Archive for January, 2015

Comet Lovejoy Time Lapse Video

Thursday, January 22nd, 2015

Despite moderate light pollution here in Huntsville, Alabama, I was able to capture 1.9 hours of camera frames to make this time lapse video of Comet Lovejoy last evening. Some thin cirrus clouds and various satellites also pass by. The faint tail extends to the left of the nucleus, and if you watch closely you can see the comet traveling relative to the stars immediately surrounding it:

Constructed from 480 10-sec exposures taken every 14 sec. taken with a Canon 6D, Canon 85mm f/1.2 lens wide open, ISO 400, using an AstroTrac to roughly track the stars. Best viewed full-screen.

To the GOP and the Pope: Forcing Higher Energy Prices on the Poor is Immoral

Tuesday, January 20th, 2015

I’m seeing a flurry of news articles lately casting conservatives as closet believers in human-caused climate change who are struggling to formulate a global warming policy that is smart, but without looking like Liberals in the process.

Also, Pope Francis, after being advised by a committee of the most left-leaning global warming “experts” one could find, has decided to write an encyclical on global warming and the environment to be released later this year.

This all resonates with under-informed voters who think we already have the infrastructure to sustainably collect and distribute methane emissions from unicorn herds, and who believe solar freakin’ roadways are a good idea.

OK, maybe that was too snarky. I’m referring to those who believe that wind and solar really do provide reasonably priced, large scale alternatives to fossil fuels.

Except that solar and wind do not accomplish this. On an equalized basis, the cost of wind and solar is many times (as much as 10x to 30x) higher than fossil fuels, and we can’t get enough of those renewables to meet a substantial fraction of global energy demand anyway.

Remember, energy isn’t just needed for transportation and home heating/cooling and powering our lights and electronic devices. It’s needed for everything humans do, and when you make it much more expensive, life becomes harder for everyone. Call it trickle-down poverty.

I really don’t know what the underlying motivation of the GOP and the Pope is, but if they really care about the poor, they won’t force them further into poverty – and kill millions unnecessarily – by following a pipe dream which only enriches the renewable snake oil salesmen.

Yes, fossil fuels are a finite resource which will eventually need to be supplanted by other energy sources. But without widespread embrace of nuclear power, those energy sources do not yet exist in abundance or at low cost.

And if there one thing we know that kills poor people, its poverty. The Pope claims he is merely following biblical teaching to help the poor. But the bible teaches us to help to those who cannot help themselves. It doesn’t say to institute government regulations that make poverty even worse.

And in order to share our wealth with the poor, that wealth has to be generated in the first place.

First, do no harm. It’s really not rocket science. The GOP should not (nor should anyone else) accept the premise and narrative dictated to it by journalism majors.

Expensive energy kills people. UNICEF estimates 22,000 children die each day due to poverty. In contrast, no one is known to have ever died due to human-induced climate change. I predict that modest warming (whatever its cause) and more CO2 will turn out to be better for life on Earth.

Now, GOP, go grow a pair, and spread the word. The moral high ground is yours for the taking.

2014 as the Mildest Year: Why You are Being Misled on Global Temperatures

Sunday, January 18th, 2015

OR: Why I Should Have Been an Engineer Rather than a Climate Scientist

I’ve been inundated with requests this past week to comment on the NOAA and NASA reports that 2014 was the “hottest” year on record. Since I was busy with a Japan space agency meeting in Tokyo, it has been difficult for me to formulate a quick response.

Of course, I’ve addressed the “hottest year” claim before it ever came out, both here on October 21, and here on Dec. 4.

In the three decades I’ve been in the climate research business, it’s been clear that politics have been driving the global warming movement. I knew this from the politically-savvy scientists who helped organize the U.N.’s process for determining what to do about human-caused climate change. (The IPCC wasn’t formed to determine whether it exists or whether is was even a threat, that was a given.)

I will admit the science has always supported the view that slowly increasing carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere from burning of fossil fuels should cause some warming, but the view that this would is any way be a bad thing for humans or for Nature has been a politically (and even religiously) driven urban legend.

