March 2017 (Austin’s hottest) was world’s 2nd-hottest on record, NASA scientists say

Global map of the March 2017 LOTI (land-ocean temperature index) anomaly shows that much of the United States was also relatively warmer, but Alaska was instead cooler than the 1951-1980 base period. Photo provided by NASA

 

Last month was not only Austin’s hottest March on record, the third month of 2017 was the second-warmest March for the whole planet since modern record-keeping began 137 years ago.

Scientists at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York analyzed global temperatures and found that last month was 1.12 degrees Celsius warmer than the average March temperature 1951-1980.

RELATED: Warmest March in Austin extends stretch of above-normal temps 

The hottest March on record was March 2016, when scientists found global temperatures 1.27 degrees Celsius warmer than the 1951-1980 base average temperature.

Although March 2017’s temperature was 0.15 degrees Celsius cooler than the year before, the month was 0.2 degrees Celsius warmer than any previous March, scientists said.

For those skeptical of the numbers, NASA said its monthly analysis by the GISS team “is assembled from publicly available data acquired by about 6,300 meteorological stations around the world, ship- and buoy-based instruments measuring sea surface temperature, and Antarctic research stations.”

NASA does note that “monthly analyses are sometimes updated when additional data becomes available, and the results are subject to change.”

March 2017 was the warmest on record at Camp Mabry, Austin’s main weather station, just edging out March 1907, Lower Colorado River Authority meteorologist Bob Rose told the Statesman’s Marty Toohey earlier this month.

The record average of 68.6 degrees in spring’s first month followed a winter that was also the warmest on record.

Toohey reported that the record at Camp Mabry for the warmest first three months of the year had been 61.5 degrees, also set in 1907. The average temperature for the first three months of this year was 63 degrees at Mabry.

At Austin’s other weather-monitoring station, Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, the average three-month temperature this year has been 61.9 degrees, surpassing 1990’s previous airport record of 59.6 degrees..

“It has been the warmest first three months start to the year on record,” Rose said. “And not just by a little, but by a lot.”

It’s time to talk about whether summer will be hot as hell

Musician Woode Wood greets joggers on the Butler HIke-and-Bike Trail in Zilker Park on Monday, when temperatures set a record high of 90 degrees. Photo by Ralph Barrera/American-Statesman

Earlier this year, when it was becoming apparent that Central Texas was experiencing its warmest winter on record, meteorologists gave a note of solace. The good news is, they said, is that there is little correlation between how hot winter gets and how hot summer will be.

Bob Rose is ready to take some of the good out of that news.

In a video blog entry titled “Will we see 100 degrees by April?”, the Lower Colorado River Authority meteorologist says that the warmer-than-normal temperatures will likely continue into at least early summer. On Tuesday, for instance, the temperature will probably come up just shy of 90 degrees. In February, more than half the days surpassed 80 degrees (!!!), he said, and this March was the warmest March on record at Austin’s main weather station, Camp Mabry — making the first quarter of this year the warmest three months to start a year on record.

Weather patterns shaped by the jet stream appear likely to continue “one of the warmest starts to spring on record,” Rose said.

“The big message about spring and early summer is that temperatures will be much warmer than normal,” he said.

To answer the question posed by the title of Bob Rose’s blog, which was published in late March: No, 100-degree temperatures have not arrived in Central Texas yet. They appear to still be a ways off.

But, Rose said, with long-term temperatures seeming likely to run at least 2 degrees to 3 degrees warmer than average, “Unfortunately, 90-degree temperatures aren’t that far away.”

Camp Mabry set a temperature record on Monday when it hit 90 degrees.

How our not-so-polar winter polarized Republicans, Democrats on climate change

Photo by Ralph Barrera

This past winter was the warmest on record in Austin, a remarkable period during which more than a quarter of the days at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport topped 80 degrees. (!!!) Such an unusual winter was lovely but, in the context of global climate change, naturally raised the question of what to make of it.

A recent study suggests Democrats and Republicans see such weather quite differently – and that such weather tends to make them double down on their natural inclination to accept or reject climate science.

The study, “Is it hot in here or is it just me? Temperature anomalies and political polarization over global warming in the American public,” found that “political polarization over global warming is more pronounced in states experiencing temperature anomalies.” The study was conducted in 2013-14, so it doesn’t take this winter into account. And some findings will not exactly surprise Texans.

Yes, the research confirmed, conservatives are generally leery of climate science, liberals generally accepting its conclusions – and it may all be the media’s fault.

Researcher Jeremiah Bohr of the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh did unearth some potentially interesting findings, though. Chiefly, unusually hot or cold weather intensifies one’s predisposition toward climate science: “Republicans are less likely to conform to the scientific consensus on global warming during very cold or very warm periods while Democrats display the opposite trend.”

