Bitter cold and a chill wind inevitably mean the heat gets cranked up inside. And as the polar vortex parked itself over Canada and the northeastern U.S. to end 2013, that’s what people did.
Largely as a result of trying to keep warm from that Arctic chill, carbon dioxide emitted from burning energy in the U.S. increased 2.5 percent in 2013 over the previous year, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s annual CO2 emissions report, released Tuesday.
Only three other years since 1990 have seen a greater annual increase in energy-related CO2 emissions — 1996, 2000 and 2010.
The spike in emissions from burning energy last year had less to do with the U.S. reversing a trend in declining CO2 emissions than it did with 2012 being unusually warm — the warmest year on record in the U.S., in fact.
“2012 was so warm, and then 2013 started returning to normal on its way to a chilly winter when you got to the end of the year,” EIA analyst Perry Lindstrom told Climate Central.
Even though the U.S. burned through more natural gas, coal and home heating fuel to stay toasty last year, CO2 emissions related to energy consumption were still lower than they were earlier in the decade when emissions peaked in 2007.
Here’s how the numbers break down: Energy-related CO2 emissions totaled 5.9 billion metric tons in 2005, peaking at more than 6 billion in 2007 and in 2012 dropped to nearly 5.3 billion tons, their lowest level in 18 years. In 2013, they spiked to nearly 5.4 billion tons.
Overall, homes across the U.S. emitted 16 percent more CO2 from their energy consumption last year over 2012, according to the report.
Less use of coal to generate electricity contributed to lower CO2 emissions in 2012, the fifth year in a row that CO2 emissions from energy consumption declined.
A Narragansett (R.I.) Electric power plant.
Credit: Ed G/flickr
Even though CO2 emissions increased, the carbon intensity of the U.S. economy last year remained unchanged from 2012. Carbon intensity is a measure of how much CO2 is released into the atmosphere per unit of GDP.
The U.S. emitted 343 metric tons of CO2 per $1 million of GDP in both 2012 and 2013. In 2012, the total carbon intensity of the U.S. economy declined by 6.5 percent over the previous year — the largest drop since recordkeeping began in 1949 — mainly because the public has been eschewing coal for natural gas as a primary source of electricity.
It’s hard to draw long-term conclusions about 2013’s increase in emissions from energy use because many other factors will play into total CO2 emissions in the future, Lindstrom said.
Fuel efficiency and greater use of renewable energy are likely to reduce emissions in the future, and it may be likely that CO2 emissions will continue trending downward, the report says.
Scientists tend to speak of glaciers as if they were living creatures. They say they grow and die and have good health and bad. Now, with Halloween approaching, a handful of researchers has found a way that the anthropomorphized rivers of ice that they study can simultaneously live and die as the globe warms.
The discovery of a ghoulishly semi-lifeless glacier in southeastern Iceland doesn’t just create a new zombie class of frozen rivers of water. It raises questions about the accuracy of conventional approaches to measuring the growth and retreat of similar glaciers.
A portion of the Falljökull glacier in Skaftafell National Park, Iceland.
When a glacier is said to be alive, it grows by gobbling up frozen snowpack during warmer months, often adding more ice than it loses to melting. During the colder season it expands downhill, growing in mass and length, sometimes carving out great valleys as it goes. The glacier doesn’t just add ice around its peripheries; its entire mass heaves as it waxes in winter and wanes in summer.
When a glacier is said to be dying, as so many are today due to rising temperatures, it has been thought to do so in one of two ways. It can retreat, with summer melt rates outpacing the absorption of new ice. Or it can stagnate and wither, like an errant ice cube leaving a puddle on the kitchen linoleum.
But scientists who used a combination of satellites, ground-pentrating radar and remote-sensing LiDAR technology to peer deep inside the Falljökull glacier during a 12-month period discovered a response to warmer weather that hasn’t previously been documented.
Living parts of the glacier appear to have sloughed away the dead bits.
