Tag Archives: Alaska

An Alaska Welcome — Snow

Last Thursday I had images of Spring in my head.  My three weeks in Hawaii had come to an end and the snow in Anchorage was disappearing rapidly.   Friday was a glorious wonderful warm sunny March day….and then it snowed.  I was sitting in my breakfast room eating dinner when it started.   Overnight we got 20 inches of snow.  Snow that had not been predicted.  Alaska was welcoming me home.

Alaska is a tough place to predict weather.   Anchorage has mountains to the East, and sea water to the west.   This part of the world has few weather stations so the only data available is courtesy of satellites.   Weather men get fooled all the time.  This was the second snow storm the weather guru’s had missed in a month.

My daughter lives in New York City.   She grew up in Alaska, which gives her a different perspective.  We have had more than a few discussions on the regional differences in the good ole USA.   New Yorkers appear to have forgotten how to deal with Winter.   They have become weather wimps.   A little snow and it’s panic city.  Everything shuts down.

Allow me to use last Saturday as an example.   When I awoke to 20 inches of snow in my driveway, I did make a change in plans.   I ate breakfast at home.  When the sun came up, I fired up my snow blower and plowed my driveway.   At about 11, I drove over to my daughters house (about 2 miles away), shoveled snow off her car and brought her car back to my house where I parked it in the garage.   I thought a warm car would be a nice surprise for her.

At about 2:45 PM we went to the airport and picked up my daughter and her family.   They were returning from a week in Florida.   The 11 mile each way drive was uneventful.  The plane arrived a few minutes early.   Later in the day, my wife and I went out for a nice dinner.   The next morning, my street had been plowed and most of the major roads in the city were clear.  Life returned to normal.

The Airport did close for a few hours  late Friday night due to poor visibility, but only a few flights were cancelled.   A United flight from Chicago was diverted to Kenai and a few flights to Fairbanks got cancelled.   UPS and FedEx both have hubs in Anchorage and they operated with only a slight hick-up.

I can’t begin to imagine NYC functioning at anything approaching normal for several days after 20 inches of unanticipated snow.  Let’s hope that global warming really is here to stay, because I don’t think New Yorkers are ready for a return to the colder weather of just 40 years ago.

Sea Level Confusion

Mean sea level confuses me.   Intuitively I want sea level to be the same all over the world.  But it isn’t.   One reason the Panama Canal has locks, sea level on the Pacific side averages 8 inches higher than on the Atlantic side….and the tides are higher on the Pacific side too.   Without the locks, water would constantly be flowing from the Pacific side to the Atlantic side.

And sea level is not changing at the same rate all around the world.  Some places have a rising sea level, others falling.   Supposedly worldwide sea level is rising steadily as demonstrated by this chart courtesy of the Australian government:

Plot of global sea level from 1993 to 2012

NOAA keeps data for all the 50 states of the USA and that data generally shows a much slower rise….and in some cases no rise since 1990.  Something doesn’t make sense…and that confuses me.  Let’s begin looking at NOAA data for San Francisco.   The data for San Francisco is some of the oldest available.  It goes back over 150 years.  Here is the sea level data chart for San Francisco:

chart: Mean Sea Level Trend, 9414290 - San Francisco, California

San Francisco peaked in 1998 (a strong El Nino year).  NOAA also provides charts that show the change year to year.   They call these charts interannual charts.  Here is the interannual chart for San Francisco.residual1980.png

Since 1998 sea level is San Francisco has been going down.   How about Miami Beach Florida:

residual.png

Miami appears to have peaked in the 1940’s?   But the data shows no real net change in the 50 years the data has been kept.  NOAA must have changed where they keep data for this area as the data stops in the 1980’s.  But the data is interesting as it shows variations that should have predated man caused climate change.  The data does not match the San Francisco data.   It has less overall movement and it peaks at a different time. Now lets see how the Pacific Ocean has been doing by taking a peak at Honolulu, Hawaii:

chart: Mean Sea Level Trend, 1612340 - Honolulu, Hawaii

Honolulu has been rising, but slowly.  It looks a lot like San Francisco.  Let’s zoom in on the data since 1990 by looking at interannual variation chart .

residual1980.png

The change since 1990 has been minimal.  The area above the zero line on the chart roughly equals the area below the line.

