I was happy to see the rain come down yesterday. How about you? I find it odd that with the drier than normal weather over the last 6 years (including this year) I enjoy a rainy day. When there is a downpour, it is exciting and "new". It shouldn’t be this way. We should have a decent rainfall about once a week. There should be periods of wet weather each year when we get sick of rain. That is the normal climate in Wisconsin. Instead (over the last 6 years), I find myself hoping for a rainy day and not only because it would be nice for my garden and plants but because I long for the usual pattern of rainfall. I can’t wait for the smell of fresh rain. I can’t wait for the sound of rain on the roof and in the puddles on the street. I would rather see green grass instead of brown.
One of the oddest experiences I had with lack of rain was in California. During the year I was out there, it didn’t rain for 6 months and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky for about 5 months. It was hard to deal with coming from Wisconsin. I was used to change. When the weather didn’t change, I became slightly agitated. A lot of people think they would enjoy sunny skies for 5 months in a row, but it isn’t all that it is cracked up to be.
How much rain did we receive? In Wausau it was 0.31 inches. Not a lot, but a nice amount when there is a drought. Higher amounts seemed to fall in the northwoods. Our weather watcher Rick in Prentice had 0.75", Dick in Merrill reported 0.78", and Antigo had 0.70", Rhinelander checked in with 0.71". Mary in Almond had one of the lower amounts at 0.10". For those people who had a light amount yesterday and are hoping for more, it looks like you will get your wish tomorrow. At one point it looked like most of the rain would stay south of our area but Hurricane Ike is going to bump the Midwest storm system a little farther north and now it looks like Saturday will turn out to be a rainy day. Even if heavy rain does not develop, it will still be damp and cloudy with scattered showers. A cold front moving through on Sunday will bring another round of clouds and a few light showers. So the weekend is not shaping up to be very pleasant. It might be a good weekend for getting some housework done or cleaning up the garage. The sunshine will return next week along with some warmth. On Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday high temps should reach the low 70s.
Along with the subject of anthropogenic global warming (AGW) comes the possible solutions for using less fossil fuels or at least using them more efficiently with less pollution. One angle that I have been following is alternative fuel cars. As you well know, I plan to buy an electric car the next time one of my current cars breaks down beyond reasonable repair, but you can get a good increase in efficiency even without electric cars. Volkswagen is developing a car called Bluemotion that will run on diesel and get 62 mpg. Wow, that is better than any hybrid on the market right now. There will be a small sacrifice in power and acceleration but it is sure better than sacrificing your wallet on high gas prices. Hyundai is also jumping into the hybrid and electric car market. The more the merrier. Not only does competition drive down prices, more players also brings economies of scale into play.
On the electric side of things, batteries are the main hurdle yet to be conquered, but each day we are getting closer. The Tesla has a battery pack that will get you 200 miles per charge as long as you are willing to pay nearly $100,000 for a brand new Roadster. What we need are cheaper batteries with more energy density and there are plenty of people working on it. Ener1 says it will be able to reduce the price of lithium-ion batteries by 50% once it starts mass production. A123 is another battery company to keep an eye on. They are already producing rechargeable batteries for the power tool industry and might be the main provider of batteries for the Chevy Volt.
As far as generating electricity for a new electric economy, progress has been incremental but steady. Almost every day there are ideas, research, and inventions that make solar, wind, and other alternatives more attractive. These are the type of changes that might go unnoticed, then all of a sudden a few years down the road, we look around and wonder how we made such a big change from fossil fuels to alternatives. It will happen step-by-step until a critical tipping point is reached. Here are a few incremental improvements I have seen reported over the last week:
A round design for wind turbines allow electricity to be generated at lower wind speeds while producing less noise. The eggbeater-shaped turbine is more aesthetically pleasing and can be installed on a roof or pole in less than 4 hours.
Thin film solar panels integrated in roofing materials will make it easier and cheaper for people to install them on their roof. The panels can stand up to winds as high as 160 mph.
