Tag Archives: temperatures

Weird weather: Seeing global warming’s fingerprints

A new scientific report finds man-made climate change played some role in two dozen extreme weather events last year but not in a few other weird weather instances around the world.

An annual report released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found climate change was a factor in 24 of 30 strange weather events.

They include 11 cases of high heat, as well as unusual winter sunshine in the United Kingdom, Alaskan wildfires and odd “sunny day” flooding in Miami.

The study documented climate change-goosed weather in Alaska, Washington state, the southeastern United States, Canada, Europe, Australia, China, Japan, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, the western north Pacific cyclone region, India, Pakistan, Egypt, Ethiopia and southern Africa.

“It has to be measureable. It has to be detectable. There has to be evidence for it and that’s what these papers do,” said NOAA scientist Stephanie Herring, co-editor of the report.

In six cases — including cold snaps in the United States and downpours in Nigeria and India — the scientists could not detect climate change’s effects. Other scientists, though, disputed that finding for the cold snap that hit the Northeast.

Herring highlighted the Miami flooding in September 2015. Because of rising sea levels and sinking land, extremely high tides flooded the streets with 22 inches of water.

“This one is just very remarkable because truly, not a cloud in the sky, and these types of tidal nuisance flooding events are clearly become more frequent,” she said.

The report also found an increase in tropical cyclone activity and strength in the western Pacific can be blamed partly on climate change and partly on El Nino, the now-gone natural weather phenomenon. But similar storm strengthening hasn’t increased noticeably around the United States yet, said study co-editor Martin Hoerling, a NOAA scientist.

The report was published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society. Using accepted scientific techniques, 116 scientists from around the world calculated whether the odds of the extreme weather events were increased by global warming. They based their calculations on observed data, understanding of the physics of the climate and computer simulations — techniques that the National Academy of Sciences said were valid earlier this year.

Columbia University meteorology professor Adam Sobel, who was on the national academy panel but not part of this report, praised the NOAA study but noted it wasn’t comprehensive. It picked only certain but not all weather extremes to study.

For the February 2015 Northeast cold snap, other scientists have connected the polar vortex pushing south to shrinking ice in the Arctic Ocean.

Judah Cohen, seasonal forecasting chief at Atmospheric Environmental Research in Lexington, Massachusetts, said he even predicted the 2015 polar vortex because of the low sea ice. He said the same thing is happening with the bitter cold hitting the U.S. this week.

NOAA’s Hoerling said the research found a connection between the shrinking ice and the polar vortex but didn’t see one causing the other.

On the web

Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society.

Warm ocean ‘blob’ facilitated vast toxic algae bloom

A new study finds that unusually warm Pacific Ocean temperatures helped cause a massive bloom of toxic algae that closed lucrative fisheries from California to British Columbia and disrupted marine life from seabirds to sea lions.

Scientists linked the large patch of warm ocean water, nicknamed the “blob,” to the vast ribbon of toxic algae that flourished in 2015 and produced record-breaking levels of a neurotoxin that is harmful to people, fish and marine life.

The outbreak of the toxin domoic acid, the largest ever recorded on the West Coast, closed razor clam seasons in Washington and Oregon and delayed lucrative Dungeness crab fisheries along the coast. High levels were also detected in many stranded marine mammals.

“We’re not surprised now having looked at the data, but our study is the first to demonstrate that linkage,” said Ryan McCabe, lead author and a research scientist at the University of Washington’s Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean. “It’s the first question that everyone was asking.”

McCabe and his co-authors explain how the toxic algae bloom thrived in their study published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

Seasonal algae blooms are common each year along the West Coast, but most are not toxic. The scientists found that the algae bloom was dominated by a single species called “Pseudo-nitzschia australis” that is highly toxic.

The algae survived and took advantage of warm, nutrient-poor conditions set up by the patch of water that was warmer at the surface than normal.

