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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Slate explains how Chicago's Deep Tunnel project has relieved the city of the worst effects of rainstorms—but just isn't adequate for the new, wetter climate:
The history of Chicago can be told as a series of escapes from wastewater, each more ingenious than the last. Before the Civil War, entire city blocks were lifted on hydraulic jacks to allow for better drainage, and the first tunnel to bring in potable water from the middle of Lake Michigan was completed in 1867. In 1900, engineers reversed the flow of the Chicago River to protect the city’s drinking water, shifting its fetid contents from the Great Lakes to the Mississippi, enraging the city of St. Louis (which sued, and lost) and, years later, making Chicago the single-largest contributor to the “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico. In 1955, the American Society of Civil Engineers declared the river reversal one of the seven engineering wonders of the United States, alongside such better-known undertakings as the Hoover Dam, the Empire State Building, and the Panama Canal.
“The [Metropolitan Water Reclamation District] designed a system of sewers, tunnels, and reservoirs for a city that doesn’t exist anymore,” says Karen Hobbs, a former deputy environmental commissioner in Chicago who oversaw the creation of the city’s climate plan and now works as a policy analyst at the National Resources Defense Council. Metropolitan Chicago is no longer the place it was in 1960. The weather isn’t what it was then either. It’s a cautionary tale for a time when climate change has the nation’s planners, scientists, and engineers contemplating enormous endeavors like storm surge barriers or more radical, long-term geoengineering schemes. It’s also a reminder that any project that spans six decades from commencement to completion will be finished in a different world than the one in which it was conceived.
“It’s a marvel,” Hobbs adds. “But we have this tendency in this country to think we can build our way out of stuff. And we can’t always build our way out.”
Belatedly, the city has started using porous pavement in alleys and encouraging other ways of keeping water out of the sewers.
The island-nation of Kiritimati just became the first place in the world to enter 2019. Good on 'em.
People may have noticed the Daily Parker tradition of welcoming Kiritimati into the new year. On 30 December 1994, Kiritimati changed time zones from UTC-10 (Hawai'i time) to UTC+14 (ludicrous time), in part so they could become the first place in the world to start the 21st Century. Technically, it worked.
However, since the highest point on the small island (population 6,500) rises only 13 m above the Pacific, the country is completely vulnerable to climate-change-induced sea-level rise. It probably will not be the first place in the world to greet the 22nd century.
So, happy new year, Kiritimati! I hope you outlive me.
On January 1st, confronted with the coldest New Year's Day in Chicago history, I predicted that every other day in 2018 would be warmer.
I was right.* Even though the overnight low on January 2nd was just as cold (-23°C) as the night before, the day warmed up all the way to -13°C from January 1st's -17°C. Ten days later it hit 15°C, and kept bouncing around like that all winter.
Last I saw, the NCDC predicted the coming winter would be normally wet and slightly warmer than most. I'd link to the page, but thanks to President Trump's infantile temper, I got this instead:
Thanks, Obama Trump!
* Yes, through some supernatural intervention we could have weather 22°C below predictions tonight or tomorrow, but I'm pretty confident the current forecast of -1°C is likelier.
Given the American tradition of publicly saying one thing and privately doing the opposite, even staunchly-Republican businesses learn to behave as if climate change is real. After the company experienced higher-than-expected losses following California wildfires this year, Allstate's CEO put out a press release urging action on climate change:
In a release, CEO Tom Wilson minced no words on his views of the cause of the devastation, which resulted in dozens of deaths and hundreds missing, as well as staggering property loss.
"It's time to address the impact that more severe weather is having on Americans instead of fighting about climate change," Wilson said. "This year there have been approximately 7,500 wildfires in California, Hurricanes Florence and Michael, and a swath of severe weather across the United States, putting our customers in danger and at risk of losing their homes and hard-earned money.”
The financial blow would have been significantly worse had Allstate not shrunk substantially in California. The company said it has cut its California homeowners policies by about half over the past decade.
The catastrophe losses, combined with $60 million in unanticipated pension costs that Allstate also reported last night, will have a dramatic effect on 2018 earnings. Sandler O’Neill & Partners today reduced its 2018 earnings estimate by 15 percent to $7.67 per share from $9.03 per share.
I've predicted this for two decades now, that insurance companies would always be the first to promote climate-change remediation and greenhouse-gas reductions, because they get hurt the most by climate change. Good on Tom Wilson; now maybe he can lobby some sense into the Republican Party.
You can stop laughing now. But eventually, we're going to get there. Just not with the current government.