The glacier overall has retreated more than a mile up the side of an ice-capped volcano during the past two centuries, despite a 600-foot growth spurt between 1970 and 1990.
The higher altitude portion of the glacier has now detached from its rotting base, the researchers discovered — and sprung back to life. The upper portion has resumed a forward advance that, between 1990 and 2004, had been in reverse.
“It's as if the glacier has abandoned its lower section to stagnating, whilst the upper part of the glacier continues to move forward,” Phillips said. He likened the abandoned lower section of glacier to a tail that’s shed by a lizard when it’s attacked by a predator. “In the case of the glacier, the predator is our warming climate.”
While acknowledging that “it’s strange to anthropomorphise a glacier,” Phillips says it’s “as if the glacier is trying to save itself by shortening its active length to adapt to the increasingly warmer summers and less snowfall during the winter months.”
In effect, Phillips says, “The glacier has downsized.”
It’s possible that other mountain glaciers are behaving in similar ways, according to Phillips, but more research is needed. If that turns out to be the case, then it could be easy to look at a series of satellite pictures or other glacial measurements and mistakenly think that a glacier is wasting away, when its higher-altitude reaches are actually still active and growing.
Understanding processes like these could help scientists hone flooding projections, with the wasting away of glaciers currently responsible for about a quarter of the 3 millimeters or so of annual sea level rise.
“We like to think that as it gets shorter, that means that the glacier is losing mass — but that doesn’t follow if you look at this,” said Graham Cogley, a professor emeritus of geography at Trent University. Cogley researches climate impacts on glaciers, and he was not involved with the recent Falljökull research. “The trouble is we don’t know how widespread this sort of behavior is.”
The phantom El Niño continues to hold sway over the weather and climate world, in part because it has such a strong influence on weather patterns around the globe. But the weather it influences isn’t the end of the story or even the biggest point. What really matters is how those shifts can lead to flooding or drought.
A new study looks at those downstream effects of flooding in particular and finds that nearly half of the world’s land areas experience a shift in the odds of flooding during El Niño (or it’s opposite phase, La Niña).
River flooding in Afghanistan.
That means some areas are exposed to higher flood risks, endangering infrastructure and people, while other areas get a reprieve. Those findings, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, provide a more detailed look at the next level of forecasting.
“A lot of scientific effort has been put into modeling physical hazards themselves. Only much more recently have we started looking at the damage and being able to model that damage,” said Philip Ward, a researcher at Amsterdam Global Change Institute who led the new study.
Ward and his colleagues found that 44 percent of river basins around the world saw changes in 100-year flood risks during El Niño or La Niña years, with some seeing higher risk of floods and loss of property and some seeing lower risk.
The Southwest U.S., parts of southern South America and the Horn of Africa saw some of the biggest increases in flooding risks while the West Coast, Sahel region of Africa and Australia saw the biggest decreases.
Those patterns reflect the broad changes El Niño, known more fully as El Niño-Southern Oscillation or ENSO, generally causes to precipitation patterns globally. The warming of water in the eastern equatorial Pacific that characterizes El Niño tends to shift the odds of precipitation in certain places around the globe, though it by no means guarantees it.
“There have been studies (showing) that some areas get more rainfall during El Niño years, but more rainfall doesn’t necessarily mean more floods. So we’re looking at the actual flooding and damages caused by flooding,” Ward said.
The flood risks Ward modeled are roughly in line with those precipitation shifts, but they don’t always line up. For example, the Southeast U.S. is generally wet and cool during El Niño, but Ward’s study found that although the odds of flooding were increased in some parts of the region, the impact of flooding across the region as a whole was minimal.
You can think of this process like subbing in a speedy pinch-runner in baseball. The pinch-runner may up the odds of being able to steal a base safely but there’s no guarantee they’ll be able to, let alone eventually be able to score a run.
