Climate: U.S. sees coldest winter since 1985

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In March, record cold readings outnumbered record highs by five to one

A tale of two winters, east and west. Map courtesy NOAA.

A tale of two winters, east and west. Map courtesy NOAA.

Staff Report

FRISCO — Federal climate experts this week confirmed what a lot of people already knew instinctively — a long, cold winter stretched well into March in many parts of the country, with the average monthly temperature for the month coming in at 1 degree Fahrenheit below the 20th century average.

Across the country, there were five times as many record cold daily maximum and minimum temperatures (5822) as record warm daily maximum and minimum temperatures (1149) — an anomaly in an era when warm temperature records have consistently outnumbered cold records for months and years at a time. Continue reading

Study: Little chance that global warming is natural

Statistical analysis of temperature data affirms climate models

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Warmer than average temperatures prevailed across most of the globe in March 2014.

Staff Report

FRISCO — A new statistical analysis of temperature records dating back to 1500 suggests it’s more than 99 percent certain that the past century of global warming is caused by the emission of heat-trapping, industrial-age greenhouse gases. The study was published online April 6 in the journal Climate Dynamics.

In a press release, the McGill University researchers said the study doesn’t use complex computer models to estimate the effects of greenhouse-gas emissions. Instead, it examines historical data to assess the competing hypothesis that warming over the past century is due to natural long-term variations in temperature. The results all but rule out  the possibility that global warming in the industrial era is just a natural fluctuation in the earth’s climate. Continue reading

NASA: Noctilucent clouds on the increase

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NASA’s Aeronomy of Ice in the Mesosphere, or AIM, mission captured this image of noctilucent clouds over the poles in 2010. By compiling data from several missions at once, researchers have now created a record of the clouds at lower latitudes as well. Image Credit: NASA/AIM

FRISCO — If you’ve been seeing more strange clouds that glow at night, it’s not your imagination. The occurrence of those types of clouds increased between 2002 and 2011, according to a new study analyzing satellite data from a variety of sources. Combining the information and using computer models, the NASA scientists found the greatest increase in  areas between 40 and 50 degrees north latitude, a region which covers the northern third of the United Sates and the lowest parts of Canada. The research was published online in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres on March 18, 2014.

These changes correlate to a decrease in temperature at the peak height where noctilucent clouds exist in the atmosphere. Temperatures at this height do not match temperatures at lower levels – indeed, the coldest place in the atmosphere is at this height during summertime over the poles – but a change there certainly does raise questions about change in the overall climate system.

“Noctilucent clouds occur at altitudes of 50 miles above the surface — so high that they can reflect light from the sun back down to Earth,” said James Russell, an atmospheric and planetary scientist at Hampton University in Hampton, Va., and first author on the paper. “AIM and other research has shown that in order for the clouds to form, three things are needed:  very cold temperatures, water vapor and meteoric dust. The meteoric dust provides sites that the water vapor can cling to until the cold temperatures cause water ice to form.”

To study long-term changes in noctilucent clouds, Russell and his colleagues used historical temperature and water vapor records and a validated model to translate this data into information on the presence of the clouds. They used temperature data from 2002 to 2011 from NASA’s Thermosphere Ionosphere Mesosphere Energetics and Dynamics, or TIMED, mission and water vapor data from NASA’s Aura mission from 2005 to 2011. They used a model previously developed by Mark Hervig, a co-author on the paper at GATS, Inc., in Driggs, Idaho.

The team tested the model by comparing its output to observations from the Osiris instrument on the Swedish Odin satellite, which launched in 2001, and the SHIMMER instrument on the U.S. Department of Defense STPSat-1 mission, both of which observed low level noctilucent clouds over various time periods during their flights. The output correlated extremely well to the actual observations, giving the team confidence in their model.

Russell and his team will research further to determine if the noctilucent cloud frequency increase and accompanying temperature decrease over the 10 years could be due to a reduction in the sun’s energy and heat, which naturally occurred as the solar output went from solar maximum in 2002 to solar minimum in 2009.

“As the sun goes to solar minimum, the solar heating of the atmosphere decreases, and a cooling trend would be expected,” said Russell.

 

Was the Titanic just unlucky?

Study says iceberg conditions not unusually severe in 1912

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Bergs, baby!

Staff Report

FRISCO — The Titanic’s fateful encounter with a North Atlantic iceberg wasn’t a result of spring tides, and there weren’t an exceptionally high number of bergs in the North Atlantic in 1912, UK researchers said this week.

