Residents of the northeast had just finished digging out from record-breaking Winter Storm Garbanzo Bean when double-whammy Horseradish put down more snow yesterday as meteorologists debated whether they were blizzards or not.
In the Pacific, a low-level El Niño persists, the California drought sets a record, and there’s health news off the coast of Africa. Let’s go Around The World.
Were Winter Storms Garbanzo Bean And Horseradish Blizzards?
Controversy swirls around the definition of ‘blizzard’ the way snow swirled around Boston Common in the recent storms.
The National Weather Service has stealthily tweaked its definition, and Garbanzo was much more of a blizzard than it would have been by the old standard. Horseradish, a relatively modest storm, also qualified.
What was the change? The words “or frequent gusts” were added to the 35-mile-per-hour sustained wind requirement.
It makes a difference, especially in urban settings, where buildings alter the natural flow of air. Lulls in the wind interspersed with violent gusts are common in cities.
By the new definition, Boston had blizzard conditions for over 9 hours in Garbanzo Bean and Chicago reached the threshold of three hours of qualifying conditions in Horseradish.
A storm is a storm, and a big storm is a big storm. Regardless of whether or how long Garbanzo was a blizzard, it was a blockbuster storm. Let’s review some of the details:
- Winds gusted to hurricane force over Cape Cod and Nantucket.
- A swath of 30 plus inches of snow crossed Connecticut and Massachusetts, with some locations topping out at over three feet.
- The wind toppled a replica of a Continental Tall Ship in Newport, Rhode Island.
- More than a foot of snow fell from New Jersey to Maine.
- Wind-whipped waves breached a seawall in Marshfield, Massachusetts and destroyed homes.
Due to the advance warning for Garbanzo Bean, governments restricted travel in an umprecedented number of states. Boston was completely closed last Tuesday. Because of the preparations, recovery has been more rapid than after past storms.
El Niño Eggplant Simmers On
NOAAs El Niño update as of January 26 continues to indicate warmer than normal water temperatures across the equatorial Pacific, and Decoded Science has named this event El Niño Eggplant even though it does not reach the NOAA definition of El Niño. NOAA predicts a better than even chance of an official El Niño in the next couple of months, ending in spring or summer.
Regardless of the official status of this warm-water event, NOAA predicts that the slightly above-average SSTs will continue through the summer, with worldwide weather implications.
This is the longest period between official El Niños in records dating to the mid 20th century. The reason for and likely results of this are not clear.
A January Rainfall Record For San Francisco: Nada
The official rain gauge in downtown San Francisco was high and dry the entire month of January, the first time that has ever happened in 165 years of record-keeping.
The average rainfall in San Francisco in January is over four inches, and the previous record of .06 inches was set — last year. And the drought goes on. December rains brought hopes of a permanent change in the weather pattern, so January was a disappointment.
Indications are that the northern half of California, including San Francisco, will receive substantial rain later this week. But not nearly enough to break the drought.
Phil Sees His Shadow: Brrrrr
Punxsutawney Phil (a groundhog) came out of his hole yesterday long enough to forecast six more weeks of winter. Then he crawled back in.
Rumor has it that there is wifi in Phil’s burrow. If that’s true, Phil knows that the latest two-week forecast indicates colder than normal temperatures in Pennsylvania.
If Phil has consulted his almanac, he knows that the temperature will rise, on average, about a quarter of a degree per day from now until March 16, slowly at first and at an accelerated rate in March. By mid-March it will be warm enough — about 44 in the daytime — for him to emerge, whether it’s sunny or not.
More Rodent News: Rats Spread Plague In Madagascar After Heavy Rains
Twin January Tropical Cyclones Bejisa and Chedza left Madagascar, an island off the east coast of Africa, soggy this week, raising the prospect of increasing numbers of cases of bubonic plague, which is endemic to the island.
Fleas spread plague from rats to humans. The recent rains have flooded rat habitat, and forced them into more flea-friendly territory. Flea eradication programs are endangered by the growing resistance of fleas to insecticides.
In addition, in about 8% of bubonic plague cases, the infecting bacteria reach the lungs, turning the disease into pneumonic plague, which can then spread from human to human.
World Meteorological Organization (WMO) Says 2014 Hottest Year
The WMO has joined NOAA, NASA, the UK Met Office and others in telling us what we already knew: 2014 was the hottest year in modern history. In a press release dated Feb. 2, the WMO notes that 93% of the heat from the burning of fossil fuels ends up in the ocean. It also reminds us that the extreme weather events of 2014 are “consistent with the expectation of a changing climate.”
The Tug-Of-War Goes On In The Pacific
As Decoded Science has been reporting, there is a battle in the Pacific Ocean for meteorological dominance between the warm water in the Gulf of Alaska and warm equatorial water. The former produces the pattern we’ve had for January and the latter gave California its December rain.
The Gulf of Alaska forces have clearly had the upper hand recently, but the pattern is again changing. A more neutral jet stream is developing, so rainy weather systems will reach down the west coast to at least central California.
Spring: When Will It Come?
Consistent with a flattening jet stream, the polar vortex will relax and the stormy weather in the eastern US will ease, but longer-range forecasts, always of questionable validity, indicate a return to stormy weather on the east coast towards the end of February.
Though Phil crawled back in his hole, spring is sure to come. What are the signs of it in your neighborhood?