March Madness: ‘This May Be An Unprecedented Event Since Modern U.S. Weather Records Began In The Late 19th Century’

March Heat Records Hit Incredible Ratio of 35 to 1 vs. Cold Records, Must-See Weather Channel Video Explains Link to Global Warming

Dr. Jeff Masters: A spring heat wave like no other in U.S. and Canadian history peaked in intensity yesterday, during its tenth day. Since record keeping began in the late 1800s, there have never been so many temperature records broken for spring warmth in a one-week period–and the margins by which some of the records were broken yesterday were truly astonishing. Wunderground’s weather historian, Christopher C. Burt, commented to me yesterday, “it’s almost like science fiction at this point.

Yesterday, meteorologist Masters published a detailed statistical analysis that concluded, “It is highly unlikely the warmth of the current ‘Summer in March’ heat wave could have occurred unless the climate was warming.

Based on satellite data, the map depicts temperatures from March 8–15 compared to the average of the same eight day period of March from 2000-2011. Image: NASA via Masters.

Among the stunning records set yesterday are:

  • Pellston, MI: record high broken by 32°F
  • Low temperatures beat the previous record high for the date at two stations
  • Multiple Canadian cites break all-time April records for warmth in March

This off-the-charts event is just what scientists have been warning to expect if we kept spewing billions of tons of heat-trapping greenhouse gases into the air (see Hansen et al: “Extreme Heat Waves … in Texas and Oklahoma in 2011 and Moscow in 2010 Were ‘Caused’ by GlobalWarming”).

Meteorologists and science writers have been struggling to come up with words to describe this super-charged heat wave: “This is not the atmosphere I grew up with” and it’s “not just breaking but obliterating records” and “OFF THE SCALE WEIRD; even for Minnesota.” Climate Central wrote:

In fact, the broad geographic scope of this heat event, along with the margins by which records are being broken, the time of year this is occurring, and the duration of the event are all indications that this may be an unprecedented event since modern U.S. weather records began in the late 19th century.

Like a baseball player on steroids, our climate system is breaking records at an unnatural pace. Weather Channel meteorologist Stu Ostro calls the current heat wave “surreal” and explained that “While natural factors are contributing to this warm spell, given the nature of it and its context with other extreme weather events and patterns in recent years there is a high probability that global warming is having an influence upon its extremity.”

There is a must-see interview of Ostro on the Weather Channel’s website, in which he explains how “data and science” — see this big PDF — switched him from being a skeptic on climate change to someone who understands that humans are changing the climate now:

Weather Channel meteorologists are stunned by “the sheer number of daily record highs either tied or broken over the past two weeks” as they explain in their post, “Perspective: More than 4,000 Record Highs Set!“:

If you pull out your calculator and add the numbers up from March 9 to March 19, the total exceeds 4,300!! This speaks to the widespread nature and longevity of this warm spell….

Through March 21, International Falls, Minn., self-promoted as the “Icebox of the Nation”, has tied or broken daily record highs 11 of the past 12 days!

… Chicago, Ill. set record highs eight days in a row through Wednesday! In this streak, seven of the days have been in the 80s, including Wednesday’s astounding 87 degree high! The National Weather Service in Chicago recently called the warm spell “historic” and something that is unlikely to be matched in our lifetime.

We have entered the age of the exclamation point.

But the notion that this won’t be matched in our lifetime is to miss the impact global warming is having on heat records, according to the scientific literature.

Yes, this March U.S. heat records have been outnumbering cold records by a stunning amount — an incredible 35-to-1 – as this chart from Steve Scolnik at Capital Climate makes clear:

Monthly ratio of daily high temperature to low temperature records set in the U.S. for every month of 2011 and the first half of March, seasonal ratio for summer and fall 2011, winter 2011-2012 to date, and annual ratio for 2011 and 2012, data from NOAA.

Scolnick notes, “For the year to date, the ratio is approaching 20 to 1, nearly 10 times the pace of the previous decade.”

