New climate change reports bode ill for the planet

 

Welcome to the New Abnormal.

Berkshirites are shaking their heads at the past two months of wild, wacky weather. We’ve had a record deluge of nearly 17 inches since June 1 — that equals about five months’ worth of rain, on average.

While it may be hard to believe, we’ve had a wetter July — in 2009, with 11.5 inches recorded at Pittsfield Municipal Airport, where the U.S. government maintains an automated observation station. The modern record-holder for the most rain in June remains the year 2000, with 8.7 inches.

But, sifting through 75 years of National Weather Service data, we’ve not found a June and July combined total that rivals this year’s.

The flash floods have been frequent, and damaging in spots, as have the intense thunderstorms and even a tornado with 90-mile-an-hour winds that touched down briefly in Dalton last Sunday afternoon. The city of Revere, just north of Boston, had a more severe and destructive twister on Monday morning — extremely rare for that coastal area.

We’ve had unusually cool days this summer, though not caused by a version of the “polar vortex” that hyperbolic TV and online weathercasters claim. There has been a lack of intense or prolonged summer heat — the peak so far was 88 on July 2, with an 86-degree day later in the month. But plenty of tropical humidity and frequent cloud cover has put a damper on normal summertime routines.

No doubt, climate change has had dramatic, and in some cases, unpredictable effects nationally and worldwide. Much of California remains in an extreme or exceptional drought, with a wildfire season now encompassing much of the year instead of late summer.

As a new National Climactic Data Center report found, Planet Earth continues to heat up. June was the warmest on record, based on global averages, and so was May. The center, part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), based its findings on data from 2,000 weather stations worldwide. It records go back to 1880.

Of course, local results vary. After a much colder than normal winter, Berkshire County temperatures have been close to average in recent months. The lead scientist for the Climactic Data Center and author of the latest global report emphasizes that global trends often are not reflected in specific areas.

While the Northeast has been spared heat waves and portions of the South and Midwest have been unusually chilly for this time of year, the Arctic and Greenland as well as much of Asia, Africa and South America broke records for warmth in June — more than 30 nations in all.

Some skeptics continue to argue with the overall findings even though they’re based on the conclusions of 425 scientists representing 57 countries, but NOAA’s latest annual report, released last month and available online, carries a great deal of weight and bears up under scrutiny. (See for yourself at www.noaanews.noaa.gov)

“These findings reinforce what scientists for decades have observed: that our planet is becoming a warmer place,” stated NOAA Administrator Kathryn Sullivan. “This report provides the foundational information we need to develop tools and services for communities, business and nations to prepare for and build resilience to the impacts of climate change.”

The detailed report cites a continuing increase in greenhouse gasses, with all-time high levels found at observation stations in Hawaii and the Arctic.

Four separate databanks found that 2013 was somewhere between the second and sixth warmest on record; Australia was definitely the warmest ever.

Surface ocean temperatures continued to rise, as did sea levels. The Arctic had one of its warmest years in the past century and the region’s sea ice continued to erode.

With no action in sight in the U.S. or other major polluting nations such as China and India, the lack of political will to confront climate change will cause much grief in the years to come. But energy conservation is well worth a full-throttle effort while we wait in vain for the Washington gridlock to break.

 

Not again! Another stormy Monday greets the Berkshires

If rainy days and Mondays always get you down, welcome to yet another soggy start to the work week.

A series of pre-dawn storms rolled through Berkshire County, sparking intense lightning and thunder, causing a deluge of more than an inch of rain during a two-hour period in some areas, as well as numerous downed trees, utility lines and flooded roadways.

For some portions of the county, it was the second bout of severe weather in 12 hours. Area police and fire units were kept busy responding to reports of localized flooding and wind damage.

The torrential rain, which followed a fast-moving late-afternoon Sunday storm over central and southern portions of the county, prompted the National Weather Service in Albany, N.Y., to issue a flood advisory because the ground is saturated from nearly two months of far above-average rainfall.

Minor flooding of urban and low-lying areas was occurring, the advisory stated, adding that some roadways may be overwhelmed with runoff, causing dangerous driving conditions.

Dalton was especially hard hit by the fast-moving storm on Sunday, as high winds caused widespread damage, prompting local officials to declare a state of emergency in order to try to secure federal or state aid.