Are you confused yet?  Now let’s look at data for Seward, Alaska:

chart: Mean Sea Level Trend, 9455090 - Seward, Alaska

An earthquake in 1964 is probably the reason for the shift in data.  The Seward waterfront was devastated by a tidal wave following the Good Friday Earthquake on March 28th 1964.  The trend of the data is …down.  Sea level has been going down in Seward since at least 1964.    How can that be?  If the worldwide sea level has been rising steadily since 1990, how can it be going down in Seward?  The NOAA data appears to contradict the Australia data?

Now let’s look at Juneau, Alaska.  Are you ready…this one’s really weird:

chart: Mean Sea Level Trend, 9452210 - Juneau, Alaska

Juneau makes no sense to me at all.   The world has been warming, glaciers have been melting.  Sea level should be going up world wide.   I have no reason not to believe the data provided by NOAA.  After all they are pretty good at this stuff.

Climate activists have been talking global disaster for years and years.  One really big disaster has been a rapidly rising sea level.   Al Gore featured it in his 2006 film, An Inconvenient Truth.   The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has been making claims in advance of the 2014 release of their AR5 climate assessment.   Sea level rise has made the news as this link to an article in the Yale forum on Climate Change and the Media demonstrates.  Here is a chart prepared by the IPCC from that article:

I suspect guessing.  Wild Ass Guessing!  AND I am confused.

Cold Alaska Spring – Part 2 – The Nenana Ice Classic

The Nenana Ice Classic is an Alaska tradition.   Each year thousands of us guess when the ice will melt on the Tanana River at Nenana in central Alaska.  This year somebody won $318,500.

The ice was late this year, really late.  It set a record.  The contest began in 1917, and the latest date had been May 20th in 1964.   We beat it this year….by 2 hours.   2013 now has the dubious distinction of being the new cold standard for the classic.   The following Snow and Ice Data Center chart illustrates the dramatic nature of this years cold.

1964 really stands out!  And 1992 in more recent times.  The date shown in the chart is the Julian date.   The chart was last updated in 1998.  Data since then has been well within the average range of the chart with all dates falling between 114 (2004) and 127 (2002)   The average winning date is Julian 125 or May 5 (or May 4th on a leap year).   This year we were late….16 days late.

I’d be the first to admit that the data really doesn’t mean much, but it is interesting.   1992 (the Pinatubo volcano year) was a very late year and the time around the record setting El Nino in 1998 was unusually early.   And look at 1940.  I wonder what happened that year.

A New Cooler Alaska, I wonder if the IPCC noticed

The last few weeks have been chock full of climate change and environmental news.

Tuesday,  May 1  –  Earth’s greenhouse gas approaches milestone levels.  Carbon dioxide in the environment officially passed 400 ppm.  This story was nothing more than an excuse to drag out all the old gloom and doom climate stuff that we all have been witness to for the last 30 years.

Carbon dioxide has been steadily rising for 200 years and man is probably responsible for most of it, but if there ever was a predictable event this one was it.

Tuesday, May 14 –  A Washington Post story noted that the Obama administration allows wind farms to kill eagles, birds despite federal laws.    Mr. Obama has decided that global climate change is more important than the Endangered Species Act.  This should be interesting to watch.

Friday, May 17 –  The Guardian posted Obama’s climate strategy sets off climate a time bomb.  The article is critical of the compromises the administration has made in the Arctic.

Friday, May 17 –  Weather.com posted an article detailing the record cold in Alaska titled Where Winter Won’t End.  My favorite part of that article was a map showing how cold it has been in Alaska for the last 44 days.  Here it is:

Map of temperature anomalies from April 1 through May 14, 2013. Strongest cold anomalies (4-5 degrees C or more) indicated by deep purple contours. (Image: NOAA/ESRL Physical Science Division)

Saturday, May 18th – Anchorage sets new records for snow and cold as documented in the Anchorage Daily News article titled Late-May snow sets multiple records.

Sunday May 19 – At 7:00 AM this morning it was 21 degrees F at my house.      The high yesterday was new record low temperature for a daily high by a whopping 7 degrees.   Today will be the 46th consecutive day it has been colder than average in Fairbanks.

Record high carbon dioxide, record low temperatures, and lots of environmental news.   Alaska was supposed to be one of the places most impacted by global warming as this chart prepared by the IPCC in 2007 shows:

Most of the  lawsuits relating to the Arctic environment  in the US revolve around the shrinking Arctic ice pack.  And the Arctic is melting in the summer despite the cold in Alaska.  But here’s an interesting sidebar.   It’s melting more off Asia and Europe than off Alaska as this map of the current Arctic Ice condition demonstrates:

US lawsuits about the disappearing Arctic Ice will abound and will be largely ineffective because they are regional in nature and the problem being addressed in international in nature.  It matters not what the USA does, if Russia, Norway, Denmark and Canada don’t go along.  Recent history would indicate that actions off the coast of Alaska have had very little to do with the current Arctic Ice disappearance.

