Friday, January 9, 2009

Cold Snap

I cannot believe that anyone has failed to notice that winter is kicking our butts this year. The surprise is to learn that the Arctic cold snap in the northern reaches has exceeded anything in northern Saskatchewan since record keeping began 116 years ago. Mother Nature is now mocking the true believers in global warming.

Any who have read my earliest posts know that I have never thought that the linkage of global temperatures to rising CO2 was a safe research strategy because historical evidence indicated we were likely dealing with normal variation and that such a strategy would surely inflict a damaging reversal. This is a rout and the true believers are becoming very quiet.

This unfortunately does nothing to promote responsible management of CO2 emissions.

The Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) has reversed and will likely be gone for decades while we wait for sunspots to pick up again. It was fun while it lasted.

The real surprise was just now fast this reversal was upon us. It took twenty years to modestly improve weather conditions in the north and a mere year or so for all that to blow away. We certainly have gained a far better understanding of the factors that affect our climate and know better what to watch. Just as we came to understand the impact of El Nino and La Nina, we surely now understand the impact of the PDO a lot better and can include it properly in our models.

If the variation of solar energy is sufficient enough to be a primary climate driver, then the Pacific Ocean is the natural transfer mechanism. It is not chaotic and it represents fifty percent of the world’s surface. It also absorbs energy very nicely. Thus it is reasonable in a simple minded way to imagine a surplus of heat expanding the warm surface waters of the Pacific into the northern edge of the Pacific basin which is certainly what happened.

Maybe our salmon fisheries will now vigorously rebound with a minimal support effort.

In the meantime, these folks are experiencing cold weather that is simply dangerous as these reports show. In this country there are times that car failure is a swift and potentially fatal disaster if you are not prepared.

Cold streak sets new record

City experiences 24 consecutive days of -25 C or lower

Rod Nickel, The StarPhoenix

Published: Tuesday, January 06, 2009

How's this for cold comfort? Saskatoon's deep freeze is likely the longest streak of low temperatures below -25 C that has numbed this city since record-keeping began in 1892.

The 24-day streak started cruelly Dec. 13 after relatively mild temperatures and continued at least through Monday, said David Phillips, Environment Canada's senior climatologist.

"That's the thing that's brutal," Phillips said from Toronto, where he was enjoying a temperature of -4.
"We can all handle a few (cold) days. It's the long haul that wears you down.

"It's really a shocker, the duration of the cold."

Phillips said he couldn't find a longer cold snap in Saskatoon's recorded weather history during a look through the records Monday. Even during the infamous January of 1950, when temperatures hit -46 and -45 (not counting any wind chill), the cold streak of -25 or lower lasted "only" 21 days.

The first two mild weeks of December kept the month from being Saskatoon's coldest ever. It still averaged -20.6, the sixth-coldest December on record and the most frigid since 1983.

Prince Albert was slightly colder in December, with an average temperature of -21.4, while Regina registered -18. Neither of those burgs have suffered a -25 streak approaching Saskatoon's, Phillips said.
The normal average temperature for Saskatoon in December is -14.3C.

The historic streak could end today. Environment Canada was forecasting a low of -23 for today, before another drop Wednesday.

There's no good news on the horizon.

January is expected to be colder than its normal mean temperature of -17, said Environment Canada meteorologist Bob Cormier. The three-month period of January through March is also expected to be colder than normal, he said.

The frigid temperatures and the bad timing of the New Year's Eve snowstorm has left city snow crews well behind schedule.

As of Monday, snowplows still hadn't touched almost one-third of the priority streets, which range from arteries such as Circle Drive and Eighth Street to bus routes and minor collector streets. The major arteries have been cleared once, but may need a second pass, said Gaston Gourdeau, manager of the city's public works branch.

Ninety per cent of bus routes are cleared, but many minor collector streets still haven't seen a snowplow.
"We're looking forward to warmer temperatures," Gourdeau said. "It's been tough for everybody."

The New Year's Eve storm was a double-whammy for snowplow operators.

Many city staff were on holidays. Hydraulic parts of heavy equipment respond more slowly, like everything else, in the cold, forcing crews to get less done than they normally would.

Gourdeau predicts snow crews will be in some neighbourhoods clearing out trouble spots by the end of the week.

He said he decided against implementing a street parking ban to speed up snow clearing for two reasons.
The city hasn't had the staff to guarantee cleanup within 72 hours until this week.

In frigid weather, it's also difficult to ask residents to move cars off the street to spots where plug-ins may be unavailable, he said.

Extreme Alaska cold grounds planes, disables cars

JUNEAU, Alaska – Ted Johnson planned on using a set of logs to a build a cabin in Alaska's interior. Instead he'll burn some of them to stay warm.

Extreme temperatures — in Johnson's case about 60 below zero — call for extreme measures in a statewide cold snap so frigid that temperatures have grounded planes, disabled cars, frozen water pipes and even canceled several championship cross country ski races.

Alaskans are accustomed to subzero temperatures but the prolonged conditions have folks wondering what's going on with winter less than a month old.
National Weather Service meteorologist Andy Brown said high pressure over much of central Alaska has been keeping other weather patterns from moving through. New conditions get pushed north or south while the affected area faces daily extremes.

"When it first started almost two weeks ago, it wasn't anything abnormal," Brown said. "About once or twice every year, we get a good cold snap. But, in this case, you can call this an extreme event. This is rare. It doesn't happen every year."

Temperatures sit well below zero in the state's various regions, often without a wisp of wind pushing down the mercury further.

Johnson lives in Stevens Village, where residents have endured close to two weeks of temperatures pushing 60 below zero.

The cold has kept planes grounded, Johnson said. Food and fuel aren't coming in and they're starting to run low in the village, about 90 miles northwest of Fairbanks.

Johnson, whose home has no heater or running water, said he ventures outside only to get more logs for burning and to fetch water from a community facility. He's been saving the wood to build a cabin as a second home, but that will have to wait a few years now because the heat takes precedence.

"I've never seen it this cold for this long," he said. "I remember it 70 below one time, but not for a week and a half."

In Anchorage, Alaska's largest city, residents are used to lows of about 10-degree temperatures in January — not 19 below zero, which is what folks awoke to Wednesday morning.

Temperatures finally settled to about 10 below at midday, but that was cold enough to cancel races in the U.S. Cross Country Ski Championships.

Skiers won't compete unless it's warmer than 4 below zero, but the numbers have ranged between 10 below and 15 below.

That has led to four days of canceled or postponed competition with organizers hoping to get a set of races under way on Thursday, the event's final day.

Meanwhile, in Juneau, the state's capital is enjoying balmy weather by comparison with lows in the single digits.

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