Weather & Climate

WORDS on WEATHER & CLIMATE—April 21, 2011

April 21, 2011 // 0 Comments

The Emperor Has No Clothes by CRAIG JAMES During the winter, I had the opportunity to give four separate presentations on global warming to a class of adults at Calvin College. This led to an opportunity at the end of March to give a presentation on global warming to students in the honors dorm at the college. I think the talks were very well received and over the next several weeks I’d like to give you some of the information in my articles. Back in 1975, I taught a class at Grand Valley State University on weather and climate and I very clearly remember showing a film produced by the Public Broadcast System (PBS) called “Snowblitz.” There was fear at the time that the Earth was heading for another ice age in the near future and that this onset could happen in the span of a decade or less. My, how times and attitudes have changed. Now, of course, the prevailing view is that of dangerous warming. You have probably heard statements like the following. The first is from John Holdren, the director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy for the Obama Administration. He is known as the “Science Czar.” In an interview with the British Broadcast Corporation (BBC) on February 18, 2011, he stated: “People are seeing the impact of climate change around them in extraordinary patterns of floods and droughts, wildfires, heat waves and powerful storms.” The second is from the Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-Moon, who on February 22, 2011, stated in an interview with the Los Angeles Times: “The science is clear. Climate change will continue unless drastic measures are taken to stop it.” The problem is there is no evidence to support either of those statements. They are political statements, not scientific statements. In future articles I will report on recent studies that show no support for the idea that there have been any extraordinary weather patterns around the globe and that the severe weather events of the past decade show no connection to any human-induced warming. Also, the idea that you can stop climate change is absurd. It would be like stopping the rotation of the Earth. Anytime you hear someone say “the science […]


April 14, 2011 // 0 Comments

by CRAIG JAMES Our first 70-degree day this season also turned out to be the first 80-degree day of the season. The thermometer hit 85 degrees on Sunday, April 10. It hasn’t been that warm since mid September and it was also a record high temperature for the date. On average, the first 70-degree day in our area occurs in the last half of March. However, back in 1950, the first 70-degree day did not occur until May 3. It was a very cold spring that year but temperatures were in the mid 60s during the month of January for a topsy-turvy winter and spring. The earliest we have seen a 70-degree day was March 3, 1983, although in 1999 the thermometer hit 69 on February 11. The months of December, January and February are the only three months when the temperature has never hit 70 degrees in Grand Rapids. I guess that is a more comforting thought than the fact that the months of June, July and August are the only three months when we have not seen any snowflakes. As I have written several times already, this looks like a very active spring for severe weather. Our area has been fortunate so far in that all of the severe weather has occurred around us and not here. On April 4, there were over 1,300 reports of wind damage in the southeastern United States in a 24-hour period, making it the greatest number of wind damage events (not tornadoes) ever reported in one day. Keep in mind, however, these records only go back to 1950. Last Saturday evening, the 9th of April, an EF3 rated tornado three quarters of a mile wide with winds between 136 and 165 mph damaged at least 60 percent of the town of Mapleton in the western part of Iowa. Fortunately there were no deaths, but this is the same region of western Iowa where four Boy Scouts died in a tornado that struck a scouting ranch in June 2008. Some of you may remember the severe weather that occurred in our area on April 11, 1965, which was a Palm Sunday. There were 47 tornadoes in the Midwest that day with 271 fatalities and 1,500 injuries; 1,200 of […]


March 24, 2011 // 0 Comments

What is The Earth’s Figure Axis? by CRAIG JAMES Since the huge earthquake in Japan earlier this month, I have read in many places that it not only shifted the island of Japan eight feet, but it also shifted the axis of the Earth about six-and-a-half inches to the east. What hasn’t been made all that clear is that it shifted the figure axis of the Earth, not the north-south axis. That seems even less clear. What exactly is the Earth’s figure axis? I confess to not having heard the term before. A seismologist from the University of Wisconsin explains that the figure axis is the imaginary line around which the world’s unevenly distributed mass is balanced. The figure axis deviates from the north-south axis by about 33 feet. You can visualize the difference this way by imagining “a spinning figure skater holding a rock in one hand. The rotational axis of the skater is still down the middle of the body, but the skater’s figure axis is shifted slightly in the direction of the hand holding the rock.” What he is saying is that we now have more mass on one side of the north-south rotational axis than we did before the earthquake, which will cause the Earth to wobble a bit differently as it rotates. This wobble has apparently had the effect of speeding up the rotation of the Earth. I say “apparently” because the change has been so small as not to be measurable. Scientists can only measure the length of the Earth’s day with an accuracy of 20 millionths of a second. Using computer models, it has been calculated that this earthquake shortened the Earth’s day by less than two millionths of a second. The Earth’s crust moved inward toward the center of the Earth, which would be like the skater pulling her arms slightly inward, causing her to spin faster. The earthquake in Japan is called a thrust earthquake, with an inward motion. This is the only type of earthquake that can speed up the Earth’s rotation and shorten the length of the day. The seismologist says, “Other types of earthquakes, such as horizontal strike-slip quakes, in which two plates slide horizontally past one another, don’t affect Earth’s rotation.” The […]


