Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Warmest June on Record Globally

Data released Monday by NASA shows that June was the warmest on record globally (see this Washington Post article).

The time series of Junes during the instrumented record (i.e., back to 1880) is shown below.  One can see the long-term warming trend, as well as the year-to-year variability caused by many factors including the El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO), volcanic eruptions, and other climate-system variations.

I've also added some news items and personal notes to provide some context as to what has been going on over the past five decades.

In 1967, I was born.  Just two years later, and 50 years ago on July 20, 1969, humans walked on the moon in what was a truly audacious human accomplishment.  Although I have no memory of the Apollo program, NASA's space program had a real impact on my interest in science.  I remember, for example, requesting and receiving photographs of the Space Shuttle as a teenager.

In 1975, Wally Broecker published a paper in science entitled Climate Change: Are We on the Brink of a Pronounced Global Warming. In that paper, he wrote,
"A strong case can be made that the present cooling trend will, within a decade or so, give way to a pronounced warming induced by carbon dioxide.  By analogy with similar events in the past, the natural climatic cooling which, since 1940, has more than compensated for the carbon dioxide effect, will soon bottom out.  Once this happens, the exponential rise in the atmospheric carbon dioxide content will tend to become a significant factor and by early in the next century will have driven the mean planetary temperature beyond the limits experienced during the last 1000 years."
In 1979, the National Academy of Sciences published a report entitled Carbon dioxide and Climate: A Scientific Assessment.  The report is sometimes referred to as the Charney Report since Jule Charney, a giant in meteorology from the mid 20th century until his death in 1981, served as chairperson for the group preparing the report.  That report concluded,
"When it is assumed that the CO2 content of the atmosphere is doubled and statistical thermal equilibrium is achieved, the more realistic of the modeling efforts predict a global surface warming of between 2˚C and 3.5˚C, with greater increases at higher latitudes."
In 1985, I graduated from high school.  Global warming is not something that I recall being aware of.  I began to study meteorology because I was interested in weather forecasting.  However, in my junior year, I took a physical meteorology course taught by Craig Bohren.  In that class, we developed simple analytical models of the planetary energy balance to better understand the theoretical underpinnings of processes that cause the planet to warm or cool.

At the time, as I recall, there was vigorous debate about whether or not we could detect a human influence on climate.  In 1988, Jim Hansen testified in congress about global warming, arguing that the signal of human-caused global warming was now detectable.  A good perspective on this testimony based on current knowledge is available below.

The role of both natural and human caused climate change in recent warming is something I can remember being debated at times in graduate school.   There were a few reasons for this.  First, we were still in the early stages of global warming.  Second, teasing out the warming signal from imperfect observations remained challenging.  And third, our computer models remained relatively rudimentary.  

From 1997-1998, the strongest El Niño on record occurred, pushing global temperatures to what were then remarkable levels (I've labeled this the 1997-1998 Super El Nino above).  Subsequently, temperatures from this period were often used for the start of trend calculations to argue that global warming had stopped or flattened.  

In 2007, I was asked to lead a report on climate change for Governor Jon Huntsman Jr's Blue Ribbon Advisory Council on Climate Change (available here).  Several other Utah scientists contributed.  By this time, the nail was in the coffin concerning whether or not the planet was warming and the evidence for human-caused climate change quite strong.  In that report, we concluded that there was no longer any scientific doubt that the planet was warming and that changes in ice cover, snow cover, and sea level were consistent with this warming.  We also concluded that there was very high confidence that human-generated increases in greenhouse gas concentrations were responsible for most of the global warming during the prior 50 years and that ongoing greenhouse gas emissions at or above current levels will produce global temperature, sea level, and snow and ice changes greater than those observed in the 20th century.

A look a the June temperature record above, as well as what is happening around the planet in recent years, shows that things are playing out largely as anticipated, so it's no surprise to me that we see predominantly high temperature records being set, continued declines in arctic ice, continued declines in glacier ice, and accelerating sea level rise.  

If you don't think this is happening, I'm sorry, but you are wrong.  This is a done deal.  We are already living in a climate that is different than the one that existed in the 20th century and bigger change is coming.  Temperature change is often emphasized, but it is water that will deliver the most severe climate impacts for humans through sea level rise, more persistent drought, more intense rainfall, and other changes to the water cycle (e.g., more precipitation falling as rain instead of snow).