Coastal upwelling last spring — a seasonal event that brings nutrient-rich, cooler waters up from the deep ocean — provided nutrients for the algae to bloom into a large population fairly quickly at sea. Finally, a series of late spring storms delivered the bloom to the coast.

“While temperature isn’t everything, it’s serving as a decent proxy,” said McCabe. “We think there’s a linkage between toxic events along our coast and climate variability indices.”

The blob was a one-time event that was not due to global warming, “but we are looking at this event as a potential window into the future as what conditions could look like,” McCabe said.

Kathi Lefebvre, a co-author and marine biologist at NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center, said the bloom resulted in the highest levels of domoic acid contamination in the food web ever recorded for many species.

Domoic acid accumulates in anchovies, sardines and other small fish as well as shellfish that eat the algae.

Marine mammals and fish-eating birds in turn can get sick from eating the contaminated fish. In people, it can trigger amnesic shellfish poisoning, which can cause permanent loss of short-term memory in severe cases.

Sea lions in California commonly experienced seizures, a common sign of domoic acid poisoning, during harmful algae blooms along that state’s coast. But 2015 was the first year that such harmful effects were documented as far north as Washington state, scientists said.

“This is an eye-opener for what the future may hold as ocean conditions continue to warm globally,” Lefebvre said.

February’s record heat like something ‘out of a sci-fi movie’

February’s record heat left federal scientists struggling to find words, describing temperatures as “astronomical,” “staggering” and “strange.” They warned that the climate may have moved into a new and hotter neighborhood.

This was not just another of the drumbeat of 10 straight broken monthly global heat records, triggered by a super El Nino and man-made global warming. February 2016 obliterated old marks by such a margin that it was the most above-normal month since meteorologists started keeping track in 1880, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The old record was set just last December and the last three months have been the most above-normal months on record, said NOAA climate scientist Jessica Blunden. And it’s not just NOAA. NASA, which uses different statistical techniques, as well as a University of Alabama Huntsville team and the private Remote Sensing System team, which measure using satellites, also said February 2016 had the biggest departure from normal on record.

NOAA said Earth averaged 56.08 degrees (13.38 degrees Celsius) in February, 2.18 degrees (1.21 degrees Celsius) above average, beating the old record for February set in 2015 by nearly six-tenths of a degree (one-third of a degree Celsius). These global heat figures had federal scientists grasping for superlatives.

“The departures are what we would consider astronomical,” Blunden said. “It’s on land. It’s in the oceans. It’s in the upper atmosphere. It’s in the lower atmosphere. The Arctic had record low sea ice.”

“Everything everywhere is a record this month, except Antarctica,” Blunden said. “It’s insane.”

In the Arctic, where sea ice reached a record low for February, land temperatures averaged 8 degrees above normal (4.5 degrees Celsius), Blunden said. That’s after January, when Arctic land temperatures were 10.4 degrees above normal (5.8 degrees Celsius).

Worldwide, the record heat made February 2016 warmer than about 125 of the last 136 Marches.

It was also the warmest winter — December through February — on record, beating the previous year’s record by more than half a degree (0.29 degrees Celsius).

Georgia Tech climate scientist Kim Cobb said she normally doesn’t concern herself much with the new high temperature records that are broken regularly.

“However,” she added in an email,” When I look at the new February 2016 temperatures, I feel like I’m looking at something out of a sci-fi movie. In a way we are: it’s like someone plucked a value off a graph from 2030 and stuck it on a graph of present temperatures. It is a portent of things to come, and it is sobering that such temperature extremes are already on our doorstep.”

Scientists at NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information in Asheville, North Carolina, were astonished by the “staggering” numbers, said Deke Arndt, the centers’ global monitoring chief.

“Usually these are monthly reminders that things are changing,” Arndt said. “The last six months have been more than a reminder, it’s been like a punch in the nose.”

NASA’s chief climate scientist Gavin Schmidt usually discounts the importance of individual record hot months, but said this month was different, calling it “obviously strange.”