With the April 15 anniversary of the ocean liner’s sinking at hand, the University of Sheffield geographers say that, by scrutinizing historic iceberg data, they can dispel the theory that the Titanic was unlucky for sailing in a year with an exceptional number of icebergs. The risk of encountering a berg is actually much greater now, due to global warming. Continue reading

Climate: Arid lands also help sequester carbon

The Grand Canyon, bberwyn photo.

The Grand Canyon, bberwyn photo.

Researchers surprised by findings from Mojave desert

Staff Report

FRISCO — The world’s arid regions may be able to take up more carbon than previously thought, according to a new study based on detailed soil and carbon measurements from the Mojave Desert.

The research, led by a Washington State University biologist, will help develop a more accurate global carbon budget — how much carbon remains in the atmosphere as CO2, contributing to global warming, and how much gets stored in the land or ocean in other carbon-containing forms. Continue reading

Climate: Historic paintings offer atmospheric clues

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Many of J.M. Turner’s famed impressionist sky scenes were painted shortly after the 1815 eruption of the Tambora Volcano in Indonesia.

Study traces pollution levels by analyzing 500 years of art

Staff Report

FRISCO — Looking closely at some of the world’s great paintings from the past 500 years has enabled scientists to track the history of atmospheric pollution, based on the colors the artists used to depict the sky.

For example, when he Tambora volcano in Indonesia erupted in 1815, painters in Europe could see the colors of the sky changing. The volcanic ash and gas spewed into the atmosphere traveled the world and, as these aerosol particles scattered sunlight, they produced bright red and orange sunsets in Europe for up to three years after the eruption.

Continue reading

Climate: Ready for more intense rainstorms?

Western Colorado expected to see increase in heavy rainfall events

The map at right shows predicted changes in the annual number of days of extreme rainfall (defined as rainfall totals in excess of the historic 98th percentile) across the United States by 2041-2070 as compared to 1971-2000 if greenhouse gases continue to increase at a high rate (A2 scenario).

This map shows predicted changes in the annual number of days of extreme rainfall (defined as rainfall totals in excess of the historic 98th percentile) across the United States by 2041-2070 as compared to 1971-2000 if greenhouse gases continue to increase at a high rate.

Staff Report

FRISCO — There may not be an observed trend of more frequent, intense rainstorms in Colorado yet, but that could change in coming decades, according to a national climate assessment.

The 2009 federal climate study shows that heavy downpours have increased in frequency and intensity during the last 50 years and models predict that downpours will intensify even more as greenhouse gas emissions and the planet’s temperature continue to rise. By mid-century, some places could experience two or more additional days per year on which the rainfall totals exceed the heaviest rains historically experienced in the area. Continue reading

Western streamflow forecasts a mixed bag

Severe drought continues in Southwest

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California, Arizona and New Mexico reporting very dry conditions.

By Summit VoiceFRISCO — Snowpack across the West is still somewhat of mixed bag in this no-Niño winter, but February storms did help bolster water supplies across the northern tier of states, according to the monthly update from USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.

East of the Continental Divide as well as parts of Washington, northern Oregon, northern Idaho and western Montana are now forecast to have near-normal or above normal water supplies, according to the forecast from the NRCS National Water and Climate Center. Continue reading

Near-record snowpack in parts of Colorado River Basin

A faint sheen of color above Buffalo Mountain marked sunset, with more moisture rolling in from the West.

A faint sheen of color above Buffalo Mountain marked sunset, with more moisture rolling in from the West.

Colorado’s north-central mountains favored by this winter’s storm track

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — Summit County remained a target for above average precipitation in February, with both official weather stations reporting surplus snowfall for the month. The Upper Blue in particular benefited from the storm track, with the snowpack now approaching record levels.

To date, the snowpack  in the Blue River Basin is the third highest on record, according to National Weather Service meteorologist Chad Gimmestad, who said there is a moderate potential for spring flooding in the basin. Continue reading

Climate: February 2014 cooler than average in U.S.

Dry conditions persist in far West

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February 2014 emperatures varied widely across the country.

Staff Report

FRISCO — The average February temperature across contiguous United States was well below the 20th century average. With an average reading of 32.2 degrees Fahrenheit (1.6 degrees below average), last month will go down in the books at the 37th-coldest February on record, the National Climatic Data Center reported in its regular monthly update.

The winter season overall (December to February) was 1.0 degrees Fahrenheit below average, making it the coldest winter since 2009-2010. This winter stood in sharp contrast to the last two winters, and most winters of the past two decades, when temperatures were predominately warmer than the 20th century average, the climate data center said. Read the full report here. Continue reading

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