Snow flies at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. (Flickr/Seth Anderson) With 160,000 weather-related delays each year, Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport (ORD) is vulnerable to snow, as well as to winds, rain and other flight-disrupting conditions. AccuWeather.com Senior Meteorologist Elliot Abrams points out, however, that much of Chicago’s snow is not the traditional lake effect, as it is not located on the proper side of Lake Michigan to receive the brunt of its snowfall. Abrams said that the city has received more snow than usual this season, contributing to delays and cancellations out of this major hub.
Every time the weather turns cold, morons crawl out of the proverbial woodwork, and make lame jokes and snide comments about “Where’s your global warming now?” Well, the thing is, climate change is not so simple as all that, is it? The Earth’s weather patterns are complicated, and not even entirely understood. But extreme weather is certainly part of the pattern, including cold snaps. Weather is seasonal as well, which is why it is summer in Australia right now. And not a typical summer day, but extremely hot – in the neighborhood of 50ºC1
Eric Holthaus has a fairly clear explanation of why climate change leads to cold snaps:
This particularly aspect of climate change science is not yet definitive, but here’s what may be going on:
1) The Arctic rapidly warming: It’s always going to be colder at the North Pole than it is in Miami, but the difference in temperature between those two places may already be shrinking. The Arctic is quickly losing sea ice, which is being replaced by relatively warmer open ocean. Liquid water tends to trap heat more effectively than ice, which in turn discourages the future formation of ice. It’s a feedback loop that is not working in our favor, and as a result, the Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the world.
2) The jet stream is slowing down: The coldest air in the Northern Hemisphere is typically trapped in the far northern Arctic by the jet stream. However, with a little help from climate change, that barrier is starting to break down. As the temperature contrast between the warmer tropics decreases, the jet stream, whichexists due to that contrast, weakens and becomes more elongated and chaotic. Think of navigating a car through slow-moving traffic: it’s a lot less straightforward to find a quick route from point A to point B.
3) As a result, extreme weather ensures: With a slower, more chaotic jet stream, there’s a much greater likelihood of weather systems getting stuck on their paths around the planet. When weather systems stagnate, they have a tendency to intensify, sometimes breaking records for heat, cold, snow, and rain in the process. Also, when increasingly elongated paths are taken by jet stream winds, it’s easier for them to pull exceptionally cold air further southwards, which is exactly what’s happening this week.
I took Why Yes, it Is Snowing A Bit on January 02, 2014 at 03:29PM
and snow will continue for the foreseeable future:
Today: Windy…snow. Areas of blowing snow in the afternoon. Snow accumulation of 3 to 5 inches. Total snow accumulation 4 to 8 inches. Highs 16 to 20. Then temperatures falling into the upper single digits by evening. Lowest wind chill readings 10 below to 20 below zero in the afternoon. North winds 10 to 20 mph increasing to 20 to 30 mph. Gusts up to 40 mph. Chance of precipitation 100 percent.
Tonight: Windy…cloudy. A 20 percent chance of snow showers in the evening. Areas of blowing snow. Bitterly cold. Lows 15 to 19 below…except 11 to 15 below downtown. Lowest wind chill readings 35 below to 45 below zero after midnight. Northwest winds 20 to 30 mph with gusts up to 35 mph.
Monday: Windy. Partly cloudy. Areas of blowing snow. Very cold with record breaking temperatures likely. Temperatures nearly steady around 13 to 17 below. Wind chills as low as 35 below to 45 below zero. West winds 20 to 30 mph until late afternoon decreasing to 15 to 25 mph late in the afternoon. Gusts up to 40 mph.
Saturday night our air conditioner failed. After a few sleepless nights filled with lots of tossing and turning and rearranging fans to create cross breezes, we got a new 4-ton A/C with matching indoor cooling coil that accepts Puron aka R-410A1. Also our copper lineset between indoor and outdoor coils had to be replaced – or repaired, but easier to just replace. The furnace that the A/C is connected to is located about 6 feet from my office – where I’m sitting now – so the last few days have been disruptive.
Since the universe decided that cutting sheet metal in my ear was not enough of a distraction, our internet service went out on Tuesday, and is still wonky. We have resumed some connectivity as of last night, but we are connecting at near dialup speeds. I’m not kidding – I checked via a couple of those internet speed tests, and my desktop was reaching maximum 47kbps upload/download. I’m old enough to remember 56kbps being a decent enough connecting speed, but that era ended long ago. These days connecting so slowly is torture. Especially when there was a spate of large system software updates, plus an Apple keynote video I wanted to watch.
Anyway, there is apparently some problem with a pair bonded circuit. AT&T has come twice, as they provide service up to the basement of our building, and we’ve spent many hours on tech support with XO Communications.
Soon, I”ll be able to get back to my daily routine. I glanced at my email inbox, and there are over 200 emails in there waiting for me to glance at them, or godz forbid, respond to.