The official 24-hour rainfall total reported from the National Weather Service’s observation station at Pittsfield Municipal Airport was 1.95 inches as of 7 a.m. Monday, most of it from the early-morning downpour. At Harriman and West Airport in North Adams, 1.28 inches were measured during the same period.

Weather spotters for Channel 6 in Schenectady, N.Y., reported 3.21 inches of rain had fallen in Pittsfield, 2.2 inches in Lanesborough, a half-inch in Savoy and 0.41 inches in Clarksburg.

On top of the 7.55 inches of rain recorded at the Pittsfield airport in June — nearly double the average — a total of 8 inches and counting has been measured so far this month. The combined total is approaching a 75-year two-month record for the city, according to long-term government data.

Government and private forecasters predicted more thunderstorms and heavy rain are possible later on Monday as an unseasonably strong system passes through western New England, dragging the leading edge of cooler air with it. There’s a slight risk of more severe storms into the evening, according to the government’s Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla.

Looking ahead, Tuesday and Wednesday should be dry but unusually cool for late July, with a return to normal temperatures as well as more showers and thunderstorms on Thursday and Friday. The early long-range outlook continues the possibility of rainy weather for the weekend.

 

Once again, Berkshire targeted for severe weather potential

For the sixth straight week, the Berkshires can anticipate the same weather pattern — several days of possibly heavy rainfall and gusty winds from time to time, accompanied by potentially intense thunderstorms fueled by tropical humidity. The payoff, yet again: True-blue daytime skies with clear overnights, thanks to refreshingly pleasant air from Canada, from Wednesday into the weekend.

“The region could get walloped,” predicted AccuWeather.com meteorologist Henry Margusity, describing the threat covering western New England and nearby New York state until mid-week. The leading edge of cooler air could produce severe storms, most likely on Tuesday, he said in a video posting. Wind damage, hail and even isolated tornadoes are part of the brew.

AccuWeather is predicting 3.5 inches of rain in Pittsfield and South Berkshire, slightly more in North County, by early Wednesday. The two-day total could approach a full month’s-worth if it develops as predicted.

A flash flood watch remains in effect for Berkshire County, eastern New York and nearby Connecticut until 6 a.m. Wednesday, according to the National Weather Service in Albany. Multiple rounds of showers and thunderstorms are expected to move through a warm, very humid airmass, the NWS predicted, with torrential downpours and total rainfall up to 3 inches. Higher amounts are possible where storms slow down and remain in place over a specific location.

At times, rain may fall at the rate of more than one inch an hour. Since the ground is already soaked by recent heavy downpours, the flash flood potential is enhanced, according to the government forecasters’ alert that went into effect at 2 p.m. on Monday.

The greatest potential for the heaviest rain was focused on Tuesday, NWS forecaster Kevin Lipton stated.

At Pittsfield Municipal Airport, 10.4 inches of rain have been recorded since June 3, compared to a six-week normal of 6.5 inches. Rivers and streams are running fast and high, forecasters noted, and another period of intense downpours could lead to more runoff damage in lower-lying areas of the county.

Several hard-hit towns in south Berkshire have been shoring up poor-drainage areas to prevent a repetition of washouts during the June 25 storm that dropped four inches of rain — a month’s worth — in about five hours.

Weather records at Harriman and West Airport in North Adams show a six-week total of 7.17 inches, reflecting comparably frequent but less-intense rainfall over North Berkshire, though still significantly above average.

More storms on the radar for Tuesday

Another strong to severe round of thunderstorms is on tap for parts of Berkshire County on Tuesday afternoon and evening, according to AccuWeather and National Weather Service forecasters.

Heat and high humidity will add to the potential for strong winds and heavy rainfall that may cover more territory than the scattershot storms that packed a strong punch in Pittsfield, North Adams and southern Vermont Monday evening, but spared much of the county.

The storms, if they develop as predicted by sunset on Tuesday, could produce heavy rainfall, flash flooding, damaging winds and large hail, said forecaster Hugh Johnson at the NWS office in Albany, N.Y.

“It will be a later show than yesterday [Monday], mostly in the evening into the overnight,” he explained. The trigger for the storms — the leading edge of cooler air — was still out in the Ohio Valley as of mid-morning Tuesday. “It has a long way to go,” said Johnson,” but I can’t rule out a random popup storm in the afternoon.”

