Archive for the ‘weather and climate’ Category

CBO — Options for Modernizing Military Weather Satellites: Working Paper 2012-11

September 21, 2012 Comments off

Options for Modernizing Military Weather Satellites: Working Paper 2012-11
Source: Congressional Budget Office

Over the next several years, the Department of Defense (DoD) will launch the last of its weather satellites, which it uses to plan military operations and generate weather forecasts. Long-running efforts to develop replacements for those satellites encountered schedule and cost difficulties, and in December 2011, the Congress directed DoD to cancel its latest program and to prepare for a follow-on program. DoD’s plans now call for a new development effort, but it has not yet determined the capabilities it wants in that satellite. In this paper, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) examines three different satellite design concepts that DoD might consider and compares the cost and capability of those designs. The paper also discusses alternative approaches that DoD might take, such as fielding single instruments on several small satellites instead of several instruments on a single satellite and foregoing a new generation of military weather satellites altogether and instead relying on other sources for weather data.

DOC OIG — Testimony on Mismanagement of Funds at the National Weather Service and the Impact on the Future of Weather Forecasting

September 14, 2012 Comments off

Testimony on Mismanagement of Funds at the National Weather Service and the Impact on the Future of Weather Forecasting (PDF)

Source: U.S. Department of Commerce, Office of Inspector General

I appreciate the opportunity to testify today about the Department of Commerce’s response to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Weather Service’s (NWS’) mismanagement of budgetary resources. Our testimony will address three areas:

1. Numerous whistleblower complaints, dating back to 2010, many of which have since been validated by multiple reviews of NWS financial mismanagement;

2. Separate Departmental and NOAA internal inquiries, resulting in both the Department and NOAA undertaking significant corrective action; and

3. Recent and current Office of Inspector General (OIG) follow-up reviews, to measure the sufficiency of the internal inquiries and the resulting corrective actions.

CRS — Weather-Related Power Outages and Electric System Resiliency

September 6, 2012 Comments off

Weather-Related Power Outages and Electric System Resiliency (PDF)

Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

High winds, especially when combined with precipitation from seasonal storms, can cause damage to electricity utility systems, resulting in service interruptions to large numbers of electricity customers. While most such power outages are caused by damage from trees and tree limbs falling on local electricity distribution lines and poles, major power outages tend to be caused by damage to electricity transmission lines which carry bulk power long distances. Depending on the severity of the storm and resulting impairment, power outages can last a few hours or extend to periods of several days, and have real economic effects. Power outages can impact businesses (primarily through lost orders and damage to perishable goods and inventories), and manufacturers (mainly through downtime and lost production, or equipment damage). Data from various studies lead to cost estimates from storm-related outages to the U.S. economy at between $20 billion and $55 billion annually. Data also suggest the trend of outages from weather-related events is increasing.

Suggested solutions for reducing impacts from weather-related outages include improved treetrimming schedules to keep rights-of-way clear, placing distribution and some transmission lines underground, implementing Smart Grid improvements to enhance power system operations and control, inclusion of more distributed generation, and changing utility maintenance practices and metrics to focus on power system reliability. However, most of these potential solutions come with high costs which must be balanced against the perceived benefits.

A number of options exist for Congress to consider which could help reduce storm-related outages. These range from improving the quality of data on storm-related outages, to a greater strategic investment in the U.S. electricity grid. Congress could empower a federal agency to develop standards for the consistent reporting of power outage data. While responsibility for the reliability of the bulk electric system is under the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (as per the Energy Policy Act of 2005), no central responsibility exists for the reliability of distribution systems. One possible option could be to bring distribution systems under the Electric Reliability Organization for reliability purposes. Recovery after storm-related outages might be enhanced by a federal role in formalizing the review or coordination of electric utility mutual assistance agreements (MAAs). This would not necessarily mean federal approval of MAAs, but may help in the cooperative coordination of additional federal and state resources, especially in a wide, multi-state weather event. While there has been much discussion of transmission system inadequacies and inefficiencies, many distribution systems are in dire need of upgrades or repairs. The cost of upgrading the U.S. grid to meet future uses is expected to be high, with the American Society of Civil Engineers estimating a need of $673 billion by 2020. While the federal government recently made funding available of almost $16 billion for specific Smart Grid projects and new transmission lines under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, there has not been a comprehensive effort to study the needs, set goals, and provide targeted funding for modernization of the U.S. grid as part of a long-term national energy strategy. Such an effort would also require decisions about the appropriate roles of government and the private sector.