Bohr also found that, among Republicans, skepticism of climate science is a uniting force that grows stronger as the temperature diverges from the norm. In a typical year, moderate Republicans tend to be less inclined to reject climate science than their tea party peers. But during unusual weather, warm or cold, the views of the center-right and the right converge. (Perhaps it could even bring House Speaker Joe Strauss and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick together.)

Per Bohr: “… we see that both kinds of Republicans converge in their global warming beliefs during extreme temperature anomalies but diverge during more seasonable temperature conditions.”

Bohr also found that media framing could feed the political hardening of opinion during weirdly warm or cold seasons. During those seasons, climate science tends to get more coverage. (Hi, everybody!) And the coverage, Bohr wrote, tends to be filtered through the lens of how liberal or conservative an outlet is, “discount(ing) or affirm(ing) temperature anomaly as an indication of global warming.”

“This,” Bohr continues, “could plausibly explain why disagreement between Democrats and Republicans widens during periods of greater temperature anomaly, as Democrats are likely exposed to greater amounts of opinion within the scientific mainstream while Republicans are likely exposed to disproportionate amounts of climate contrarian messages.”

(Commence jabs at CNN, Fox News and MSNBC in 3, 2, 1 … and now, on to the American-Statesman in 3, 2, 1 … can someone lend me a very tiny violin?)

For what it’s worth: Climate scientists say that seasons like this past winter are not, in and of themselves, proof that the planet is warming and that man is contributing to that warming. But state Climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon said this winter’s temperatures are in line with a long-term warming that Texas has been experiencing since the 1970s, a time Nielsen-Gammon said was unusually cool. University of Texas climate researcher Kerry Cook told the American-Statesman that this winter was also the kind of winter Central Texans can expect more of – along with more extremely hot days, drought and sudden deluges.

The comments section is now open for business. Y’all have fun.

Should we worry about the great winter weather?

Photo by Ralph Barrera
Photo by Ralph Barrera

What should Texans make of this freakishly warm winter that just ended – particularly those worried about global climate change?

The winter was the warmest on record in Central Texas. It also was unusually warm in many other parts of the country. A recent Washington Post blog entry gave an impassioned plea for people to not feel guilty about enjoying such weather in places where winter was mild.

Maybe the lesson, as the Post blog argued, is that climate change could be a mixed bag — a conclusions with which Texas climate experts agree.

By itself, the winter was not proof of global climate change. But the winter temperatures were in line with what climate scientists say Texas will probably experience over the coming decades, University of Texas climate scientist Kerry Cook said.

Cook, asked by the American-Statesman to put this winter into a climate-change context, said it will probably happen more often. Climate models show the average winter temperature in Texas rising by 2 degrees by 2050 (with summer rising by nearly 4 degrees). Temperatures will still vary from year to year, of course; some years will be unusually hot, some unusually cold, some unremarkable.

But a warmer climate is a more energetic climate, with more extremes: more extremely pleasant winters, more extremely hot summers, even more extremely hot days. (The best climate models show the number of 100-degree days in an average Central Texas year doubling by 2050, from 13 now to 26.)

Another thought to keep in mind as you enjoy spring-like weather that people in Boston, Minneapolis and Seattle would envy, were they not too busy trying to keep warm: Central Texas is probably in for other kinds of extreme weather. The average summer rainfall totals are expected to drop 10 percent to 15 percent between now and 2050. And slow soaking rainfall will probably become less common, according to the climate models, while deluges – the kind that tend to produce flooding – will probably become more common.

Even so, people should not think of this winter as a gift that Central Texans will soon have to pay for. A warm winter does not mean a hellish summer is particularly likely, as there is “very little correlation” between winter and summer temperatures, state climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon told the American-Statesman.

The Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang also sought to assuage misgivings about the warm winter in its blog post. It argued that “feeling sad about it, while well-intended, is not necessary,” adding that the occasional “warm winter days are fortunate aspects of our climate, and their increase is one of few positive effects of climate change.”

The Post’s post also noted a New York Times piece about warm weather helping peoples’ mental well-being, as well as highlighting a study in Nature that found that “virtually all Americans are now experiencing the much milder winters they prefer.”

Even Katharine Hayhoe, the Texas Tech University climate scientist who has warned Austin of more extreme weather to come, told The Atlantic recently that people should enjoy the upside of climate change because enjoying it “doesn’t make it any better or worse than it would be otherwise.”

Perhaps this is the time to double down on one of the popular climate-change metaphors. A warmer planet may be a mixed bag – but even a mixed bag could hold more bad things than good. So for now, enjoy the early arrival of the bluebonnets.

Austin ends warmest winter on record, meteorologists say

 

Austin just experienced the warmest winter on record.

