Sunday, February 19, 2012

The lack of ice cover on the Great Lakes.

Hi it's Rebecca again, this time I will discuss the amount of ice on the Great Lakes. The winter of 2011-2012 in the Northeast has (so far) seen temperatures above normal and snowfall below normal. The same can be said for the entire lower 48 for the most part, this includes the Great Lakes. From December 1 thru this week in February the temps have been running 5-10 degrees above normal, from New York State and northwestern Pennsylvania to northern Wisconsin and northeastern Minnesota.  Because of this ice on the Great Lakes much lower than it is this time of year. Right now, the amount of ice cover on the Great Lakes is at historic proportions. This is a direct result of the warmer than normal temperatures the region has been experiencing. To give you an idea how warm it's been, last month was the fourth-warmest January on record for the contiguous United States. We've only had a few cold waves as well. This can be shown in figures released by Environment Canada as of Feb. 5, 2012, just over 5 percent of the Great Lakes waters were covered in ice.

Image credit for the following images is Environment Canada.

                 Here is a chart that shows the percentage of ice cover for the last 30 years or so.

As you can see in this chart made up by Environment Canada. Only during the winter of 2005-2006 was the precentage of ice cover less than 5%. It also shows that the winter of 2001-2002 had ice cover of less than 10%

To put this into perspective, As a rule, By this time of year,  the percentage of ice on the Great Lakes is around 30 percent. In a normal year by the middle of March the coverage is close to 40%. The alarming thing about this year is the ice cover on the great lakes may have already peaked; at least according to  Canadian Weather Expert Brett Anderson, from everything I've been looking at, I have to agree with him.
In the following map you can see where the ice cover is on the Great Lakes:

The blue or white colors indicate very little in the way of ice. I looked but I could not find a map that showed ice cover at the same time last year.

The next map shows the departure in ice cover compared to normal.

The color red shows departures in ice coverage of around 70% compared to normal. The biggest difference is Lake Erie. Erie being the shallowest of the five lakes, normally is well on it's way to being frozen over, by this time of year. This is not just happening on the Great Lakes; those who live around the Champlain Valley are all too aware the same thing is happening to Lake Champlain as well. In fact most lakes around the country are having the same problem.  

What effect will the lack of ice have?

Because it's rare to have this amount of ice cover; it's unclear if the lack of ice will have a major effect on the environment. I have seen studies about German lakes that show less ice causes plankton to grow at different times than in the past. Will it be the same here? Scientists are still trying to determine how less ice would affect a variety of species. According to research form the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF), the effect of less ice cover will drastically affect aquatic insects, fish, and submergend vegetation that is typically protected by ice.

There are two camps when it comes to this issue. Many feel like Brian Chipman, a fisheries biologist. He thinks cold water fish won't suffer at all with less ice, he feels the lakes are immense, with plenty of deep, cold water for these species regardless of whether the lake freezes. However, the Nature Conservancy report disagrees, saying there is the potential for harm to cold-water fish if ice continues to diminish, because they might not be able to adapt quickly enough to changing water temperatures or ice cover. From an angler's standpoint, the lack of ice fishing opportunities could mean increased survival of some game species such as northern pike. Overall, it might be hard to figure out effects caused by a lack of lake ice or other factors, such as warmer water temperatures.

Lake Effect Snow
The lack of ice on the Great Lakes could impact late season lake snow events. When there is less ice on the big lakes it tends to produce more lake-effect snow. Why? simply put, with more warm water exposed; the low pressure systems, fronts, and upper level disturbances have more moisture to work with. move over. more can all pick up additional moisture from the unfrozen lake and produce more snow inland. If there's a lot of ice cover there's less evaporation and therefore less lake-effect snow. Because of this, the lake snow belts are more at risk for unusually heavy late season lake effect snow events. That is if we can tap into enough of that cold air to the north. For lake effect snow to happen, the air moving over the lake has to be colder than the water by about 23 degrees Fahrenheit. At the time I'm typing this, the average water temps are 37 degrees for Lake Ontario  and  34 degrees for Lake Erie. So in order to get decent lake effect snows, the air moving over the lakes would have to be at least in the low teens thru the upper single numbers. The more time that passes the less the chances of that happening are.

If you want to know more about lake effect snow. Check out this link.
Lake Effect Snow

Here is a link to high resolution images of the Great Lakes.

MODIS Satellite Images

Well I hope you enjoyed reading this.


Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The proposed budget cuts for the NWS. IMO a bad idea.

Hi it's Rebecca again. I thought I would talk about the proposed cuts to the National Weather Service's budget.  

