Now that summer’s heat is over we may be fooled into thinking climate change is no longer affecting us. Unfortunately, above normal temperatures are predicted for most of the U.S. for the next three months. Southeastern Alaska is the only place with any chance of being cooler than normal.
Heat and drought often go hand in hand.
The seasonal drought outlook through the end of 2022 indicates New England will finally see a break in their drought, perhaps hastened by rain from a downgraded hurricane. But there is no help for the American West where the drought persists and gains new ground (see yellow on the map).
During fall migration bird numbers are at their highest as the adult population is joined by their recent young. I look forward to the variety of fall warblers and large flocks of chimney swifts, but this year — again — there are fewer migrants than I remember. My mood is dampened by solastalgia for birds.
Solastalgia is a new concept developed to give greater meaning and clarity to environmentally induced distress. As opposed to nostalgia–the melancholia or homesickness experienced by individuals when separated from a loved home–solastalgia is the distress that is produced by environmental change impacting on people while they are directly connected to their home environment.
Fourteen years ago I noticed a decline in common nighthawks (Chordeiles minor) that used to migrate in flocks of 10-20 over my old neighborhood during the 20th century. In 2008 their numbers dropped precipitously. Nowadays I am lucky to see a single bird.
Chimney swifts (Chaetura pelagica) were my consolation but now they prompt solastalgia. Two years ago I counted more than 2,200 swifts roosting at Cathedral Mansions chimney during fall migration, but just last year their numbers declined sharply. My highest count in 2021 was only 100. Fifty is my highest count so far this year.
The ice on Antarctica is a dynamic system that gains 2000 cubic kilometers of ice per year from precipitation and loses it to melting and icebergs. Unfortunately the continent is losing more ice than it gains. This month two new studies from NASA JPL revealed that the ice is disappearing twice as fast as previously estimated.
Researchers found that the edge of the Antarctic ice sheet has been shedding icebergs faster than the ice can be replaced, doubling previous estimates of ice loss from Antarctic’s floating ice shelves. Ice loss from calving has weakened the ice shelves and allowed Antarctic glaciers to flow more rapidly to the ocean, accelerating the rate of global sea level rise. …
In fact, the findings suggest that greater losses can be expected: Antarctica’s largest ice shelves all appear to be headed for major calving events in the next 10 to 20 years.
In the interior of the continent ice loss is much harder to see as melt water seeps through the ice into lakes and streams beneath, then to the sea. The only clue to this melt is that the glaciers lose altitude.
To measure this ice loss NASA analyzed data gathered by satellites passing over Antarctica from 1985 to 2020. The illustration below shows a pass made by the ICESat-1 satellite whose mission ended in 2010.
NASA’s map of the elevation changes shows that a few places gained elevation (blue) but more of them lost. The worst melting was in the red zones.
Why does this matter?
As the glaciers melt on Antarctica and Greenland their water raises sea level around the world, but the rise is not equal everywhere. Uneven gravitational forces cause tiny elevation changes in sea level, called sea level fingerprints, that peak in the tropics and have the deepest valleys near melting glaciers. Those few cities near melting glaciers will see a drop in sea level while those farthest away from glaciers will have the highest rise.
For instance Reykjavik, Iceland, which has melting glaciers of its own and is close to Greenland, will see a net loss of sea level (below).
Back in the 1970s and 1990s climate change was slow to ramp up so we fooled ourselves by saying (1) Nothing’s changed yet so it’s not going to change, and (2) Climate change will be manageable because it won’t happen fast.
Much of the coastal U.S. floods during violent ocean storms but some places, like Miami, flood several times a year during high “spring” or “king” tides because of climate-driven sea level rise. This month a new report from NASA and NOAA recalculates how deep the water will be just 30 years from now. It doesn’t look good.
By 2050, the average rise will be 4 to 8 inches along the Pacific, 10 to 14 inches along the Atlantic, and 14 to 18 inches along the Gulf.
As Wired Magazine points out, these amounts are averages because water basin topography, water temperature (warmer water takes up more space), land subsidence, and glacial rebound make unique results for each location.
Comparing just two cities on different coasts neatly illustrates what a striking difference these factors can make. Galveston, Texas, where the land is slumping, could see almost 2 feet of rise by the year 2050. Meanwhile, Anchorage, Alaska, could see 8 inches of sea level drop, thanks to the fact that its land is actually rising following the departure of long-gone glaciers.
The report indicates that a 2-foot rise is already locked in for 2100 because of past greenhouse gas emissions. If we don’t stop emitting *now* we can expect an additional 1.5 to 5 feet for a total of 3.5 to 7 feet by the end of this century.
