Cold and Hot

It seems that winter has finally ended for us.  It was an exceptionally cold, record-breaking winter.

That seems strange, given that seemingly the rest of the country continues to experience record heat. I came across this explanation:

the winter of 2014/2015 was characterized by an unusual pattern of atmospheric circulation, with the jet stream lying well north of its usual location over Eurasia and the North Pacific, and then plunging southwards over eastern North America. This pattern was associated with unusually warm conditions extending across northern Eurasia, the Bering Sea and Sea of Okhotsk, Alaska and into the western part of the United States, contrasting with cold and snowy conditions over the eastern half of the United States.

So the culprit seems to have been “an unusual pattern of atmospheric circulation.”

Here in the east that meant a cold winter.  But what about elsewhere?

For one thing, the March level of Arctic sea ice was the lowest ever recorded, 23,000 square miles less than the previous record.  Of course while this year’s “unusual pattern of atmospheric circulation” may have accelerated the decline, it didn’t begin it.  March sea ice has been dropping by a rate of 2.6% per decade  since the measurements began.

sea ice

Arctic sea ice levels for 2015 are clocking in at more than 2 standard deviations below the 1981-2010 average.

arctic sea ice

But decreases in sea ice aren’t the worst of it (for more about the sea ice effect, visit HERE).

Perhaps the effect that holds the most potential for short-term disaster is the heat and drought in California.

This year’s hot weather has exacerbated a situation there that was already critical. Consider this from Bloomberg Business:

The California heat of the past 12 months is like nothing ever seen in records going back to 1895. The 12 months before that were similarly without precedent. And the 12 months before that? A freakishly hot year, too.

What’s happening in California right now is shattering modern temperature measurements—as well as tree-ring records that stretch back more than 1,000 years. It’s no longer just a record-hot month or a record-hot year that California faces. It’s a stack of broken records leading to the worst drought that’s ever beset the Golden State.

The chart below shows average temperatures for the 12 months through March 31, for each year going back to 1895. The orange line shows the trend rising roughly 0.2 degrees Fahrenheit per decade, just a bit faster than the warming trend seen worldwide.

california heat

The last 12 months were a full 4.5 degrees Fahrenheit (2.5 Celsius) above the 20th-century average. Doesn’t sound like much? When measuring average temperatures, day and night, over extended periods of time, it’s extraordinary. On a planetary scale, just 2.2 degrees Fahrenheit is what separates the hottest year ever recorded (2014) from the coldest (1911).

California has seen droughts before with less rainfall, but it’s the heat that sets this one apart. Higher temperatures increase evaporation from the soil and help deplete reservoirs and groundwater. The reservoirs are already almost half empty this year, and gone is the snowpack that would normally replenish lakes and farmlands well into June.

If that’s not sufficiently sobering, consider the conclusion:

That’s part of what makes this drought so troubling. The 4.5 degree above-normal temps that California has seen are unprecedented, but not entirely unexpected. The International Panel on Climate Change, which includes more than 1,300 scientists, forecasts global temperatures to rise anywhere from 2.5 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit over the next century, depending largely on how quickly humans reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.

That means the conditions that are wreaking so much havoc in California today fall well within the range of what may be considered “normal” in the not-too-distant future. The impact of such warming is expected to vary dramatically by region. The scientists’ forecast for the U.S. Southwest: increased heat and drought—and decreased water supplies and agricultural yields.

We aren’t nearing the end of California’s climate troubles. We’re nearing the beginning.

The bottom line seems to be that while we probably shouldn’t expect repeats of this year’s east coast cold, maybe we’d better get used to conditions like the west coast heat.

We may well come to regret becoming so dependent upon California agriculture.

Go check out the rest of the Bloomberg piece HERE.  The California drought maps are especially important.  That dark brown area supplies much of the country’s (and the world’s) produce.

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9 comments on “Cold and Hot

  1. Bill, well, it appears that our greatest fear about the food chain is upon us this year. However, I’m seeing more and more produce from Mexico in the grocery stores. As California declines plantations of produce in Mexico increase. Will we as a nation learn the lesson about all the eggs in one basket? Probably not. I am encouraged to see the crowds at the farmer’s markets during the summer. It appears that people are some what interested in the local food markets. Soon (about another year) we will have our first year round market. I’m not sure exactly what that means for winter time and perhaps it will just end up being a flea market kind of thing.

    I was quite amused when invited to a Easter dinner by a friend. She had lamb from Australia, organic sweet potatoes from South America, Italian wine, and strawberries from who knows where. She was so proud of the wholesome dinner. It probably was very wholesome but seriously how can a meal like that continue to be maintained with all the petroleum based transportation involved to make it happen.