Warm, indeed. Abnormally warm in fact, and not just in Chicago
Records are not only being broken across the country, they’re being broken in unusual ways. Chicago, for example, saw temperatures above 26.6°Celsius (80°Fahrenheit) every day between March 14-18, breaking records on all five days. For context, the National Weather Service noted that Chicago typically averages only one day in the eighties each in April. And only once in 140 years of weather observations has April produced as many 80°Fahrenheit days as this March.
Speaking at a high-dollar Chicago fundraiser hosted by Oprah Winfrey as the city basked in June-like weather last week, President Barack Obama admitted to being “a little nervous” about global warming: “We’ve had a good day,” Obama said. “It’s warm every place. It gets you a little nervous about what’s happening to global temperatures. But when it’s 75 degrees in Chicago in the beginning of March it gets you thinking … ” “Something’s wrong,” Oprah interjected. “Yeah,” Obama said. “On other hand we really have enjoyed the nice weather.”
Chicago received a hefty 3.84 inches of precipitation (water content) from Thanksgiving through January 2, almost all of it falling as rain. With temperatures around 30 degrees, the typical conversion from water equivalent precipitation to snow is about 10:1, so the 3.84 inches would convert to 36-40 inches of snow.
That is about as much as Chicago receives in an average winter. In a colder environment — with temperatures in the lower 20s — the water-to-snow ratio increases to about 15:1. That would theoretically yield between 55 and 60 inches of snow.
It isn’t just my feeling this winter has been unusually mild, there are facts to support my contention:
Friday’s rain is just another of the meteorological oddities which have marked December 2011. The month, now running a 7.4-degree surplus and ranked among the mildest 12 percent of all Decembers on record over the past 141 years, is also, along with cities all over the Midwest, in the midst of a snow drought here. The month, typically Chicago’s third snowiest with 8.5 inches of snow and just behind January’s 10.8 inches and February’s typical 9.1 inches, is marching toward a midnight Saturday night close with only 1.7 inches of snow to its credit. That’s an amount which is one fifth (20 percent) the so-called “normal” tally for the month and just 10 percent of last December’s 16.2-inch total.
Lakefront hits 50-degrees Thursday; O’Hare tops out way above normal at 48-degrees, marking the 18th day at or above 40 this December. Mild Pacific-origin air swept into the area Thursday, sending Wednesday’s arctic chill with its 31-degree high packing. Readings Thursday afternoon surged 17-degrees higher, topping out at 48-degrees at O’Hare and Midway. Northerly Island on Chicago’s lakefront managed a 50-degree high. The reading was Chicago’s warmest in 10 days and marked the 18th time this month that temperatures have made it to 40-degrees.
I’ve made a (mental) bargain with Chicago’s weather – I won’t complain about winter’s lack of sunlight, and general dreariness, if, and only if there is substantial snow for me to play in, and photograph. Despite Tom Skilling’s report of 1.7” of snow so far this winter, downtown Chicago has less than that. In fact, only once was any building dusted with a smidgen of snow, and it melted by the following day. Rain is difficult to photostroll in, at least with my current camera equipment.
Intuitively, we knew there was a lot of rain this year, and especially this month, and we were right:
Two passing storms overnight dumped enough rain to make this July the wettest one in the city’s history. They also knocked out power to tens of thousands of area residents and raised fears of more flooding.
The wave of storms, which spurred tornado and flood watches across the area, raised this month’s rainfall total to 9.75 inches, drowning the previous record of 9.56 inches set in July 1889.
And with more rainy weather on the way, the record is expected to keep climbing, forecasters said.
“Ten inches isn’t out of the question,” said Andrew Krein, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.
It could be even more.
A lot of rain wasn’t needed to smash the old July record.
As of early Wednesday afternoon, 9.05 inches had fallen this month at O’Hare International Airport, the official measuring station, about half an inch less than the record 9.56 inches that fell here in July 1889, according to the weather service. The city has averaged 3.51 inches of rain in July from 1871 through last year, weather service records show.
This July is now the ninth wettest month in Chicago history. The all-time monthly rainfall record is 17.1 inches, set in August 1987.
Arizona is burning. Texas, too. New Mexico is next. If you need a grim reminder that an already arid West is burning up and blowing away, here it is. As I write this, more than 700 square miles of Arizona and more than 4,300 square miles of Texas have been swept by monster wildfires. Consider those massive columns of acrid smoke drifting eastward as a kind of smoke signal warning us that a globally warming world is not a matter of some future worst-case scenario. It’s happening right here, right now.