Such is the nature of climate science and environmental law as it sits today.   The subject is  very complex and does not fit well into 30 second time bites.   Carbon dioxide is steadily rising, the world is not warming and all the IPCC projections to date have proven to be wrong.  We are running well below the temperatures the IPCC predicted just 6 years ago as this recent IPCC chart demonstrates:

AR4 (orange) was prepared in 2005 and published in 2007.  Virtually every year since has been colder (the black bars) than their predicted range and 2012 continued the trend.  So far 2013 has been a bit colder than 2012.  So what’s going on?

I don’t know.

It does emphasize something I think I have been right about since day one of this blog.  Where climate is concerned everybody with a strong opinion on the subject is guessing.  I see  guesses here, guesses there, guesses everywhere whenever climate science is discussed.

Snow in Anchorage

Each morning I walk to the end of my driveway and collect the morning paper while coffee brews in the kitchen.  Today, May 16th, I dodged snowflakes.  Yep, it’s 35 degrees F and snowing right now at my house in South Anchorage.

Two posts ago I complained that global warming had left Alaska, at least for April.   Well May is cold too.   Really cold.   There’s still some winter snow in my yard and our normal summer planting weekend is only a bit over a week away.

The weather man is predicting more snow and a low of 27 on Saturday.   I’ve lived in Alaska since 1972 and this is by far the coldest spring I have ever seen.  No wonder I’m a global warming skeptic.

April was Cold in Anchorage

April 2013 was one cold month in Anchorage.   The average April day in Anchorage has  a high of 44 degrees F.  One April 2013 day beat the average (49 degrees F on April 22nd) and another made it to the average….but the other 28….oh well.  On April 10th, the high was 21 and the following morning it got down to 8.  The average day in April 2013 was over 6 degrees colder than the average April of the last 97 years.

Wow!  No wonder I’m a doubter of climate change.

I live in the one part of the world that is supposed to have been the most impacted by global climate change.   Just look at this chart I lifted from the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 2007 Synthesis Report.

Alaska and western Canada warmed more than the rest of the world…between 1970 and 2004.   I moved to Alaska in 1972, so I was OK with the new warmer world.  That 5 degrees F made for longer growing seasons, and warmer summers.  It was great.  Only one problem…..it went away.   We’ve had lots of colder than average weather since this chart was prepared in 2005.

The IPCC likes to use observed changes as a part of their argument for global climate change.  Short term observations personalize the argument.  This connects with people, but as a scientific argument….well….it’s a stupid argument in a climate cycle that lasts 100,000 years.  Particularly when natural climate variation is taken into account.  But it’s fun to personalize the data.  And two can play at this silly game…. it’s cold out there right now…and the IPCC predicted the opposite.

I wonder what the IPCC will say about that in their new AR5 due out in just 2 years.

A Cold April in Alaska

I woke up this morning, went down to the kitchen and brewed a pot of coffee.  While waiting for the drip coffeemaker to do it’s thing, I glanced at my outdoor thermometer….and it said 5….that’s 5 degrees F…..on April 10th in Anchorage, Alaska.

Yup, Alaska is a cold place….but not this cold.   A month ago we had almost no snow and balmy weather.  We all had dreams of an early Spring and then it started snowing and got cold.   Where is global warming when you really need it.

If you are looking for someone to blame…it’s me.   My gasoline powered snow blower broke in February and I didn’t get it fixed.  I’m sure if I had paid to fix the thing, we’d be watching grass grow in my backyard.   But no, it’s snowed three times in the last week, totaling about 15, perhaps as much as 18 inches of new snow.   I’ve had enough shoveling.   OK Alaska, you win….bring on Spring.

I’ve lived in Alaska for 40 years and I’ve never seen an April like the one we are having right now.   Every day is 10 to 20 degrees below normal.   Anchorage has almost 15 hours of daylight right now, and it’s cold.

I must fight the temptation to use the recent cold in Alaska and the Northeastern USA and in Europe to rail against global warming.   And it is tempting, but it would be an error.  There is no way for me to know why it is has been so cold.   It could be  air pollution from China is causing the cooling….or it might be some form of normal climate variation. Wild variation in regional climate is normal.

All I really know is…..I’m ready for Spring.