I am embarrassed by the scientific community’s behavior on the subject. I went into science with the misguided belief that science provides answers. Too often, it doesn’t. Some physical problems are simply too difficult. Two scientists can examine the same data and come to exactly opposite conclusions about causation.

We still don’t understand what causes natural climate change to occur, so we simply assume it doesn’t exist. This despite abundant evidence that it was just as warm 1,000 and 2,000 years ago as it is today. Forty years ago, “climate change” necessarily implied natural causation; now it only implies human causation.

What changed? Not the science…our estimates of climate sensitivity are about the same as they were 40 years ago.

What changed is the politics. And not just among the politicians. At AMS or AGU scientific conferences, political correctness and advocacy are now just as pervasive as as they have become in journalism school. Many (mostly older) scientists no longer participate and many have even resigned in protest.

Science as a methodology for getting closer to the truth has been all but abandoned. It is now just one more tool to achieve political ends.

Reports that 2014 was the “hottest” year on record feed the insatiable appetite the public has for definitive, alarming headlines. It doesn’t matter that even in the thermometer record, 2014 wasn’t the warmest within the margin of error. Who wants to bother with “margin of error”? Journalists went into journalism so they wouldn’t have to deal with such technical mumbo-jumbo. I said this six weeks ago, as did others, but no one cares unless a mainstream news source stumbles upon it and is objective enough to report it.

In what universe does a temperature change that is too small for anyone to feel over a 50 year period become globally significant? Where we don’t know if the global average temperature is 58 or 59 or 60 deg. F, but we are sure that if it increases by 1 or 2 deg. F, that would be a catastrophe?

Where our only truly global temperature measurements, the satellites, are ignored because they don’t show a record warm year in 2014?

In what universe do the climate models built to guide energy policy are not even adjusted to reflect reality, when they over-forecast past warming by a factor of 2 or 3?

And where people have to lie about severe weather getting worse (it hasn’t)? Or where we have totally forgotten that more CO2 is actually good for life on Earth, leading to increased agricultural productivity, and global greening?:

Estimated changes in vegetative cover due to CO2 fertilization between 1982 and 2010 (Donohue et al., 2013 GRL).

Estimated changes in vegetative cover due to CO2 fertilization between 1982 and 2010 (Donohue et al., 2013 GRL).

It’s the universe where political power and the desire to redistribute wealth have taken control of the public discourse. It’s a global society where people believe we can replace fossil fuels with unicorn farts and antigravity-based energy.

Feelings now trump facts.

At least engineers have to prove their ideas work. The widgets and cell phones and cars and jets and bridges they build either work or they don’t.

In climate science, whichever side is favored by politicians and journalism graduates is the side that wins.

And what about those 97% of scientists who agree? Well, what they all agree on is that if their government climate funding goes away, their careers will end.

Ice Spikes in Alabama

Friday, January 9th, 2015

When it gets as cold as it has been lately (even here in Alabama), I like to find ways to take advantage of it. When I lived in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan 40 years ago, it was card games, beer, and snowmobiles (too often in that order).

Back in November in Alabama it was frost flowers. Today, it’s ice spikes.

Ice spikes form in bird baths and other rigid water containers when a layer of ice on the water thickens, expands, and forces water underneath to spurt up through a small hole that forms naturally in the ice. Some people have found them on their refrigerator ice cubes, although they tend to form more readily with distilled water than with tap water.

I tried my hand at making them two nights ago with the intent of getting better time lapse photography than I have found so far. I got two or three small ones to grow (video at the end of this post). But it was already 15 deg F when I started, and then 5 deg. F by morning, while a more optimum temperature is supposed to be about 20 deg. F.

Ice spikes have even been studied scientifically, at CalTech in Pasadena (yup, the Big Bang Theory nerds at it again). Their experiments were mostly in ice cube trays in a freezer.