When I was in Innsbruck, I found an exhibition in one of the museums on smoking.  

Someday, articles like the one below will similarly displayed in a museum.  People will look at have the same response that I did about the commercial above.  

"What the hell were they thinking?"

Monday, July 15, 2019

Preparing for Private Sector Employment

According to the American Meteorological Society, the largest employer of meteorologists in the United States has traditionally been the government.  This includes the National Weather Service, military, as well as other agencies such as the Department of Energy.

However, the private sector is growing rapidly.  Last week I attended a workshop sponsored by the National Science Foundation, American Meteorological Society, National Center for Atmospheric Research, Commodity Weather Group, BMS Re US, Millersville University, and Maxar to lay the groundwork for better preparing students for private sector employment. 

Attending such workshops is absolutely critical for university faculty, especially those like me that have spent a great deal of time in the ivory tower.  Although I do some consulting and interact with private-sector companies, the reality is that I've spent most of my career in academia and, as one attendee put it, "the private sector is not an alternative career – academia is the alternative career.

Below are some of my takeaways from the meeting, which I share especially for students:

1. Three “portable” skill sets were strongly emphasized: communications, statistics, and coding.  The emphasis on statistics and coding reflects the private sector attendees, so depending on your interest, you might replace statistics and coding with other portable skill sets.  Note, however, that forecasting is not one of them. 

2. Graduates need something on their resume besides meteorology, such as business, logistics, data science, etc.  This could be accomplished through a minor, internship, 4+1 master's program, etc.  I think I was told this in the late 1980s when I was in school, but it bears repeating. 

3. Many of the positions meteorologists are now taking do not have meteorology in the job title.  Examples include data scientist, customer success specialist, etc.  The meteorologists filling these positions are being hired because of their ability to work with uncertain information, probabilistic data, and weather or climate data. 

4. Most of the positions being filled are not broadcast meteorology or traditional forecast positions.  I repeat.  Most of the positions being filled are not broadcast meteorology or traditional forecast positions. 

Students considering employment in the private sector should subscribe to the American Meteorological Society Board for Private Sector Meteorologists e-mail list, watch some of their webinars, and participate in their mentorship program.  These are accessible here.  In addition, although it is a few years old, there is an excellent presentation by Ken Carey of Earth Resources Technology available here that summarizes many of the opportunities. 

Monday, July 8, 2019

The Dog Days Start This Week

It was wonderful to return to the Wasatch last weekend and find so much water and snow. 

It's been several years since it looked like this in early July (since 2011) and it helped us ease back into the climate of Utah from the wetter Austrian Alps.  Even the Mt. Superior butterfly said hello. 

I missed a fairly remarkable late spring.  The climate summary for Salt Lake City International Airport shows a relatively cool stretch from mid May with considerable rainfall, followed by frequent intrusions of cooler air through early July.  Such intrusions make for much more tolerable weather. 

Source: NWS
That changes this week.  We've had a weak trough move through overnight, providing us with somewhat refreshing air and highs in the 80s today and tomorrow.  After that, the GFS is advertising a very typical July pattern with strong ridging centered roughly on the four corners.  

I'm no fan of 10-day icon based forecasts, but I'll include the one below from weather.com to illustrate that we are entering the dog-days of summer.

Source: weather.com
One should never forget that July is a four-letter word.  

Friday, July 5, 2019

A Pleasant 4th for Some, but Not Others

The large-scale weather pattern over the Northern Hemisphere over the past 10 days (maybe longer but I haven't looked) has featured a high-amplitude flow pattern that one might describe as "wavy."  The slowly evolving nature of this pattern has resulted in persistent ridging over Alaska and the Gulf of Alaska and troughing over the western continental United States and adjoining eastern Pacific. 

The situation in northern Utah on the 4th of July was further influenced by a short-wave trough (dashed line below in the analysis for 0000 UTC 5 July/1800 MST 4 July). 

This led to the development of afternoon showers and thunderstorms that led, in my view, to an incredibly pleasant 4th of July, although admittedly some picnics and outside plans were doused.  Given my disdain for summer heat, that's a tradeoff I'm happy to make.  Looking at the numbers, yesterday's high of 83 and daily mean temperature of 71.5 were the lowest on the 4th of July since 2010 when we only reached 78 for a maximum and the daily mean was 57.  Prior to that, one needs to go back to 1995 to find something cooler.