Photo by Jay Janner
Photo by Jay Janner

As the 26 days of 80-degree-plus temperatures and already blooming wildflowers can attest, this winter – which ended Tuesday for meteorologists (but not for astronomers, who are waiting for the spring equinox later this month) – was freakishly warm. The average temperature at Austin’s Camp Mabry, 58.6 degrees, was nearly a full degree higher than the next-warmest winter season, the winter of 1999-2000.

In only one previous year were freezing temperatures banished earlier than this winter. Though no formal data on footwear was readily available, this winter appears to have seen the most widespread use of flips-flops in memory, experts say.

“We’ve just really had no winter,” said Troy Kimmel, a University of Texas meteorologist and instructor. “We saw winter on the calendar, but we didn’t see it in real life.”

Perhaps this will lend perspective: the 26 days at or above 80 degrees this winter at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport smashes the previous record of 16, according to the National Weather Service.

At Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, this winter was the second-warmest on record, according to the weather service. Kimmel adds this caveat, though: It’s more difficult to draw historical conclusions from the airport’s data because it kept its historical records slightly differently until the mid-1990s, when it became a civilian facility.

The warmest winter on record ended with the warmest February on record at Camp Mabry. The average temperature was 9.1 degrees higher than the month’s historical average at Camp Mabry, according to weather service data. This February’s average temperature was 64.5 degrees – remember, that’s not the average high, that’s the average across the entire day – and was more than 2 degrees higher than the next-warmest, in February 1999.

This was also the warmest winter in many parts of Texas, including Houston. That city finished with 22 days above 80 degrees – meaning a quarter of winter was above 80 degrees, Houston-based meteorologist Matt Lanza said.

To commemorate winter’s end, Lanza Tweeted out a picture of a tombstone rendered in the pixilated style of the old Oregon Trail computer game, bearing the inscription: “Here lies winter 2016-17, tried to ford the atmospheric river and lost.”

Weather Channel to Breitbart: ‘Stop using our video to mislead Americans’ on global warming

“Next time you’re thinking about publishing a cherry-picked article, try consulting a scientist first,” the Weather Channel’s Kait Parker said in a video responding directly to a recent Breitbart News article asserting that “global land temperatures are plummeting.”

via the Weather Channel
via the Weather Channel

The Breitbart piece, which made its rounds on social media (including a notable tweet by U.S. House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, chaired by U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, a Republican who represents parts of Austin), uses a Weather Channel video featuring Parker discussing the tendency for temperatures to drop during a La Niña weather pattern. Before breaking down Breitbart’s assertions intended to discredit global warming, the Weather Channel clarifies, “we would prefer to focus on our usual coverage of weather and climate science, in this case we felt it important to add our two cents.”

READ: El Niño to become La Niña, meaning fall will be hotter, drier

Parker goes on to say that Breitbart used land temperatures in supporting its claim that the Earth isn’t warming, when in fact, “water is where we store most of our heat energy” and looking at sea temperatures you would arrive at a record high for November 2016.

“Science doesn’t care about your opinion,” Parker says of the “fact; no, fact, not opinion, that the Earth is warming.” Watch the full video above. You can read the Breitbart piece here, and the Weather Channel response here.

Keep Austin’s ever-changing forecast here.

This August was the hottest one on record, NASA finds

NASA has confirmed what your back sweat was telling you all month long — August was another record-setting month when it comes to high temperatures. Since temperature record keeping began nearly 140 years ago, 2016 officially had the hottest August of them all.

Erika Kluthe, left, and Alexis Scott, cool off in the splash pad at Metz Park during 99-degree weather Monday afternoon August 8, 2016. "It's the only way to be outside in this heat. It's oppressive until you get in the water" Scott said JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Erika Kluthe, left, and Alexis Scott, cool off in the splash pad at Metz Park during 99-degree weather Monday afternoon August 8, 2016. “It’s the only way to be outside in this heat. It’s oppressive until you get in the water” Scott said JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

While July is usually the hottest month of the year, this year’s August tied with July 2016 for the warmest month ever recorded. August 2016’s temperature was 0.29 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the previous record-holding August, 2014.

August isn’t special, however. The month is following a trend that each month since last October has achieved: 11 consecutive months since October 2015 have set high-temperature records.

READ: Austin’s hottest day of 2016 also 8th day of triple-digit temperatures

As the director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, Gavin Schmidt, says, “Monthly rankings, which vary by only a few hundredths of a degree, are inherently fragile.” Instead, Schmidt stresses that the most helpful information comes from ” long-term trends.”

Read more about the record-keeping, compiled by information from “6,300 meteorological stations around the world,” here: data.giss.nasa.gov, and keep up with your daily temperatures with the American-Statesman’s weather blog.

