Tag Archives: weather

Balmy weather in Alaska

Today, Thursday January 23rd was a noteworthy day for South-central Alaska.  It was 48 degrees F at my house in the Hillside area of Anchorage, and we had 7 hours of daylight.  The Sun is getting a bit higher in the sky and the extraordinarily flat light that is early January is beginning to fade.  On December 21st, we had only 5 hours, 27 minutes and 41 second of daylight.  Today we had 7 hours, 2 minutes and 31 seconds.  And the Sun is 4 degrees higher in the sky than it was just a month ago.

And that 4 degrees is a big change.  As we near the Winter Solstice, the Sun almost disappears, rising to about 5.5 degrees above the horizon.  Such is life at 61 degrees North Latitude.   On January 20th, we were all treated to a spectacular sunrise.   The sun rises at a flat angle, which allowed for viewing like this that lasted half an hour as the Sun struggled to come up above the Chugach Mountains:

We are having a Chinook, which means we have a warm wind blowing down from the mountains east of Anchorage.  The warm wind makes it’s quite a bit warmer near the mountains, and cooler down in the flat-lands.  Also,  there’s a funny bend in the Jet Stream causing most of the State to feel a warm wet Southerly flow of air.  The same bend is making it super cold in the Midwest.

The result. It’s almost 30 degrees F warmer than the average Anchorage January Day.  Yesterday, the Weather Channel, AP and ABC News  all ran the same Alaska  weather story.  Alaska was on average 2 degrees F warmer the lower 48 states.  Yep, the calculated average for the State of Alaska was 24 degrees F and the lower 48 US States were a whopping 22.

It was a fun story to read, but was it true?   Let me use today as an example.  Today my car thermometer said 37 degrees in a midtown parking lot.   I immediately drove the 10 miles to my house where the same thermometer said 48.  I have no idea what the temperature was 10 miles east of my house.  Nobody knows.   It’s in the middle of an uninhabited mountain range.   Alaska is a really big place with not very many weather stations.

Today my house was 10 degrees warmer than the official weather station.   In cold clear weather, I am 5 to 10 degrees cooler…and I’m only 10 miles away.  The trip from Anchorage to Barrow is 800 miles long and crosses two mountain ranges…including the tallest Mountain in North America.

Any single number temperature for the entire state at any given time must be a guess.  A Scientific Wild Ass Guess.   It has been a warm January.   No doubt about it.  One for the record books.  But, we really don’t know  how warm, exactly.  Nobody knows.  But we can give a pretty good educated guess….and it is just that, a guess!

Temperature Data — Can it be trusted?

Climate Science is full of strange and special temperature related climate moments.  Everything from the Mann Hockey Stick Graph to ClimateGate to simple silly mistakes at NASA’s own National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

NASA has a storied history of messing up temperature data.

  • In 2007, a skeptical blogger noticed a Y2K conversion error in NASA’s data set.  Many USA based weather stations were using raw rather than corrected data.  This mistake should have been easy to catch, but NASA missed it for years and years.  O000ps.
  • The gap in individual sites immediately after the Y2K conversion should have been a red flag for NASA as this station data point demonstrates:https://i2.wp.com/images.dailytech.com/nimage/5625_large_Detroit_lakes_GISSplot.jpg
  • When the error was found, 1934 was crowned the warmest year ever, replacing 1998.  In the years that followed,  1934 cooled down again…presto….it’s magic.
  • In 2008 NASA used September data in October for all of Siberia and incorrectly claimed that October of 2008 was the warmest on record.  A short while later it was corrected.
  • A satellite malfunction in 2009 caused NASA to miscalculate the summer Arctic Ice melt. Literally a California sized error.  They overstated the melt by a surface area the size of California.

For years I have been using East Anglia University in the UK as my source for temperature data.   Their data was more stable and matched Satellite data more consistently than did NOAA data.

Then last year I noticed something…

The East Anglia Data was changing too.   I’m not sure exactly when it changed…but it changed.   First lets look at some data published by East Anglia University in 2009:

and compare that to current data:

The charts look virtually identical until about 1940 and then things begin to get….well…odd.   The entire data set from 1940 to 1979 appears to have been shifted by perhaps 0.1 degree C.  Satellite data began in 1979.  All the data from 1979 to 2009 looks the same except for 1998 and 2005.   1998 suddenly got cooler and 2005 got warmer.  Why was the data changed in 2012?  What new information caused the change?