Not everyone is enjoying this pattern, however.  All-time maximum temperature records were set at several locations in southern Alaska, including Anchorage, which reached 90ºF, breaking their previous record by a remarkable 5ºF.

Source: NWS
Interior Alaska can get hotter than that (Fairbanks record is 99 and the state-wide record is 100 in Fort Yukon), but these are exceptional numbers for the Anchorage area and make for sweaty feet in the Xtratuf fishing boots. 

Thursday, July 4, 2019

And So It Ends

Our nearly six-month residency in the Tyrol came to an end last weekend as we left Innsbruck, spent a night in Munich, and returned home to Salt Lake City.  Our entire time there was like a dream, exceeding expectations in every way.

Having given my last lecture on Tuesday and finished grading on Wednesday, our last two days in Innsbruck involved packing and spending some time enjoying and reminiscing about the scenery and the city.

On Saturday, we departed for Munich.  Six months previously, we unloaded our gear on a cold winter's day and sat on the sidewalk pictured below hoping our landlady would actually show up and give us a place to stay that night (she did and was a wonderful host).  Once again, we were on the street and hoping all would go well, which it did (and this time, Delta didn't lose any bags).  As we did for the trip out here, we packed carefully right to the limit of what Delta would allow with checked bags and carryons.

We spent the afternoon in Munich and did a long stroll through Englisch Park, which is a great urban park.  There is a river that runs through it that has just the right current for a long float, which many were doing due to the heat.  There's even a surf spot.

No trip to Munich is complete without a stop at one of the breweries.  

And for us, a final schnapps.

I've mostly been blogging about our experiences in Tyrol, but from a work perspective, I had a very rewarding experience as well.  I taught three classes, all at the graduate level.  The first was a survey of cool-season (i.e., winter) precipitation, the second was an english writing class, and the third weather briefing (co-taught with one of my University of Innsbruck colleagues).  I probably learned more preparing and teaching these classes than my students did taking them.  What a great experience, and I come hope with increased knowledge of Alpine and European meteorology, as well as materials that I can use in courses at the University of Utah.  I also have new friends and collaborators for future science adventures.

Finally, the Fulbright program really provided a great experience.  I really enjoyed the two group meetings of Fubright scholars and students in Vienna and Strobl as it allowed me to see the remarkable breadth of work being done by the program in areas I am rarely exposed to (e.g., Austrian-American studies).

And with that, our Austrian adventure ends.  The Wasatch Weather Weenies now returns to its regularly scheduled programming.  Has the Steenburgh Effect returned with me?  We will see next winter.

Friday, June 28, 2019

Sabbatical Ends with European Heatwave

We leave Innsbruck in less than 24 hours.  I finished my grades for my classes on Wednesday and we've been trying to enjoy our final couple of days in Innsbruck. 

Things have changed a lot during our stay.  We arrived in mid January after an incredible storm cycle that left the northern Alps buried.  The Inn Valley was a winter wonderland during the first few weeks of our visit.

In contrast, June will go down as the warmest on record in Austria and the last few days have been blisteringly hot.  All-time June temperature records were set two days in a row in the Tyrol with a 36.7ºC on Tuesday in Innsbruck and then a 37.5ºC in Imst on Wednesday.  The latter is 99.5˚F in US units and would qualify for a max of 100 with round up.  The previous June record was 36.6˚C.  A photo taken from the same spot as above shows a nearly snow-less scene, with hazy skies. 

We feel fortunate to be at about 600 meters above sea level and in a modest sized city.  Areas of France, Spain, Germany, and Italy have eclipsed 40˚C.  The BBC is reporting today that Carpentras recorded the highest temperature ever in France (44.3˚C).

Many cafes do not open here until 9am, but the Tomaselli Gelateria was open at 8:30 and already had a line. 

And the Tiroler Tageszeitung ran an article (translated below by Google Scholar) providing all important information that deodorants work and don't cost much. 

For most Tyroleans, relief isn't necessarily too far away.  One can go to a cool stream or lake or hop a ride on a cable car, as we did this morning to 2300 meters..

But more seriously, this is a very severe heat wave and it is the first of the year.  Air conditioning is relatively uncommon in much of Europe.  The only cool places in Innsbruck, for example, are grocery stores and drug stores.  Mortality and morbidity rates rates will likely be elevated in many areas.  Relief cannot come soon enough.