1) A whirlpool of frigid air known as a “polar vortex” will pummel parts of the country with temperatures that could break decades-old records with wind chill warnings stretching from Montana to Alabama.
For a big chunk of the Midwest, the subzero temperatures were moving in behind another winter wallop: More than a foot of snow and high winds that made traveling treacherous. Officials closed schools in cities including Chicago, St. Louis and Milwaukee and warned residents to stay indoors and avoid the frigid cold altogether.
The forecast is extreme: 32 below zero in Fargo, N.D.; minus 21 in Madison, Wis.; and 15 below zero in Minneapolis, Indianapolis and Chicago. Wind chills — what it feels like outside when high winds are factored into the temperature — could drop into the minus 50s and 60s.
It hasn’t been this cold for almost two decades in many parts of the country. Frostbite and hypothermia can set in quickly at 15 to 30 below zero.
Southern states were bracing for possible record temperatures, too, with single-digit highs expected Tuesday in Georgia and Alabama.
Temperatures plunged into the 20s early Monday in north Georgia, the frigid start of dangerously cold temperatures for the first part of the week. The Georgia Department of Transportation said its crews were prepared to respond to reports of black ice in north Georgia.
Temperatures were expected to dip into the 30s in parts of Florida on Tuesday. Though Florida Citrus Mutual spokesman Andrew Meadows said it must be at 28 degrees or lower four hours straight for fruit to freeze badly, fruits and vegetables were a concern in other parts of the South.
With two freezing nights ahead, Louisiana citrus farmers could lose any fruit they cannot pick in time.
-— ’Polar Vortex’ Pushes Subzero Temps into Midwest; Big Freeze on Tap for South, weather.com/Associated Press, January 6 2014
2) This very expensive GLOBAL WARMING bullshit has got to stop. Our planet is freezing, record low temps,and our GW scientists are stuck in ice
— Donald Trump, Twitter, January 1 2014
3) The global warming crew, this is so classic. I just love it. They’re going down to Antarctica — the South Pole, for those of you in Rio Linda — and they’re gonna prove that there’s so much global warming that there isn’t any ice, or very little ice, that it’s melting. It’s a cruise. And they get stuck in the ice far, far away from their intended destination. So icebreakers are called in. The icebreakers get stuck!
There was a ChiCom icebreaker that got stuck. They needed all these fossil fuel, gigantic ships to rescue them after a week. And every news story — every one of them! Let me put it this way: Not one news story makes the connection that these are a bunch of hypocrites. Not one notes the irony. They just talk about a brave bunch of scientists needed to be rescued in Antarctica. Meanwhile, we have more record lows last year than record highs — and in Green Bay for football this Sunday? Oh-ho!
The forecast is 3 degrees for the high and minus 15 for the low. The wind? Oh, the wind is gonna blow enough that there will be a wind chill. I haven’t seen actual numbers on the wind chill. Now, I don’t expect this to happen, but I won’t be surprised if the league postpones the game ‘cause it’s just too cold. And it’s gonna be cold in other parts of the country, too. But my point is, I would love to see Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, and Hillary sitting outside on the 50 yard line of Green Bay the whole game, and then afterwards do a presentation for us all on global warming. Sit there the whole game outside.
—- Rush Limbaugh, The Rush Limbaugh Show, January 2 2014
4) As is their seasonal wont, here come the climate skeptics. All of this is all wrong in ways that have all been explained before. So just a few brief observations:
1. Statements about climate trends must be based on, er, trends. Not individual events or occurrences. Weather is not climate, and anecdotes are not statistics.
2. Global warming is actually expected to increase “heavy precipitation in winter storms,” and for the Northern Hemisphere, there is evidence that these storms are already more frequent and intense, according to the draft U.S. National Climate Assessment.
3. Antarctica is a very cold place. But global warming is affecting it as predicted: Antarctica is losing ice overall, according to the latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. However, sea ice is a different matter than land-based or glacial ice. Antarctic sea ice is increasing, and moreover, the reason for this may be climate change! (For more, read here.)
Finally, just one last thing: When it’s winter on Earth, it’s also summer on Earth … somewhere else. Thus, allow us to counter anecdotal evidence about cold weather with more anecdotal evidence: It’s blazing hot in Australia, with temperatures in some regions set to possibly soar above 120 degrees Fahrenheit in the coming days.
—- Chris Mooney, “Winter does not disprove global warming,” Slate.com, January 4 2014
5) Temperatures in parts of Australia are set to reach almost 50C [122 F] in the coming days, with total fire bans in place in northern regions of South Australia and a week-long heatwave enveloping Queensland.
The Bureau of Meteorology has forecast the temperature to hit 49C [120 F] in the South Australian town of Moomba on Thursday, while Oodnadatta, which reached 47.7C [117 F] on Wednesday, will warm to 48C [118 F].
South Australia’s Country Fire Service has rated fire conditions for the north-west and north-east regions of the state as “catastrophic”, with winds from former tropical cyclone Christine exacerbating conditions.
Regional Queensland towns are also having to cope with prolonged temperatures above 40C [104 F], with Mount Isa hitting 45C [113 F] and Birdsville expected to reach 48C [188 F] on Thursday. According to Weatherzone, Roma had its hottest day since records began in 1870, reaching 44C [111 F].
