Weather Wednesday: 2014 Warmest Year on Record

Rick Atterberry EDEN Immediate Past Chair, writes about the weather.

Both NASA and NOAA last week announced that, globally, 2014 was the warmest year on record since data collection began in 1880.  A third data set from the Japan Meteorological Agency reached the same conclusion.  The average global temperature was 58.24 degrees, 1.24 degrees above NOAA’s 20th century average.

Those of us who live in the eastern half of the United States were in the largest inhabited part of the world with cooler than average temperatures.  Even at that, out west, California and Nevada had their hottest years on record and their drought conditions worsened considerably.

Yes, a climatological data set that dates only to 1880 represents just a fraction in time, but there is an irrefutable trend toward warmer global temperatures.   What it all means is beyond the scope of this blog entry, but there are immediate risks here in the United States including:

  • Increased morbidity due to heat stress
  • Wildfires
  • Water shortages
  • Extreme weather events
  • Sea level rise
  • Infrastructure damage

Long term we may be looking at changes in growing zones, crop regions and the availability of potable water in many large western cities.

Weather Wednesday: Arctic Clipper

Rick Atterberry, EDEN Immediate Past Chair writes about the weather. 

What’s with Weather Wednesdays?   Well, when my term as chair of the Extension Disaster Education Network came to an end in October of 2014, Virginia White asked me if I’d write an occasional blog post for EDEN and our eXtension Community of Practice.

Ever since I wrote a series of posts during and after the response to tornadoes in November of 2013 that affected Gifford, Illinois, which is in Champaign County where I serve as the volunteer Emergency Management Agency Public Information Officer and Washington, Illinois, where I grew up and have many family and friends, I’d been thinking about writing about the weather more regularly.

I hasten to add I am not a meteorologist.  Indeed we do have an actual meteorologist or two in EDEN, including Tom Priddy at the University of Kentucky who created our terrific Next 48 online dashboard tool.  I do have some formal training, but will, as any Extension employee would, rely on research.  Often, I’ll write about threats and best-practices.  On the other hand, some musings may be weather related, but not all that technical.

If you have topics you’d like to see addressed, let me know at ratterbe@illinois.edu .  In the meantime, I hope you’ll enjoy this post about the dreaded “Alberta Clipper.”

What’s an Alberta Clipper?

Much of the continental United States occasionally shivers through a winter weather system known as an Alberta Clipper.  In fact, the first full week of January this year was a classic example with record and near record low temperatures in many areas east of the Rockies.

An Alberta Clipper is a low pressure area that generally originates on the lee side of the Rockies in Alberta, but can also start in Saskatchewan or even Montana.  The “clipper” part is considered a reference to the speeds of the clipper ships. As the cold air is caught up in the typical winter jet stream pattern, it can be pushed far south in the U.S.

Alberta Clippers are characterized by sometimes dramatically colder temperatures resulting in the temperature dropping 20 degrees or more in a relatively short time.  While there is snow associated with most clipper systems, it is usually light, maybe one to three inches, and often with very low moisture content so it is easily blown about by the high winds that may occur.  It is not unusual for an Alberta Clipper to result in a “ground blizzard” after the snowfall has ended.   A ground blizzard results when snow already on the ground or falling as post-frontal flurries is caught up in the wind making forward visibility difficult and resulting in snow drifts and icy patches on highways as was experienced recently.  During a ground blizzard it is often possible to look up and see the sky much more clearly than one can see forward.

While snowfall is limited in a clipper system, the colder temperatures can plunge far south which is certainly what happened this past week.  Some of the coldest weather experienced each winter is often associated with clippers and wind chills can typically reach 30 to 40 degrees below zero, or lower, in the North Central, Great Lakes and North Atlantic States.

Threats associated with clippers include difficult driving conditions; frostbite; frozen pipes; slips and falls; residential fires resulting from malfunctioning or improperly used furnaces, fireplaces and auxiliary heating appliances; cold weather hazards to pets and livestock; and mechanical difficulties with outdoor machinery.

 

Weather Wednesday

Rick Atterberry, EDEN Immediate Past Chair begins a new series about weather with this post. 

Freezing cold thermometer iconMany northern and central states have Wind Chill Warnings or Advisories this week.  Wind chills tonight may exceed 60-degrees below zero in some areas.  In that range frostbite may occur to exposed flesh within minutes.  In addition, recent snowfall in Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, Wisconsin and several other states was of the dry and fluffy variety.  There is a high chance for blowing and drifting snow even though no new snow will be falling.  Visibilities will be reduced and travel may be difficult.

Here’s a link to a very brief summary of best practices from FEMA. The FEMA release includes a further link to more information from NOAA’s National Weather Service.

Several key messages:

  • Check on relatives, friends and neighbors, especially those who are homebound or have special needs.
  • If you have plumbing along exterior walls or in uninsulated spaces leave a trickle of water running and/or open under-sink cabinet doors.
  • Do not attempt to use a blowtorch or other heating device such as a paint stripping gun to thaw frozen pipes.  Get warm air circulating around the pipes or call a plumber.
  • Make sure your Carbon Monoxide detectors are operating properly and have fresh batteries.
  • Do not use a stove, oven or other appliance designed for intermittent use as a heat source.
  • Never fill a kerosene heater indoors.  Allow the unit to cool and fill it outdoors.
  • Avoid using extension cords with electric heaters.  Occasionally feel the attached cord on the heater and the wall outlet into which it is plugged.  If either the cord or the outlet is warm to the touch discontinue use of the heater.
  • Never warm up a vehicle by operating the engine in an enclosed space such as an attached garage.
  • Keep vehicle fuel tanks topped up.
  • If you must travel, make sure you let people know your intended route and anticipated time of arrival.  Leave home with a fully charged cell phone if possible and make sure you have a charger with you.  Keep an emergency kit in your car including a flashlight, high energy food bars, bottled water or a safe means to melt snow for drinking, blanket, first aid kit, fire extinguisher, jumper cables, etc.
  • Stay aware of the official names of the roads on which you are travelling and note mile markers or intersections in case you need to report your location.
  • Stay with your vehicle if it becomes stuck or disabled.   Run the vehicle for about ten minutes each hour to provide heat, but crack a window away from the exhaust pipe when doing so and make sure the exhaust pipe is clear of snow.
  • Do not use cruise control when roads are wet, icy or snow-covered.

Most importantly, give the first responders, tow truck operators and snowplow drivers a break and stay home if at all possible.