The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Lunchtime reading

I had these lined up to read at lunchtime:

Meanwhile, for only the second time in four weeks, we can see sun outside the office windows:

What a strange week in Chicago weather

A week ago at this hour, it was -17°C outside and we had 230 mm of snow on the ground. Then the Polar Vortex hit, followed quickly by the biggest warm-up in Chicago history:

From 17:37 CST Tuesday the 29th until 23:51 Thursday the 31st, the temperature hung out below 0°F. But it had already started rising, from the near-record-low -30.6°C Wednesday morning until yesterday afternoon's near-record-high 10.6°C—a record-smashing total rise of Δ41°C.

This was the view from my office Friday evening, when the temperature hadn't been above freezing for a week and the lake was 44% frozen over:

This is half an hour ago:

The forecast calls for even weirder weather the next few days. Tonight we will get a once-a-decade ice storm, then gradually warming temperatures through Thursday and another winter blast Saturday.

Hey. This all builds character, right?

Los Angeles 2069: Hell on Earth

Writing for Medium, Scott Lucas paints a dismal picture of Tinseltown after 50 more years of climate change:

“With the exception of the highest elevations and a narrow swath very near the coast, where the increases are confined to a few days, land locations see 60–90 additional extremely hot days per year by the end of century,” one study concluded. Downtown Los Angeles could experience up to 54 days measuring 95 degrees or higher by 2100, a ninefold jump. By then, temperatures in Riverside could reach over 95 degrees for half the year.

“By the end of century,” the authors of the study found, “a distinctly new regional climate state emerges.” This climate includes a new, fifth season: a super summer, driving people indoors for weeks at a time, stressing the power grid with heavy demand for air conditioning, and wreaking havoc on agriculture and, by extension, the food supply.

Meanwhile, beaches in Los Angeles will be facing their own threats. Rising sea levels will attack the coast in at least two ways: inundating beaches and eroding cliffs. “Our beaches are compromised. Not just from overall sea level rise, but also coastal storm events,” says Lauren O’Connor Faber, the city’s chief sustainability officer.

In 2017, scientists modeled the effects of sea level rise on 500 kilometers of shoreline in Southern California. A sea level rise of 0.93 to two meters, they predicted, would result in the loss of 31 to 67 percent of beaches in Southern California, including some of its most well-known. A separate USC study concluded, “In Malibu, both low and high sea level rise scenarios suggest that long segments of beach will essentially disappear by 2030.”

So this could be a thing of the past during my lifetime:

Still getting warmer

Just 72 hours ago, the official temperature in Chicago was -31°C. Right now, it's 0°C at O'Hare, the first time it's been above freezing since 11am Monday. Our 54-hour stretch of below-0°F temperatures was the 4th-longest such stretch. This has been an extraordinary few days, and it's just going to get weirder.

Bonus: The Tribune has a collection of satellite photos from the European Space Agency of our polar vortex.

Oh, goody: from freeze to flood

The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, the entity responsible for our sewers and rivers in Chicago, warns that the record-breaking warm-up currently underway could overwhelm the system:

As the warmer temperatures melt existing snow, the potential for flooding increases because the frozen ground is unable to absorb water and snow, causing runoff to flow immediately into sewers.

Sewer systems, therefore, can become overwhelmed from the combination of normal sewage flow, rain and snow melt, a scenario that often leads to flooding, according to the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago.

MWRD said Friday that it’s preparing for potential flooding by lowering water levels in Chicago-area waterways to make room for runoff. The agency will also rely on its network of tunnels and reservoirs, which it said are ready to hold more than 11 billion gallons of water.

The agency is also asking Chicago-area municipalities and the public to help prevent flooding by reducing water use, such as by postponing high-water consumption activities like bathing, showering, running the dishwasher and washing clothes.

Well, that stinks. Or rather, we will stink. And let's not even think about what a Δ42.8°C warm-up will do to our roads.

Polar vortex update

My furnace has reached the limits of its ability to keep my apartment warm as the delta between inside and outside temperatures has hovered around Δ40°C for 48 hours now. Even though the temperature has started going up, and will continue to do so until hitting the nearly-tropical 10°C by mid-day Sunday, the outside air still hurts my face.

Yesterday's official high was -23.3°C, and the low was -30.6°C. So we missed setting the all-time record cold high by Δ0.6°C, and we're a few degrees from the all-time record cold low set 20 January 1985. Overall, yesterday was the 5th-coldest day in Chicago history.

