Archive for January, 2015

Super Snow Sunday Chicago

Saturday, January 31st, 2015

A vigorous low pressure tracking eastward from Colorado will intensify and bring up to a foot of new snow and near-blizzard conditions to Chicago by tomorrow afternoon.

Similar conditions will occur across central Iowa, northern Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, southern Lower Michigan and Detroit, and then spread eastward with 6-12 inches of snow for New York City through Boston by Tuesday morning (all graphics courtesy of, click for full size):

Total snow accumulation by Tuesday morning, Feb. 3, 2015, forecast by the GFS model.

Total snow accumulation by Tuesday morning, Feb. 3, 2015, forecast by the GFS model.

The low pressure and precipitation areas forecast for Super Bowl game time suggest that being parked in front of the TV will be a safer activity than being out driving in a car:


Northeast Snowstorms & Atlantic Water Vapor: No Connection in Last 27 Years

Friday, January 30th, 2015

One of the theories of how snowstorms can be made worse is that warming oceans provide more moisture for fuel.

While the theory sounds logical and even attractive, there are many ingredients that go into snowstorm formation. There has to be a synoptic scale disturbance feeding off the temperature contrast between the land and ocean, and since the land-ocean temperature contrast has actually DECREASED in the last several decades (if you believe the thermometer data), this would reduce the energy available for storm formation. (The “more-wavy” jet stream theory is highly suspect…without a greater temperature contrast, there is not as much thermal energy available for “baroclinic instability”).

Nevertheless, there do seem to have been more snowstorms in the Northeast U.S. in the last decade, so what might be the cause? As a meteorologist, my first inclination is to blame, in effect, “chaos”. Weather and climate variations are chaotic, there ARE weather patterns that can get set up and then persist. But these regional influences are basically disconnected from whether the global average temperature happens to be 1 deg. warmer or cooler. They are instead being driven by temperature contrasts of many tens of degrees.

But we can examine with observational data Kevin Trenberth’s hypothesis that increased Northeast snowstorms are the result of more water vapor from the North Atlantic.

For the last 27 years we have had the SSM/I and SSMIS instruments monitoring total water vapor content over the oceans every day. I took the Northwest Atlantic area from 30N to 50N, and 50W to 80W and examined the monthly average water vapor over this area versus the NESIS (Northeast Snowfall Impact Scale) index.

The results suggest basically no relationship between available water vapor and snowstorm events over the last 27 years:

There is little if any  relationship between Northeast U.S. snowstorms and atmospheric water vapor over the Northwest Atlantic between 1988-2014.

There is little if any relationship between Northeast U.S. snowstorms and atmospheric water vapor over the Northwest Atlantic between 1988-2014.

In fact, while warm season water vapor has increased, cold season water vapor (if anything) has decreased on average over the region, making less vapor available for storms. The net trend through all seasons is about +0.5% per decade over the 27 year period.

There is always abundant water vapor available for U.S. snowstorms to feed off of, just as there is always abundant tropical water vapor available for hurricanes and typhoons. But that’s not the limiting factor in storm formation. What is necessary is the variety of conditions which can support the formation of low pressure centers….sufficient water vapor is usually ready and waiting to play its part.

It has more to do with the necessary temperature contrast between air masses (and in the case of tropical cyclones, vertical wind shear). And since global warming (no matter the cause) will lead to the continents warming faster than the ocean (reducing the energy for incipient storms), there is no convincing way to blame global warming for increasing snowstorm activity in the Northeast U.S.

“Peak Food”? No, the Average Person Has More Food to Eat

Thursday, January 29th, 2015

There’s an article in yesterday’s Independent entitled, Have we reached ‘peak food’? Shortages loom as global production rates slow.

From reading the article, which is based upon a new report from two American universities and a German environmental institute, you would think that global food production is going down, while global population continues to rise.

WRONG. The rate of raise in production has apparently slowed for some commodities.