Straight-line winds, which can bring trees and utility lines down, are on the horizon — “there’s definitely a potential,” Johnson pointed out. For Berkshire County, he predicted a more organized, widespread line of storms compared to Monday’s outbreak.

From Wednesday evening until late Sunday, a prolonged stretch of dry, pleasant weather is expected thanks to a cooler Canadian air mass slated to arrive in New England.

On Tuesday, afternoon temperatures are likely to top out in the mid- to upper 80s in much of Berkshire County, especially lower-lying valleys. Along with tropical humidity, the stage is set for potentially severe storms moving from northwest to southeast late in the day. Anywhere from an inch to two inches of rainfall during a brief period is possible, forecasters said.

The outbreak over western New England would be part of a storm system affecting more than a dozen states in the Northeast and the Ohio Valley, according to senior meteorologist Kristina Pydynowski at AccuWeather.com. “The afternoon and evening hours are when the strongest thunderstorms will rumble and threaten to cause some damage and hazards to residents,” she stated in her mid-morning outlook.

On Monday afternoon, the Boston area was under a rare tornado warning after a trained National Weather Service spotter in Lynn sighted a funnel cloud in the western sky. A Fenway Park webcam also caught it from a different angle, but no tornado touchdown took place, said Eleanor Vallier-Talbot, an NWS meteorologist in the Taunton office south of Boston.

Images of the funnel cloud were posted on Twitter and other social media sites and went viral. Damage caused by severe thunderstorms was reported from Fitchburg to the North Shore.

 

 

A stormy day on tap for the region, then dry and cooler

A plume of humid tropical air is expected to clash with the slowly advancing leading edge of a cooler, drier Canadian system over the Berkshires late Wednesday, setting the stage for potentially heavy thunderstorms.

Some of those storms could cause torrential downpours and gusty winds, according to meteorologist Hugh Johnson at the National Weather Service in Albany, N.Y. Though pop-up showers could develop at any time, the highest risk of severe weather is expected Wednesday night into Thursday morning.

Slow-moving thunderstorms are expected to be a problem during that period, Johnson predicted. Several microbursts — intense storms with strong winds that can bring down trees and power lines within several minutes — could develop, he added.

After the Canadian air mass pushes through around daybreak Thursday, drier, pleasant conditions are expected right through the weekend, an ideal scenario for the many outdoor activities planned for the Berkshires. Seasonable highs around 80 and overnight lows in the 50s will be accompanied by mostly clear skies and calm winds.

Next week, look for a trend toward above-normal temperatures and increasing chances of thunderstorms, especially on Tuesday, although no all-day washouts are expected by long-range forecasters.

For June so far, National Weather Service records at Pittsfield Municipal Airport reflect temperatures and rainfall very close to normal, with no unusually hot days and only two heavy thunderstorms in portions of the county.

The outlook for the first week of July calls for above-normal temperatures and rainfall throughout the Northeast, according to the government’s Climate Prediction Center in College Park, Md.

Government forecasters post flood watch for region

The National Weather Service has posted a flood watch for Berkshire County, southern Vermont, northwest Connecticut extending through Saturday morning.

Forecasters in the NWS Albany office cited the leading edge of colder air moving slowly into the region as the reason for the alert. They predicted heavy rainfall Friday afternoon until dawn on Saturday, with a slight risk of thunderstorms.

Total rainfall could range from 2 to 3 inches, enough to cause minor flooding along the Hoosic River in North Berkshire, The forecasters also warned of potential ponding of water on roadways, and flooding of poor-drainage and low-lying areas. Flash floods cannot be ruled out, they added,

 

New government report hits climate change bulls’-eye

It’s not surprising that some partisans on the right have dismissed this week’s 841-page government report on climate change as “alarmist.” But here in the Berkshires, following a very cold winter and a so-far mostly chilly spring, it’s understandable if residents greet the report by 300 scientists and climate specialists, reviewed by a 60-member federal advisory committee, with a collective shoulder-shrug.

While few of us have the time or inclination to peruse the entire document, the government’s user-friendly, well-designed website dedicated to the report has highlights, summaries, details, charts, graphics and easy-to-absorb findings that make for stark, compelling and, yes, frightening reading (nca2014.globalchange.gov).