The reason? A lot of factors have to line up for more rains to lead to more floods to actual impacts on society. Flood protection levels, which the study did not consider, and the amount of people living in flood plains as well as other factors further influence the impact flooding can have.
The study provides crucial context for El Niño for the insurance industry, disaster managers and even local communities.
“We’ve been discussing these results with them for re-insurance (purposes),” Ward said. “You can imagine what this study shows to them that the portfolio of risk is not constant through time. There may be some years where they may have a higher risk and more payouts.”
A map showing sea surface temperature anomalies leading up and during the 1997-98 super El Nino.
Credit: NOAA View
Moving from seasonal rainfall forecasts to on-the-ground impacts is also something the Red Cross is studying. Maarten van Aalst, who heads the Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Centre, said some humanitarian efforts have already used seasonal forecasts to successfully plan for the disasters, with the most notable example being advanced preparation for major floods in West Africa in 2008. Using a seasonal forecast to pre-position supplies helped the Red Cross cut down response time to just 2 days from 40 days and costs 30 percent less than responding after floods hit.
“This paper demonstrates quantitatively what we have felt intuitively for several years: humanitarian action can be improved by making better use of seasonal climate forecasts,” van Aalst said in an email. “Anything that brings us closer to the real impacts that people experience on the ground (floods rather than rainfall) can lead to better thresholds and sharper planning.”
Ward also emphasized that beyond these opportunities, the study showed that some locations around the world can actually benefit from reduced flood risks during El Niño or La Niña years. Of course in locations that badly need rain, such as parts of northern California, that’s of small consolation with this year’s impending El Niño.
Beyond the here and now, the findings could take on importance in a changing climate. Some research has indicated that climate change could double the likelihood of "super" El Niños like those that formed in 1982-83 and 1997-98. The 1997-98 El Niño was responsible for an estimated $35-45 billion in damage and 23,000 deaths worldwide. Any shift in El Niño patterns could lead to larger variability in flood risks around the globe.
“The paper provides strong evidence that ENSO-related factors need to be studied and mapped to flood risk across the world. Such an effort would lend potential predictability to flood risk, and permit better local flood risk planning as well as portfolio risk management across many locations,” said Upmanu Lall, the head of the Columbia University Water Center and reviewer of the paper prior to publication.
Lall cautioned that more work needed to be done, though, before the paper’s findings could be turned into actionable forecasts.
Vehicles burning gasoline refined from crude oil is already one of the world’s biggest sources of carbon dioxide emissions, and one of the United States’ largest sources of crude oil is the Bakken shale in North Dakota.
NASA satellite images showing bright lights in the Bakken fields illustrate a side effect of crude oil production there that is also problematic for the climate. All the light coming from those fields are thousands of flames burning off, or flaring, natural gas.
A NASA nighttime satellite image of North Dakota. The cluster of lights in the northwest quadrant of the state is made up of flames from flaring oil wells in the Bakken shale region of the state.
The natural gas, mostly methane produced with the crude oil extracted from the Bakken, has to be flared because there are few pipelines or infrastructure there that can bring that natural gas to market.
Energy companies flare as much as a third of the excess gas they produce. Flaring in North Dakota produced 4.5 million metric tons of CO2 in 2012 alone, roughly the equivalent of adding 1 million new cars to U.S. highways, according to the non-profit sustainability group Ceres.
New regulations are aiming to change that, possibly reducing the flaring to 10 percent of all natural gas produced by 2020, according to a U.S. Energy Information Administration report released Monday.
In 2013, more than 35 percent of the excess natural gas produced with Bakken crude oil was flared into the atmosphere. North Dakota’s new emissions reduction targets have already reduced flared natural gas to 26 percent, and the goal is to reduce it to 15 percent by the end of the decade, according to the EIA.
Cutting back on flaring is a huge challenge in a state that has seen crude oil production increase to 1.1 million barrels per day by Aug. 2014, up from about 230,000 barrels per day in early 2010, according to EIA data.