Power delivery systems are most vulnerable to storms and extreme weather events. Improving the overall condition and efficiency of the power delivery system can only serve to improve the resiliency of the system, and help hasten recovery from weather-related outages. Ultimately, however, electric utilities are responsible for this infrastructure. They are in the business of selling electricity, and they cannot sell electricity if their power delivery systems are out of service.

NOAA raises hurricane season prediction despite expected El Niño

August 9, 2012 Comments off

NOAA raises hurricane season prediction despite expected El Niño

Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

This year’s Atlantic hurricane season got off to a busy start, with 6 named storms to date, and may have a busy second half, according to the updated hurricane season outlook issued today by NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, a division of the National Weather Service. The updated outlook still indicates a 50 percent chance of a near-normal season, but increases the chance of an above-normal season to 35 percent and decreases the chance of a below-normal season to only 15 percent from the initial outlook issued in May.

Across the entire Atlantic Basin for the season – June 1 to November 30 – NOAA’s updated seasonal outlook projects a total (which includes the activity-to-date of tropical storms Alberto, Beryl, Debbie, Florence and hurricanes Chris and Ernesto) of:

  • 12 to 17 named storms (top winds of 39 mph or higher), including:
  • 5 to 8 hurricanes (top winds of 74 mph or higher), of which:
  • 2 to 3 could be major hurricanes (Category 3, 4 or 5; winds of at least 111 mph)

State of the Climate — July 2012: hottest month on record for contiguous United States

August 8, 2012 Comments off

State of the Climate — July 2012: hottest month on record for contiguous United States

Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

The average temperature for the contiguous U.S. during July was 77.6°F, 3.3°F above the 20th century average, marking the hottest July and the hottest month on record for the nation. The previous warmest July for the nation was July 1936 when the average U.S. temperature was 77.4°F. The warm July temperatures contributed to a record-warm first seven months of the year and the warmest 12-month period the nation has experienced since recordkeeping began in 1895.

Precipitation totals were mixed during July, with the contiguous U.S. as a whole being drier than average. The nationally averaged precipitation total of 2.57 inches was 0.19 inch below average. Near-record dry conditions were present for the middle of the nation, with the drought footprint expanding to cover nearly 63 percent of the Lower 48, according the U.S. Drought Monitor.

Weather and Environmental Hazards at Mass Gatherings

August 2, 2012 Comments off

Weather and Environmental Hazards at Mass Gatherings

Source:  PLoS Current Disasters
Reviews of mass gathering events have traditionally concentrated on crowd variables that affect the level and type of medical care needed. Weather and environmental hazards at mass gathering events have not been fully researched. This review examines these events and aims to provide future suggestions for event organisers, medical resource planners, and emergency services, including local hospital emergency departments.
A review was conducted using computerised data bases: MEDLINE, The Cochrane Library, HMIC and EMBASE, with Google used to widen the search beyond peer-reviewed publications, to identify grey literature. All peer-review literature articles found containing information pertaining to lessons identified from mass gathering disasters due to weather or environmental hazards leading to participant death, injury or illness were analysed and reviewed. Disasters occurring due to crowd variables were not included. These articles were read, analysed, abstracted and summarised.
20 articles from literature search were found detailing mass gathering disasters relating directly to weather or environmental hazards from 1988 – 2011, with only 17 cases found within peer-review literature. Two events grey literature from 2011 are due to undergo further inquiry while one article reviews an event originally occurring in 1922. Analysis of cases were categorised in to heat and cold-related events, lightning and storms and disease outbreak.
Mass gathering events have an enormous potential to place a severe strain on the local health care system, Prior health resource and environmental planning for heat & cold-related illness, lightning & storms, and disease outbreak can advance emergency preparedness and response to potential disasters.

Rainmakers: Why Bad Weather Means Good Productivity

August 1, 2012 Comments off

Rainmakers: Why Bad Weather Means Good Productivity (PDF)
Source: Harvard Business School Working Paper

People believe that weather conditions influence their everyday work life, but to date, little is known about how weather affects individual productivity. Most people believe that bad weather conditions reduce productivity. In this research, we predict and find just the opposite. Drawing on cognitive psychology research, we propose that bad weather increases individual productivity by eliminating potential cognitive distractions resulting from good weather. When the weather is bad, individuals may focus more on their work rather than thinking about activities they could engage in outside of work. We tested our hypotheses using both field and lab data. First, we use field data on employees’ productivity from a mid-size bank in Japan, which we then match with daily weather data to investigate the effect of bad weather conditions (in terms of precipitation, visibility, and temperature) on productivity. Second, we use a laboratory experiment to examine the psychological mechanism explaining the relationship between bad weather and increased productivity. Our findings support our proposed model and suggest that worker productivity is higher on bad rather than good weather days. We discuss the implications of our findings for workers and managers.