Folks who can tear themselves away from Facebook, Twitter and other online amusements and gossip for an hour will be rewarded with a much better understanding of “global weirding,” a more descriptive term (coined at the Rocky Mountain Institute) than global warming. It conveys the reality that climate change causes extreme weather, hot and cold, wet and dry, to become even more intense.

Recent examples are so numerous that it may seem that a plague of tropical storms, droughts, heat waves, cold spells, wildfires and tornadoes has descended on the nation and the world.

The National Climatic Assessment Report takes the long view, depicting a steady upswing in average temperatures and precipitation, especially in the past 15 years, as well as a rise in sea levels.

Ominously, the report states, “the Northeast has experienced a greater recent increase in extreme precipitation than any other region in the United States.” Severe storms helped produce a 70 percent increase between 1958 and 2010. By 2080, if global emissions of heat-trapping gases are not curbed, average temperatures are projected to rise by 4.5 to 10 degrees above current levels — a massive warm-up. Even if emissions are reduced substantially, a 3 to 6 degree increase is anticipated by 2080.

The report acknowledges that cold spells will continue, less often and less intense. But heat waves will be more frequent, even in the Berkshires, and torrential downpours are more likely to lead to river flooding.

Hurricanes Irene and Sandy, tropical storms by the time they were felt here, are examples of “the region’s vulnerability to extreme weather events,” according to the report.

The Northeast is in the bull’s-eye of climate change impact. Coastal sections, especially Boston, are particularly at risk of severe flooding with the potential rise in sea level of one to four feet by 2100.

“Heat waves, coastal flooding, and river flooding will pose a growing challenge to the region’s environmental, social, and economic systems,” the report states. “This will increase the vulnerability of the region’s residents, especially its most disadvantaged populations.” This is the third detailed assessment of the climate since 1990, when Congress ordered periodic updates. But only three have been completed — the 2014 report updates and expands the findings of the 2008 study.

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There’s an urgency in the tone of the document — “Summers are longer and hotter, and extended periods of unusual heat last longer than any living American has ever experienced … Winters are generally shorter and warmer. Rain comes in heavier downpours. People are seeing changes in the length and severity of seasonal allergies, the plant varieties that thrive in their gardens, and the kinds of birds they see in any particular month in their neighborhoods.”

But as on so many other issues, Congress is paralyzed and any major effort there to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions is doomed for the foreseeable future, though President Obama could issue some helpful executive actions and the Supreme Court is allowing the Environmental Protection Agency to control emissions that cross state lines.

Gov. Deval Patrick has unveiled a $50 million program to combat the effects of climate change in the state, and Massachusetts environmental regulations have been toughened so that the impact of projects on the atmosphere is considered.

But apathy remains a major barrier to a national policy that would confront the crisis. Only 40 percent of Americans view climate change as a major threat, according to a Pew Research Center survey, and a recent Gallup Poll found that one out of three people worry about the issue to any significant degree.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky told reporters that President Obama was likely to “use the platform to renew his call for a national energy tax. And I’m sure he’ll get loud cheers from liberal elites — from the kind of people who leave a giant carbon footprint and then lecture everybody else about low-flow toilets.’’

Sen. David Vitter, a Louisiana Republican, said the report was supposed to be scientific but “it’s more of a political one used to justify government overreach.’’ But, as the Associated Press reported, the study is based on peer-reviewed research, the gold standard in science. It has 3,086 footnotes and has passed inspection by the National Academy of Science.

Records at the National Weather Service station at Pittsfield Municipal Airport for 2013 show an average temperature nearly 2 degrees above the long-term norm. That’s been the pattern in the majority of the years since 1998.

A few cold months notwithstanding, there’s no justification for complacency or for a “who cares?” attitude. Without any need for hyperbole or the sensationalism of some TV broadcasters and Internet weather sites, the report speaks for itself. We ignore it at our peril.

 

Rainy, raw storm system drenching Berkshires

Looking for sunny, seasonable, spring weather? Except for a brief warmup to near 70 on Thursday, there’s none in sight for at least a week.

As a large, complex and slow-moving storm system approached the Berkshires, forecasters issued a flood watch for the region, in effect from 6 p.m. Wednesday through noon on Thursday.