Part of the reason is that the Bakken produces very little natural gas compared to other crude oil fields in the U.S. — so little that it isn’t profitable for energy companies to invest in pipelines that would bring that gas to processing plants and then to market, especially during a time of low natural gas prices, EIA industrial economist Mike Ford said.
The revenue companies would make from selling the natural gas they produce with the Bakken crude oil isn’t enough to cover the cost of new pipelines, so the gas is often burned off, he said.
The state is trying get control of the situation, possibly requiring energy companies to cut back on crude oil production. Earlier this year, the North Dakota Industrial Commission approved a new regulation that required energy companies to provide state authorities with a gas capture plan that will report how much natural gas an oil company plans to produce and how it will be processed. If a company doesn’t comply or meet flaring reduction targets, the state could force it to cut back on oil production.
Despite low natural gas prices, several new pipelines and natural gas processing plants are expected to begin operating soon to help reduce the amount of natural gas that has to be flared. The amount of natural gas that can be processed from North Dakota’s oil fields is expected to more than double by 2017, according to the EIA.
That will still leave about 10 percent of the natural gas produced in North Dakota flaring into the atmosphere, showing that the region will have a lot of progress yet to go on fading the lights over the Bakken shale oil fields.
Fueled by the steady rise of greenhouse gases, 2014 is on track to go down as the hottest year on record.
With September 2014 in the books as the warmest September on record and the year-to-date temperatures tying with 1998 and 2010 as the warmest January-September, the National Climatic Data Center announced Monday that 2014 will likely break the record for the warmest year on the books.
Back in August, the year ranked as the third warmest on record. The jump this month came “because we keep seeing record warm months or near-record warm months,” said Jessica Blunden, a climate scientist with ERT, Inc., at the NCDC.
In fact, leaving aside calendar years, the period from October 2013 through September 2014 “is the warmest 12-month period that we’ve ever had on record,” Blunden told Climate Central.
All but one of the 10 warmest years on record have occurred in the 21st century (1998, when there was a very strong El Niño, is the exception). Earth’s steadily rising temperatures are the result of the buildup of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, in the planet’s atmosphere. These gases cause the atmosphere to warm, and a large chunk of that warmth is absorbed by the world’s oceans.
Those oceans, particularly the northeastern and equatorial Pacific, are largely what is fueling this record, Blunden said. Because temperatures in the oceans are slow to change, it is likely that warmth will hang around through the end of the year. That means that the odds “are pretty good” that 2014 will top 2010 as the warmest year on record, she said.
September for the globe as a whole was 1.3°F above the 20th century average of 59°F, according to the NCDC, which is part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The period from January-September was 1.22°F above the average of 57.5°F for the 20th century.
Those numbers and rankings broadly agree with records kept by NASA and the Japan Meteorological Agency, both of which also ranked September as the warmest on record. Different agencies use different methods of compiling global temperatures, accounting for slight variations in their numbers and rankings from month-to-month and year-to-year.
At the beginning of the year, NCDC climate scientists weren’t sure how the year would turn out. The end of 2013 saw an uptick in global warmth, with a particularly toasty November and December and they expected that trend to continue into 2014, as it largely did. (2013 ended up ranking as the fourth warmest on record.)
“You never know for sure what’s going to happen in a climate system based on natural variations,” Blunden said.
While the winter was a brutally cold one for the eastern half of the U.S., and spring seemed to be more of an extension of winter there, much of the rest of the globe was experiencing anomalous warmth. In some places, including the Northeast Pacific, that warmth reached record-setting levels.
“We’re just having these incredible ocean temperatures,” Blunden said. Ocean temperatures in September broke the record for the warmest of any month, she said.
With the ocean warmth expected to continue and an El Niño event trying to form, that makes it likely that the final three months of the year will also be among the warmest. That would stand in contrast to 1998 and 2010, where the record warmth started to taper off at the end of both years, in part because El Niños that were in place at the beginning of those years died down.