This was due to the long-term warming from heat-trapping gases and the powerful El Niño, so these types of record heat numbers will continue for a few more months, but probably will not be a permanent situation, Schmidt said in an email.

But others were not so sure, including Arndt, who compared it to moving into a new hotter neighborhood.

“We are in a new era,” Arndt said. “We have started a new piece of modern history for this climate.”

Jason Furtado, a meteorology professor at the University of Oklahoma who wasn’t part of any of the government teams, simply wrote in an email: “Welcome to the new normal.

 

Online:

NOAA: www.ncdc.noaa.gov

Follow Seth Borenstein at http://twitter.com/borenbears and his work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/seth-borenstein

 

 

Brrr: Feeling cold can be contagious

Just looking at somebody shivering is enough to make a person feel cold, according to newly published research from the University of Sussex.

Volunteers who watched videos of people putting their hands in cold water found their own body temperature drop significantly.

The research by scientists in the Brighton and Sussex Medical School shows that humans are susceptible to “temperature contagion.”

Neuropsychiatrist Dr Neil Harrison, who led the research, suggests that such unconscious physiological changes may help us empathize with one another and live in communities.

He said, “Mimicking another person is believed to help us create an internal model of their physiological state which we can use to better understand their motivations and how they are feeling.”

He continued, “Humans are profoundly social creatures and much of humans’ success results from our ability to work together in complex communities — this would be hard to do if we were not able to rapidly empathize with each other and predict one another’s thoughts, feelings and motivations.”

For the research, which was published in the journal PLOS ONE, 36 participants each watched eight videos of actors putting their hands in either visibly warm or cold water. At the same time, the temperature of their own hands was measured. Their hands were significantly colder when watching the “cold” videos. However, the “warm” videos did not cause a change.

Harrison said, “We think that this is probably because the warm videos were less potent — the only cues that the water was warm was steam at the beginning of the videos and the pink color of the actor’s hand,” whereas blocks of ice were clearly visible throughout the duration of the cold video.

“There is also some evidence to suggest that people may be more sensitive to others appearing cold than hot,” he said.

Harrison worked on the project with Sussex colleagues Ella Cooper and Hugo Critchley, who is co-director of the Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science, and also scientists in Cambridge, London and Germany.

Global warming worsening watery dead zones

Global warming is likely playing a bigger role than previously thought in dead zones in oceans, lakes and rivers around the world and it’s only going to get worse, according to a new study.

Dead zones occur when fertilizer runoff clogs waterways with nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorous. That leads to an explosion of microbes that consumes oxygen and leaves the water depleted of oxygen, harming marine life.

Scientists have long known that warmer water increases this problem, but a new study published this week in the journal Global Change Biology by Smithsonian Institution researchers found about two dozen different ways — biologically, chemically and physically — that climate change worsens the oxygen depletion.

“We’ve underestimated the effect of climate change on dead zones,” said study lead author Andrew Altieri, a researcher at the Smithsonian’s tropical center in Panama.

The researchers looked at 476 dead zones worldwide — 264 in the United States. They found that standard computer climate models predict that, on average, the surface temperature around those dead zones will increase by about 4 degrees Fahrenheit (slightly more than 2 degrees Celsius) from the 1980s and 1990s to the end of this century.

The largest predicted warming is nearly 7 degrees (almost 4 degrees Celsius) where the St. Lawrence River dumps into the ocean in Canada. The most prominent U.S. dead zones, the Gulf of Mexico and the Chesapeake Bay, are projected to warm 4 degrees (2.3 degrees Celsius) and nearly 5 degrees (2.7 degrees Celsius) respectively.

Warmer water holds less oxygen, adding to the problem from runoff, said co-author Keryn Gedan, who is at both the Smithsonian and the University of Maryland. But warmer water also affects dead zones by keeping the water more separate, so that oxygen-poor deep water mixes less.

