In case you were gone over the weekend, check out Tony’s recap of the month of March 2012. It was a whopping 15.8 degrees above normal and it ended up being the warmest March on record in Wausau and most Northcentral Wisconsin cities. Everyone loved the warm weather in March but it did come with some downsides. Some sensitive fruit trees and plants are blooming early and they could suffer from a hard frost. Precipitation was also below normal which is something I am perpetually concerned about. With the precipitation (rain and snow) deficit in March, we are now officially a tad below normal for the year. It is not the worst thing in the world but it would be nice if we started to see a little more rain in the weather pattern. Our best chance for the next 7 days looks to be tonight.
My comments on the numbers from March; it was quite interesting to see that the average high temperature and the average low temperature were both exactly 15.8 degrees above normal. Besides all of the record high temperatures we also had 9 records for the warmest low temperature. We probably also broke records for the most 70 degree days in March and the most above normal (+15.8 degrees) any month has been in Wausau’s record books, but I didn’t have the time to dig up all of that information to confirm.
Another thing you probably didn’t miss over the weekend is the very cool weather on Saturday. Tony provided a good explanation here. Mother nature threw us a big surprise when the clouds did not break up in the afternoon. What is most surprising to me is that we didn’t see this type of inversion (locked in the low cloudiness and fog) at any point during the month of March when we were hitting record high temps. During a typical year, when the snow melts, we tend to get a couple days like that when the fog/clouds do not dissipate. This year isn’t typical and it didn’t really happen until the last day of March, Saturday, when the high only reached 42.
The record warm March dovetails nicely with the release of the latest IPCC Climate Risk Report that Tony blogged about a few days back. The report highlights included a greater chance of more frequent record high temps and heat waves than record cold in coming years. Looking at this March would probably prompt a lot of AGW theorists to say “see, see, I told you environmental Armageddon is upon us”. Thankfully, there has not been a lot of that type of hysteria going on over the past few weeks. I wonder if the IPCC and various media outlets have taken some of my advice. I doubt they are reading our blog here, but I would be flattered if I had that much influence.
Instead of blaring out extreme headlines and statements, the IPCC’s report couches its language in the “chances” that certain climate changes will occur. March of 2012, as extreme as it was, does not mean that future heat waves and more warming are 100%, rock-solid guaranteed but it is a data point that supports the now several decade trend of a warming climate. It is more evidence that backs mainstream AGW theory.
Why it is not a 100% guarantee of future “environmental Armageddon”, I have explained many times in the blog. Not only is the climate system complex, dynamic, and non-linear, but human society is as well. Some unforeseen natural interactions within the earth’s climate could conspire to tip us into a cooler trend or even an ice age. Even harder to predict is the action of humans, therefore climate modelers generally stick with some pretty tame assumptions about future population and energy usage.
I am much more optimistic. I have dabbled in energy predictions off-and-on and I think that we will have much less fossil fuel usage a lot sooner than the IPCC expects. As potentially as gloomy a picture that could be painted by the latest IPCC Climate Risk Report (and other depression-inducing reports) and by the extremely warm March, you could paint an equally optimistic picture by just monitoring the latest tech progress.
The CTO of Tesla recently proclaimed that we are near a tipping point in the adoption of electric vehicles. Now, he might be “talking his book”, but the trend in battery technology is unmistakable. The batteries and the vehicles themselves are set to go down in price in coming years. The range an EV can travel on one charge is increasing. It already makes sense for thousands of the moderately wealthy among us to purchase EVs. It will become even more obvious to the rest once the price comes down. After all, most of us do not drive more than 40 miles during a typical day’s commute. For those who might not like the idea of plugging in their car every night, wireless chargers are coming into their own. There is even a suggestion to put magnetic/electric coils in the highways in order to charge as you drive. The latter idea is interesting and could be done - technically - but I doubt it would ever be commercial viable/economically feasible.
In the realm of battery technology, highly efficient and cheaper rechargeable batteries using sodiumn instead of lithium are under development at Argonne National Laboratories. Envia has developed a battery with twice the storage capacity as normal but it is not out of the lab yet. Researchers in Hong Kong have even claimed to have created a new flexible graphene “battery” that operates on heat energy alone!
It is not only battery technology that will help propel EVs of the future (and store copious amounts of alternative energy), it is super capacitors as well.
Once again we find flexible graphene being used to create flexible supercapacitors. Who knew it would be as “easy” as using DVDs and laser writers. These flexible paper-based supercapacitors are probably a little closer to economic reality (and producing environmental “salvation”). New insights into the mechanism of charging and dis-charging supercapacitors should continue to move things forward in years to come.
Now just to be fair, battery progress and EVs face a bumpy road ahead. Fisker and A123 have found some tough-sledding in the EV market. First A123 said it expected much better demand for batteries in the coming year, then doubts and financial troubles (as I suspected and have covered in the blog) started to creep into the A123 conversation. On top of that Fisker has been forced to recall most of its A123 battery packs.
Outside of EVs (meaning cars) there is also some movement in electric scooters as Scoot tests the market for such services in San Francisco. There is even room for improvement in super-sonic air travel. A recent design indicates super-sonic jets could fly without generating a sonic boom and be much more efficient. Dreaming a couple decades into the future? Maybe vaccuum tube trains.
There is much more but there is only so much space for one blog post and only so much time in the day. You can be assured I will continue to keep you updated on where technological progress might take us.
Have a good Monday! Meteorologist Justin Loew.