Explaining Extreme Events of 2011 from a Climate Perspective

July 16, 2012 Comments off

Explaining Extreme Events of 2011 from a Climate Perspective (PDF)
Source: American Meteorological Society (From NOAA and Met Office)

Using a variety of methodologies, six extreme events of the previous year are explained from a climate perspective.

2012 Half-Year Natural Catastrophe Review

July 14, 2012 Comments off

2012 Half-Year Natural Catastrophe Review (PDF)
Source: Munich Re

+ Insured losses in the United States during the first six months of 2012 totaled US$ 9.3bn – near the long-term average but well below the US$ 24.4bn seen in the first half of 2011 (in 2012 Dollars).

+ Thunderstorm (tornado-hail) activity accounts for the almost all US losses so far, and are estimated at US$ 8.8bn, the third most costly spring thunderstorm season in US history

+ Very mild winter over most of US causes only minor winter storm losses. Lack of heavy winter precipitation limited spring flooding but has exacerbated drought conditions.

+ Severe droughts now impacting central and southwest parts of country; Two major wildfires in Colorado in June caused record damage in the state from the peril, and the largest wildfire in New Mexico history occurred in May.

+ Active early hurricane season; tropical storms Beryl and Debby caused minor wind damage and extensive flooding in Florida.

+ No significant, damaging earthquakes in US during first half of 2012.

New From the GAO

June 27, 2012 Comments off

New GAO Reports and Testimony

Source: Government Accountability Office

+ Reports

1. Recovery Act: Tax Debtors Have Received FHA Mortgage Insurance and First-Time Homebuyer Credits. GAO-12-592, May 29.
Highlights –

2. Management Report: Improvements Needed in Controls over the Preparation of the U.S. Consolidated Financial Statements. GAO-12-529, June 27.
Highlights –

3. Millennium Challenge Corporation: Georgia and Benin Transportation Infrastructure Projects Varied in Quality and May Not Be Sustainable. GAO-12-630, June 27.
Highlights –

4. Polar-Orbiting Environmental Satellites: Changing Requirements, Technical Issues, and Looming Data Gaps Require Focused Attention. GAO-12-604, June 15.
Highlights –

5. Geostationary Weather Satellites: Design Progress Made, but Schedule Uncertainty Needs to be Addressed. GAO-12-576, June 26.
Highlights –

6. Kachemak Bay Ferry: Federally Funded Ferry Was Constructed with Limited Oversight and Faces Future Operating Challenges. GAO-12-559, June 11.
Highlights –

7. Planning and Flexibility Are Key to Effectively Deploying Broadband Conduit through Federal Highway Projects. GAO-12-687R, June 27.

8. National Mediation Board Mandates in the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012. GAO-12-835R, June 27.

+ Testimony

1. Environmental Satellites: Focused Attention Needed to Mitigate Program Risks, by David A. Powner, director, information technology management issues, before the Subcommittee on Energy and Environment and Investigations and Oversight, House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. GAO-12-841T, June 27

NOAA — State of the Climate

June 21, 2012 Comments off

State of the Climate
Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (National Climatic Data Center)

The State of the Climate Report is a collection of monthly summaries recapping climate-related occurrences on both a global and national scale.

The Heat is On: U.S. Temperature Trends

June 14, 2012 Comments off

The Heat is On: U.S. Temperature Trends
Source: Climate Central

Global warming isn’t uniform. The continental U.S. has warmed by about 1.3°F over the past 100 years, but the temperature increase hasn’t been the same everywhere: some places have warmed more than others, some less, and some not much at all. Natural variability explains some of the differences, and air pollution with fine aerosols screening incoming solar radiation could also be a factor.

Our state-by-state analysis of warming over the past 100 years shows where it warmed the most and where it warmed the least. We found that no matter how much or how little a given state warmed over that 100-year period, the pace of warming in all regions accelerated dramatically starting in the 1970s, coinciding with the time when the effect of greenhouse gases began to overwhelm the other natural and human influences on climate at the global and continental scales.