I like the statistical aggregation across the country, since it gets us beyond the oft-repeated point that you can’t pin any one record temperature on global warming. If you want to know the historical ratios, see the 2009 analysis, “Record high temperatures far outpace record lows across U.S.,” which shows that the average ratio for the 2000s was 2.04-to-1, a sharp increase from previous decades. Gerald Meehl, the lead author and a senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), explained, “If temperatures were not warming, the number of record daily highs and lows being set each year would be approximately even.”

The key point is that NCAR found:

The modeling results indicate that if nations continue to increase their emissions of greenhouse gases in a “business as usual” scenario, the U.S. ratio of daily record high to record low temperatures would increase to about 20-to-1 by mid-century and 50-to-1 by 2100. The mid-century ratio could be much higher if emissions rose at an even greater pace….

In fact, emissions are rising at a faster rate than expected. So business as usual means that by mid-century, the ‘normal’ ratio could be even higher than 20-to-1, which is just what we have seen this year to date. So what is an off-the-charts March now, could be a pretty common event by, say, the 2040s. A great many people alive today will see this happen again — and many will see even worse.

Here are some more remarkable records from Wednesday, via Masters:

Pellston, MI: record high broken by 32°F
Pellston, Michigan in the Northern Lower Peninsula is called “Michigan’s Icebox”, since it frequently records the coldest temperatures in the state, and in the entire nation. But the past five days, Pellston has set five consecutive records for hottest March day. Yesterday’s 85° reading broke the previous record for the date (53° in 2007) by a ridiculous 32°, and was an absurd 48°F above average.

Low temperatures beat the previous record high for the date at two stations
The low temperature at Marquette, Michigan was 52° yesterday, which was 3° warmer than the previous record high for the date! The low at Mt. Washington, NH yesterday (44°) also beat the previous record high for the date (43°.)

Multiple Canadian cites break all-time April records for warmth in March
Not only was yesterday the warmest March day in recorded history for many of Canada’s major cities, it was also warmer than any April day at many locations. St. John, New Brunswick hit 25.4°C (78°F.) Not only did this crush the record high for March (previous record: 17.5°C), it is well above any temperature ever measured in April (extreme April temperature on record: 22.8°C.) Halifax, Nova Scotia hit 25.8°C yesterday, beating their all-time March record of 25.6°, and their all-time April record of 26.3°C, set on April 30, 2004. Other major cities in Canada that set all-time warmest March records yesterday included Ottawa (27.4°C), Montreal (25.8°C), Windsor (27.8°C), Hamilton (25.6°C), London (26.4°C), and Fredericton (27.1°C)….

Summer in March warmth crushes records in Michigan
Yesterday, nearly every major airport in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula broke the record they set the previous day for their hottest March temperature, including Detroit (84°), Flint (86°F, just 2° below their all-time April record), Saginaw (87°F, just 2° below their all-time April record), Grand Rapids (87°), Muskegon (82°), Lansing (86°), Alpena (87°), Gaylord (83°, which was 26° above the average high for the date), Pellston (85°), Houghton Lake (85°), and Traverse City (87°, which was which was 45°F above the average high for the date, and was the fifth consecutive day they tied or broke their record for hottest March temperature, and just 3° below their record high temperature of 90° for April.) In Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Sault Ste. Marie’s 83° (26° above the average high for the date) crushed the previous March record by 8°, and was only 2° shy of the warmest temperature ever measured in April.

Again, we’ve only warmed about a degree and a half Fahrenheit in the past century.  We are on track to warm five times times that or more this century (see M.I.T. doubles its 2095 warming projection to 10°F — with 866 ppm and Arctic warming of 20°F ).

In short, we ain’t seen nothing yet!

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30 Responses to March Madness: ‘This May Be An Unprecedented Event Since Modern U.S. Weather Records Began In The Late 19th Century’

  1. John Tucker says:

    Its been unreal to try to follow outlying records. You cant even keep track of it there are so many. Totally off the rails.

  2. nyc-tornado-10 says:

    this weather is, on one hand, a relief from the dark and cold days of winter, especially since the rediculously early daylight savings time made our mornings as dark as early january mornings. This feeling is quickly replaced by the realization that the extended and extreme heat is the beginning of the ultimate catastrophe that we face from global warming. The intensity of this heat is amazing, the lack of ice on the great lakes, the snow pack rapidly receeding into canada, we must be concerned about how much positive feedback we will have going into summer. A weather pattern that favors a warmer and dryer summer will be catastrophic with the head start we have now.