Air tankers have been dropping fire retardant on what is being called the Wallow fire in Arizona and firefighting crews have been mobilized from across the West, but the fire remained “zero contained” for most of last week and only 18% so early in the new week, too big to touch with mere human tools like hoses, shovels, saws, and bulldozers. Walls of flame 100 feet high rolled over the land like a tsunami from Hades. The heat from such a fire is so intense and immense that it can create small tornadoes of red embers that cannot be knocked down and smothered by water or chemicals. These are not your grandfather’s forest fires.
Because the burn area in eastern Arizona is sparsely populated, damage to property so far has been minimal compared to, say, wildfire destruction in California, where the interface of civilization and wilderness is growing ever more crowded. However, the devastation to life in the fire zone, from microbiotic communities that hold soil and crucial nutrients in place to more popular species like deer, elk, bear, fish, and birds—already hard-pressed to cope with the rapidity of climate change—will be catastrophic.
The vastness of the American West holds rainforests, deserts, and everything in between, so weather patterns and moisture vary. Nonetheless, we have been experiencing a historic drought for about a decade in significant parts of the region. As topsoil dries out, microbial dynamics change and native plants either die or move uphill toward cooler temperatures and more moisture. Wildlife that depends on the seeds, nuts, leaves, shade, and shelter follows the plants—if it can.
I knew it was a moist year, the wettest since I’ve lived in these parts, and Tom Skilling concurs:
To date, 2011 has been a very wet year in Chicago and current high water levels in area rivers and streams attest to that. Since January 1, total precipitation (rain plus the water content of snow and sleet) as measured officially at O’Hare International Airport stands at 19.15 inches. That is 6.06 inches above the long-term normal of 13.09 inches and it ranks 2011 among the wettest four percent of all years in the January 1-May 31 period.
This year isn’t the wettest, but it’s close. Chicago’s precipitation records began in 1871 and four years in that 140-year data base delivered more precipitation, with 1975 (21.56 inches) being the wettest.
And yet the Climate Deniers still maintain there is nothing unusual about the 21st century weather; droughts in Texas, tornadoes devastating everywhere, floods on the Mississippi, etc., this means nothing because Al Gore is fat, and flies around on a private jet.
Baton Rouge? Yikes. I’ve been to Baton Rouge, and that was pretty steamy. But what is Baton Rouge going to be like?
Regardless, this Chicago initiative is pretty smart. Are other cities this far along? I assume any government run by Republicans will have their head in the sand, pretending that the earth’s climate isn’t changing, despite evidence.
The Windy City is preparing for a heat wave — a permanent one. City planners in Chicago have been told that as temperatures rise, some plants native to the region will die out. Climate scientists have told city planners that based on current trends, Chicago will feel more like Baton Rouge than a Northern metropolis before the end of this century.
So, Chicago is getting ready for a wetter, steamier future. Public alleyways are being repaved with materials that are permeable to water. The white oak, the state tree of Illinois, has been banned from city planting lists, and swamp oaks and sweet gum trees from the South have been given new priority. Thermal radar is being used to map the city’s hottest spots, which are then targets for pavement removal and the addition of vegetation to roofs. And air-conditioners are being considered for all 750 public schools, which until now have been heated but rarely cooled.
As the region warms, Chicago is expecting more frequent and extreme storms. In the last three years, the city has had two intense storms classified as 100-year events.
So the work planned for a six-point intersection on the South Side with flooding and other issues is a prototype. The sidewalk in front of the high school on Cermak Road has been widened to include planting areas that are lower than the street surface. This not only encourages more pedestrian traffic, but also provides shade and landscaping. These will be filled with drought-resistant plants like butterfly weed and spartina grasses that sponge up excess water and help filter pollutants like de-icing salts. In some places, unabsorbed water will seep into storage tanks beneath the streets so it can be used later for watering plants or in new decorative fountains in front of the high school.
The bike lanes and parking spaces being added along the street are covered with permeable pavers, a weave of pavement that allows 80 percent of rainwater to filter through it to the ground below. Already 150 alleyways have been remade in this way.
The light-reflecting pavement is Chicago’s own mix and includes recycled tires. Rubbery additives help the asphalt expand in heat without buckling and to contract without cracking.
And I know this would have been a drop in a bucket, considering, but still, would have been nice if it would have happened for reasons other than climate change:
Among the ideas rejected, Ms. Malec-McKenna said, were plans to immediately shut down local coal-powered energy plants — too much cost for too little payback.
It actually seems like nearly every day in April has either been rainy, or at least overcast, but I guess that’s a bit of an exaggeration. A bit. As Tom Skilling reported yesterday:
Rain-weary Chicagoans won’t find this hard to believe. April 2011 has produced 16 days of measurable rain—55 percent more than normal and the greatest number of measurably rainy April days here in the 50 years since 1961! A scan of Aprils back to 1871 indicates the opening 28 days of the month typically sees 11 measurable rains. “Measurable rain” is defined as any rainfall which reaches or exceeds 0.01-inch.
