conditions?

July 10th, 2014 at 4:40 pm by under Weather

Forecasters at the Climate Prediction Center haven’t declared El Niño conditions, even though the Niño3.4 index is currently around 0.5°C above normal, and has been for the past two months. What’s the hold up? In short, we’re waiting for the atmosphere to respond to the warmer sea-surface temperatures, and give us the “SO” part of ENSO.

SO what? The Southern Oscillation, that’s what. The Southern Oscillation is a seesaw in surface pressure between a large area surrounding Indonesia and another in the central-to-eastern tropical Pacific; it’s the atmospheric half of El Niño. Since ENSO is a coupled system, meaning the atmosphere and ocean influence each other, both need to meet the criteria for El Niño before we declare El Niño conditions.

During average (non-El Niño) times, the waters of the western tropical Pacific are much warmer than in the east/central area (Figure 1). As warmer water extends out to the east during an El Niño, it warms the air, causing it to rise (lower pressure) (Figure 2). In turn, there is less rising motion (higher pressure) near Indonesia, due to the relatively cooler waters and overlying air.

Neutral and El Nino atmospheric conditions

Figure 1. Average state of ocean temperatures, rainfall, pressure, and winds over the Pacific during ENSO-neutral conditions. Figure 2. Generalized state of the ocean and atmosphere during El Niño conditions. NOAA image created by David Stroud.

The pressure changes influence the wind patterns. The average (non-El Niño) state of the atmosphere over the tropical Pacific features convection and rainfall over Indonesia, low-level easterly winds (the trade winds that blow from east to west), and upper-level westerly winds (Figure 1). These are the basic components of the Pacific Walker Circulation.

During El Niño, the system shifts: we see weaker trade winds over the Pacific, less rain than usual over Indonesia, and more rain than usual over the central or eastern Pacific. During some El Niño events, the trade winds along the equator even reverse, and we see low-level westerlies… but not every time. In fact, every El Niño is different, and both the ocean and atmospheric characteristics vary quite a lot from event to event–but that’s a topic for another post!

This difference from average air pressure patterns across the Pacific is measured a few different ways. One is the Southern Oscillation Index (SOI), which is based on a long record of pressure measured by two stations: one in Darwin, Australia (south of Indonesia) and the other in Tahiti (east-central tropical Pacific) (Figure 3). A negative SOI indicates Darwin’s pressure is higher than average and Tahiti’s is lower than average: El Niño conditions. (I keep saying “higher than average” because we’re not just comparing Darwin’s pressure to Tahiti’s, but rather comparing the anomalies at each. Imagine comparing the price of a gallon of water to that of a gallon of gas. A negative index is if the price of the water goes up, and the gas goes on sale. The gas may still cost more than the water, but it’s the relative changes in the two prices that matter.)

A second way we describe the air pressure anomalies over the tropical Pacific is the Equatorial Southern Oscillation Index (EQSOI). The EQSOI is based on pressure differences between two regions located on the equator (Figure 3). The SOI is monitored because it has a very long record available, stretching back to the 19th century; the EQSOI depends on satellite observations, which means it is a shorter record, but it gives a better picture of what’s happening right along the equator.

Southern Oscillation Index

Figure 3. Two ways of measuring the Southern Oscillation: the SOI and the EQSOI. Both depend on comparing the strength of pressure anomalies in different parts of the Pacific basin. Map by NOAA Climate.gov.

As of the end of June, both the SOI and the EQSOI are at +0.2 (they have trended downward over the past few months), and the wind patterns are roughly average over the tropical Pacific, with some slight weakening of the trade winds toward the end of the month. There is increased convection in the central Pacific, but also some over Indonesia… all of which says we’re still waiting for the atmosphere to get dressed in its El Niño clothes and come out to play.

However, we think it’s likely that the atmosphere will get on board soon, and we’re still predicting El Niño, with about a 70% chance that conditions will be met in the next few months, and around an 80% chance by this fall. If you’re interested in how the ocean and atmospheric conditions are evolving, CPC has weekly updates available.

Thanks to David Stroud for his help with this post.

No El Niño yet; the long wait continues

July 10th, 2014 at 3:33 pm by under Weather

(Climate Central)  The months-long wait for El Niño continues: The latest update from the Climate Prediction Center, issued Thursday, finds that conditions still aren’t quite in place to declare a full-blown El Niño, though forecasters still expect one to emerge by the fall. If and when it does, it is expected to impact weather and climate across the world and could push 2014 or 2015 to be the hottest year on record.  Click here to see KXAN First Warning Weather’s special report on how El Niño patterns affect our local weather.

Animation of subsurface temperature anomalies in the tropical Pacific Ocean.
Credit: NOAA.