Better mirror technology with make concentrating photovoltaics cheaper and more efficient. The new mirrors could also find their way into solar concentrator and solar trough systems.
A new strain of bacteria could make cellulosic ethanol cheaper. Right now, cellulosic and grain ethanol are rather expensive too make. More breakthroughs will be needed in order to make the biofuel industry a viable alternative in the future.
The space solar topic is in the news once again today. I am still a bit skeptical because no technical details have been released. Apparently a successful test of transmitting power wirelessly recently occurred between two Hawaiian islands 148 km apart. The idea is to put solar panels in space and "beam" the power back down to earth. I can’t imagine this process it all that efficient and I doubt we will get an in depth analysis tonight when the project is profiled on the Discovery Channel. However, it would be nice if it worked. Not only could space-based solar panels beam power down to earth, they could block some of the incoming solar radiation and combat the possible yet highly theoretical temperature rises of AGW.
Another interesting note on AGW this week is about the arctic sea-ice. Many experts had predicted much less sea-ice this year because they were expecting global temperatures to increase this year. Instead, arctic sea-ice is 500,000 square miles larger than last year at this time. Read about it here. Since this is the time of year when the sea-ice reaches its minimum, it is highly unlikely that it will melt to a level less than last year.
Since we are on the subject of AGW, we might as well add another item to the big list. This is a big list of "bad things" that will happen (or have happened) because of AGW. I started the list back in November of 2007 because I couldn’t believe all of the apocalyptic news stories that were occurring on a daily basis. I thought it would be interesting to keep track of them all. The point isn’t that we should ignore warnings about the future but that it is an interesting perspective when you see them listed all in one place. The pace of updates to the list has slowed in recent months because there are so many redundant items. A lot of the "bad things" are repeated year after year and month after month. Today’s item is unique. Large animal species could go extinct (or get smaller) due to AGW. The theory is that larger animals are more adapted to a colder climate and they will not be able to handle the theoretical future heat. So here is the update big list:
(Large animal species could go extinct, more cool weather trees will die, power blackouts, more flooded subways, Mountain snowmelt will occur up to 2 months earlier, more bee colony collapse disorder and other multiple infectious disease outbreaks, Caribou populations will decline, 1 in 8 bird species could go extinct – including long distance migratory song birds, eucalyptus leaves will become less nutritious and Koala bears will die, the 2008 tropical storm disaster in Myanmar, Tropical bugs will not reproduce, toxic chemicals will pour out of glaciers, Narwhals will go extinct, more deadly algae blooms, more poverty, a massive increase in volcanic activity, new disease outbreaks from previously frozen corpses, irreversible water circulation alteration in Lake Tahoe, dramatically decreased rice production, fewer flowers in the Rocky Mountains, the Butterfly fish will starve, transportation system will be ruined, air pollution related deaths will increase, tropical fish could go deaf, more “ocean deserts”, more tundra wildfires, collapsing oceanic food webs, sharks devastating Antarctic sea life, the drying up of Lake Mead by 2021, plant-devouring insect invasions, poor food quality, increased human mortality, more solastalgia/mental illness, more wars, the past 1993 conflict in Somalia, more intense heat waves, more heat deaths, polar bears starving, Isle Royale Moose dying, Walruses dying, Penguins starving (including King penguins), Australian bats dying, more hurricanes, less hurricanes, more intense and bigger hurricanes, a longer hurricane season, more stormy weather, rising oceans, more acidic oceans, California wildfires, more droughts, more floods, future disastrous declines in food production, coral reefs (hard and soft) dying, enormous extinctions of plant and animal species, massive loss of fish in the Bering Sea, the earth literally being torn apart, Amazon deforestation, a bigger ozone hole, a smaller ozone hole, less fresh water, more obesity, more hunger, more asthma, more allergies, more infectious disease, more kidney stones…more to come)
Have a wonderful weekend! Go Packers! Meteorologist Justin Loew.