March 10, 2011 // 0 Comments

The Miserable Month of March by CRAIG JAMES Isn’t there a saying that goes something like: “30 days have September, April, May, June and November. All the rest have 31, with the exception of March that has at least 80?” Or at least that’s the way it feels to me. We keep being teased by spring weather in March, but it is a long time until it actually gets here to stay. That may especially be the case this year with the current weather pattern of a fairly strong La Niña and a cold phase of the Pacific Ocean called a cold PDO. When this type of pattern exists, it is not uncommon for the first year of the La Niña to have a cold winter. But wait! The second and third year of the La Niña tend to have even colder winters. That doesn’t bode well for the next two winters unless you like snow and cold. During the spring months of this type of pattern, the storm track is usually from the southwestern part of the country right up into the Great Lakes. These storms usually bring us fairly heavy precipitation of both rain and snow. And this pattern usually lasts at least into April. Yippee! Along with this type of pattern comes an increased risk for severe flooding. At the end of February, several river gauges in Indiana and Ohio were at or near record high levels. The amount of water locked up in the snow cover across much of northern New England, the Dakotas and Minnesota is currently about 6 to 10 inches. Unfortunately, early spring storms frequently bring more snow to these areas before the warmer rain arrives, so the potential for serious flooding is quite high. You can see in this spring flood forecast issued by NOAA that the eastern Dakotas and Minnesota may again be in for severe floods. The areas in purple have a 90% chance or better of major flooding and at least a 10% to 30% chance of record flooding. The Red River Valley along the North Dakota border all the way north to Winnipeg, Canada has a history of frequent flooding. You may remember the terrible disaster in 1997 in Grand Forks, North Dakota […]


March 3, 2011 // 0 Comments

A Weather CSI Team by CRAIG JAMES Yes, there is now a CSI team that has been formed within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). They do not investigate crime scenes; they investigate what they call climate scenes. The team is comprised of 26 employees from NOAA for the purpose of determining whether extreme weather events can be attributed to human-induced climate change or whether they are simply due to the inherent variability of weather patterns. NOAA states, “By distinguishing natural variability from human-induced climate change, they aim to improve decision-making and inform adaptation strategies.” As you may recall, there have been several record-breaking snowstorms over the past couple of years, especially from the mid-Atlantic region into New England. The CSI team assembled last year to analyze why the snowstorms happened. Many people, of course, specifically blamed these storms on human-induced global warming. In response to these claims, the CSI team “specifically wanted to know if human-induced global warming could have caused the snowstorms due to the fact that a warmer atmosphere holds more water vapor.” Their answer: “not likely.” They went on to state, “They found no evidence—no human ‘fingerprints’—to implicate our involvement in the snowstorms. If global warming was the culprit, the team would have expected to find a gradual increase in heavy snowstorms in the mid-Atlantic region as temperatures rose during the past century. But historical analysis revealed no such increase in snowfall. Nor did the CSI team find any indication of an upward trend in winter precipitation along the eastern seaboard.” There is also another great piece of evidence to suggest storms in the eastern part of the country are no more frequent or worse than in the past. In 2004, two NOAA employees developed what is called the Northeast Snowfall Impact Scale (NESIS). NESIS scores are a function of the area affected by the snowstorm, the amount of snow, and the number of people living in the path of the storm. You can see from the chart how the biggest storms rate on this scale since 1956. In the summary graphic, the chart has been broken up into two separate time periods. If human-induced global warming was having an effect upon these storms, you would expect to see an […]

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