While the atmospheric characteristics that indicate an El Niño have been evident intermittently, they have yet to firmly take hold. Ocean surface temperatures have also fluctuated, though there is still considerable heat below the surface to fuel an El Niño, said Michelle L’Heureux, a CPC meteorologist who helps put together the monthly outlooks.


El Niño update Thursday

July 9th, 2014 at 11:04 pm by under Weather

El Nino gif

The Climate Prediction Center will issue it’s monthly El Niño Diagnostic Discussion Thursday morning, and will either leave in place the current La Niña Watch, or issue an El Niño Advisory, meaning the pattern has fully developed. Click here after 8 a.m. Thursday to read the discussion.

Click here to see our First Warning Weather report on the developing El Niño, and how the warm Pacific Ocean pattern has influenced our weather in the past.


El Niño or La Niña Watch: Issued when conditions are favorable for the development of El Niño or La Niña conditions within the next six months.

El Niño or La Niña Advisory: Issued when El Niño or La Niña conditions are observed and expected to continue.

Final El Niño or La Niña Advisory: Issued after El Niño or La Niña conditions have ended.

NA: ENSO Alert System is not active.

The Climate Prediction Center defines. . .

“El Niño conditions” as existing when:

A one-month positive sea surface temperature anomaly of 0.5C or greater is observed in the Niño-3.4 region of the equatorial Pacific Ocean (5ºN-5ºS, 120ºW-170ºW) and an expectation that the 3-month Oceanic Niño Index (ONI) threshold will be met AND

An atmospheric response typically associated with El Niño is observed over the equatorial Pacific Ocean (see The ENSO Cycle).

“La Niña conditions” as existing when:

A one-month negative sea surface temperature anomaly of -0.5C or less is observed in the Niño-3.4 region of the equatorial Pacific Ocean (5ºN-5ºS, 120ºW-170ºW) and an expectation that the 3-month Oceanic Niño Index (ONI) threshold will be met AND

An atmospheric response typically associated with La Niña is observed over the equatorial Pacific Ocean (see The ENSO Cycle).

July bird forecast

July 8th, 2014 at 1:44 pm by under Weather

What to watch for in July: Small shorebirds and swirls of martins

Here’s the Central Texas bird forecast for the month, courtesy of Travis Audubon. Learn more about Central Texas birds and bird-related events for all ages at travisaudubon.org or by calling 512-300-BIRD. Travis Audubon is on Twitter and Facebook. Follow us on Twitter @TravisAudubon and give us a like at www.facebook.com/travisaudubon.

Spotted Sandpiper photo by Kat+sam via Creative Commons

Spotted Sandpiper photo by Kat+sam via Creative Commons

Lakeside visitor

One of the most common shorebirds in North America is the Spotted Sandpiper, but you don’t have to go to the coast to find one. It likes freshwater shores as well. It’s fairly easy to find if you are walking around Lady Bird Lake; look for a small bird with a stiff-winged flight fairly low over the water. It’s a medium-sized shorebird that is brown on top and white with spots below. It has an orange bill that is slightly shorter than its head, a rounded breast and a body that tapers to a longish tail, according to All About Birds. It has a white stripe above its eye. If you see one walking, it may look as though it’s leaning forward.
Purple Martin party time
Travis Audubon will be hosting its free Purple Martin parties Fridays and Saturdays in July near the Austin Community College Highland Campus. Purple Martins begin roosting together by the thousands in late summer, as soon as their chicks leave the nest, in preparation for migration to South America for the winter. After dining on insects but before settling down for the night, hundreds of thousands of martins put on a spectacular aerial acrobatics show filled with chattering chirps. Binoculars are optional, but lawn chairs, cameras, and hats or umbrellas are highly recommended! Please note that the location may change as the birds have moved from their traditional roost site. For up-to-date information, please visit the Travis Audubon website.
Where: The parking lot behind the Jack in the Box at Airport and Highland Mall Boulevards. The roost is in trees just north of the restaurant.
What: Travis Audubon Purple Martin parties
When: 7:45 to 9 p.m., every Friday and Saturday in July, beginning July 5
Field Trips — Beginners welcome. Check the Travis Audubon website for details.


Monthly Bird Count at Hornsby Bend
Saturday, July 12, 7 a.m. & 4 p.m.

Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife RefugeSunday, July 13

James River Bat Cave, led by Craig Rasmussen
Friday, July 18, to Saturday, July 19

Hornsby Bend Monthly Bird WalkSaturday, July 19, 7:30 to 11 a.m.

Commons Ford Monthly Walk
Sunday, July 20, 6:30 to 11 a.m

Compiled by Travis Audubon volunteers Jane Tillman and Raeanne Martinez