  3. David B says:

    This is a fantastic compilation of the absurdity of the current temperature changes. I think all we need is a sports analogy to bring it home.

    Jeremy Lin is a big statistical fluctuation. The current weather is like the entire Harvard basketball team winning the NBA championship. And then the super bowl.

  4. MapleLeaf says:

    A small error for the Halifax data in the post. They did not break the April record yesterday 25.8 C verus 26.3 C. Not to worry though, they broke that record today…it is currently 26.8 C at 2 pm EST, with a forecast high of 28 C!

    This spring heat wave is truly bizarre in terms of its scope and duration and the degree by which records are being smashed.

    I’m not sure how one explains such extreme temperatures without the assistance of AGW.

  5. B Waterhouse says:

    Just watched 40 minutes of Weather Channel on TV. Lots of chatter about “unprecedented” record highs. Not a word – or even a hint – that climate change could be happening. What will it take to get a climate scientist on the air?

  6. Spike says:

    Hot and dry in the UK too! I have worked all day in shirtsleeves, windows open , fan on. It looks like our “period of consequences” is becoming more apparent to even the uninformed.

  7. berry says:

    The good news: Human climate change is becoming unignorable. The bad news: The depths of human ignorance is almost unfathomable.

  8. Dennis says:

    If this continues into the summer and people start finding it consistently too hot to enjoy the outdoors, maybe the media will pick up on it — and maybe even the Presidential candidates. I’d like to see the deniers on the GOP side try to convince people whose summer plans have been ruined by the heat that they have nothing to worry about.

  9. Gestur says:

    The NASA map of temperature anomalies is even more startling when you recognize the base-period they’re based on: 2000-2011. Using that benchmark raises the bar quite bit—compared to the conventional climatology of 1981-2010—but still look at the size and breadth of those anomalies!

  10. prokaryotes says:

    Just imagine these anomaly occuring in summer – during a heatwave – all summer. Mass extinction event..

  11. David F. says:

    That was quite the Powerpoint presentation. A good reminder of all of the extreme weather events we’ve seen in recent years. I felt bad for Stu reading all of the hate mail he has received just for having the courage to approach the topic of climate change. The deniers have been so effective at framing the issue of climate change in political terms, that the science is lost on a lot of people, as well as the legitimate concerns shared by people of various political backgrounds who actually understand the issue and its implications. I hope Stu knows that some of appreciate his efforts at communicating climate change and its impacts on the weather.

  12. David F. says:

    The “good” thing is when the weather is this crazy, people start thinking about global warming even without the issue being raised directly. As Joe has pointed out, recent polls have indicated an increase in concern over global warming, with more people citing personal experience for their concern/belief than ever before. This despite the seeming media blackout on climate coverage.

  13. Joan Savage says:

    Stu Ostro’s observations/hypothesis about change in atmospheric thicknesses, with emphasis on rising 500 mb height, came through loud and clear in the many examples provided.
    It’s crucial to understand a feature like atmospheric thickness in drawing links between heat retention in general and weather patterns in particular. Thanks a ton for providing the link to Ostro’s powerpoint.

    The dynamic differences are much more potent for education than are differences in degree. (pun). It’s like being able to explain how a boiling pot of water looks and acts differently from one that is at room temperature.

  14. Greg says:

    The statistical anomalies are being calculated by Jeff Masters and his team at the Weather Underground but example preliminary data concludes: “Climatological anomalies for March 20, 2012. Michigan experienced temperatures that were 4 – 5 climatological anomalies warmer than average (4-sigma to 5-sigma), the type of extreme that occurs between once every 43 years and once every 4779 years.”

  15. Joan Savage says:

    I imagine more immediate risks.
    It would be horrid if the summer of 2012 brings events like the 55.7 thousand human deaths from heat in Russia in 2010 of the 15 thousand deaths from heat in Spain in 2003. Plus food shortages.

    We might see local or regional species’ extinctions in hard-hit areas, but not world-wide all at once, at least not from climate change.