The amount that temperatures around the world departed from the 1981-2010 average in September 2014 (in degrees Celsius). Click image to enlarge. Credit: NOAA
The land area of the planet is perhaps the biggest unknown in the coming months because they change temperature more rapidly, but if the El Niño forms, that will stack the deck because during an El Niño “you tend to have more warmth over land areas in general,” Blunden said.
The NCDC has worked out that if each of the remaining months of this year at least matches the average of its 10 warmest occurrences, then 2014 will be the warmest year on record. If each month ties its average so far this century, then the year will tie 2010 as the warmest.
The October 2013 to September 2014 period broke the 12-month record, besting the one tied just one month before, from September 2013 to August. 2014. (The other two years in that second-place tie were August 2009 to July 2010 and September 1997 to August 1998.)
With October more than halfway over, it is possible this month will also set a temperature record, and could break the 12-month record yet again. “So we just have to see how that plays out,” Blunden said.
The day the Nobel committee began announcing its 2014 winners earlier this week, National Geographic published a list of Nobel should-have-beens. Dan Vergano’s contribution—Thomas Edison for the lightbulb—proved prescient. One day later, a Nobel for physics was finally awarded for the lightbulb. Unfortunately for the Wizard of Menlo Park, it didn’t go to Edison. The winners were Isamu Akasaki, Hiroshi Amano, and Shuji Nakamura for their work on blue light-emitting diodes, or LEDs.
LEDs represent a huge increase in the efficiency of lighting.
Credit: John Loo/OnEarth Magazine
Edison was still a genius, and his inventions did change the world, but he’s not exactly an environmental hero. Only about 2 percent of the energy that flows through the filament of an incandescent bulb actually generates light. Edison’s invention is a much better heater than a light source.
LEDs are a dramatic improvement. The most cutting edge claim to be 15 times more efficient than the incandescent bulb and four times more efficient than compact fluorescents (the squiggly ones), which now appear to be little more than a transitional technology. On a global scale, the energy savings from a worldwide switch to LEDs could be massive. In 1997, when incandescent bulbs still ruled the night, Evan Mills of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory estimated that lighting resulted in the emission of 1,775 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents. If, at that moment, we could have immediately replaced all of the world’s incandescent bulbs with LEDs, the greenhouse gas savings would have been like taking 300 million cars off the road.
In real life, the changeover from incandescent to compact fluorescent to LED bulbs has had a less dramatic impact, for a variety of reasons. The most depressing candidate is known as the “rebound effect,” as Brad Plumer points out at Vox. The theory goes that when lighting (or any technology) becomes more efficient, it gets cheaper. When something gets cheaper, people use more of it. The rebound effect, however, is a hotly disputed phenomenon. Physicist David Goldstein and his colleagues at NRDC (which publishes OnEarth) argue that the rebound effect is at best negligible on a societal scale. Their data shows that people use only a tiny fraction of their energy savings to buy more lighting (or heating or refrigeration or whatever the more efficient technology may be). "Policies and consumer preferences are steadily pushing in the opposite direction—saving more energy, not less," Goldstein writes.
Another challenge with LEDs, known as droop, has troubled physicists for years. As you increase the current flowing through an LED, the efficiency plummets from 300 lumens per watt of power down below 100 lumens, which isn’t much better than a compact fluorescent bulb (which costs a small fraction of the LED’s current price tag). A few people, including recently minted Nobel laureate Nakamura, have proposed explanations for what causes droop, but no one is entirely certain. Once physicists find the answer, it will still take engineers years to design a solution. Until then, producing bright light with low amounts of energy requires lots and lots of small LEDs stacked together, which is a problem from both a cost and an engineering standpoint.
Approximately 19 percent of the world’s population lacks access to electricity. LEDs could eventually offer a cheap, low-carbon light.
