Sunday, March 12, 2017

Wacky Winter Weather: Record Warmth in Buffalo and U.S. - Linked to Global Warming?

By David Kowalski

February 2017 was the second warmest February in the 123-year period of record for the contiguous U.S., according to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The average U.S. temperature was 41.2°F, a whopping 7.3°F above the 20th century average.

Nearly one-quarter of the U.S. showed record warmth in February (NOAA's U.S. map, below). This included Buffalo, which set a record for its warmest temperature for February.

[Click image to enlarge]

Buffalo also broke a 111-year-old record for one day’s warmth. The city shattered the record for Feb. 24 when the temperature soared to 71 degrees, the all-time warmest day in February in Buffalo’s history.  On Feb. 26, 2000, the thermometer also crested to 71 degrees.

On average, Buffalo's normal daily high temperature doesn't reach 71 degrees until May 30, according to weather service data.

The monthly average temperature for February as recorded at the Buffalo Niagara International Airport was 34.8 degrees.

Buffalo had one of its least-snowiest Februarys on record, with only 5 inches of snow over the 28 days. February's normal monthly average is 17.3 inches.

Elsewhere, Chicago, a city that's also known for snowy days during the second month of the year, had no measurable snow in February. February 2017 will go into the record books as only the third February with just a trace of snow, joining 1998 and 1987.

Below is a map of the recent weather pattern for February 9-22 across the country posted at weather. com

The map indicates record warmth dominating the Eastern two-thirds of the country. More than 4000 heat records were broken. Also, an abundance of heavy rain ("atmospheric river" events) and snow (over 400 inches at ski resorts) fell along the West Coast. Flowers bloomed in the South. And closer to home, there was very little ice in the Great Lakes.

For the second consecutive year, mild winter weather conditions resulted in little to no ice cover on Lake Erie.

In the Buffalo area, the absence of snow cover and presence of warm temperatures on some days this February were suitable for people to play golf

While the warm winter temperatures are welcomed by many people, such unseasonal warmth can put area apple and cherry growers as well as grape growers on edge. When trees and vines begin budding early, and then are hit with cold weather and hard frost, the crop can be ruined.

Changes in the timing of spring can affect human health, bringing early-season disease-carriers such as ticks and mosquitoes, and an earlier, longer and more vigorous pollen season, the National Phenology Network warned.

But typical winter weather is definitely not over, and neither are strong winds.

Wind gusts over 35 mph have been recorded in Buffalo on more than one of every three days since Dec. 1, a Buffalo News analysis of National Weather Service data shows.  Only one winter season since 2009-10 has been windier: 2013-14.

A double whammy of wind and snow was recently forecast. For March 13 through March 15, a winter storm watch with heavy and blowing snow has been issued for much of Western New York.

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Could the unusually warm and wacky winter weather patterns across the country be linked to global warming?  

We know that the planet continues to get warmer. 2016 record global warming beat the 2015 record which in turn beat the 2014 record, as documented previously. In fact, 16 of the 17 warmest years occurred in the consecutive years 2001 through 2016.

Climate scientists have repeatedly warned that, with global warming, we should "expect the unexpected" in terms of weather.  Higher global temperatures mean more energy in the weather systems of Earth. That energy along with a complex mix of ocean circulation, water evaporation & precipitation, and moving air masses combine to produce our everyday weather and long-term climate.

Higher global temperatures have changed the environment on Earth. Polar ice and glaciers are melting, oceans are warming and sea level is rising. Unprecedented droughts, deadly heat waves, destructive wildfires fed by heat and drought, and historic floods are all occurring more frequently.

 “All weather events are influenced by the changed environment,” says Kevin Trenberth, a climate researcher with the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research. 

As a result of the Paris Climate Agreement, virtually all nations of the world have begun to implement plans to curb global warming by reducing greenhouse gas emissions primarily from burning fossil fuels. But stable greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide, already in the air and oceans, will continue to raise global temperature and influence weather events for decades to come. The sooner the world acts in earnest to curb global warming, the better.

UPDATE - March 19, 2017 
Cold snap kills nearly half of cherry blossoms, pushing back peak bloom date 

Read the report at  The Washington Post 

3/14/2017 Cherry blossom buds are covered in ice after a snowstorm in DC. Susan Walsh/AP

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