“It’s like Italian dressing that you haven’t shaken, where you have the oil and water separate,” Altieri said.

When the water gets warmer, marine life’s metabolism increases, making them require more oxygen just as the oxygen levels are already dropping. Other ways that climate change affects dead zones includes longer summers, ocean acidification and changing wind and current patterns, the study said.

Donald Boesch, a University of Maryland ecologist who wasn’t part of the study and works at a different department than Gedan, said there is not enough evidence to say that climate change has already played such a big role in the spread of dead zones. But he said the study is probably right in warning that future warming will make the problem even worse.

Defense secretary says climate change creates challenges for military

Rising sea levels and other effects of climate change will pose major challenges for America’s military, including more and worse natural disasters and the threat that food and water shortages could fuel disputes and instability around the world, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said earlier this week.

Addressing a conference of military leaders as the Pentagon released a new report on the issue, Hagel said, “Our militaries’ readiness could be tested, and our capabilities could be stressed.”

U.S. military officials have long warned that changes in climate patterns, resulting in increased severe weather events and coastal flooding, will have a broad and costly impact on the Defense Department’s ability to protect the nation and respond to natural and humanitarian disasters in the United States and around the globe.

The new report — described as a Pentagon roadmap — identifies four things that it says will affect the U.S. military: rising global temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, more extreme weather and rising sea levels. It calls on the department and the military services to identify more specific concerns, including possible effects on the more than 7,000 bases and facilities, and to start putting plans in place to deal with them.

“Climate change is a `threat multiplier’ because it has the potential to exacerbate many of the challenges we already confront today — from infectious disease to armed insurgencies — and to produce new challenges in the future,” Hagel said. He spoke during the opening session of the conference, which was attended by defense ministers and military chiefs of more than 30 countries from the Americas, Spain and Portugal.

Changing climate trends could spur more natural disasters, demanding more military support, he said. “Our coastal installations could be vulnerable to rising shorelines and flooding, and extreme weather could impair our training ranges, supply chains and critical equipment.”

More broadly, the report warns that as temperatures rise and severe weather increases, food, water and electricity shortages could create instability in many countries, spreading disease, causing mass migration and opening the door for extremists to take advantage of fractures in already-unstable countries.

The report comes amid an ongoing debate within the administration and Congress over the actual extent and existence of global warming and climate change. But Hagel, who is on a six-day, three-country trip to South America, seemed to have little question about the impending changes.

“The loss of glaciers will strain water supplies in several areas of our hemisphere. Destruction and devastation from hurricanes can sow the seeds for instability. Droughts and crop failures can leave millions of people without any lifeline, and trigger waves of mass migration,” he told the ministers at this mountain resort in the Andes near the southern tip of Peru.

“We have already seen these events unfold in other regions of the world, and there are worrying signs that climate change will create serious risks to stability in our own hemisphere,” he said.

For the U.S., rising sea levels could eventually put vast stretches of Navy docks and other military installations under water, in places like Norfolk, Virginia, Honolulu and other coastal locations worldwide.

The Pentagon has been working for years to reduce the military’s heavy footprint on the earth by using alternative fuels and conducting maintenance aimed at managing water use and encroachment on natural resources.

But, according to a federal greenhouse gas inventory, the department was responsible for 71 percent of the federal government’s carbon footprint in 2010, producing 95.4 million tons of carbon dioxide. That put the military’s footprint at about the same size as that of the entire country of Chile.

The greenhouse gas report said that more than 60 percent of the Pentagon’s carbon footprint cannot be reduced easily.

In its new report, the Pentagon said it has to better define how climate change could affect military operations, training, testing and readiness.

The issue is a deep concern to many South and Central American nations that have long stretches of coastline. Gen. John Kelly, the top U.S. military commander in South America, was with Hagel at the conference.

Caribbean island countries in particular worry about rising sea levels and more violent hurricanes, he said, adding that “the fact that they’re all here talking about how important this is will make a difference.”