But the more spectacular spikes I’ve found on the web have grown in large, shallow containers, mostly bird baths (the first pair below is, coincidently, from here in Huntsville 4 years ago, and the person grew them 2 nights in a row):


Note in rare cases an inverted pyramid of ice forms.

From reading some of what has been written on the physics of their formation, I think a missing ingredient is a heat source from below. Virtually all of the examples on the web have no snow on the ground, and the container almost always has a way of being kept warm from beneath. The water under the thickening ice must stay warm enough to feed the ice tube that forms, without the tube freezing shut. So, most of the instances of large ice spikes reported are from regions where the ground stays relatively warm. For example, cave temperatures here in Huntsville run around 60 deg. F, so the ground here remains quite warm through the winter.

Last night I tried again with a large tray like those found under large plant pots, sitting on a thick slab of Styrofoam, and used a three-probe quality digital thermometer to monitor temperatures. Without a heat source below, the water at the bottom of the 18” diameter shallow plastic tray rapidly approached 32 deg. F, and the surface of the water formed a uniformly thick sheet of ice. No spikes.

So, exactly how a small hole forms and is maintained as most of the ice thickens and the spike grows remains a mystery to me, although I suspect a weak heat source at the bottom is key to growing large spikes.

The small ones I grew with distilled water are on the right side of the dark bowl in the time lapse video, below. (The large bowl to the right losing water is made of bamboo…I thought it looked cool when I bought it, but it leaks). I placed a chemical-type hand warmer under each bowl:

Why Do Different Satellite Datasets Produce Different Global Temperature Trends?

Tuesday, January 6th, 2015

I thought it would be useful to again outline the basic reasons why different satellite global temperature datasets (say, UAH and RSS) produce somewhat different temperature trends.

They all stem from the fact that there is not a single satellite which has been operating continuously, in a stable orbit, measuring a constant layer of the atmosphere, at the same local time every day, with no instrumental calibration drifts.

Instead, what we have is multiple satellites (we use 14 of them for the UAH processing) with relatively short lifetimes (2 to 16+ years), most of which have decaying orbits which causes the local time of measurement to slowly change over the years, slightly different layers sampled by the earlier (pre-1998) MSU instruments compared to the later (post-1998) AMSU instruments, and some evidence of small calibration drifts in a few of the instruments.

An additional complication is that subsequent satellites are launched into alternating sun-synchronous orbit times, nominally 1:30 a.m. and p.m., then 7:30 a.m. and p.m., then back to 1:30 a.m. and p.m., etc. Furthermore, as the instruments scan across the Earth, the altitude in the atmosphere that is sampled changes as the Earth incidence angle of view changes.

All of these effects must be accounted for, and there is no demonstrably “best” method to handle any of them. For example, RSS uses a climate model to correct for the changing time of day the observations are made (the so-called diurnal drift problem), while we use an empirical approach. This correction is particularly difficult because it varies with geographic location, time of year, terrain altitude, etc. RSS does not use exactly the same satellites as we do, nor do they use the same formula for computing a lower tropospheric (“LT”) layer temperature from the different view angles of AMSU channel 5.

We have been working hard on producing our new Version 6 dataset, revamping virtually all of the processing steps, and it has taken much longer than expected. We have learned a lot over the years, but with only 2-3 people working part time with very little funding, progress is slow.

In just the last month, we have had what amounts to a paradigm shift on how to analyze the data. We are very hopeful that the resulting dataset will be demonstrably better than our current version. Only time will tell.

