Thundersnow is go! (for weather geeks)

by Gareth on February 4, 2011

It’s been snowing in America. It snowed quite a lot in Chicago. They even had thundersnow, which is rare enough to have excited Weather Channel presenter Jim Cantore quite a lot. I’ve never experienced thundersnow. I’m almost jealous. Almost. The ripe peaches at Limestone Hills are some compensation… ;-)

More on American snow at Jeff Masters’ blog. Hat tip to Barry Brook, who tweeted this Daily Mail assemblage of blizzard pictures.

[Update Feb 5: Jeff Masters provides this memorable description today: The most extraordinary hourly observation I've ever seen in a U.S. winter storm came at 9:51pm on February 1 at Chicago's Midway Field: A heavy thunderstorm with lightning, heavy snow, small hail or ice pellets, freezing fog, blowing snow, visibility 300 feet, a wind gust of 56 mph, and a temperature of 21°F. Welcome to the Midwest! My kind of town...]

{ 53 comments… read them below or add one }

Macro February 4, 2011 at 9:32 pm

It’s lucky he never went up in Holy Smoke! :)
I’m not a fan of electrical storms. But I remember a particularly violent one on the 1st nine of Sembawang Course Singapore in 1984. The strike came within 100 m of us – one of our 4 raced to the nearest monsoon drain – we others took to the sand bunkers. Within minutes the monsoon drain was raging, as we more experienced had anticipated. :) On another occasion a friend on the phone was thrown across the room when the line was hit – another lost his house and all contents with a direct strike.
My daughter has just returned from NY, just before the latest storm closed Newark thankfully, having never experienced snow apart from trips to the mountains skiing, she loved it whilst the locals grumbled.
I’m enjoying plums pears and watermelon right now.

Thomas February 5, 2011 at 6:27 pm

I witnessed a thunder snow cold front advancing over the plains west of Cologne in a winter night in the early 1980ies. There was snow on the ground and the night sky in front of the cold front was clear with a full moon. Then a very violent cold front brought thunder, heavy snow, hail and turned the Autobahn into chaos… It was totally wired!

R2D2 February 5, 2011 at 10:10 am
Gareth February 5, 2011 at 10:50 am

Repent!

Bryan Leyland February 5, 2011 at 11:16 am

So it’s cold in most of N America, and much of Europe and Siberia. World temperatures have dropped 0.5 deg since the end of September. As the La Nina is still going strong and is predicted to last a few more months, so 2011 will, for sure, be cool.

Which brings me to our bet. The ball is in your court Gareth. Are you hoping I had forgotten?

Bryan Leyland

Gareth February 5, 2011 at 12:38 pm

It’s certainly reasonable to expect that La Nina will make 2011 a little less warm than 2010 – but it’s a little early to speculate…

I’ve been feeling a little guilty at not formalizing our bet. Not forgotten. I’ll post something soon.

Doug Mackie February 5, 2011 at 1:11 pm

Ah Bryan, perhaps you could explain about EG Beck? As I recall Chris de Freitas told you that he had “reservations” about EG Beck. Do you share those reservations?

CTG February 5, 2011 at 3:08 pm

Bryan, do you have a reference for your claim that “temperatures have dropped 0.5 deg since the end of September”?

I can’t see any evidence of that in the four main temperature series.

I assume that you were referring to temperature anomalies of course, which are adjusted for the normal annual cycle – global absolute temperatures always drop during the northern hemisphere winter.

Or maybe you were using Fahrenheit?

Bryan Leyland February 6, 2011 at 7:52 am

My reference is the UAH satellite record as it is the only one that covers land and ocean uniformly.

It is easily found at http://www.climate4you.com along with the major surface temperature records. Otherwise drroyspencer.com

You will also find the JAXA record of arctic ice. Nothing unusual there…

Thomas February 6, 2011 at 9:01 am

When you scroll down to the graphs showing the trends (3 year averages) you will see that a seasonal cold spell does not break this trend. Nov 2010 was still the warmest November on record. Short fluctuations are irrelevant.

Bryan Leyland February 6, 2011 at 9:11 am

Short fluctuations upward are also irrelevant.

