February’s weather was very different from the El Niño driven pattern of late fall and early winter. Pacific storms veered north and California was left mostly dry. The eastern US had a record cold spell after the Great Atlantic Blizzard of 2016 that was a distinct contrast to the warmth of December.
That’s about to change; the Pineapple Express is set to deliver a rainy March to the entire Pacific coast.
In other February weather news, CO2 hit record highs in Hawaii, maple sap started running early, a powerful tropical cyclone hammered Fiji, and record rain in south Florida is creating an estuarial disaster. Let’s go Around The World.
Jet Stream Deja Vu
Sometimes the jet stream appears to have a memory. In February, the jet stream apparently remembered what fun it was to cause cold and snowy conditions in the eastern US, so it did it again.
The driver of last year’s pattern was very likely the persistent “Blob,” a patch of unusually warm water in the Gulf of Alaska. That anomaly has now dissipated, and with El Niño powerful, a new pattern developed for most of the fall and early winter. Decoded Science expects that pattern to reassert itself soon, so the eastern onslaught will not be like last year’s.
One corollary of the cold-east pattern was a Santa Ana chinook wind in California — a dry, warm easterly wind blowing down the west slopes of the mountains. LA recorded temperatures near 90.
CO2 Sets New Records, Heads For May Yearly Maximum
The readings of atmospheric carbon dioxide on Mount Mauna Loa in Hawaii hit new hourly, daily, and weekly records in February. Since the late 19th century, carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has risen from 280 parts per million (ppm) to over 400 ppm.
New records were set with an hourly observation over 407, daily average over 406, and weekly average over 404.5.
The trend is up and the trend of the trend is up. We will probably see 410 at the yearly maximum in May, and 400 is almost certainly permanently in the rear-view mirror.
The gloomy news continues, with Australia reducing its CO2 monitoring effort on Tasmania, where the unimpeded flow over the Indian Ocean gives a more reliable reading than those near pollution-emitting cities.
Earliest Maple Syrup Harvest
Pancake lovers take note: The northern New England maple syrup harvest began on the last day of January this year, the earliest ever, due to the warm late fall and early winter. Maple syrup harvesters are wary of the effect this will have on the overall harvest, as early tapping can lead to problems with the harvest later on as the sap dries up.
Pancake breakfasts might get a little more expensive.
Record January Rain In South Florida Forces Dumping Of Lake Okeechobee
El Niño often induces a subtropical jet stream across the southern US, resulting in enhanced rainfall. South Florida has broken records for rainfall since the start of 2016, and Lake Okeechobee has more water than it can safely hold. The Army Corps of Engineers is releasing lake water down the Caloosahatchee River to the west and the Loxahatchee River to the east. As the fresh water enters coastal wetlands, it kills most salt water species of animals and vegetation.
This is not just a natural occurrence. The lake has been dammed and the drainage systems in and out have been altered. Under natural scenarios, the water would be absorbed by the Everglades’ ‘River of Grass.’
Tropical Cyclone Winston Smashes Fiji
Tropical Cyclone Winston meandered through the South Pacific and seemed headed harmlessly eastward towards open waters when it did an about-face and made a beeline for Fiji. With winds near 200 miles per hour, it was the most powerful tropical cyclone to hit the nation that comprises 300 separate islands, and possibly the strongest ever in the southern hemisphere.
Winston finally dissipated over the colder water to the south after killing at least 28 and causing massive damage in Fiji.
With El Niño still gong strong, the tropical cyclone season is expected to be active in the South Pacific, as it was in the North Pacific during its summer. As El Niño turns to La Niña this summer, perhaps the active cycle of tropical storms in the Pacific will subside. Then of course there’s the Atlantic. La Niña is correlated with enhanced tropical activity in that ocean. Current sea surface temperatures are elevated in the eastern Atlantic, a suggestion that this year’s Cape Verde hurricanes, typically the strongest in the Atlantic, could be dangerous.
Melting Arctic Sea Ice Allows More Sound Pollution In The Water
Climate change has unusual and unanticipated results. Melting arctic sea ice is now found to bother ocean-going mammals more than previously thought and in a completely unexpected way. As the ice melts, more noise pollution, such as that from shipping, enters the water. This can disorient the mammals and prevent them from finding food. And I thought only heavy metal was distracting.
Leap Day Keeps The Seasons Aligned
Yesterday was the rarest day of the year — February 29. Well, not the rarest day this year, but there is only one February 29 every four years — and in fact a little less often than that. It’s all because whoever set up the solar system was untidy with the rates of spin of the earth and its revolution around the sun.
Before man became so smart and didn’t know how to text, make a perfect martini, or fly a drone, the calendar got out of hand. Who would guess that after the 365 days which make up a year, that there would be about a quarter of a day left over?
Pre-Roman calendars didn’t take any account of the extra quarter day, so their calendars gained a day every four years. In a few hundred years, the seasons were months out of alignment. Then came Julius Caesar, whose calendar added a day every fourth year. This was a big improvement, but still wasn’t quite right, and by the 1500s the calendar was off by 12 days.
The current Gregorian calendar not only adds a day every four, but skips the century leap years. This will keep everything tidy for at least a few millennia.
What Can We Expect In March?
Since February was a Leap Month, the whole month of March is pushed back a day. The basic pattern looks like the Pineapple Express will finally affect southern California with heavy rain. The trough on the east coast of the US is persistent, so easterners will be cold and maybe snowy for a couple of weeks. After mid-month temperatures will moderate, and considering last March, this one will be easy to take.
At 4:30 Universal time (just after midnight Eastern Standard Time) on March 20, the northern hemisphere day will start to be longer than the night. Spring is sure to come, and with El Niño fading fast there could be a substantial change in worldwide weather patterns.
Be on the lookout for changes where you live and let Decoded Science know what you see.