Temperature S.W.A.G.

I have lived most of my life in Hawaii and Alaska.  Talk about  extremes in temperature variation.  People in Hawaii watch the weather to get the surf report…and to get information on the occasional tropical storm.   Day to day, nobody cares.

When I lived there I once saw local TV newscaster Joe Moore fake the weather.  He searched his desk for the paperwork, admitted to not knowing where he had put it and then made up something like high of 87, low of 74 with light trade winds (an average day in summer).  Good call.

Right now, without even bothering to check for local conditions, I can get the high and the low for Honolulu to within 3 degrees F.  High of 80, low of 67.  And I’m 2600 miles away.  That forecast is good for today…and tomorrow…and the day after that.  The weather in the tropics changes very slowly.

Anchorage is another story.   Yesterday I drove from South Anchorage (at sea level) along Turnagain Arm toward Girdwood.  At about McHugh Creek State Park the temperature changed.  In about a minute it went from 23 degrees to 36 degrees.

In Fairbanks, temperatures within the city area regularly vary by 30 degrees F or more.   The hills around Fairbanks are warmer than the city.   Go up in altitude and warm up.  Fairbanks gets horrible temperature inversions every winter.   A drive from downtown up Farmers Loop Road (about 5 miles) nets the aforementioned 30 degree shift on just about any cold winter night.

Climate experts tell us the climate will change more in Polar regions than in more temperate zones.   The UN gives very specific predictions for climate.  They make predictions for 10 years from now, for 90 years from now and for 200 years from now.   How do they know?

As we venture from the equator toward the poles, two important statistical problems develop for temperature predictors.  1) The temperature variability increases and 2) the number of weather stations decreases.   Hmmm.

fluctuating data + few data points = wild ass guesses

 The University of Alaska recently conducted a climate study of Alaska showing cooling in the 2000 to 2010 period.  They used 20 reliable test sites for the whole state.   They need hundreds if they have any hope of being accurate.

Siberia and Northern Canada suffer similar problems….and the Arctic and Antarctic….well forget about it.   The Arctic Ocean averages about 10 working sites and those locations are not fixed, they drift with the ice.  Any ground based temperature data for either the Arctic or Antarctic must include more than a little wild ass guessing.

Perhaps a little perspective, here’s a graphic of the Arctic

Ten sites, all that space.  WOW.

That is why I like Satellite data.   That data includes guessing too, but it’s a different kind of guessing, making adjustments for Satellite drift and other indirect conversion problems.   The big problem with Satellite data, it is a very small data set.  Who knows what the data would have looked like 50 or 500 or 5000 years ago.    Let’s take a peek at the most recent Satellite data courtesy of the University of Alabama at Huntsville

Yep, the world’s a bit warmer than it was 34 years ago.  But it’s worth remembering that in 1974 Time Magazine ran a cover article predicting the next ice age based primarily on 30 years of cooling that began around 1940.  Sure it looks like the world has warmed about .3 degree C since 1979, but I wonder what the Satellite data would have shown had it existed in 1940.

Alaska Cooler Since 2000

Yesterday, the Anchorage Daily News ran a feature story in the
Alaska section of the paper titled Study shows Alaska got colder from 2000 to 2010. The article confirmed something I already knew….it’s been cold in the 21st century in Alaska.

I liked the article because it had lots of interesting information about my local region. Unlike so many articles in the local press, no effort was made to draw conclusions about global warming  from what clearly was  a regional study.

Each year I see many articles about the summer ice melt in the Arctic….and each article invariably draws conclusions about climate from what must be short term regional activity.  This article noted something that is easy to forget when thinking climate….regional variation is not unusual and not particularly helpful when evaluating long range worldwide climate trends.

Most of us draw too many conclusions about global climate from our local experience.  The contiguous 48 states of the USA was warm in 2012….regional data…and a short time period.  That experience really doesn’t mean much, when the global view is taken.   A warm USA, a cold Alaska….neither tell us much about global climate.

The article quoted a study that said it was 3.04 degrees F warmer in Barrow and 2.34 degrees  F cooler in for all of Alaska in the first 10 years of the 21st century.  The study used 20 first order meteorological stations.  20 Sites….all of Alaska…. I see a problem.   Alaska is just too big.  20 sites won’t do.   I suspect wild extrapolation of data between test sites (SWAG).