Now, imagine if peak oil was defined in this way? (It’s not). Or “peak global temperature”?

As far as I can tell, this is one more example of environmental fear-mongering.

First of all, food production is not limited by available land…it depends upon demand. If demand rises, so does food production. Hunger, malnourishment, and starvation are not due to a lack of food. They are almost always due to governmental policies which hinder farming or hinder the prosperity needed to import food.

What really matters is per capita food production. Not whether the rate of growth in just food production is slowing, because the rate in growth of the global population is also slowing:


The real question is: As global population rises, is our food production keeping pace?

Not only is it keeping pace, it is speeding up.

You really don’t need to keep track of certain meats as the study did (such as chickens, eggs), just the staple grains which start the food supply. For example, the doubling of global soybean production in the last 20 years is primarily due to increased consumption of pork in an increasingly prosperous China, which requires soybeans for feed.

Here’s a plot I put together from U.N. statistics regarding the top staple foods the world consumes. As you can see, not only has global food production increased in recent years (as has global population), the ratio of the two shows the average person in the world has more food available to eat, not less:


So, how do studies like this ever get published? Lies, damn lies, and statistics.

But…but…isn’t global warming reducing crop production?

So far, there is no sign of that. As I’ve shown before, climate model predictions have essentially failed. Warming and precipitation changes in America’s heartland have failed to materialize…despite predictions to the contrary. The Earth as a whole has instead responded to increasing CO2 in the atmosphere with “global greening”.

But, without the threat of climate change and reduced food supply, universities and environmental institutes wouldn’t be able to get the money they need to survive, would they?

New York City Gets a Taste of the Precautionary Principle

Wednesday, January 28th, 2015

The New England blizzard that hit yesterday infamously missed its primary target: New York City. In fairness to the forecasters, there were as many weather model forecasts supporting an historic NYC storm as there were just a significant snowstorm.

For areas well east of NYC, this snowstorm storm (dubbed “Juno” by The Weather Channel) was remarkably similar to Snowstorm Nemo (remember him?) that hit approximately the same area during Feb. 8-9, 2013, with peak accumulations of about 3 feet and peak winds over 70 mph.

But the NYC mayor overreacting to the storm with subway closures and orders to stay off the streets and sidewalks is, ultimately, counterproductive.

Overwarning Leads to Complacency
Whether it’s weather warning, or warning of what global warming will do to us, it creates a “crying wolf” situation. What happens when a real crisis arises if every snowstorm is painted as the worst crisis?

Similarly, will scientists be believed anymore after decades of failed predictions regarding overpopulation, global crop failures, global cooling, global warming, etc.?


Overwarning Leads to Reduced Economic Activity
When people can’t provide goods and services for each other, poverty results. Poverty, in turn, is just a step away from early death.

A storm (or just the threat of a storm) might disrupt economic activity for a day or two, but years of economic downturn will result from politicians forcing everyone to pay more for everything just so that boutique energy sources (mostly wind and solar) line the pockets of crony capitalists.

People who claim that “whether the global warming science is right or wrong we should still embrace renewable energy” don’t understand basic economics, the obscene cost of those energy sources, and the immense scale of global energy demand.

It’s like saying that shutting down NYC every time there is the threat of bad weather is the right thing to do, anyway. You know…just to be on the safe side.

We could call it the ‘Precautionary Principle’.

About that Drone that Crashed at the White House…

Tuesday, January 27th, 2015

With my photography hobby, I’ve been interested in the amazingly stable video that small quadcopters can now provide. You might have heard about the drone which crashed on the White House lawn in the last couple of days.

Well, according to Nick Gillespie at, it was a drunk government employee who couldn’t control his toy who was responsible.

So, since the government can’t control it’s own employees’ use of the things, the President says we therefore need the public’s use of them to be regulated.

Actually, I do think there need to be regulations and maybe even specific laws governing their use. Maybe owners should take a training class to get some sort of nominal certification, non-certified use would lead to fines, and the owner’s name and contact information should be on the things.