The point is: will the dip be long or short? The fact that the La Nina is still going 8 months after it started and the PDO is in a cool phase says it will persist.

We will see.

Thomas February 6, 2011 at 10:52 am

I would not bet on that. If you see the history of the short term fluctuations then you see that there are a number of short lived spikes either way (up or down) superimposed on the current upwards trend and most of these were sharp and short. An interesting exercise is to subtract the 11 year solar cycle variation from the trend. The 11 year solar cycle amplitude in irradiation is “worth” about 7 years worth of CO2 forcing increase and the solar low over the last years can be seen in the so called “plateau” of the temp trend. We are coming now towards the next high in solar irradiation amplitude during which the CO2 forcing trend and the solar trend will reinforce each other again. I would not bet on cooling.

Doug Mackie February 6, 2011 at 11:20 am

Bryan, what about EG Beck?

Bryan Leyland February 6, 2011 at 12:05 pm

As I recall, I have gone no further than saying that Beck had done a lot of detailed research and established that there were many records showing high CO2 levels in the relatively recent past.

Whether or not those records are sound is difficult to establish. But not all are likely to be junk.

The fact remains that Beck did a lot of careful research and presented the results in an open forum. Isn’t that what science is supposed to be about? Or is climate “science” different.

Doug Mackie February 6, 2011 at 12:51 pm

Bryan, you said:

If Beck is right, the hypothesis that “man-made CO2 causes dangerous global warming” falls flat on its face.

Do you think Beck is right?
Do you share Chris de Freitas’ “reservations” about EG Beck? Or is Chis wrong?

Mike Palin February 6, 2011 at 1:50 pm

Beck may have compiled a heap of old data, but, from what I have read of his work, he certainly did no research in any scientific sense. To do so would implied evaluating those older methods for accuracy and precision in characterising atmospheric background CO2 concentrations. He made no attempt at such an evaluation, nor did he make any new measurements of his own, nor did he publish his compilation in a reputable journal. Overall, his was a pathetic attempt to obscure one of the most important discoveries of the 20th century by Charles Keeling.

adelady February 6, 2011 at 2:53 pm

Bit reminiscent of discovering 3 weeks later those smelly, seaweed coated collections of shells the kids were so fascinated by on holiday.

Unless you clean them up and sort them out, they’re just a nuisance.

Macro February 6, 2011 at 7:08 pm

“careful research”? Really?
Your definition of “careful” is somewhat loose.
That so-called “research” has been shot so full of holes it’s an embarrassment. But you find that out for yourself.

adelady February 6, 2011 at 3:02 pm

The JAXA record of Arctic ice. You mean this one?
http://processtrends.com/images/RClimate_JAXA_Arctic_SIE_latest.png
from http://chartsgraphs.wordpress.com/arctic-update/

I rather thought it was a *bit* unusual.

Bryan Leyland February 6, 2011 at 3:13 pm

No. This one:

It is easily found at http://www.climate4you.com along with the major surface temperature records. Otherwise drroyspencer.com

adelady February 6, 2011 at 3:22 pm

Oh OK. The multi-coloured spaghetti graph with every line elbowing everyone else trying for lowest ever. I’m not fond of having to blow up the image to humungous size to pick out details. I prefer something simpler.
http://nsidc.org/images/arcticseaicenews/20110202_Figure2.png
from- http://nsidc.org/arcticseaicenews/

FrankD February 6, 2011 at 6:44 pm

Adelady,

I am quite fond of blowing it up to look at the details, and even fonder of grabbing the data behind the graph. The original image (why would Bryan link to a poor resolution screen capture rather than the original?) and the data behind it can be found here: http://www.ijis.iarc.uaf.edu/en/home/seaice_extent.htm

When you look at the data behind the spaghetti graph you find that 2011 has been lowest or second lowest year on record (except for the last few days where it has risen to a giddy third lowest) and is currently about 250,000 square kilometres below the average for this date for the IJIS/JAXA series. It’s also currently declining slightly, and looks good to get back to worst ever status in the next week.

While this is a short series, comparison to longer series (such as at Cryosphere Today) confirm that the current area is not just in the bottom few of the last nine years, but of at least thirty years (and probably much longer).