Most climate experts now claim that 2010 was the warmest year in history.   Maybe it wasn’t? And by history, they really mean the last 150 years.  Satellite data still shows a peak in 1998.

In 1977 the conventional wisdom was that a new ice age was coming.  Time Magazine ran a cover story discussing it


I wonder what the world will be saying 35 years from now?

30 year weather data useless

The National  Snow and Ice Data Center is changing the way they display Arctic Ice information graphically.   For years they have used the period from 1979 to 2000 as a base data set.  They are increasing the period to 30 years ….as the site states:

Until now, we have used the 22-year period 1979 to 2000 when comparing current sea ice extent to past conditions. When NSIDC first began to monitor and analyze sea ice extent, a longer period was not available. Since the satellite record is now extended, we are choosing to move to a more standard 30-year reference period, from 1981 to 2010.

Juneau Snow Record

I am ever amazed by my local papers efforts to fill space with local news.   Today I found this little gem on page A-4 column 1 of the Anchorage Daily News:

Snowfall break record by 3.3 inches

A Spring storm has brought record snowfall to parts of Juneau.  The National Weather Service said a snowfall record for the day was broken at the airport, where forecaster Richard Lam said 3.5 inches of snow had been reported as of 10 a.m. Friday.  Lam said the prior record for the day at the airport was 0.2 inches, in 1964.

The article goes on to say that parts of town got rain instead of snow and it was expected to stay wet in Juneau through the weekend.

Why is any of this newsworthy?  Parts of the city got a little wet snow and it set a record.  Give me a break.  Juneau is a very wet place.  Sure it rains more than it snows and snow this late in April is a bit unusual, but the surprise is not that a record was set, but that the old record was so low.

Weather records seem to be broken all the time.   It didn’t used to be that way.   A record snowfall had to be the biggest ever or at least the biggest in the month involved, but not anymore.  Today we have daily records, which give us lots of opportunity to set new records.

30 snowfall records for April alone.  Juneau began as a mining town in about 1880.  Record keeping began some time after that so  the probability that Juneau will have a daily snow record in April is 25% (30/120).  And we have records for high and low temperature, rain and wind.

We keep so many records, that it is virtually impossible not to break old records with regularity.  Juneau’s old record was a trace of snow and now the record is 3.5 inches or about a quarter inch of rainfall equivalent.  By Juneau standards both are low numbers.

Juneau had managed to not have any snow for over 100 years on April 26th, and then it snowed on that day in 2013.   Where is global warming when it’s needed?

And while I’m grousing about weather silliness….what’s going on at the weather channel.   Who gave them permission to start naming winter storms….and who picked the names?  When I was a kid only hurricanes got names, now the Weather Service names all tropical systems.  Storm names are here, there, everywhere.

So many records broken, so many named storms; it’s easy to conclude that the world’s weather must to be getting worse.  Perhaps the only thing that has changed is the way we talk about the weather.  Today we are better at making “much ado about nothing”.

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.

Weather skeptics — An Alaska Tradition

I can think of two obvious reasons there are quite a few global warming disbelievers a way up North in Alaska.

  1. Alaska is a really cold place.   A warm day is something to look forward too.   Anchorage, my home town, rarely gets above 80 degrees F and any day above 70 degrees F is considered a nice summer day.   The snow that falls in November, melts in April.    We know cold.   Warm doesn’t seem like a bad idea.
  2. Anchorage, Alaska is an extraordinarily difficult place to predict weather.  There are mountains all around and water to the West.   Weather prediction is complicated by the fact that there are very few weather stations to the west of the city.    The weather man is wrong more often here than most places.

I just looked up our weather on two well known weather sites, the Weather Channel and AccuWeather and ….guess what…..they disagree.    Both think tomorrow will be rainy, but AccuWeather thinks the high will be 60, while the weather channel likes 65.  Saturday they agree on temperature, but AccuWeather says it will be mostly sunny weather while the Weather Channel shows rain.  Sunday is more of the same.

Frequently both are wrong.

My daughter went to college in upstate NY and was taken aback when city public schools ware closed when an ice storm was predicted or when snowfall was anticipated.  We in Alaska do not live with the presumption that the weather man will be right.

Climate prediction really is nothing more than worldwide long range weather forecasting.   It is easier for us to assume that it could be wrong….because we see it very nearly every day.