    I’ve begun to really pause a moment before consuming a meal to contemplate all the people and work behind the scenes to give me the meal. Just one item like the lowly potato has to start by some one growing it. That alone takes a whole season from planting to harvest. Then workers have to harvest, package, transport them to the grocery stores. Then workers there have to put them on display and more workers have to take the money for the sale. All the work just so I can enjoy a baked potato for dinner. It’s like that for almost every food item these days.

    Have a great Spring planting season day.

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    • Bill says:

      I think more people are starting to be mindful of the story behind the food on their plates, as you are. How we eat can determine agricultural policies and practices just as much as the policies and practices can determine how we eat. To quote Wendell Berry (as I’ve been known to do on occasion), “Eating is an agricultural act.” As more people begin to think carefully about the stories behind their food, I think we’ll see changes for the good.

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  2. valbjerke says:

    It does not surprise me that agriculture is in such dire straits – climate change or no – people have, for decades, been thumbing their noses at what to many of us – is obvious. They take deserts and turn them into food production baskets. They live on the land, not with the land. The Okanagan in southern BC is a prime example – thousands of acres of grapes on land that without constant irrigation used to support wild grasses and sagebrush. The summers get hotter, the water levels continue to drop – and they plant more grapes. Humankind will be the death of all of us – regardless of climate change.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Bill says:

      Living on the land, not with the land. Well put.
      California agriculture these days makes no sense. Industrialization of food production has seemingly made profit (this years profit) the only consideration.
      I agree with you. These practices are raping and ruining the land, and they’re unsustainable with or without climate change.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. avwalters says:

    We’re in the process of selecting trees–both fruit trees and replacement trees for the dying ash in the forest. Given the climate issues, we’re picking only extreme winter hardy trees that will also do well for a hot summer. It doesn’t hurt to be prepared. After the last two uber-cold winters, we’ve opted against grapes or hops (the current, trendy, small-scale crops in the area) and, after a year of sudan grass, we’ll be putting in brambles.

    On the bright side, declines in California agriculture, combined with renewed interest in sustainable small scale farms, can only bode well for the farmer’s market crowd.

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    • Bill says:

      The western droughts and heat have driven cattle prices to all-time highs, much to the benefit of folks raising cattle here. A friend of mine who is involved in local ag activism and policy-making has made the same point you make–that the demise of the California industrial food system will benefit local agriculture. It certainly helps show the importance of it.

      As the growing seasons have been lengthening, I changed some of our planting dates to take into account the warmer weather. Then we had a couple of crazy cold years in a row. The long term trend seems to be for warming, but that doesn’t mean every year will be warmer. As you say, it’s good to be prepared for whatever nature brings us.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Deb Weyrich-Cody says:

    Guessing were already reading from the same page here; so apologies in advance for any replication…
    We learned a long time ago, here on our tiny couple of acres, that if a petticoat plant didn’t dig in on its own after being being planted with lots of compost, peat, bone mealbabied along for the first year

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  5. Deb Weyrich-Cody says:

    Oops! Where was I? (First, that was supposed to say if a “particular plant”): was babied along – after being planted with compost, peat, bone and blood meal; roots shaded with 3″ of locally chipped, bark /twig mulch and a consistent supply of water for the first year – then didn’t dig in and get busy the second year, well that’s just not a species we want here. “Tough love”, I know, but we don’t have the time or the water resources to be bothered and, to be constantly fighting with Mother Nature, just doesn’t make sense to us. What’s that old saying? “Fool me once, shame on you.
    Fool me twice, shame on me…”
    The native peoples advocate that we use only what we need and leave the rest for others. I figure that train of thought could(should) be expanded in a lot of directions. After all, how much do we truly need?
    About the polar ice melt… I recall hearing that the ice in Hudson’s Bay has had a moderating effect on our weather as it has always remained frozen year-round (and is therefore reflecting solar heat back into the atmosphere, instead of it being absorbed by dark, open water) and scientists have been dreading the long-term effects of when that is no longer the case. I’m pretty sure I heard that the Hudson Bay sheet is melting through, and much more quickly than was predicted. Perhaps this is part of what was helping push the Jet Stream in a southerly direction this winter and last? Remember the Arctic Vortex:?
    At any rate, we all need to carry on growing our own food and buying locally produced goods to help cut greenhouse gasses as much as we can. And I know, one person’s contribution may not seem like much; but remember, every sandy beach is made up of uncountable grains of sand; )

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