The month’s 4.56 inches of rain through Tuesday ranks as the 17th rainiest April in 140 years of records. While 124 have been drier, only 16 have been wetter.
Latest storm’s rain to “swipe” Chicago; heaviest totals expected east and south–but a flood watch posted for area rivers which are running near bankful
Heavy rains sweep northeastward into an area EAST of Chicago Wednesday. Lighter rains to the west will swipe the metro area from time to time with several tenths to as much as a half inch of rain at some locations. Flood watches have been hoisted for Chicago area river basins.
And today? Rain has been steady since I woke up, and doesn’t look like today will be sunny either.
Late update: didn’t realize quite how bad the weather is in the rest of the country. Puts things in perspective a little. I’ll take a few weeks of rain over massive flooding, tornados, or whatever else.
From the Chicago snow storm variously called SnOMG, Snowpocalypse 2011, Thundersnow1, Blizzard of 2011, yadda yadda. I foolheartedly went out to take some photos around midnight, and lasted about an hour. I haven’t yet processed many of my photos, but here are a few.
Click to embiggen, or click twice to view in Lightbox.
Streaming. Toned in Photoshop to compensate for the color of Chicago’s street lamps.
If Memory Serves Randolph Street, before it got plowed. These firemen stopped to give this guy a push:
Keep on Pushing After this car got stuck, it swerved a few more times and turned down Desplaines Street.
Visitors on Snowy Streets Some other foolhardy folks strolling down Canal Street.
Underneath the Overpass Lake Street. I lingered here a moment to catch my breath. Hard to walk in snow that comes up to your knees – every step is a challenge.
Blizzard hype can officially commence now An iPhone snapshot, using Hipstamatic.
Wind Swept Snow An iPhone snapshot, trying to capture the fiercely blowing winds.
First Blizzard Casualty The wind was blowing so hard, I couldn’t hold my iPhone still enough to focus. So blurry dead bird it is…Also notice there isn’t any snow on my balcony. Later in the evening, the wind died down a bit, and snow is now piled about two feet deep here. Also, the wind blew my barbeque grill nearly off the edge. Was able to salvage most of the parts, we’ll see if any committed suicide once spring rolls around.
Road Closed Wacker Drive, an iPhone snapshot.
SnOMG! The lens on my iPhone got caked in wet snow. Actually, my Nikon lens2 also got frozen, wouldn’t focus properly for a while until I put it inside my coat to thaw out.
Chicago Sun-Times building on Franklin. An iPhone snapshot.
Under cover Wacker Drive and Lake Street. Visibility was next to zero, and the wind wanted to separate me from my hats3. An iPhone snapshot.
Abandoned Cab The radio and windshield wipers were on, but the driver was nowhere to be seen, perhaps inside calling for assistance, or taken to a hospital. According to news reports, the cab was hit by a train (tracks in the background).
there was quite a lot of thunder and lightning right in the heart of the storm [↩]
Proving once again that Illinois elected a moron for our Senator, Mark Kirk blamed Al Gore’s divorce for the lack of climate change bill in Congress. Yeah, I know, it doesn’t seem to make much sense to me either.
Gail Collins writes, in part:
Al Gore, on the phone between plane flights Wednesday, of course, pointed to global warming. “Here’s a basic fact,” he said. “There is about 4 percent more water vapor in the atmosphere today than there was in 1970.” That extra water, he said, is because of warmer oceans and warmer air, and is returning to earth as extra-heavy rain and snow.
Remind me again why we aren’t fighting global warming? It’s win-win. Even if all the hordes of scientists are wrong in believing that human beings are causing climate change, the remedies would still be good for the environment and for energy independence.
…We could blame President Obama for doing health care reform instead of global warming, but Congress is even more afraid of the energy lobby than the insurance companies. The president seems to be planning to do what he can by regulation. That prospect makes Republicans so angry that they’re introducing legislation to prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency from using its powers under the Clean Air Act to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Obviously, there is nothing more nefarious than having the agency in charge of protecting the environment use the clean air law to keep harmful gases out of the atmosphere.
The Senate sponsor is James Inhofe of Oklahoma, who recently claimed that the supercold winter proves that theories about global warming are “an intellectual fraud.” We could blame Senator Inhofe, but he really isn’t all that satisfactory a villain. It’d sort of be like blaming nuclear proliferation on gophers.
Another opponent of E.P.A. action, Senator Mark Kirk of Illinois, used to be aligned with the environmentalists — until he left his moderate House district to run in a Republican Senate primary and abruptly switched positions. Defending himself in a recent interview with Greenwire, Kirk claimed that there was no longer real support for a climate change bill because of “the personal and political collapse of Vice President Gore.”
In other words, environmental warrior Al Gore is responsible for the weather, as well as the pathetic wimpiness of Mark Kirk.