On and off showers, some of them intense, are expected to drop one and half to three inches of total rainfall on the county, according to the National Weather Service in Albany, N.Y.

The potential result: Minor flooding on rivers and streams, and likely flooding of low-lying and poor-drainage areas vulnerable to heavy rainstorms.

High winds from the east and southeast, far-below normal temperatures and even a thunderstorm or two are in the mix before a burst of warmth on Thursday offers a brief respite from the raw conditions that have put a damper on outdoor activities.

The heaviest rain was expected by nightfall on Wednesday with winds gusting to 25 to 35 miles per hour at times, except in North Berkshire, where 40-mile-an-hour gusts were anticipated, with very chilly temperatures for the end of April and start of May, forecaster Kevin Lipton stated.

On Thursday, after the leading edge of a warmer air mass pushes through the county, Lipton predicted highs from the mid-60s to low 70s, with possible showers and thunderstorms, all depending on how much sun can break through to destabilize the atmosphere in what he described as a “very tricky” scenario.

The weekend outlook is murky, with plenty of cloudiness, a chance of showers from time to time, and a return to unusually cold temperatures.

At Pittsfield Municipal Airport, April closed out with temperatures near normal, on average, though the first half of the month was unseasonably mild, while the past two weeks have seen mostly chilly days and nights. Average temperatures recorded at Harriman & West Airport in North Adams came in about 3 degrees below normal. The National Weather Service maintains automated observation stations at both airports.

Flood watch issued for intense rainstorm

…Flood Watch in effect from Wednesday evening through Thursday morning…

The National Weather Service in Albany has issued a

* Flood Watch for the Berkshires…eastern Catskills…Mohawk Valley…capital district…Mid Hudson valley…Taconics… and Litchfield County.

* From Wednesday evening through Thursday morning

* a large slow moving low pressure system will impact the area tonight into Thursday resulting in widespread showers. The heaviest rainfall is expected late Wednesday afternoon and night. Total rainfall amounts of 1 1/2 to 3 inches are excepted tonight through Thursday. The higher totals are expected to the south and east of the capital district with locally higher amounts up to to 4 inches possible in the eastern Catskills.

* Minor flooding of rivers and streams is possible…with flooding of poor drainage…urban…and low lying areas likely with the heavy rainfall.

Precautionary/preparedness actions…

A Flood Watch means there is a potential for flooding based on current forecasts.

You should monitor later forecasts and be alert for possible flood warnings. Those living in areas prone to flooding should be prepared to take action should flooding develop.

Red flag fire danger warning posted

Potentially dangerous outdoor fire conditions are looming today because of high winds and low humidity.

In a rare red-flag warning, the first of the season, the National Weather Service in Albany, N.Y., listed the Berkshires as well as southern Vermont, nearby northwestern Connecticut and eastern New York State as high-risk areas.

The alert is in effect from noon until 6 p.m. today (Thursday) as west to northwest winds at 15 to 25 miles per hour may gust to 30 to 45 mph, accompanied by bright sunshine and temperatures near 60.

Extremely dry conditions, with humidity only 15 to 25 percent — typical of the Southwest deserts — pose the likelihood of “critical weather conditions,” according to forecaster Hugh Johnson.

The red flag warning was issued because woodlands and meadows are still covered with tinder-dry brush during a month that has seen only half of the normal rainfall.

The alert means that dangerous fire weather conditions are expected due to the combination of gusty winds, low humidity, and dry fuels in forests and other wooded areas. Any outdoor fires that develop may quickly get out of control and become difficult to contain, the government forecaster stated.

Open-burning permits for Thursday have been canceled by most Berkshire County communities; the season ends on May 1. Wildfires requiring mutual aid were reported in Adams and the town of Florida earlier this week.

Among the cities and towns canceling the permits are Becket, Cheshire, Dalton, Great Barrington, Hancock, Lanesborough, Lee, Lenox, Monterey, Peru, Pittsfield, Richmond, Stockbridge and Windsor. Those communities list their daily conditions at www.bcburnpermits.com. Other communities not listed routinely shut down burning permits whenever a red flag warning is hoisted.

As winds ease Thursday evening, the threat of any critical fire danger will pass. No brushfire or forest fire risk is anticipated on Friday. A light to moderate rainfall is forecast for Friday night, with more showers possible later on Saturday.