One key national security issue is the Arctic, where melting ice caps are opening up sea lanes, spurring competition for the lucrative oil and gas deposits and increasing the use of the icy waters for military exercises and transit.

“We see an Arctic that is melting, meaning that most likely a new sea lane will emerge,” Hagel said during his stop in Chile. “We know that there are significant minerals and natural deposits of oil and natural gas there. That means that nations will compete for those natural resources.”

Last November, at a security conference in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Hagel said the U.S. would assert its sovereignty in the Arctic, even as Russia, China and other countries stake their own claims in the largely untapped region. Increased use of the Arctic will require the U.S. to fill gaps in satellite and communications coverage, add deep-water ports and buy more ships that can withstand frigid waters.

In addition to those costs, the U.S. will have to address other changes in its military installations. Officials don’t yet have cost estimates.

World breaks monthly heat record 2 times in a row

The globe is on a hot streak, setting a heat record in June. That’s after the world broke a record in May.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced Monday that last month’s average global temperature was 61.2 degrees (16.2 Celsius), which is 1.3 degrees higher than the 20th century average. It beat 2010’s old record by one-twentieth of a degree.

While one-twentieth of a degree doesn’t sound like much, in temperature records it’s like winning a horse race by several lengths, said NOAA climate monitoring chief Derek Arndt.

And that’s only part of it. The world’s oceans not only broke a monthly heat record at 62.7 degrees (17 Celsius), but it was the hottest the oceans have been on record no matter what the month, Arndt said.

“We are living in the steroid era of the climate system,” Arndt said.

Arndt said both the June and May records were driven by unusually hot oceans, especially the Pacific and Indian oceans.

Heat records in June broke on every continent but Antarctica, especially in New Zealand, northern South America, Greenland, central Africa and southern Asia.

The United States had only its 33rd hottest June.

All 12 of the world’s monthly heat records have been set after 1997, more than half in the last decade. All the global cold monthly records were set before 1917.

And with a likely El Nino this year _ the warming of the tropical Pacific which influences the world’s weather and increases global temperatures — it is starting to look like another extra warm year, said  University of Arizona climate scientist Jonathan Overpeck.

The first six months of the year are the third warmest first six months on record, coming behind 2010 and 1998, according to NOAA

Global temperature records go back to 1880 and this is the 352nd hotter than average month in a row.

“This is what global warming looks like,” Overpeck said in an email. “Not record hot everywhere all the time, but certainly a reflection that the odds of record hot are going up everywhere around the planet.”

On the Web…

NOAA on June tempertures: http://1.usa.gov/1yQQQqb

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Study: Ozone pollution to grow as temps rise

Ozone pollution across the continental United States will become more difficult to keep in check as temperatures rise, according to research led from the National Center for Atmospheric Research.

NCAR on May 5 released a detailed study showing that Americans face the risk of a 70 percent increase in unhealthy summertime ozone levels by 2050.

This is because warmer temperatures and other changes in the atmosphere related to a changing climate, including higher atmospheric levels of methane, spur chemical reactions that lead to ozone, according to NCAR.

Unless emissions of specific pollutants that are associated with the formation of ozone are sharply cut, almost all of the continental United States will experience at least a few days with unhealthy air during the summers, the research showed.

Heavily polluted locations in parts of the East, Midwest and West Coast in which ozone already frequently exceeds recommended levels could face unhealthy air during most of the summer.

“It doesn’t matter where you are in the United States — climate change has the potential to make your air worse,” said NCAR scientist Gabriele Pfister, the lead author of the study. “A warming planet doesn’t just mean rising temperatures, it also means risking more summertime pollution and the health impacts that come with it.”

The research also showed that a sharp reduction in the emissions of certain pollutants would lead to dramatically decreased levels of ozone even as temperatures warm.

