Check here for a big list of record high temperatures around the Midwest yesterday. With the recent spell of record high temperatures in the Midwest, many people are looking for answers. I was amused to hear some national reporters putting the blame at least partially on La Nina. Just last Winter La Nina was blamed for the harsh conditions of heavy snow and bitter cold. If you don’t follow the ENSO situation closely, I suspect one could easily become confused. Plus there are other ocean and atmospheric patterns that can overwhelm ENSO from time-to-time.
If you remember my past few ENSO discussions in the blog, you will recall that I thought La Nina would give us slightly cooler conditions this Winter with a little above normal snowfall. This was based on the fact that the last 3 La Nina episodes DID bring harsher Winter conditions to Wisconsin. However, I was careful to mention that very long term analysis of La Nina (more than the last 3) did not show a real significant effect on our Winter weather. Some years it was warmer and some years colder. A more consistent effect comes from El Nino. Almost every time we have El Nino, the Winter temps end up above normal and precipitation is below normal. The stronger El Nino is, the warmer our Winter.
The biggest connection with La Nina comes in other parts of the country. La Nina typically has a strong effect on the Pacific Northwest (cooler temps and more precipitation), and the southern U.S. (warmer temps and below normal precipitation – hence the drought in Texas).
For our area, this Winter has been well above normal so far and it looks like it will continue, in general, for another week or so. Some of the computer models are showing a more active weather pattern for the second half of January. It could be colder with higher chances of snow. This is probably because some other atmospheric and ocean patterns (like the MJO) will relax/change a bit and allow La Nina exert a bit more influence.
So how long will La Nina last? The latest ENSO diagnostic discussion indicates that the strength of La Nina did not change during the past month and that it will slowly weaken during the February through April time frame. In contrast to past months, the computer model projections are in very good agreement about this weakening trend. Therefore, it is doubtful we will have any surprise strengthening later this winter. Given the very mild December and early January we have experienced thus far, it is most likely that this La Nina Winter will end up milder than average. It would take quite a wicked spell of cold and snow to reverse the early Winter trends completely.
With the recent record high temperatures, no doubt there will be more talk how anthropogenic global warming (AGW) is going to destroy the environment. While the record warmth cannot be pinned conclusively on AGW, the world (including the oceans) has warmed up a little over the last couple of decades . Whether a natural or unnatural temperature trend, we should expect more record highs than record lows. (For the record, I expect more record lows when the next ice age develops. Take that forecast to the bank!)
What is less certain is whether additional warming will cause catastrophic consequences. Many climatologists and ecologists think we are already doomed. Many say the changes that have occurred in the atmosphere are “irreversible”. I have often pointed out that they are not irreversible. If carbon dioxide is the primary problem, then we could always take it out of the air. I know it seems like a mammoth project, but we put it in the air, I am sure we can take it out – if necessary. If you are wondering how this would be accomplished, look no further than the continued pace of technological progress. Just this week in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, a new material was described that can take CO2 out of the air easier and more efficiently than previous materials/processes and this polymer material can be theoretically re-used indefinitely.
So in the near future we might be able to extract large quantities of CO2 from the air, but what will we do with the captured CO2. This is where we need some more inventiveness. Many have proposed injecting the gas underground, but I don’t like that idea as much as breaking it down into its constituent parts. The problem of breaking carbon dioxide into carbon and oxygen molecules is that there is a strong chemical bond between the two elements. It can be broken up but we cannot yet do it very efficiently. Otherwise, once the carbon is separated from the oxygen, it becomes much easier to deal with/bury/use for other purposes.
Have a good Thursday! Meteorologist Justin Loew.
This post was written by jloew on January 6, 2012