Last month (during a long stretch of cold clear weather) I drove by brother and mother from Providence Hospital to my house in South Anchorage.  The 9 mile trip took about 20 minutes.  My brother (who lives in Hawaii) was fascinated by the changing data displayed by the external thermometer in the car.   The temperature was -1 degree F as we left the Hospital, and quickly got down to -6 F and just as quickly got up to +6F before settling at -2 at my house.  Such swings are normal in Anchorage on clear cold winter nights.

Alaska is 663,267 square miles.   20 sites?  That’s one site for every 33,000 square miles.  South Carolina is a bit over 32,000 square miles.  On a cold winter day it is frequently 40 degrees F cooler in Fairbanks than in Anchorage. They and about 300 miles apart.  Southeast Alaska has weather similar to coastal British Columbia or Washington and the area along the Arctic north of the Brooks Range is similar to the Arctic parts of Siberia.

20 sites…2.34 degrees F…I don’t think so.   Sure it’s been cold…but not 2.34 degrees.  The data cannot possibly be that precise.   The .34 implies a precision that is not supportable by the data.   California is approximately one quarter the size of Alaska.  Imagine predicting temperature for the entire state of California by using data from just 5 sites.

Yep, it’s been cold in Alaska, but not 2.34 degrees F colder.   Alaska has every climate imaginable from a rain forest in Southeast to the frozen tundra of the Arctic.   Any study using only 20 sites must be doing a lot of guessing.   Yes it’s been cold and it’s probably somewhere near 2.4 degrees colder, plus or minus a half a degree or so.

Perhaps I’m overreacting a bit…after all the article did explain that the study used 20 sites, and guessing was clearly in order.   But that is the purpose of this blog….to point out the guessing that is here…there….everywhere in climate science.

Arctic Ice Sheet Growing Rapidly

I have been traveling around Europe since late October.  Alaska greeted me with bone chilling cold as I exited the airport terminal on Sunday.  As I write this blog, the temperature at my house sits at a balmy -7 F (-21 C for everybody but the USA).  It has been cold most of the time I was gone.

This got me wondering about the Arctic Ice Sheet.   So I wondered over to the National Snow and Ice Data Center and took a look.  The Ice sheet is growing at a surprisingly rapid rate.  The site has lots of information about the Polar Ice Cap.

When looking at this data it is helpful if you ignore the 1979-2000 average data presented in grey.  Virtually all summer data in recent years is outside the grey area which is supposed to cover 95% of all data.  The grey data set is an object lessen of poor statistical analysis.   The aforementioned website has an interactive chart with better data that displays averages and standard deviations for the entire data set, but it doesn’t transfer well, so I used this one.

2012 was a big year for summer melt….and so far it has been a big winter for ice building.   Summer data appears to vary wildly, while the winter data is much more stable.  This is likely to continue due the the nature of sea ice.  First year sea ice has a higher salt content than ice that has been in the Arctic for a while.  This higher salt content makes it melt more rapidly than ice that is older. And there’s been lots of first year ice in the data set since 2007.

People searching for benefits of global warming talk about the shorter shipping routes the Arctic represents.   Environmentalist worry about Polar Bear habitat and excess rain and snow in Europe.   Yep, they are going to happen….but you better be quick.  Summer is an extremely short season and winter seems to last forever.

So far at least, the changes seen for most of the year have been relatively small when compared to the wild variation seen in summer.    If and when the Arctic gets a cold summer following a cold winter, then we will have more second year ice…and the ice will become more stable.  But until then the ice will continue to show wild swings in summer.  It really is more a measurement of past warming, and less so a warning flag of future warming.

But is it?  Recent studies argue that yes the ice melts faster when it is warm, but it also is impacted by pollution.  Air pollution discolors the ice, making is slightly less white, which helps it absorb sunlight in summer.   So maybe it’s a marker for air pollution.  Either way first year sea ice is more a marker of past woes and less a predictor of future woes.

If the trend of a warmer more polluted world continues then the summer ice free area will probably expand.   This is not a new experience for the Arctic.   130,000 years ago the Arctic was much warmer than it is today and it is widely believed that there was  less ice then than we have now.    And 20,000 years later it was much colder.

But this analysis is probably too simplistic too.  If the ice free period expands, then snowfall in the Arctic will likely increase too, which could bring on a new ice age cold period.  Or maybe not.

The current climate cycle for the earth is 2.5 million years old.   Any effort to predict long term trends using a 35 year data base is more than a bit speculative.   Talk about wild extrapolation.  It is virtually impossible to identify a trend in a 2.5 million year system using a 35 year data base that is more reactive than predictive.

Well.   What happens next?  I don’t know.   Time will tell.