Ozone and heat

Ozone pollution is not emitted directly, but instead forms as a result of chemical reactions that take place between nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds in the presence of sunlight. These gases come from human activities such as combustion of coal and oil as well as natural sources such as emissions from plants.

Unlike ozone in the stratosphere, which benefits life on Earth by blocking ultraviolet radiation from the sun, ground-level ozone can trigger a number of health problems. These range from coughing and throat irritation to more serious problems, including aggravation of asthma, bronchitis, and emphysema. Even short periods of unhealthy ozone levels can cause local death rates to rise. Ozone pollution also damages crops and other plants.

To examine the impacts of climate change on ozone pollution, Pfister and her colleagues looked at two scenarios. In one, emissions of nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds from human activities would continue at current levels through 2050. In the other, emissions would be cut by 60-70 percent. Both scenarios assumed continued greenhouse gas emissions with significant warming.

The researchers found that, if emissions continue at present-day rates, the number of eight-hour periods in which ozone would exceed 75 parts per billion would jump by 70 percent on average across the United States by 2050. The 75 ppb level over eight hours is the threshold that is considered unhealthy by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Overall, the study found that, 90 percent of the time, ozone levels would range from 30 to 87 ppb in 2050 compared with an estimated 31 to 79 ppb in the present. Although the range itself shifts only slightly, the result is a much larger number of days above the threshold now considered unhealthy. 

There are three primary reasons for the increase in ozone with climate change:

• Chemical reactions in the atmosphere that produce ozone occur more rapidly at higher temperatures.

• Plants emit more volatile organic compounds at higher temperatures, which can increase ozone formation if mixed with pollutants from human sources.

• Methane, which is increasing in the atmosphere, contributes to increased ozone globally and will enhance baseline levels of surface ozone across the United States.

Scientists: Americans have become weather wimps

We’ve become weather wimps.

As the world warms, the United States is getting fewer bitter cold spells like the one that gripped much of the nation this week. So when a deep freeze strikes, scientists say, it seems more unprecedented than it really is. An Associated Press analysis of the daily national winter temperature shows that cold extremes have happened about once every four years since 1900.

Until recently.

When computer models estimated that the national average daily temperature for the Lower 48 states dropped to 17.9 degrees on Monday, it was the first deep freeze of that magnitude in 17 years, according to Greg Carbin, warning meteorologist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

That stretch – from Jan. 13, 1997 to Monday – is by far the longest the U.S. has gone without the national average plunging below 18 degrees, according to a database of daytime winter temperatures starting in January 1900.

In the past 115 years, there have been 58 days when the national average temperature dropped below 18. Carbin said those occurrences often happen in periods that last several days so it makes more sense to talk about cold outbreaks instead of cold days. There have been 27 distinct cold snaps.

Between 1970 and 1989, a dozen such events occurred, but there were only two in the 1990s and then none until Monday.

“These types of events have actually become more infrequent than they were in the past,” said Carbin, who works at the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla. “This is why there was such a big buzz because people have such short memories.”

Said Jeff Masters, meteorology director of the private firm Weather Underground: “It’s become a lot harder to get these extreme (cold) outbreaks in a planet that’s warming.”

And Monday’s breathtaking chill? It was merely the 55th coldest day – averaged for the continental United States – since 1900.

The coldest day for the Lower 48 since 1900 – as calculated by the computer models – was 12 degrees on Christmas Eve 1983, nearly 6 degrees chillier than Monday.

The average daytime winter temperature is about 33 degrees, according to Carbin’s database.

There have been far more unusually warm winter days in the U.S. than unusually cold ones.

Since Jan. 1, 2000, only two days have ranked in the top 100 coldest: Monday and Tuesday. But there have been 13 in the top 100 warmest winter days, including the warmest since 1900: Dec. 3, 2012. And that pattern is exactly what climate scientists have been saying for years, that the world will get more warm extremes and fewer cold extremes.