NOAA’s Sea Level Rise Viewer shows Galveston, Texas, below, in three scenarios: current sea level, +2 feet (expected by 2050) and +7 feet (in 2100 if nothing changes). In 30 years Bayou Vista, Tiki Island and Jamaica Beach will be gone. A 7-foot rise by 2100 wipes out most of the area.
Galveston, Texas at current sea level (map from NOAA Sea Level Rise Viewer)
Galveston, Texas with 2 foot sea level rise (map from NOAA Sea Level Rise Viewer)
Galveston, Texas with 7 foot sea level rise (map from NOAA Sea Level Rise Viewer)
No matter what happens the results will be unequal. Southern Alaska (blue dots) looks good under both scenarios. The Gulf and Atlantic coasts will be in various degrees of trouble.
The report is sobering because it’s unfolding so soon. If you’re 30 years old now, some Gulf Coast places will be gone by the time you’re 60.
Today’s catastrophic flood will be tomorrow’s high tide.
On 26 December 2021 the record high temperature for Alaska — for the entire state — was set at Kodiak Island when it reached 67oF at a tidal gauge. This was so unusual that the National Weather Service triple checked to make sure. Kodiak Airport was 65 degrees, Cold Bay was 62.
?The Kodiak Tide Gauge station recorded an amazing 67°F yesterday. This is a new statewide temperature record for December. The Kodiak Airport recorded 65°F. This broke their monthly record by 9°F! The weather balloon launched at the same time confirms these amazing readings. pic.twitter.com/IuTPCGOrFU
Other hi temp records were set y’day across the Bering. Cold Bay obliterated its daily record by 18º, also setting a monthly record for Dec. It is the warmest temp recorded between Oct. 27 and May 7, so monthly records would’ve been set in Nov, Jan, Feb, Mar, and Apr.#AKwxpic.twitter.com/umQXivoGgP
Meanwhile, across the Gulf of Alaska from the record heat was a record low temperature of 0 degrees F at Ketchican.
Ketchikan did it again yesterday, by breaking it’s record low temp of 5F from 1917! when it recorded 0. Other locations also broke their daily low temp yesterday Juneau forecast office (-7F), Haine#2(-2f), Klawock airport (3F), Pelican(10F) & Thorne Bay (0F) #akwx .@KRBDRadiopic.twitter.com/cruI3QeUe5
How could Alaska have such high and low extremes on the same day? The wildly wobbling jet stream pushed warm air up the western side of the Gulf of Alaska and poured cold air down its eastern side. This jet stream map, centered on the Gulf of Alaska, is explained at Axios: Alaska sets December temperature record at 67 degrees.
We often hear the word normal on the weather report as in: “Today’s high was 64 degrees F with a low of 49F and was 23 degrees above normal.” (That was yesterday’s temperature in Pittsburgh and, yes, it was 23 degrees above normal.)
Climate normals are always a 30-year average of temperature and precipitation as recorded at each U.S. weather station. Recalculated at the end of each decade, the new normals announced in May 2021 are based on the most recent 30 years of data: 1991-2020.
Normal is a rolling average and it keeps getting hotter. The 10 maps above compare each decade’s normal temperature to the 20th century’s average. We have moved from cool blue (top left) to angry red (bottom right).
Normal might not feel hot for people in their early 30s because it’s what they remember throughout their lives, but for retired people like me the current normal is the climate of less than half my life.
I remember the snowy Decembers of my youth. Even without the graphs I can tell the normal temperature has changed.
Except for the few species that are hardwired for more dependable long-distance migrations, such as blue-winged teal, waterfowl are adapted to migrate only as far as is necessary for them to find food, open water, and places to rest. For some species, it may take several consecutive days of freezing temperatures and snow cover to push them southward.
Last weekend many homeowners in Pennsylvania were annoyed that they had to rake leaves after Thanksgiving. A decade ago this would never have happened because the trees were bare by 5 November. Nowadays the leaves linger. Our warmer climate keeps them on the trees.
The delay in leaf drop has been increasing for at least a decade. In 2008-2012 most of the trees were bare by 2 or 4 November. In 2017-2021 the trees waited until 25-30 November. (*)
Meanwhile the height of fall color is later and lackluster. Twenty years ago we used to go leaf peeping on Columbus Day. This year the height of color in Schenley Park was on 13 November and not particularly breathtaking.
Trees need a particular weather combination to trigger fall colors and leaf drop.
The timing and quality of color changes depend on a combination of temperatures, precipitation and sunlight. The best fall color displays occur after sunshine-filled days and cooler nights, following healthy doses of rain in the summer.