How weather in Texas directly affects butterfly populations elsewhere

Ricardo B. Brazziell/American-Statesman 4/21/12 Naomi Levy,6, gets a closer look with a couple of Monarch butterflies as she visits the butterfly house and garden center during the Insecta Fiesta at the Texas Natural Science Center, in Austin Texas on Saturday, April 21, 2012.
Ricardo B. Brazziell/American-Statesman 4/21/12 Naomi Levy,6, gets a closer look with a couple of Monarch butterflies as she visits the butterfly house and garden center during the Insecta Fiesta at the Texas Natural Science Center, in Austin Texas on Saturday, April 21, 2012.

According to a new scientific study, Texas weather dictates a little more than how much you can expect to sweat on a given day. In what’s being referred to as the “Texas butterfly effect,” a new model of forecasting organisms’ responses to climate change shows that the weather in Texas in the spring directly affects the number of monarch butterflies in the Midwest come summer.

Featured in a recent issue “Global Ecology and Biogeography” and conducted by researchers from Michigan State University, the study found that factors like “violent storms and flooding in Texas” can negatively effect the number of threatened monarchs that successfully migrate from Mexico to states such as Ohio and Illinois.

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So what kind of spring do we need in Texas to ensure a large number of happy, alive butterflies? According to ScienceDaily, a cooler spring with above average precipitation means a higher monarch population.

The model also determined that the prevalence of milkweed plants, what monarchs lay their eggs on, could influence population numbers.

READ: Help monarchs by planting milkweed — but make sure it’s native

According to biologist and co-author of the study Elise Zipkin, more accurate population estimates can help scientists in determining how climate change and extreme weather affects wildlife populations and, accordingly, how better to protect them.

READ: Austin biologist wants Texas to do more for Monarchs

Because of monarchs’ steadily declining numbers over the past decade, they have recently been considered for addition to the Endangered Species Act, Scientific American reports.

Maybe it’s time to rethink what ‘extreme’ means in Texas weather

If you think the last five years of weather were extreme in Texas — with the pendulum has been swinging between drought and deluge without much in between — you may want to rethink what extreme means.

State climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon says there is a decent chance those swings will be the norm over the next few years. A inkling of what that might be like: in 2010-11, Texas had the driest 12-month stretch on record, while 2015 was the wettest year on record. And even within that wet 2015, the state swung from drought to downpour to drought to downpour. We had what many meteorologists called a “mini-drought.”

Even this El Niño season, which was supposed to bring cooler and wetter weather than usual, has been a sort of pendulum. It started with an extraordinarily wet fall and early winter that brought major flooding on back-to-back weekends in the Austin area. Then the skies dried up, even as El Niño persisted. Austin was in the midst of its fourth-driest start to the year in history before the overnight rain late February rain ushered in another wet period and a spring that has, with the exception of a few hot spells, been relatively wet and cool, as El Niños tend to be. That is likely to continue into summer, said Nielsen-Gammon, a professor of atmospheric sciences at Texas A&M University.

But wait: there’s yet another reversal of the pendulum threatening in the near future.

The El Niño will lose strength as summer approaches, Nielsen-Gammon said, with the unusually warm surface temperatures in the Pacific that characterize an El Niño returning to normal. Some time around mid-summer, the Godzilla El Niño, as it’s been called, should finally succumb to the fatigue it must be feeling after so much activity.

There is a 50-50 chance that the Godzilla El Niño will give way this fall to his evil twin, La Niña. That is a weather pattern that tends to make Texas hotter and drier — as it was at the height of the drought in 2010 and 2011.

Some Central Texans have acclimated to the general pattern of wild swings. But Nielsen-Gammon has a reminder for those who’ve become inured to what we’ve experienced: “Many other parts of the country are not so heavily influenced by El Niño and La Niña as it is in Texas, so their climate tends to be more regular from year to year.”

Watch: 35 tornadoes hit Texas, Gulf states, Virginia, Carolinas

At least six of the 35 tornadoes to have touched down in the Gulf Coast states, the Carolinas and Virginia in the last few days were rated EF2 or stronger. This includes two tornadoes, one in Convent, Louisiana and one in County, Mississippi, which proved deadly. The area has been ravaged by severe weather this past week, the Weather Channel reports, with over 300 reports of wind damage and strong wind gusts reported to the Storm Prediction Center as of Thursday morning. This is the most reports to have been submitted in a 24-hour period since July 2015. According to Weather Underground meteorologist Bob Henson, the past two days have been the deadliest (with four people reported dead by the Associated Press) from tornadoes in Virginia since 2011’s Superoutbreak.

via The Weather Channel
via The Weather Channel

Additional tornadoes are expected later Thursday. Emergencies have been declared in several Southern states including, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.

Although Austin is currently expecting cooler, more winter-like temperatures, we can expect to be back in the 70s come this weekend. Check out today’s Austin weather forecast here.