We looked at average daily temperatures for the continental 48 states from 1912 to the present, and also from 1970 to the present and found:

  • Over the past 100 years, the top 10 states warmed 60 times faster than the bottom 10 (0.26°F per decade vs. 0.004°F per decade), when looking at average mean temperatures. During this timeframe, 45 states showed warming trends, although 21 were not statistically significant. Three states experienced a slight cooling trend.
  • Since 1970, warming began accelerating everywhere. The speed of warming across the lower 48 more than tripled, from 0.127°F per decade over the 100-year period, to 0.435°F per decade since 1970, while the gap between the fast and slowly warming states narrowed significantly; the 10 fastest warming states heated up just twice as fast, not 60 times as fast as the 10 slowest warming states (0.60°F vs. 0.30°F per decade). Over the past 42 years 17 states warmed more than half a degree F per decade.
  • The states that have warmed the most — whether you look at the past 100 years or just the past 40 — include northern-tier states from Minnesota to Maine and the Southwest, particularly Arizona and New Mexico. Places that have warmed the least include Southeast states, like Florida, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina, along with parts of the central Midwest, like Iowa and Nebraska.

NOAA predicts a near-normal 2012 Atlantic hurricane season

May 30, 2012 Comments off

NOAA predicts a near-normal 2012 Atlantic hurricane season
Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Conditions in the atmosphere and the ocean favor a near-normal hurricane season in the Atlantic Basin this season, NOAA announced today from Miami at its Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory, and home to the Hurricane Research Division.

For the entire six-month season, which begins June 1, NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center says there’s a 70 percent chance of nine to 15 named storms (with top winds of 39 mph or higher), of which four to eight will strengthen to a hurricane (with top winds of 74 mph or higher) and of those one to three will become major hurricanes (with top winds of 111 mph or higher, ranking Category 3, 4 or 5). Based on the period 1981-2010, an average season produces 12 named storms with six hurricanes, including three major hurricanes.

See also: NOAA predicts near-normal Eastern Pacific hurricane season
See also: NOAA expects below-normal Central Pacific hurricane season

March 2012 Heat Wave

April 13, 2012 Comments off

March 2012 Heat Wave
Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Numerous cities broke temperature records for January-March (year-to-date, or YTD). The following map and table present some of these record averages. Each city listed observed its warmest YTD period. Also included are the running minimum and maximum temperatures with respect to the top 5 average YTD temperatures.

IPCC releases full report on Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation (SREX)

March 30, 2012 Comments off

IPCC releases full report on Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation (SREX) (PDF)
Source: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

Evidence suggests that climate change has led to changes in climate extremes such as heat waves, record high temperatures and, in many regions, heavy precipitation in the past half century, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said today. Climate extremes, or even a series of non-extreme events, in combination with social vulnerabilities and exposure to risks can produce climate-related disasters, the IPCC said in its Special Report on Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation (SREX).

While some extreme weather and climate events lead to disasters, others do not. Policies to avoid, prepare for, respond to and recover from the risks of disaster can reduce the impact of these events and increase the resilience of people exposed to extreme events, the IPCC shows in the report, published on Wednesday.

At the same time, as the IPCC notes in the report, limits to resilience are faced when thresholds or tipping points associated with social and/or natural systems are exceeded, posing severe challenges for adaptation.

“The main message from the report is that we know enough to make good decisions about managing the risks of climate-related disasters. Sometimes we take advantage of this knowledge, but many times we do not,” said Chris Field, Co-Chair of IPCC’s Working Group II, which together with Working Group I produced the report. “The challenge for the future has one dimension focused on improving the knowledge base and one on empowering good decisions, even for those situations where there is lots of uncertainty,” he said.

+ Full Report (PDF)

Long-term perspective on wildfires in the western USA

March 28, 2012 Comments off

Long-term perspective on wildfires in the western USA (PDF)
Source: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Understanding the causes and consequences of wildfires in forests of the western United States requires integrated information about fire, climate changes, and human activity on multiple temporal scales. We use sedimentary charcoal accumulation rates to construct long-term variations in fire during the past 3,000 y in the American West and compare this record to independent firehistory data from historical records and fire scars. There has been a slight decline in burning over the past 3,000 y, with the lowest levels attained during the 20th century and during the Little Ice Age (LIA, ca. 1400–1700 CE [Common Era]). Prominent peaks in forest fires occurred during the Medieval Climate Anomaly (ca. 950–1250 CE) and during the 1800s. Analysis of climate reconstructions beginning from 500 CE and population data show that temperature and drought predict changes in biomass burning up to the late 1800s CE. Since the late 1800s , human activities and the ecological effects of recent high fire activity caused a large, abrupt decline in burning similar to the LIA fire decline. Consequently, there is now a forest “fire deficit” in the western United States attributable to the combined effects of human activities, ecological, and climate changes. Large fires in the late 20th and 21st century fires have begun to address the fire deficit, but it is continuing to grow.