UAH Global Temperature Update for December, 2014: +0.32 deg. C

Tuesday, January 6th, 2015

2014 was Third Warmest Year Since 1979, but Just Barely
(with input from John Christy and Phil Gentry)

The Version 5.6 global average lower tropospheric temperature (LT) anomaly for December, 2014 is +0.32 deg. C, essentially the same as the November value of +0.33 deg. C (click for full size version):

The global, hemispheric, and tropical LT anomalies from the 30-year (1981-2010) average for the last 12 months are:

2014 1 +0.291 +0.387 +0.194 -0.029
2014 2 +0.170 +0.320 +0.020 -0.103
2014 3 +0.170 +0.338 +0.002 -0.001
2014 4 +0.190 +0.358 +0.022 +0.092
2014 5 +0.326 +0.325 +0.328 +0.175
2014 6 +0.305 +0.315 +0.295 +0.510
2014 7 +0.304 +0.289 +0.319 +0.451
2014 8 +0.199 +0.244 +0.153 +0.061
2014 9 +0.294 +0.187 +0.401 +0.181
2014 10 +0.365 +0.333 +0.396 +0.189
2014 11 +0.329 +0.354 +0.303 +0.247
2014 12 +0.320 +0.464 +0.177 +0.298

Notes on data released Jan. 6, 2015:

2014 was the third warmest year in the 36-year global satellite temperature record, but by such a small margin (0.01 C) as to be statistically similar to other recent years, according to Dr. John Christy, a professor of atmospheric science and director of the Earth System Science Center at The University of Alabama in Huntsville. “2014 was warm, but not special. The 0.01 C difference between 2014 and 2005, or the 0.02 difference with 2013 are not statistically different from zero. That might not be a very satisfying conclusion, but it is at least accurate.”

The 2014 average temperature anomaly is also in keeping with temperatures since late 2001, when the global average temperature rose to a level that is generally warmer than the 30-year baseline average. The most recent 13 complete calendar years, from 2002 through 2014, have averaged 0.18 C (about 0.33 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than the 30-year baseline average, while the global temperature trend during that span was a warming trend at the rate of +0.05 C per decade — which is also statistically insignificant.

Compared to seasonal norms, the coldest annual average temperature on Earth throughout 2014 was just south of Wilmar, Minnesota. The average 2014 temperature there was –1.27 C (about 2.29 degrees F) colder than normal. The ‘warmest’ place throughout 2014 was just south of the North Pole along the International Date Line. Temperatures there averaged 1.65 C (about 2.97 degrees F) warmer than normal for the year.

Annual Global Temperature Anomalies, ranked

1. 1998 0.42
2. 2010 0.40
3. 2014 0.27
4. 2005 0.26
5. 2013 0.24
6. 2002 0.22
7. 2009 0.21
8. 2007 0.20
9. 2003 0.19
10. 2006 0.19
11. 2012 0.17
12. 2011 0.13
13. 2004 0.11
14. 2001 0.11
15. 1991 0.02
16. 1987 0.01
17. 1995 0.01
18. 1988 0.01
19. 1980 -0.01
20. 2008 -0.01
21. 1990 -0.02
22. 1981 -0.05
23. 1997 -0.05
24. 1999 -0.06
25. 1983 -0.06
26. 2000 -0.06
27. 1996 -0.08
28. 1994 -0.11
29. 1979 -0.17
30. 1989 -0.21
31. 1986 -0.24
32. 1993 -0.25
33. 1982 -0.25
34. 1992 -0.29
36. 1985 -0.31
37. 1984 -0.35

With a global average temperature that was 0.32 C (about 0.58 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than seasonal norms, December 2014 trailed only December 2003, which averaged 0.37 C (about 0.67 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than seasonal norms, among the warmest Decembers in the satellite temperature record. While December 2014 ranked second warmest for both the globe and the Northern Hemisphere, it was only the sixth warmest December in the tropics despite an El Niño Pacific Ocean warming event that seems to be forming there.

Warmest Decembers (1979-2014)
(Global average, warmer than seasonal norms)

1. 2003 +0.37 C
2. 2014 +0.32 C
3. 1987 +0.27 C
2013 +0.27 C
5. 2009 +0.24 C
6. 2012 +0.23 C
7. 1997 +0.22 C
2006 +0.22 C
9. 1998 +0.19 C
2005 +0.19 C

Compared to seasonal norms, the coldest place in Earth’s atmosphere in December was in northwestern Greenland, where temperatures were as much as 2.70 C (about 4.86 degrees Fahrenheit) colder than seasonal norms. Compared to seasonal norms, the warmest departure from average in December was in central Russia, north of the town of Yeniseysk. Temperatures there were as much as 2.75 C (about 4.86 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than seasonal norms.