I don’t really know, maybe these are bad ideas. But unchecked irresponsible use could end up being bad for all users.

The Little Blizzard that Couldn’t

Tuesday, January 27th, 2015

2015-blizzard-that-couldntIt was going to be epic. The worst evah. Two feet of snow or more for New York City with blizzard conditions.

But as I blogged about yesterday, the forecast uncertainty with this particular storm was unusually large. As early as yesterday noon it was looking like NYC might only get 6-12 inches.

Yes, we probably will see some snowfall records for the date broken well east of NYC, which is not that hard to do. But it’s now looking like the 12+ inch snowfalls will be restricted to eastern Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, portions of Long Island, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. All-time record snowfalls look unlikely.

Nantucket had winds gusting to 70 mph overnight, but that’s normal weather for those hardy souls. Blizzard conditions are occurring over much of the area just listed above.

So, a winter nor’easter with snow. How unusual!

Global Warming Causes Whatever We Feel Like it Causes

Despite the official IPCC view that there is no obvious connection between winter storms and Climate Change(TM), several of the usual suspects couldn’t even wait for the storm to hit before they blamed the calamity on your SUV. Bill Nye the Bow Tied Wise Guy. Kevin Trenberth.

Bill Nye even used the opportunity to blame (relatively weak) Santa Ana winds in California on global warming. Really, Bill? He also made it sound like he was the first to dream up the “weather-is-now-climate-change” meme. I guess TV really is only for entertainment now. If Bill was a real scientist, he’d be sporting a pocket protector, not a bow tie.

This morning, after being buried by literally several inches of snow (now up to about 8 inches in in Central Park), the Big Apple is picking up the pieces. Stay off the roads! Stay off the sidewalks!

Earlier this morning, was claiming Islip, NY got 18 inches, but I find that hard to believe. Maybe in a snowdrift somewhere.

Yes, heavy precip events have become more frequent in the Northeast U.S. Yes, the North Atlantic is warm right now. But that’s mostly natural climate variability, folks. It’s probably related to some combination of the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) and Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO).

But extraordinary claims related to human causation and people driving their SUVs require extraordinary evidence. So far, what we’ve seen is still in the range of natural variability. Our weather records are relatively short (only 100 years or so, at best), and it is entirely expected that storms in some regions will result in “all-time” records.

But it looks like the 2015 Blizzard that Couldn’t won’t be one of them.

And until climate scientists decide whether global warming causes more snow or less snow, don’t trust them. They will probably decide on “both”, which then makes it an untestable hypothesis, which is what climate science (and the politicians) love.

3 Feet on Long Island? How Epic will this Snowstorm Be?

Monday, January 26th, 2015

UPDATED 11 a.m. EST with GFS model forecast.

There is no question the snowstorm just entering New England will be a big one, and that local snowfall totals will set daily records in many locations.

But are we looking at an all-time storm snowfall record event?

There have been only a couple of New York City storm snowfalls which have exceeded 2 feet (24 inches). This one looks like it might exceed that, but with every 6-hourly weather forecast model cycle the story has changed from an epic storm, to a noteworthy one, then back to epic.

For example, last night’s GFS model run looked like maybe a foot or so of snow for NYC. A major inconvenience, but not an all-time record-setter.

Then, this morning’s higher-resolution NAM model is giving Long Island as much as 3 feet of snow by Tuesday evening, and at least 2 feet in NYC (first two graphics courtesy of

Total accumulated snowfall by 10 p.m. Tuesday (Jan, 27, 2015), forecast by the NAM model on Monday morning.

Total accumulated snowfall by 10 p.m. Tuesday (Jan, 27, 2015), forecast by the NAM model on Monday morning.

Then, the GFS model came out with only 6-12 inches for the NYC area.