President Obama’s proposed 2013 budget contains A massive cut of $126 million to the National Weather Service; a full 30% cut in funding. The budget cuts 96 positions from the weather service. the positions the  budget proposal cuts are the computer specialist job (ITO) at every forecast office. Instead the NWS is being told  to have just one central office that handles this.  ITOs use their technology skills to forecast and issue warnings. The ITO's job entails, the development and maintenance of the behind the scenes tools and scripts that push the forecast graphic out to the web. That is more difficult to do from a central location because different offices have different IT needs, The few ITO's left would have to  juggle their time between many competing priorities. I agree that a centrally located group of ITs could maintain a baseline system, but they would not have the time to run the local mesoscale computer models, or customize local computer system to display experimental datasets for the forecasters to evaluate. More and more Americans are getting the weather forecast and severe weather updates over the web. After last year's record setting number of tornadoes, and the deadliest year in over 50 years; not to mention this year's tornado counts are already way above average, can we really afford to drop our guard?  

The National Weather Service is the sole source for issuing weather related watches and warnings and its forecasts are used every day by citizens and industry. When you hear of a weather warning – it originates from the weather service. Its various groups, including the National Hurricane Center (NHC) and the Storm Prediction Center (SPC), are specialists in certain areas of meteorology and all are responsible for helping to keep Americans safe from a variety of natural hazards. The NWS's mission statement says they are to" provide information for the protection of life and property and the enhancement of the national economy.”  The agencies track record is clear and the information it provides critical to our nation. I find it hard to see how these budget cuts won’t cost lives. Imagine if these cuts had been in place last year, how many more would have died? Maybe, it would've been  1000, 2000, or more. Can we risk getting rid of those  who ensure our technology is working and our forecasts are accurate?  I think you would agree that this is an alarming move backwards when it comes to protecting the lives of our fellow citizens. These cuts risk your life and mine. I agree the government must cut back on spending. However, these cut must be thought out. Our government officials must use a scalpel not an ax. If the budget can include such things as 60 million dollars to save the Salmon, how about looking for ways to increase the NWS's budget.

The proposed budget cuts could force the NWS to shut down some of the local weather forecasting offices, maybe the one in Albany or one near you. Will  NOAA have to decide which approaching storms the hurricane hunter aircraft can cover? Will the NWS have to cut back on when and how they bring accurate weather forecast to your attention?  If you're as alarmed by all of this as much as I am, I urge you to contact your elected officials and tell them not to risk your life or that of your family.


Friday, February 10, 2012

Who was Andy Gabrielson?

Most of the people you encounter during your life are just flickers of light. However, a select few are consistent glows for years or even a lifetime. There are only a handful of people who can enter your world, and touch your life in such a dramatic fashion, that your life is forever changed. Andy was one of those special people. He was a unassuming, kind, and caring person, who enjoyed life and lived each day as if it was his last. He was a loving son, committed soul mate, devoted and caring father, and a supportive friend. He would help anyone he came across and asked nothing in return. I know he would have been overwhelmed by all the beautiful flowers, he would have been overwhelmed by the magnificent video his family created. Most of all he would have been overwhelmed by all the love of his family and friends that came together to celebrate his life. And oh how he lived.  

As a storm chaser, Andy was a legend. He had a sixth sense when it came to tornadoes, He was able to get extremely close; he got pictures and video the rest of us in the storm chasing community were envious of.  His footage was often seen on The Weather Channel and many other national television outlets. His footage was exhilarating. But he wasn't out there only to experience natures awesome power and beauty. He was out there to warn those in harm's way.  He knew a storm chasers first responsibility was to report what was going on, and help those you could.  Andy pursued storms as he lived life, with passion, courage, and more than a little wonder.  Wherever there was a severe storm, you could be pretty sure Andy was somewhere near. When you looked at the GPS dots around the storm, you knew the one that was the closest was most likely Andy. He was the same way around his loved ones and friends, when he was with you it felt like you were the only one that mattered.  He was always quick with a smile, or a piece of advice. He had generosity with no bounds; going out of his way to help a friend in need.  Being the kind of person he was, I feel he would be amazed by the amount of tears, sadness and tremendous loss those who knew him feel.

Although, he was two weeks shy of his 25th birthday; He did more than many of us could do in ten lifetimes. The legacy he leaves behind is not only a sweet three year old daughter.  He will not only be remembered as a great storm chaser. I feel his true greatness was he showed us how to live life. That no matter what you want out of life; you have to pursue it with passion. You can't be afraid of what might happen,  to always listen and  treat others respectfully without losing your voice in the process. Andy did what most of us should, live life to the fullest, always let those around you know they're loved and appreciated,  and to live every moment as if it were your last.  

My thoughts are with those who knew him best, Greg, Joanne, Ashley, and Reegan, May God bless all of you and grant you comfort.

Farewell Andy you made a difference, you may be gone temporally from our sight, but you will never be forgotten.