It appears to be a rather a dismal time for those who care about the Earth’s environment and support the theory of global warming.
The new U.S. President will be sworn in this month. New U.S. policy towards emissions will be closely watched by other countries, as the Paris Climate Agreement takes effect with mostly voluntary reductions in emissions. What’s next on that front? Only time will tell.
Chinese smog is worse than ever; arctic air temperature is at a record high and sea ice extent at an all-time low; and the sun has been headed closer to the earth for the past six months.
There was also an out-of-season Super-Typhoon with two names in the Philippines and a seasonal change, astronomically speaking. Let’s go Around The World.
Smog Chokes Nearly A Half Billion In China
Four hundred and sixty million people in China were under a red alert, the highest warning designation, for five days in December. The red alert was the result of choking smog that reduced visibility, and filled lungs with pollutants at a rate equivalent to that of smoking three packs of cigarettes a day. There was a nearly-complete shutdown of northern China’s industry and a ban on automobile use to reduce emissions, and end the alert.
The number of people under the red alert was more than a third the population of the world’s most populous country. That’s more than the combined populations of the US and Canada; more than the entire population of South America; more than the entire population of the former Soviet Union, more than ….. ok, a lot of people.
The Chinese government has promised to do something about the smog problem, but at the same time it is subsidizing coal production and building more coal-fired power plants.
Santa’s Surprise: Winter Super-Typhoon Strikes Philippines
In the Atlantic Ocean and the eastern Pacific Ocean, the ‘official hurricane season’ ended on November 30, 2016 and December 15, 2016 respectively.
Last year, Mother Nature didn’t give a hoot about the National Hurricane Center’s definition and produced an Atlantic hurricane in January.
In the western Pacific, those who concoct such seasonal definitions are more respectful of atmospheric processes and allow the typhoon season to run year-round.
With waters generally warm enough to produce a winter typhoon, the Pacific often does, though Super-Typhoons are rare in December.
‘Twas two days before Christmas and all through the Isles
Not a palm frond was moving for miles and miles
But out in the ocean, not too far away
A typhoon was planning to hit Christmas Day
On December 21, Tropical Storm Nock-ten formed east of the Philippines. Nock-ten became a typhoon on December 23 and a Super-Typhoon on December 24. On December 25, Super-Typhoon Nock-ten struck the Philippines with 150 mile-per-hour winds. Ho, ho, ho.
Writer’s Editorial Note: By general agreement, western North Pacific tropical cyclones are assigned international names by the Japan Meteorological Agency. Unfortunately, the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical (sic) and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) insists on giving storms Philippine names. They called Nock-ten ‘Nina.’ PAGASA should cut out confusing the names of storms, and might consider shortening its own name — or at least putting commas in the right places.
The Arctic: New Highs (Temperature); New Lows (Sea Ice Extent)
The arctic has absolutely gotten out of control, temperature-wise. Last year’s Santa Claus heat wave began a record warm winter. This year the wild departures from normal started in October. Temperatures have already twice spiked 17 C (30 F) above normal this fall.
Such departures from normal are rare anywhere on Earth and have only occurred in the arctic twice previously in the Danish Meteorological Institute’s 59 years of records. Not surprisingly, the warm temperatures were accompanied by record low sea ice coverage.
Earth Hurtles Through Space. Could It Bump Into Something? Like The Sun?
The earth is heading towards the Andromeda Galaxy, the nearest concentration of stars to the Milky Way (our galaxy). The earth is also getting closer to the sun. Are crashes imminent?
The Milky Way, with our solar system on board, is speeding towards Andromeda at a rate of one million miles every four hours. We ought to be there in a jiffy, wouldn’t you think? Well, actually, no. Andromeda is so far away that it will take about four billion years to get there.
So, ok, four billion years and that’s the end of the sun. Surely it will crash into one of those billion stars (that’s the number of stars in Andromeda; the Milky Way has only about one-third that number). Well, actually, no again, because the universe, even inside galaxies, is mostly empty space. The two galaxies will simply merge into one. Our sun will almost surely join his new, bigger family without disruption, though as a red giant which has eaten the earth.
Of more immediate concern is the fact that the earth has been getting closer to the sun for almost six months now. The average speed is ‘only’ about a million miles every month and a half, but at that rate we are now four million miles closer to the sun than we were back in July. At that rate, we’ll crash into the sun, which is now about ninety-one million miles away, in less than 12 years. This must surely be the end of us. Well, actually (you guessed it), no again. This is just the natural rhythm of the earth’s elliptical orbit. The earth was farthest from the sun (aphelion) on July 4 and will be closest to the sun (perihelion) tomorrow, January 4. (The date of perihelion varies from January 2 to January 5; the variation is a leap year thing).
What Has This Got To Do With The Weather?
The matter of the earth’s elliptical orbit is of more than academic interest. Perihelion comes during northern hemisphere winter; you might think it’s cold now, but if aphelion came in January, the northern hemisphere would receive 7% less heat-producing sunlight in winter than it does now.
So, then, the earth as a whole should be warmer in January, when it’s 91 million miles from the sun, than in June, when it’s 95 million miles away. Right? Well, actually, no once more. The earth is, on average, 2.3 C (4 F) warmer in July than in January. How can that be? There are two contributors.
- The northern hemisphere has a much larger percentage of its surface covered by land than the southern hemisphere. Land absorbs heat and transfers most of it into the air by conduction; water distributes most of the sun’s radiation (heat) into the depths.
- According to Kepler’s laws of planetary motion, the earth goes slower at aphelion than perihelion. The result is a longer summer in the northern hemisphere by two or three days (the 2 or 3 is that leap year thing again).
Not surprisingly, July and August of 2016 tied for the warmest months recorded since scientists began making accurate measurements with well-calibrated instruments in 1880.
Sun Does An About Face, But In The Northern Hemisphere The Coldest Days Are Yet To Come
In the northern hemisphere, December 21 was the shortest day — measured by hours of sunlight — of 2016. So with the days getting longer — more sunlight — why are the average temperatures dropping? And how can the days be getting longer if the sun is rising later (yes, it is)?
When the sun heats the surface of the earth, it takes some time for that heat to be transferred by conduction to the atmosphere. The coldest days in the northern hemisphere come in January.
In New York City on December 21, the day the sun supposedly turned around and headed north, the sun rose at 7:17. On NewYear’s Day the sun rose at 7:20. How’s that possible if the days are supposed to be getting longer?
It’s because of our old friend Johannes Kepler. Just as his law says the earth moves slower near aphelion, it also says the earth moves faster at perihelion. That little extra forward motion means the earth has to turn farther to face the sun again, so sunrise is delayed. Not to worry, summer’s coming. Sunset advances more each day than sunrise does during this time, and the days actually do get longer.
Heading Into The Dead Of Winter
English is full of idioms that we take for granted. The dead of winter is the coldest part of the season, right? Well, actually (surprise!)– YES. But where’d the term come from? People dying in winter?
In fact, the term ‘dead of winter’ is a metaphor. It refers to a state of hibernation (bears and trees) or just a general slowing down (people).
So what does the ‘dead of winter’ look like where you are?