I guess some people have a different definition of “unusual” to me.

Doug Mackie February 6, 2011 at 7:35 pm

And EG Beck, Bryan? Do you now share Chris de Freitas’ “reservations” about Beck?

CTG February 7, 2011 at 8:16 am

Ah yes, UAH. The temperature series that is created from computer models.

So let’s get this straight. When NIWA wants to buy a new computer, you think it’s a waste of time because “garbage-in, garbage-out” computer models are pointless.

But when a computer model underestimates atmospheric temperatures, that’s just fine by you?

Thomas February 5, 2011 at 12:51 pm

Bryan: “World temperatures have dropped 0.5 deg since the end of September.” citations please for claims like these so others can assess your claims.

AndrewH February 5, 2011 at 1:16 pm

A bit of news I saw pointed out that Houston was colder than Anchorage, which, notwithstanding that Houston is much colder than usual, would tend to suggest that Alaska is unseasonably warm

CTG February 5, 2011 at 4:39 pm

Interestingly, this snowstorm produced a good example of why electricity generation should be as diversified as possible.

The storm knocked out about 7GW of thermal generation in Texas, causing rolling blackouts across the state. The blackouts would have been much worse if it had not been for hydro and up to 4GW of wind power.

So wind power can actually stop people freezing to death. Who’d ‘a thunk it, eh Wrathall?

Bryan Leyland February 6, 2011 at 7:55 am

In the UK the output of 5000 MW of windfarms went down to 40 MW during the cold spell. Most of the time is was no more than 6%. Europe didn’t do much better.

Doug Mackie February 6, 2011 at 11:21 am

Bryan, I seemed to have missed your response about EG Beck whom you have previously defended so stoutly.

Thomas February 6, 2011 at 9:18 pm

Oh well then Bryan, lets gorge ourselves then on the last of the fossil fuel while we can suck some out of the ground still, then, when its all over, we shoot all the Brits who did not win the lottery for a ticket to live in the Canary Islands as obviously living with Wind energy as part of the equation in the UK will so terrible that it can’t be suggested to anybody…..

Tony February 5, 2011 at 5:59 pm

Gareth,

I would read this before making any bets:
http://greenhouseneutralfoundation.org/articles/2011/01/26/cold-jumps-arctic-%E2%80%98fence%E2%80%99-stoking-winter%E2%80%99s-fury/.

If I were the betting type I would be betting that the world’s glaciers will still be melting at an accelerating rate and that the Arctic will still be losing significant volume in two years time.

From time to time there will be the odd phenomena that potentially impacts short term temperature trends.

Gareth February 5, 2011 at 8:47 pm

That was in the NY Times a while ago, but cold winters in a few parts of the NH do not a cold planet make. Bryan thinks a long term cooling is coming, I don’t.

jyyh February 5, 2011 at 9:39 pm

for the record, I’ve experienced thundersnow only twice here in S Finland in 30 years, a very rare occasion. And both these clouds ended the thunder activity in 15 minutes, nothing like that in the US.

Bryan Leyland February 6, 2011 at 7:59 am

Have a look at this

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1353073/Winter-storm-Map-shows-Northern-Hemisphere-covered-snow-ice.html#ixzz1D2kF1g1c

It shows a very large part of the northern hemisphere under snow cover.

Thomas February 6, 2011 at 8:59 am

Yes, its winter in the northern hemisphere all right. Just a bit further north though you will find this year exceptionally warm arctic temperatures which are related to the extreme weather events over northern USA and northern Europe. In fact due to the arctic warming standard patterns of air circulation around the arctic appear to change, bringing a stronger influence of arctic air masses towards the south with them. This was predicted by the models and is understood as a consequence of the change in climate.

AndrewH February 6, 2011 at 11:28 am

And, was evident last year too (but we shouldn’t expect Bryan to remember that).

Winter Olympics anyone?

Doug Mackie February 6, 2011 at 11:22 am

Bryan, any chance in the last 2 years you have been able to reach a conclusion about EG Beck?

RW February 6, 2011 at 2:59 pm

Perhaps one day you’ll tell us something that doesn’t have a simple explanation or amplification – but I won’t hold my breath. How are Beck & de Freitas these days?