  16. Jim Pettit says:

    I like the way Bill McKibben put it yesterday:

    I know I’m obsessed with this heat wave–but: it’s not just off the charts, it’s off the wall the charts are tacked to. (via Twitter: @billmckibben)

  17. Peter says:

    If C02 at 450ppm is a prescription for disaster
    what will 400ppm be like when it is seen down the road in 2 decades?

  18. DallasNE says:

    Here in Omaha we normally reach 32 for the 1st time on October 8th. This past October we didn’t once dip below 40 in October and didn’t reach that magic 32 until a few days before Thanksgiving. December was well above norman, January set a record by being 9 degrees above normal for the whole month. February was well above normal and March is slated to smash the records — possibly by over 10 degrees. It just boggles the mind.

  19. Dion says:

    What do you say to a denier when they tell you La Nina and Arctic Oscillation is causing the crazy high temperatures? What’s the come back for that?

  20. Raul M. says:

    the summer before last the science said the methane plumes were alarming (in the Arctic). Last summer the science Emergency. So far this year we’ve had warm weather. Those scientists are probably right to say Emergency. Way back the Bible says something like don’t take your world for granted. Now the evidence seems to show that mankind did take the world for granted.

  21. Michael Stefan says:

    It’s actually even worse than that; NASA normally uses 1951-1980 as their baseline (I’m wondering when they will rescale their maps to easily show such extreme anomalies, currently anything over +4 is dark red).

  22. prokaryotes says:

    1.) La Nina is part of the Climate

    2.) The last record warm years have been La Nina years. Otherwise we would have had even higher record breaking temperatures.

  23. James Cole says:

    My thoughts exactly! The many climate deniers on the economics blogs I read daily have been completely silent as regards this North American and the UK heat wave of March. It is so extreme that even the deniers seem to be struck dumb.
    I must say, I live in the extreme NE of Minnesota on the shores of Lake Superior.
    Ice no longer forms on this lake as it did every winter when I was a kid. Last year surface water temperatures broke all past records by a large margin. The heat of the last 3 days has been just what you would expect from a late July day. You could smell the heat in the air. This type of heat is something you can only sit back and wonder at.
    Deniers will be silenced, but only by the coming heat waves and extreme weather events. Till then, they will parrot the fossil fuel industries line.

  24. Not to mention the abrupt loss of snowpack: In just 2 weeks, snow cover went from a seasonal high of 47″ to essentially zero (only where snow was piled and in shaded, woody areas).

    The impact on water table levels, inland lakes and streams will be immense, especially with the summer droughts here in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

    Summer in winter. In March. In Da UP. Whodathunkit?

    The Yooper

  25. nyc-tornado-10 says:

    That is an unreal snow melt, in a place where it is hard to melt that much snow because it is usually very dry, which helps cool the air as snow melts, this warm up had extremely high dew points. In the last several days, most of maine also lost their snow pack, along with northern vermont and northern new hampshire. It looks like much of the southern half of ontario is also melting out fast. I wonder what the residual warmth will be like when the jet stream normalizes again (it probably will eventually!).

    Strange days have found us. Strange days have tracked us down! (jim morrison)

  26. David B. Benson says:

    How is the midwest wind holding up? I would guess the wind farms are harvesting very little during this blocking event.

  27. W Scott Lincoln says:

    That’s not too bad considering that Accuweather is blaming it on the Japanese tsunami debris in the Pacific.

  28. Øyvind S says:

    New national record in Norway for the month of March yesterday: 20.2 C.

  29. EDpeak says:

    I’ve seen a “ratio” chart by DECADE.

    The above shows a ratio (record highs to record lows) by MONTH.

    Can someone provide a link to one that is by YEAR?

    The Decade one shows overall trend indeed is one of warming. But is not “fine” enough to say as much as one might hope for, about the last 10 years within this longer 50+ year trend.

    The monthly one, seems a bit too short to say we have a trend. A yearly one (for the last 20 years let’s say) might show a useful trend.


  30. frostieb says:

    I grew up on a Lake in upstate NY where the ice was so thick they used to have car races on the ice during winter carnival each February. 3 of the past 5 years it hasn’t frozen at all.