Weatherzone said an “intense air mass” was centred over northern NSW and western Queensland, with towns including Longreach and Dubbo also expected to endure temperatures in the mid-40s.
The Northern Territory has been also caught up in the heatwave, with both Alice Springs and Tennant Creek expected to reach 43C [109 F] on Thursday.
The bureau is expected to announce on Friday that 2013 had been Australia’s warmest year, with average temperatures trending about 1C above the long-term average.
— Oliver Millman, “Heatwave: temperatures climb towards 50C in parts of Australia,” The Guardian, January 1 2014
6) As expected for the past month or so, most of California and much of Oregon have closed out 2013 as the driest calendar year on record.
The statistics speak for themselves. Not only has it been the driest calendar year on record for the state as a whole, but also some locations have surpassed their previous dry records by astonishing margins. Here are some of the record reports issued by various NWS sites from around the state:
Callistoga —- 2013 Total Rainfall: 6.13” /// Previous Record Low: 12.43” (1976) /// Normal Rainfall: 40.87”
Gilroy —- 2013 Total Rainfall: 2.56” /// Previous Record Low: 11.18” (2007) /// Normal Rainfall: 20.54”
Napa —- 2013 Total Rainfall: 6.74” /// Previous Record Low: 10.39” (1939) /// Normal Rainfall: 27.71”
Oakland —- 2013 Total Rainfall: 4.24” /// Previous Record Low: 10.02” (1976) /// Normal Rainfall: 23.96”
In addition, Sacramento (with 6.12”), Eureka (with 16.53”) and Redding (with 12.82”) also experienced their driest calendar years on record.
The latest Sierra snow measurements taken on January 3rd indicate that the Sierra snowpack water content is currently just 12% of normal for this time of the year, the 3rd lowest level since such measurements began in 1920. The only drier years at this point of the ‘wet’ season were 1977 and 1960.
—— Christopher C. Burt, “Driest Year on Record for California, Oregon,” Weatherunderground.com, January 3 2014
7) Much of the Florida shoreline was once too cold for the tropical trees called mangroves, but the plants are now spreading northward at a rapid clip, scientists reported Monday. That finding is the latest indication that global warming, though still in its early stages, is already leading to ecological changes so large they can be seen from space.
Along a 50-mile stretch of the central Florida coast south of St. Augustine, the amount of mangrove forest doubled between 1984 and 2011, the scientists found after analyzing satellite images. They said the hard winter freezes that once kept mangroves in check had essentially disappeared in that region, allowing the plants to displace marsh grasses that are more tolerant of cold weather.
In one respect, the situation resembles the change in climate that has allowed beetles to ravage millions of acres of pine trees in the American West and Canada, and more recently to gain a foothold in New Jersey.
In both the beetle and mangrove cases, scientists have found that it is not the small rise in average temperatures that matters, nor the increase in heat waves. Rather, it is the disappearance of bitter winter nights that once controlled the growth of cold-sensitive organisms.
“I think this idea of tipping points in the earth’s ecosystem is absolutely critical,” said Kyle C. Cavanaugh, a researcher with Brown University and the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in Edgewater, Md., who led the new paper, released on Monday by the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “The changes in temperature can be pretty small, but once you cross a threshold, you can get rather dramatic changes in the ecosystem.”
Though scientists have long warned of the potential environmental consequences of unchecked global warming, the pace and scale of some recent developments have surprised them, given that the earth has warmed by only about 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit since the 19th century. It is expected to warm substantially more than that over the coming century. Yet already, Dr. Cavanaugh said, “the changes are happening faster than we expected.”
The northward spread of mangroves poses a more complicated set of ecological questions, however, than some other changes linked to global warming, such as the deaths of pine forests or coral reefs.
The mangrove forests that fringe shorelines in the tropics are among the earth’s environmental treasures, serving as spawning grounds and nurseries for fish and as habitat for a wide array of organisms. Yet in many places, mangroves are critically endangered by shoreline development and other human activities.
In a zone of 24,000 acres capable of hosting either type of plant, mangroves took over some 4,200 acres from 1984 to 2011, the researchers found, with the most drastic gains at the northern end of the range.
The scientists pursued several explanations, including sea level rise and average temperature changes, and none of them panned out — until they looked at the change in winter cold extremes. The evidence suggested that cold snaps of 25 degrees Fahrenheit or below would kill off mangrove seedlings, a finding supported by laboratory research.
Records from weather stations in the coastal towns of Titusville, Vero Beach and Fort Pierce showed that it got that cold several times in the 1980s. But the last bitter freeze in central Florida occurred in 1989, and cold sufficient to kill off mangrove seedlings has not occurred at all in recent years.
So a climatic change that allows mangroves to thrive in new areas might well be seen as a happy development. Yet as they spread in Florida and elsewhere, the mangroves are displacing salt marshes, which are also ecologically valuable and also under threat from development. Their ecology is markedly different from that of mangroves, raising new questions about what will be lost if marsh grasses are killed off by the invading trees.
“We can’t put a price tag or a value on what is happening,” said Daniel S. Gruner, a biologist at the University of Maryland who took part in the research. “We’re not saying it’s good or bad. It’s just what the data show.”
—- Justin Gillis, “Spared Winter Freeze, Florida’s Mangroves Are Marching North,” New York Times, December 30 2013.