Credit: Tony Webster/OnEarth Magazine
Fortunately, the LED light may play a role in training the scientist who will eventually solve this problem. Approximately 19 percent of the world’s population lacks access to electricity, and there are surely many geniuses among them. The LED’s tiny energy demands make it possible for off-grid communities to store enough solar power in low-cost batteries (see “India Calling”) to provide light after sunset.
Why does that matter? My father-in-law grew up in a small village in India. When the sun went down, he had to stop studying, because his family couldn’t provide enough light to read. He still managed to earn a Ph.D. in chemical engineering, but I often wonder how many kids like him were held back by darkness — an absurd obstacle to academic achievement in the modern world. Maybe one day the Nobel Prize will go to a child who can thank today’s winners for all those late nights spent studying under their creation.
This article is provided by NRDC'sOnEarth magazine, a Climate Central content partner, and appears online at onearth.org
The big news in weather this week was the sudden surge of storm activity in the Atlantic Ocean (not to mention a fairly rare tropical storm heading Hawaii’s way). The star of the cyclone show has been Hurricane Gonzalo, the first Category 4 hurricane in the Atlantic basin since 2011. But there was, of course ,weather news outside of the tropics, from fall tornadoes in the U.S. to a stunning lightning show over Mexico filmed from space.
The arrival of a strong phase of a climate pattern called the Madden-Julian Oscillation set off a flurry of storm activity in what has otherwise been a quiet ocean basin for most of the Atlantic Hurricane Season. While Tropical Storm Fay briefly achieved hurricane status, the storm behind it, Gonzalo, grew into a monster, presenting an imposing scene from space.
Gonzalo reached Category 4 hurricane strength late Wednesday morning — the first hurricane to do so since Ophelia in 2011. Gonzalo reached the point where it was the strongest storm in the basin since 2010’s Hurricane Igor.
The hurricane has since weakened slightly, though it is still expected to be a major hurricane (Category 3 or higher) when it hits Bermuda.
Incredible high resolution satellite imagery of Hurricane Gonzalo this afternoon, via VIIRS I Band satellite. pic.twitter.com/9EgHLSCzf6
Astronaut Reid Wiseman certainly has a knack for creating awesome Vines of weather from space. In one of his latest, he captured a storm over Mexico popping off bursts of lightning.
Cold Front Shadow
The tropics weren’t the only spot where the weather ramped up this week. A cold front worked its way across the U.S., spawning tornadoes and bringing heavy rains that caused flash flooding in some areas.
The rising sun made for a very cool looking shadow as a cold front moved toward our area. Clearing this afternoon. pic.twitter.com/v7SfUAf0g7
A satellite happened to catch a particularly cool image of the front when the angle of the sun at sunrise cast a shadow across the storm front. According to the folks at New York Metro Weather, the shadow comes from higher clouds and is projected onto lower-lying clouds. Such shadows can particularly happen when there’s a sharp moisture difference across the front.
Odorless, invisible gases cause the buildup of heat in the Earth’s atmosphere and oceans that lead to climate change. Those changes, such as shifts in rainfall patterns and the acidification of sea waters, are ones that happen in the long-term, relegating them to the background and making them hard to notice.
The International Center for Photography (ICP) aims to change that by punctuating the selfies and latte art pictures in your Instagram feed with images by professional photographers and scientists that show the causes and effects of climate change around the world, as well as how we know what we do about climate science.
Iiceberg between Paulet Island and the South Shetland Islands on the Antarctic Channel. The Antarctic Peninsula, 2005. Click the image to enlarge. Copyright Sebastião Salgado/Amazonas Images
The Instagram takeover is part of a broader approach to the Center’s latest exhibit called “Genesis,” an 8-year project by photojournalist Sebastiao Salgado to document some of the most remote and pristine locations around the world. The stunning collection of black and white photographs shows places barely touched by humans. It serves as both inspiration — what Salgado has termed his “love letter to the planet” — and a cautionary tale of what could be lost.