Nine of 11 outside climate scientists and meteorologists who reviewed the data for the AP said it showed that as the world warms from heat-trapping gas spewed by the burning of fossil fuels, winters are becoming milder. The world is getting more warm extremes and fewer cold extremes, they said.

“We expect to see a lengthening of time between cold air outbreaks due to a warming climate, but 17 years between outbreaks is probably partially due to an unusual amount of natural variability,” or luck, Masters said in an email. “I expect we’ll go far fewer than 17 years before seeing the next cold air outbreak of this intensity.

And the scientists dismiss global warming skeptics who claim one or two cold days somehow disproves climate change.

“When your hands are freezing off trying to scrape the ice off your car, it can be all too tempting to say, `Where’s global warming now? I could use a little of that!’ But you know what? It’s not as cold as it used to be anymore,” Texas Tech University climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe said in an email.

The recent cold spell, which was triggered by a frigid air mass known as the polar vortex that wandered way south of normal, could also be related to a relatively new theory that may prove a weather wild card, said Rutgers University climate scientist Jennifer Francis. Her theory, which has divided mainstream climate scientists, says that melting Arctic sea ice is changing polar weather, moving the jet stream and causing “more weirdness.”

Ryan Maue, a meteorologist with the private firm Weather Bell Analytics who is skeptical about blaming global warming for weather extremes, dismisses Francis’ theory and said he has concerns about the accuracy of Carbin’s database. Maue has his own daily U.S. average temperature showing that Monday was colder than Carbin’s calculations.

Still, he acknowledged that cold nationwide temperatures “occurred with more regularity in the past.”

Many climate scientists say Americans are weather weenies who forgot what a truly cold winter is like.

“I think that people’s memory about climate is really terrible,” Texas A&M University climate scientist Andrew Dessler wrote in an email. “So I think this cold event feels more extreme than it actually is because we’re just not used to really cold winters anymore.”

Wild winter? Not likely says NOAA

The weather forecast for this winter is mostly a shrug of the shoulders.

For most of the nation, the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration predicts equal chances for unusual warmth, cold, snow, rain and even average weather. That’s because of an absence of certain global weather factors, like El Nino – a warming of the central Pacific that affects temperatures and rainfall worldwide.

NOAA’s Mike Halpert said this week that the winter isn’t likely to be too memorable or unusual, except in the South where drought should deepen in the southwest and develop in the southeast.

Forecasters expect unusual warmth from Arizona to Alabama and also in New England. The extreme U.S. north, around the Dakotas, is likely to be colder than normal.

Just because forecasters are predicting equal chances for nearly everything, that doesn’t mean it has to be a normal year, said Halpert, acting director of NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center in College Park, Md. It just means the large-scale climate factors that forecasters use, such as El Nino, aren’t giving them strong signals or patterns, he said.

But extremes tend to happen with El Ninos, so Halpert added, “we’re probably more likely to see something more benign” for the winter.

And the winter weather is likely to change more from week to week, rather than persisting heavy cold and snowy or mild for weeks on end, Halpert said.

NOAA’s forecast doesn’t look for individual blizzards or events, just averages. So a winter that doesn’t look extreme doesn’t mean it will be free of snowstorms, Halpert said. He said residents in snow-prone areas shouldn’t put away their snow shovels.

And in places like the mid-Atlantic, where the national’s capital has had less than 5 inches of snow for two years, the odds are against the snow-drought continuing for a third year, Halpert said.

Private weather forecast companies also cited mixed and lack of signals in their forecasts, which ranged from warm to cold.

The Weather Channel sees a winter that’s warmer than normal for the coastal Northeast and mid-Atlantic, the South, the West and much of the lower Midwest. The country’s northernmost states should be a bit cooler than normal, the company forecasts

Accuweather sees a late start to winter in the East, near record warmth in the South, but plenty of snow and extreme cold in the North, upper Midwest, Northwest and the Rockies. Weather Bell Analytics sees a colder and snowier winter for much of the country, centered around the nation’s heartland.