Hat tip: Journalist’s Resource

Qualitative Updated Discussion of Atlantic Basin Seasonal Hurricane Activity for 2012

March 25, 2012 Comments off

Qualitative Updated Discussion of Atlantic Basin Seasonal Hurricane Activity for 2012 (PDF)
Source: Tropical Meteorology Project, Colorado State University (Dr. Gray)

We anticipate that the 2012 Atlantic basin hurricane season will have reduced activity compared with the 1981-2010 climatological average. The tropical Atlantic has anomalously cooled over the past several months, and it appears that the chances of an El Niño event this summer and fall are relatively high. This update briefly discusses changes in large-scale ocean/atmosphere patterns that we believe are relevant for the 2012 Atlantic hurricane season.

Risk of major flooding in spring is low for the first time in four years

March 22, 2012 Comments off

Risk of major flooding in spring is low for the first time in four years
Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

For the first time in four years, no area of the country faces a high risk of major to record spring flooding, largely due to the limited winter snowfall, according to NOAA’s annual Spring Outlook, which forecasts the potential for flooding from April to June.

“We’re not forecasting a repeat of recent historic and prolonged flooding in the central and northern U.S., and that is a relief,” said Laura Furgione, deputy director, NOAA’s National Weather Service. “The severity of any flooding this year will be driven by rainfall more so than the melting of the current snowpack.”

The Ohio River basin including portions of Illinois, Indiana, and Kentucky, along with parts of Louisiana and Mississippi are the only areas with an above-normal risk of flooding as soil moisture and river levels are currently above normal. Additionally, odds favor above-average April rainfall for the Ohio River basin.

River and stream water levels are normal to below normal for most of the country and there is less snow pack than in previous years. As a result, there is a normal flood risk from the Northeast, through the mid-Atlantic, across most of the northern Plains and into the Northwest. However, heavy spring rainfall can lead to flooding at any time, even in areas where overall risk is considered at or even below normal.

+ National Hydrologic Assessment

NOAA — State of the Climate

March 16, 2012 Comments off

State of the Climate
Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (National Climatic Data Center)

Warmer-than-average temperatures dominated the northern and eastern regions of the country in December, January and February, leading to the fourth warmest winter on record for the contiguous United States. The winter season was also drier-than-average for the Lower 48, with dry conditions experienced across the West and the Southeast but wetter-than-average conditions in the Central and Southern Plains and parts of the Ohio Valley.

The average contiguous U.S. temperature during the December-February period was 36.8 degrees F, 3.9 degrees F above the 1901-2000 long-term average — the warmest since 2000. The precipitation averaged across the nation was 5.70 inches, 0.78 inch below the long-term average.

New Study: Americans Pay More for Weather Catastrophes as Insurers Increasingly Shirt Costs to Consumers and Taxpayers

February 24, 2012 Comments off
Source: Consumer Federation of America
The Consumer Federation of American (CFA) today released a new study with insurance industry data that found that insurance companies have significantly and methodically decreased their financial responsibility for weather catastrophes like hurricanes, tornados and floods in recent years, shifting much of the risk and costs for these events to consumers and taxpayers. The report is being released as insurers in eleven states have requested large homeowners’ insurance rate increases of 18 percent or more. These states are Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Virginia.
“Insurance commissioners should block many of these pending rate increases because they place an unwarranted financial burden on homeowners, many of whom are coping with severe financial difficulties in a bad economy,” said J. Robert Hunter, CFA’s Director of Insurance and former federal insurance administrator and state insurance commissioner. “In the last twenty years, insurers have been so successful at shifting costs to consumers and taxpayers that they are currently overcapitalized and cannot justify higher homeowners’ rates.”
Insurance executives frequently remind the public and regulators of the frequency and severity of catastrophic events. CFA’s study, “The Insurance Industry’s Incredible Disappearing Weather Catastrophe Risk,” found that some of the savings insurers have achieved are legitimate, the result of the use of reinsurance and wise risk diversification strategies.
However, the study found that the bulk of the savings that insurers have realized has been through shifting costs to taxpayers and consumers. Insurers have hollowed out the coverage they offer to homeowners by increasing deductibles and capping the amount they will pay if the home is damaged or destroyed. These coverage reductions expose taxpayers to higher disaster assistance payouts because homeowners have less money available to help themselves. Additionally, insurers have significantly raised rates over the years, sometimes using questionable computer rate “models” developed by other companies. Insurers have also used fine print tricks, such as the “anti-concurrent causation clause,” which allows insurers to refuse to pay for wind losses if any flood damage occurs at about the same time, even if the wind losses occurred first. Finally, insurers have shifted coverage for homes in high-risk areas to state insurance pools.
Full Report (PDF)

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