This indecision by the computer models has been going on for the last few days. All we know for sure is that the most recent forecast is usually the most accurate, but we now have wildly conflicting forecasts from the two most recent model runs. The GFS model has the heaviest snow total — approaching 2 feet — over southeast Massachusetts. Much of the rest of coastal New England is forecast to get about 1 foot of snow:

Total snowfall forecast by Tuesday night Jan. 27 2015 from the Monday morning run of the GFS model.

Total snowfall forecast by Tuesday night Jan. 27 2015 from the Monday morning run of the GFS model.

Which model is usually better? For this kind of event, the GFS model (less snow) is usually (but not always) more accurate.

Finally, we have the NWS multi-model product (using over 50 different models and model ensemble members…even using ECMWF) which comes up with sort of a best-estimate of the total snowfall (click for full-size):

57-model member "best" forecast of total snowfall ending Thursday morning, Jan. 29, 2015.

57-model member “best” forecast of total snowfall ending Thursday morning, Jan. 29, 2015.

Note that it is calling for 15-18 inches for the NYC-Long Island area, increasing to 2 feet around Boston.

The Long Island snowfall record was smashed on Dec. 20, 2009 when just over 2 feet of snow piled up.

In New York City, many snowstorms have produced 15 inch snowfalls, but only a couple have produced 2-foot snowfalls. In Feb. 2006, the all-time record was set at just under 27 inches. In 2nd place, December 26-27, 1947 saw a 26 inch snowfall.

High winds will make the current storm worse than normal for a snowstorm, with winds easily gusting over 30 mph in NYC, but Long Island and portions of coastal New England can expect 50+ mph gusts. In this kind of weather situation, it is also likely that lightning and thunder will occur in some locations. Most of the snow will fall tonight and early tomorrow.

What I’m dreading is for the next week reporters are going to be asking me about the role of global warming in all of this. Well, if the weather conditions were only 5 deg. or so warmer, we would be talking about a wind and rain non-event. But with colder air, it will be a major snowstorm.

Now, if you really believe global warming causes colder conditions, I have a snow-covered bridge in Brooklyn I’d like to sell you.

With the media now in full-panic mode, over three thousands flights cancelled, and Connecticut banning all auto travel after 9 p.m., it will be interesting to see how all this plays out. Say, with tomorrow’s photos of the stranded cars:


Monday Night’s Asteroid Passage the Closest/Largest in Next 12 Years

Sunday, January 25th, 2015

Artist's concept of a near-Earth asteroid (ESA).

Artist’s concept of a near-Earth asteroid (ESA).

Tomorrow night an asteroid the size of a small mountain will pass about 3 Moon distances from the Earth, and will be in perfect position for binocular viewing in the U.S. Details and a tracking chart are available at Sky and Telescope. I also use their interactive sky chart to find the locations of constellations, clusters, planets, etc., for specific nights and my location.

Asteroid 2004 BL86 will be moving at about 2.5 deg. per hour generally northward and pass right next to the Beehive Cluster (M44) between 11 p.m. and midnight CST. It is estimated to be over 500 meters in diameter, which is like 5 football fields long (and high and wide).

From what I’ve been able to find on the energy equivalent if one of these bad boys hit the Earth, this one would easily wipe out the entire New York City metro area. (The resulting climate impact would likely be cooling for years, but I don’t believe in the nuclear winter scenarios where most life is wiped out — dust settles out of the atmosphere relatively fast).

For those of us in the central time zone, the asteroid should be visible in binoculars with a fairly dark sky, brightest around 11 p.m. till midnight (when it will be fully illuminated by the sun on the other side of the Earth), and will be almost directly overhead. If the clouds move out of N. Alabama in time, I’ll be doing time lapse photography and will post a video if weather permits. I’ll be using a 200 mm f/2.8 lens at f/4.0, 30 sec exposures, ~ISO 2000, and star tracking with an AstroTrac on my tripod. Those settings provided this view of the Pleaides (about the same size as the Beehive Cluster) last night from my backyard:

How the Climate System Works (for Dummies)

Friday, January 23rd, 2015

climate-system-for-dummiesNo, I’m not talking about how the climate system has helped dummies make money off it.