Here are the temperatures since noon Wednesday (with room for the chart to grow through the weekend):

Compare that with the last polar vortex in January 2014. This one is colder but shorter, and will have a much warmer denouement. And if we get up to 10°C, the Δ42.8°C warm-up will break the all-time warm-up record set from 25-29 December 1984 (Δ40°C).

I recommend listening to Brendel and Fischer-Dieskau performing Schubert's "Winterreise" while you absorb these other facts:

  • Officials in the Midwest blame only six deaths on the record cold, which speaks to the seriousness with which people are taking this crap.
  • With particular derision directed at the President, this cold snap barely registers globally as scientists report that 2018 was the 4th-hottest year in recorded history—after 2015, 2016, and 2017.

I'm looking forward to the warm-up, even though its leading edge brings some snow with it.

Did I mention the cold?

First, a helpful diagram from NOAA explaining how global warming has increased the Arctic Oscillation to give Chicago record-cold weather today:

Even though this concept is beyond the ken of some people, global warming increases weather extremes in both directions.

More Chiberia coverage:

Meanwhile, we've still got another 24 hours or so of this vortex to live through. The forecast right now predicts a high today of -26°C and low tonight of -29°C with wind-chill values down to -40°C.

It's worse than that: he's dead cold, Jim

The forecast for Wednesday not only predicts the coldest day since 1996. Now meteorologists predict the coldest day ever recorded in Chicago:

Temperatures are forecast to inch up to a daytime high of about -26°C on Wednesday—the first subzero [Fahrenheit] high temperature in five years and the coldest winter high ever recorded in Chicago—before dipping, again, to about -29°C overnight. The coldest daytime high in Chicago was -24°C on Christmas Eve 1983.

For younger Chicagoans, the burst of Arctic air set to overtake the city this week could be one of the coldest days of their lives. For Generation Z, this week’s predicted low temperatures have only two rivals: -27°C on Jan. 6, 2014, and -28°C on Feb. 3, 1996.

Awesome. Note that I experienced all of those, and blogged about the 6 January 2014 weather right here. 

In no small irony, this cold snap seems directly related to global warming:

The wintry onslaught will be driven by the Northern Hemisphere’s polar vortex, the pocket of cold air sitting atop the North Pole. When temperatures rise in the Arctic, the polar jet stream — the torrent of westerly winds that hold the polar vortex in place — can weaken and dip into parts of North America.

“Occasionally this ring of winds deforms or even splits, which allows the cold air to spill southward over mid latitudes — this is exactly what’s happening now,” said Jennifer Francis, a senior research scientist with Woods Hole Research Center in Massachusetts, in an email. “It just so happens that the lobe of cold air is located over central North America, with Chicago in the crosshairs.”

A growing body of evidence suggests another warming trend in the Pacific Ocean is believed to be causing the jet stream that confines the polar vortex to warp further, with warm air penetrating near the Pacific Northwest and a lobe of cold air sinking into the Midwest and Northeast.

“The stronger ridge does two things: It pumps cold air into central North America, which deepens the downstream trough, and it also becomes more persistent because larger jet stream waves move more slowly than small ones,” Francis said. “This is partly why this jet stream pattern tends to be long-lived once it sets up.”

Whoo boy. Can't wait. Doggie daycare is closed, and Parker's regular dog walker isn't certain he can make it, so I'll be working from home.

Warmest oceans ever

The planet's oceans have absorbed most of the extra heat greenhouse gases have prevented leaving the atmosphere, with consequences:

“2018 is going to be the warmest year on record for the Earth’s oceans,” said Zeke Hausfather, an energy systems analyst at the independent climate research group Berkeley Earth and an author of the study. “As 2017 was the warmest year, and 2016 was the warmest year.”

But the surging water temperatures are already killing off marine ecosystems, raising sea levels and making hurricanes more destructive.

As the oceans continue to heat up, those effects will become more catastrophic, scientists say. Rainier, more powerful storms like Hurricane Harvey in 2017 and Hurricane Florence in 2018 will become more common, and coastlines around the world will flood more frequently. Coral reefs, whose fish populations are sources of food for hundreds of millions of people, will come under increasing stress; a fifth of all corals have already died in the past three years.

People in the tropics, who rely heavily on fish for protein, could be hard hit, said Kathryn Matthews, deputy chief scientist for the conservation group Oceana. “The actual ability of the warm oceans to produce food is much lower, so that means they’re going to be more quickly approaching food insecurity,” she said.

And still the leaders of the world's biggest economies deny this is happening.