“The 240 or so images we’re showing are spectacular,” said Pauline Vermare, the on-site curator of the exhibition. But, “they don’t directly address the question of climate change,” she said.
Instead, it’s a subtext to these images and that’s partly why ICP decided to bring scientists in for gallery talks and use avenues such as Instagram to further make those connections and spark a bigger dialogue.
View of the junction of the Colorado and the Little Colorado from the Navajo territory. The Grand Canyon National Park begins after this junction. Click the image to enlarge. Copyright Sebastião Salgado/Amazonas Images
“Social media is a forum for discussion. That’s a thing that’s not necessarily possible if you’re a solo person walking through an exhibition,” said Krishna Knabe, ICP’s communications director.
It also has the potential to reach a much wider audience than the people who stroll through ICP’s Midtown Manhattan gallery. Knabe organized a takeover of their Instagram account for 15 weeks, allowing a select group of photographers and scientists to post images that show the causes and impacts of climate change even more clearly.
“As gorgeous as the work is, it’s a little horrifying to see (the impacts),” Knabe said. “But the power of photography is to tell these stories and . . . document social change and climate change.
“For me personally and the staff here, we’re already learning a lot about things that are happening and I hope people will get energized about particular issues that are relevant to them.”
In particular, she said the images of deforestation in Borneo and the associated rampant rise of palm oil plantations there to produce biofuels and other goods led her to think harder about the issue. Deforestation accounts for roughly 20 percent of carbon dioxide emissions globally according to the U.N., in addition to causing huge losses in biodiversity.
The photos don’t just show the impacts or causes of climate change. They also show how we know what we know about climates past, present and future, making sometimes esoteric-seeming science more accessible and showing the breadth of research.
Hands-on work in the field, such as drilling ice cores and taking tree ring samples, show the more scenic side of science. But the supercomputers of yesteryear are juxtaposed with their modern counterparts to show how modeling — and our understanding of the climate system — has also advanced.
Vermare said ICP is planning another environmentally themed show for fall next year and a broader photography project enlisting citizen journalists to capture their impressions of climate change that will also be displayed in the run-up to the major international climate negotiations in Paris next year.
“The aim of this whole partnership is to make this as meaningful as possible,” she said. “It’s not about art, it’s about changing the society.”
The mercury has already dipped below 32°F at a number of locations around the U.S. in the Rockies and Upper Midwest. It’s only a matter of time before chilly temperatures march east and south as fall turns to winter, frosting over windowpanes, lawns and leaves. But Old Man Winter and Jack Frost are getting a later and later start to their usual frosty ways as the climate continues to warm.
A map showing regional shifts in frost-free season across the continental U.S.
All regions of the continental U.S. have seen the frost-free season, defined as the stretch between the last below-32°F reading in the spring and the first in the fall, grow longer. According to the National Climate Assessment released earlier this year, the average length of that season has lengthened most dramatically in the Southwest, where its now 19 days longer when comparing the period of 1991-2012 to 1901-1960. The Pacific Northwest has seen its frost-free season lengthen by 16 days while the Northeast and Southeast have seen their warm seasons lengthen by 10 days and 6 days, respectively.
Those are the regional averages. When you look at individual locations, there’s even more variation. Some cities, including Albuquerque, N.M., Charleston, S.C., Columbus, Ga., Helena, Mont., and Houston have seen their frost-free season stretch dramatically. Others, including Chicago and Altoona, Pa., have barely changed at all. And still others, including Grand Junction, Colo., and Lincoln, Neb., have shorter frost-free seasons than they did back in 1970. See what has happened to your city since 1970 using the dropdown below.
How is the frost-free season changing in your city?
If greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise steeply, frost-free season will likely continue to lengthen. The most extreme changes are likely in the mountainous regions of the West, where the frost-free season could lengthen by 80 days or more by the end of the 21st century. That doesn’t mean you don’t you need to invest in nose protection from Jack Frost, you just might not need it as often.