Thursday, March 22, 2012

Northeast Heat

I've been looking at the heat in the northeast and it is truly mind boggling.  The Snowmiser has clearly seceded ground to Heatmiser.

Yesterday's high temperatures are ridiculous.

Burlington, Vermont hit 81.  Their old record for the date was 68.  Bangor, Maine reached 83!  83 in Maine in March, are you kidding me?   Their old record was 64.  Caribou, Maine made it to 73 compared to an old record of 57.  How about these ridiculous numbers from Michigan.  The high in Marquette was 81.  Their previous record high was 49 (although their climate period only goes back to 1961).  In fact, the minimum temperature in Marquette yesterday was higher than their record high temperature.

Source: NWS
Then there's some web cam photos from northeast ski areas.  First, Hunter Mountain, Snowmaking Capital of the World.

Source: Hunter Mountain
Killington, Vermont, where I once skied in June.

Source: Killington
Stowe in northern Vermont.

Source: Stowe
Welcome to the new climate in which heat waves are pushing farther outside the envelope of what has been observed previously during the historical record.  To quote Hansen et al. (2011), "Today's extreme anomalies occur because of simultaneous contributions of specific weather patterns and global warming."  I'm usually very cautious about linking weather events to global warming as there is considerable natural variability in the system, but these are jaw-dropping records and such events are more likely today than 60 years ago.  Note how the distribution of local temperature anomalies has shifted into warmer values and become broader over the past 6 decades.

Source: Hansen et al. (2011)

The bottom line is that extreme outlier events like this one are becoming more common and more jaw dropping.  


  1. There's more discussion of the insanity on Jeff Masters' Wunderblog:


  2. The whole thing is unbelievable. Certainly no snow cover but I would guess the soil temps are anomalously warm everywhere as well which only adds fuel. Depressing really.

  3. Yup. There's a whole sequence of events that lead to an episode of this magnitude. We're dealing with an airmass that is about four standard deviations warmer than the median. Then, there's no snow cover and no transpiration (no leaves and probably most plants are probably dormant still. I haven't looked yet, but suspect the soil moisture is low too (less evaporation).

  4. Jim --

    I live in the suburbs of Princeton. No the plants are not dormant. We barely had winter, had a Spring in February including standard March/April rain patterns and now an April / May March. The plant life is active and growing.

  5. Good to know. My vermont and upstate NY bias shows through! Thanks for the info.

  6. Hi Jim, as you know, I love your blog. Also, I am not a climate change denialist but ... when you say extreme weather "events are more likely today than 60 years ago," what is the basis for this statement? Is the fact that we are having more extreme events because they are more likely or because we have entered a statistically rare period when extreme events occur. If we were able to know the statistical distribution of weather, which we can't, would the patterns we are observing be part of a random but stable system, or is the system in fact getting hotter. OK, enough of that strand of the rant. To the next strand, I do believe humans are loading carbon into the atmosphere and it is changing the climate, and is likely responsible for late March 80 degree days in Vermont. But my conclusion human produced carbon is responsible for hot weather is a belief, not an indisputable fact. Reasonable people can and do disagree with me. To end the rant, the policy debate on climate change is not over, it is just in its very beginning stages. Ultimately the facts will overwhelm policy, but in the meantime, we who seek to influence decision-makers must be diligent in adhering to the limits of reason. In my view, 130 years of instrumental weather measurements is far to short a period to support the conclusion events today were unlikely 60 years ago. (Don't get me started on proxy measures going back thousands of years.) But you may be able to reason with me. Keep up the good work, thanks for making the weather so much more fun than it otherwise would be ... let's start praying for more snow and less wind next year

    1. Peter - the blog post above is specific to temperature. The higher frequency of high temperatures and heat waves is well documented in the United States and globally. In the United States, there are two maximum temperature records set for every minimum temperature record and the Hansen et al. (2011) report discussed in this post is simply a nice summary that shows the shift in temperatures towards more outlier events on the high side. More detailed discussion is available here: and here: The later is a critique, but ultimately concludes that "it is plain that heat records should and are increasing, and hot episodes should and are becoming more extreme, as the climate warms." I don't really know of any atmospheric scientists that do not accept that the frequency and intensity of heat waves is increasing, but maybe there are a few. There is, however, significant and substantial debate with regards to trends in other types of the extreme weather (e.g., tornadoes, hurricanes, etc.).

  7. Hi Jim, Have you done the math to extrapolate this trend for the next ten or twenty year? Just by eye, it looks pretty intense.

    1. I haven't, but barring some dramatic turn of events to counter the warming expected from greenhouse gas increases (such as a series of major volcanic eruptions or decrease in the output of the sun), it is likely that we'll see this trend continue in the coming decades. There is more discussion on this topic at