I’m taking the occasion of continued pestering by our Aussie friend Doug Cotton, and questions I still get about his views, to go over the basics.

The atmosphere is complex enough that, from time-to-time, I try to explain the average operation of the climate system in as simple terms as I can muster. It’s actually quite difficult to simplify it.

I’m going to make some broad generalizations here, and my statements should be accurate to at least the 90% level. Maybe even 97% 😉 What follows is for the “global average” climate system.

The source of energy for the climate system is the sun, primarily in the form of visible sunlight.

About 30% of the sunlight which reaches the Earth is reflected back to space, and most of the rest is absorbed by the land surface and the upper 10 meters or so of the ocean.

The absorbed sunlight would cause the temperature of the land, ocean, and atmosphere to eventually increase without bound unless there were ways to lose the accumulated energy. The most important energy loss mechanism for the climate system as a whole is infrared (IR) radiation (yes, Doug, IR is also “electromagnetic radiation”, as is visible sunlight), which is how the Earth as a whole maintains energy balance and an approximate constant temperature: the total sunlight absorbed by the Earth equals the total IR energy emitted out to space by the Earth. Here “Earth” means the earth-atmosphere system.

Since the rate at which the Earth emits IR radiation goes up as the 4th power of the absolute temperature (measured in Kelvins), this provides the ultimate stabilizing mechanism for the temperature of the climate system. (There can be no “runaway greenhouse effect”. Even Venus has a stable temperature.) In crude terms, the sun warms the climate system up until it emits IR energy to space at the same rate it absorbs solar energy.

Anything that changes the balance between energy input and energy output of the Earth has the potential to change its temperature. This “energy-balance-determines-temperature” concept is basic physics, and is fundamental to the calculation of the temperature (or change in temperature) of anything, and is accounted for in the design of most energy-consuming devices humans have invented.

So, if clouds change, the temperature can change. Or, if the amount of IR-emitting and IR-absorbing gases in the atmosphere (primarily water vapor and CO2) change, the temperature can change. Anything that changes the rates of energy gain or energy loss can change global temperatures.

Now, a good portion of the solar energy that warms the surface causes convective air currents, which transport heat upward (not downward, as Doug claims), which then warms the troposphere. Evaporation of surface water is a major portion of this process: evaporated water at the surface absorbs the “latent heat of evaporation”, which is then released to the atmosphere when the water condenses into clouds and precipitation. This is what drives most clouds, all precipitation systems, thunderstorms, hurricanes, etc. They all convectively transfer heat from the surface to the atmosphere (not from the atmosphere to the surface)

Importantly, with this convective energy input into the atmosphere (and some direct sunlight absorption by the atmosphere), the atmosphere (specifically, the middle and upper troposphere) must have some way of losing this energy, or its temperature would also increase without bound. This cooling mechanism is accomplished by IR emission to outer space by those “greenhouse gases” in the atmosphere I mentioned earlier.

But those gases don’t just emit IR radiation upward to outer space, they also emit downward, reducing the net IR cooling rate of the lower atmosphere and surface. (Sideways emission and absorption are almost exactly the same locally, and are the same in the global average, so are ignored). The net result of all of this up- and down-welling IR radiation is that greenhouse gases make the upper atmosphere cooler, and the lower atmosphere warmer, than they would otherwise be without those greenhouse gases. This was first demonstrated by Manabe and Strickler 50 years ago (a nice summary of their model is here).

I have often used the analogy of a blanket over your warm body. A blanket keeps the warm side warmer, and the cool side cooler, than if the blanket was not there. Yes, I know, a blanket primarily works by conduction, but in terms of energy transfer in general, the concept of the atmosphere as a “radiative blanket” is the same. (Real radiative blankets really are used in the design of some instruments flying on satellites, to help keep them from getting too cold when they are not in the sunlight.)