The global image for December should be available in the next day or so here.

Popular monthly data files (these might take a few days to update):

uahncdc_lt_5.6.txt (Lower Troposphere)
uahncdc_mt_5.6.txt (Mid-Troposphere)
uahncdc_ls_5.6.txt (Lower Stratosphere)

Mt. Washington, NH: 110 mph Wind, -11 F Temp.

Monday, January 5th, 2015

The cold air spilling into the U.S. from Canada is really being felt at the Mt. Washington (NH) Observatory, where winds have been gusting to 110 mph this morning, and the temperature is rapidly dropping (from -11 F now to a predicted -22 F by this evening).

Here’s a current webcam pic of the Observatory deck, compared to “normal”:


Given its elevation (6,288 ft) and geographic location, bad weather is normal on Mt. Washington in the winter, and for many years Mt. Washington held the world record for the highest wind speed recorded on the surface of the Earth: 231 mph measured on April 12, 1934. That record was beaten by a 253 mph surface wind speed measured in 1996 in Australia in a tropical cyclone.

Current weather can be monitored at the Mt. Washington website.

Cold Wave to Fuel N. Europe Storms, Faster-than-Sound Jet Travel

Monday, January 5th, 2015

As the arctic air mass now spreading across the U.S. moves eastward, it will lead to some wild weather for the UK and Northern Europe.

Anytime a deep, cold air mass moves into the mid-latitudes, a strong jet stream forms above the transition zone between warm and cold air masses. That’s not unusual for this time of year, but the current situation will lead to an unusually strong, 260 mph jet stream on the jet traffic route from the U.S. to Europe.

This means that jets flying to Europe on Thursday could see ground speeds in excess of 800 mph (900 mph for a 747), which is faster than the speed of sound at sea level, 760 mph. (This is not the same as the jet “breaking the sound barrier”…its air speed remains the same, whether flying in a headwind or tailwind.)

The weak low pressure now spreading snow across the U.S. Midwest will intensify as it exits the East Coast and races across the Atlantic, generating surface wind gusts approaching 100 mph and wave heights to 50 ft as it approaches Scotland Thursday night.

While that storm will weaken as it crosses the North Sea to the Baltic, an equally strong storm will follow close on its heels, with near-hurricane force wind gusts across the North Sea and into the southern Baltic Sea for the weekend. Damaging winds could occur over Denmark and in other coastal areas around the southern Baltic Sea.

So, batten down those windmills.

Scottish windmill exploding in high winds on Dec. 8, 2011 (photo: Stuart McMahon)

Scottish windmill exploding in high winds on Dec. 8, 2011 (photo: Stuart McMahon)

Frigid Hump Day in Midwest: Chicago Won’t Get Above Zero, -20F Wind Chills

Sunday, January 4th, 2015

Arctic air is making a return after a rather balmy December, and the Midwest will have a frigid wintry Wednesday this week after 2-4 inches of new snow falls.

By Wednesday morning, most of the U.S. will be below freezing, and the coldest air will be plunging southeastward across the upper midwest into northern Illinois and Indiana:

NWS statistical forecast temperatures for Wednesday morning, Jan. 7, 2014.

NWS statistical forecast temperatures for Wednesday morning, Jan. 7, 2014.

Midday Wednesday looks like much of the Midwest won’t even get above zero deg. F, even in Chicago (graphic courtesy of…

Temperature forecast for midday Wednesday (Jan. 7, 2014) from the GFS model.

Temperature forecast for midday Wednesday (Jan. 7, 2014) from the GFS model.

…and stiff 20 mph winds will cause midday windchill temperatures of -20 F or lower. Across Iowa and Illinois, temperatures by Wednesday evening will be 30 to 40 deg. below normal for this time of year.