Doug Mackie February 6, 2011 at 12:53 pm

Now, as a scientist I know correlation does not prove causation but has anyone else been struck by the coincidence that just after John D is moderated, Bryan Leyland emerges after a long absence?

Macro February 6, 2011 at 9:02 pm

And making disparaging remarks about alternative energies, notably wind farms in uk, as well!

Carol Cowan February 6, 2011 at 11:41 pm

I am working on a tag team theory (conspiracy?).

Bryan Leyland February 7, 2011 at 7:18 am

Who is John D? I certainly don’t know.

I didn’t make disparaging remarks about UK wind. I just reported what had happened. The facts speak for themselves.

John D February 7, 2011 at 11:03 am

Who is John D? I certainly don’t know.

I agree with Bryan on the wind energy issue. The facts speak for themselves.
Oh did you see the Daily Mail article on the toxic lakes in China that are caused by rare-earth metal extraction for wind turbine magnets?

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/home/moslive/article-1350811/In-China-true-cost-Britains-clean-green-wind-power-experiment-Pollution-disastrous-scale.html

CTG February 7, 2011 at 8:05 am

No, just groupthink :-)

Doug Mackie February 7, 2011 at 9:34 am

Carol, a few years ago I would occasionaly get cc’d on emails between members of a NZ ‘climate science’ group. If I had asked one of the members a tricky question they’d take it to the group. One of the funniest was when I was cut in on a thread titled “Mackie again”.

Dappledwater February 6, 2011 at 9:42 pm

Ha, well spotted Doug. So if John D is Bryan Leyland(?). Is R2 Chris De Freitas or Richard Treadgold?.

Bryan Leyland February 7, 2011 at 9:21 am

From http://kfyo.com/overdependence-on-wind-power-causes-energy-emergency-in-texas/

As was discussed on the February 2nd edition of Pratt on Texas, the ERCOT (Electric Reliability Council of Texas) rolling blackouts across the state could have been prevented with better planning and policy.

Electrical engineer, Ross Aten, joined Robert Pratt to talk about how too many coal and natural gas power plants within ERCOT were taken offline for maintenance. Ross also explained that if you, ‘ran the numbers’, the only way ERCOT could have met peak winter demand usage is if wind energy across the state was producing at significant totals. However, because of the ice storm and lack of wind, windmills weren’t producing any energy.

That is scary to think about. ERCOT without any public proclamation or policy announcement, put all of its proverbial eggs into the ‘wind energy basket’. Or, think about it this way, because of bureaucratic policy and bad planning, millions of Texans had to deal with rolling blackouts during deathly cold conditions.

We heard some horrible stories on the show from people in Abilene that had electronics damaged, and destroyed, because of the electricity popping on and off during the rolling blackouts.

A quick aside, I know the term ‘rolling blackout’ has become accepted because it’s a temporary blackout that is supposed to ‘spread the pain’, but in reality a blackout is a blackout. It doesn’t matter how your home or business doesn’t have power. If you don’t have power, you can’t work and in many conditions, can’t live.

Doug Mackie February 7, 2011 at 11:12 am

Bryan, how about giving us your opinion of the credibility of EG Beck?

Bryan Leyland February 7, 2011 at 11:24 am

I have. See well above.

Doug Mackie February 7, 2011 at 11:45 am

No, you have not. You said, of EG Beck, that “Whether or not those records are sound is difficult to establish. But not all are likely to be junk.”

How do you decide which readings are junk? Do you share Chirs de Freitas’ reservations about EG Beck? If so will you issue an retraction over your previous vigorous defense of him?

CTG February 7, 2011 at 11:15 am

Riiiight. I see, it was all the wind turbines fault that the gas and coal fired stations failed – oh, sorry, were taken “offline for maintenance”.

If ERCOT had just ignored all that new-fangled wind stuff, and stuck with good ol’ clean, brown, nutritious coal, everything would have been all right.

You are living in a past century, Bryan.

adelady February 7, 2011 at 10:58 am
Carol Stewart February 7, 2011 at 1:30 pm

“You are living in a past century, Bryan.”
That’s charitable, CTG. He’s living in the Carboniferous.

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