Not to belabor the point, but this is really important, and some people are creating confusion with their misinformation. The rate of energy input alone does not determine the temperature of an object, (Doug). If you can insulate the object sufficiently, you can elevate its temperature arbitrarily high with relatively little energy input. All you have to do is prevent it from losing energy as fast. Temperature is determined by rates of energy gain and energy loss.

Due to greenhouse gases, the rate at which a layer of the atmosphere absorbs IR is relatively independent of its temperature; but the rate at which it loses IR is very dependent on temperature. Thus, layers of the atmosphere are, in general, not emitting IR at the same rate they are absorbing IR.

If not for the emission and absorption of thermal IR by different layers of the atmosphere, we would not have the IR temperature sounders on satellites that provide atmospheric temperature structure data on a global basis that have greatly improved daily weather forecasting. Nor would John Christy and I be able to monitor the temperature of different layers of the atmosphere due to the (extremely weak) thermal microwave emission by oxygen in the atmosphere.

In fact, without the greenhouse effect cooling the upper troposphere and warming the lower troposphere, the atmosphere would not become convectively unstable, and weather as we know it would cease. Sunlight and IR radiation transfers, by themselves, “try” to make the troposphere very unstable to convection, and it is the resulting convective overturning that makes the tropospheric lapse rate somewhere between the dry adiabatic value (9.8 deg C/km) and moist adiabatic (~6 to ~9 deg. C/km).

This is key: without IR absorption and emission by the atmosphere, surface heating by the sun would eventually warm the atmosphere to the same temperature as the surface, and such an “isothermal” atmosphere cannot support convection. The observed tropospheric temperature profile (warm below and cool above) is mostly the result of convective overturning, responding to constant destabilization by surface heating combined with middle- and upper-tropospheric IR cooling to outer space.

Yes, gravity is important to the whole process – but not in the simplistic way a few people think. Gravity is indeed a necessary part of determining what the dry convective lapse rate is, but that lapse rate only occurs in response to convective overturning, which in turn requires the greenhouse effect to destabilize the atmosphere in the first place.

The equations representing all of these physics can be put into a time-dependent one-dimensional model (we and many others have done this) that computes temperature changes at hundreds of different levels throughout the atmosphere. You can initialize the model at absolute zero temperature, or 1,000 Kelvin, it doesn’t matter…the resulting equilibrium temperature profile the model settles down to when it is run looks almost identical to the observed temperature profile.

Until someone does the same time-dependent modeling with their “alternative” physics (which are supported by laboratory measurements, as are [for example] the IR absorption properties of various gases), their hand-waving about gravity explaining lower atmospheric temperatures should be taken by non-specialists with a huge grain of salt. Specialists already ignore it entirely.

I realize the above explanation is too technical for some. But the atmosphere is an amazingly complex place, and atmospheric radiative transfer isn’t easy to grasp with intuition alone. I’ve been down the road of questioning the standard explanation of the “greenhouse effect”, and convinced myself it is, indeed, real.

But whether our ~1% enhancement of the natural greenhouse effect after 100 years of burning fossil fuels will cause enough warming to worry about is another matter entirely.

Winter Returns to New England this Weekend

Thursday, January 22nd, 2015

After almost two months of mostly balmy winter weather, a pair of winter storms will bring a foot or more of snow to much of New England starting this weekend.

The first storm will travel up the East Coast on Saturday as a nor’easter, then an Alberta Clipper type storm will follow on Monday and Tuesday. The second storm could be the more potent one, with higher winds and disrupting the work-week.

Here are the currently forecast snow totals ending next Wednesday morning, Jan. 28 (graphic courtesy of, click for full-size):

Total snow accumulation my Wednesday, Jan. 28, 2015, from the GFS forecast model ( graphic).

Total snow accumulation my Wednesday, Jan. 28, 2015, from the GFS forecast model ( graphic).