Category Archives: weather

Climate Sense: Talking about climate change

The urgency of addressing climate change in meaningful ways — such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions — seems to be lost on many Americans. Many others, however, feel the urgency to do something, but they don’t know what to do.

Beyond reducing energy consumption in our personal lives, one of the most important things we can do is to talk about climate change, according to a variety of experts who have been sharing their strategies for action.

When I started this “Climate Sense” series, my goal was to share information I come across during my readings about climate change. At the same time, I’ve been trying to include this topic in my everyday conversations, sharing new findings and learning how others feel about the changing weather and more serious problems. This week, I’d like to share some ideas for getting more people into the conversation.

Item 1: Can we dig out of this garbage compactor?

Umbra, Grist magazine’s advice columnist, responded to a question from a reader who wanted to know whether it would make ANY difference to talk to young people about how to fight climate change.

Umbra (Eve Andrews) compares the situation with climate change to a scene in the first “Star Wars” movie in which Princess Leia, Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Chewbacca are trapped in a putrid garbage compactor with the walls closing in. The anxiety is running high, but there are no clear escape routes.

With climate change, a sizable number of people believe climate change is real and dangerous, but they don’t feel strongly enough to become politically active. This group is called “informed but idle” by John Cook of George Mason University’s Center for Climate Change Communication. Activating these people could tip the balance toward real change, experts say.

Item 2: Understanding another person’s viewpoint

Karin Kirk, a climate scientist who focuses on social behavior, discusses why various groups of people believe what they do about climate change.

“Not every person offering pushback is doing so for the same reason,” she writes in Yale Climate Connections. “Sure, some people are itching for a fight, but myriad others have genuine questions, hold only tentative beliefs, or are in-sync with the mainstream science but not inclined to do anything about it. Gauging someone else’s underlying position can help focus one’s attention on whether — and how — to engage.”

Karin’s advice, like that of many others, is to avoid battling with so-called “trolls,” who will never change their minds, while being willing to share information, beliefs and feelings with everyone else. The video is a TEDx talk by Karin in Bozeman, Mont.

Item 3: Who is able to change his or her mind?

In another article in Yale Climate Connections, Karin Kirk takes a look at people who have admitted to changing their minds about climate change. Many of them started out denying the reality or cause of climate change because of beliefs by family members or friends. They just never changed their attitudes — until they did.

As Karin reported, four factors turned out to be the main reasons that people changed their minds: 1) a close look at scientific evidence, 2) concern for the Earth’s future, 3) weird weather, and 4) a realization that contrarian evidence is not reliable.

Item 4: Building momentum for change

Katharine Hayhoe, a political science professor at Texas Tech University, is another climate scientist trying to find ways to talk to people about climate change. She is a lead author on the U.S. National Climate Assessment.

“The world is changing,” she says in the Ted Talk video shown here. “But it just isn’t changing fast enough. Too often, we picture this problem as a giant boulder sitting at the bottom of a hill, with only a few hands on it, trying to roll it up the hill. But in reality, that boulder is already at the top of the hill. And it’s got hundreds of millions of hands, maybe even billions on it, pushing it down. It just isn’t going fast enough. So how do we speed up that giant boulder so we can fix climate change in time? You guessed it. The number one way is by talking about it.

“The bottom line is this: climate change is affecting you and me right here, right now, in the places where we live. But by working together, we can fix it. Sure, it’s a daunting problem. Nobody knows that more than us climate scientists. But we can’t give in to despair. We have to go out and actively look for the hope that we need, that will inspire us to act. And that hope begins with a conversation today.”

“Climate Sense” is my attempt to share some of the important research, political developments, fascinating viewpoints or inspiring opinions that I come across during my reading. For a further explanation, read my first Water Ways post of 2019: “Climate Sense: I would like to share what I learn during this coming year.”

Amusing Monday: Snow swimming; so what’s holding you back?

If deep snow has fallen around your house, you might as well throw caution to the wind and go swimming. Put on your swimming suit, dive into a snow drift and swim hard — freestyle, backstroke or even butterfly. More than a few crazy people have done it.

With all the fresh snow we’ve had the past few days in the Puget Sound region, I thought I could find some fresh videos of the so-called snow swimming challenge. My search came up empty, but if anyone knows of any new videos — or if you make a new one yourself — feel free to share the link.

The first video on this page, posted Jan. 19, shows the basics of the sport in its simplest form. Nicole, who posted the video, is a competitive high school swimmer in Ohio, as one can see from her other videos.

One of the best compilation videos was put together two years ago and posted by Swirly Pancake Films. That’s the second video. Some of these video clips were captured several years ago, but I think they’re still amusing.

The third video, posted in January, shows Andri Ragetti, a Swiss freestyle skier who is shown attacking the snow in an entirely new way. Ragetti accomplished an “epic 2018 campaign,” landing on the podium in six out of six World Cup competitions, according to his biography for the X Games. He was the first skier ever to land back-to-back triples in a slopestyle competition (Aspen 2016) and the first to land a quad cork 1800 (South Tyrol, Italy, 2017).

The last video is a vlog by Sierra, who begins the video with a commitment to go for a swim in the snow. Her discussion is amusing, as she spends most of the next three minutes talking herself into it and then later regretting it.

“You may be wondering, what made you want to jump in a cold, really cold, disgusting cold pile of snow?” she ponders. “I don’t know what to tell you. I just looked out the window, and it’s like, that’s it; I’m gonna make the jump; I’m gonna do it.”

The question is, did she ever really swim in the snow, as the video title suggests?

Climate Sense: U.S. stuck in icebox while Australia comes out of the oven

Last week, I shared stories about a record heat wave that has been causing severe fires, drought and medical emergencies in Australia. This week, I was pleased to see climatologists and meteorologists in the U.S. take time to explain to average people how we can have bitter cold amid a phenomenon called climate change, which is raising the average temperature across the Earth.

By the way, January was the hottest month ever for Australia, according to an article by BBC News, telling just how bad it got. Temperatures have moderated the past few days.

Item 1: Explaining the polar vortex

“The country is freezing in an unprecedented fashion, and global warming is to blame. Sound crazy?” Thus begins a clear-eyed explanation of the Earth’s atmosphere and the role of the polar vortex in a story written by Ethan Siegel, an astrophysicist and science writer.

The story, published by Forbes magazine, is accompanied by graphics that help with the explanation. This is a complex subject, so my advice is to read the story carefully and appreciate the complexity. I’ve read this piece three times now, and I’m growing more confident that I can explain these important concepts to friends and family.

Item 2: Meteorologists play an important role

Seattle’s KING 5 TV meteorologist Darren Peck tackled the polar vortex issue for local viewers, demonstrating the importance of TV weather forecasters in helping the public understand climate change.

Darren, who joined a rather sizeable weather staff at King 5, came to Seattle last year from Sacramento. His presentation on the polar vortex can be seen in the first video on this page.

Item 3: Calling on all TV meteorologists

“Climate Matters,” developed by the independent organization “Climate Central,” serves as a resource for broadcast meteorologists and journalists covering climate change.

As stated on the Climate Matters website:

“Knowing that TV meteorologists are among the best and most trusted local science communicators, Climate Matters began in 2010 as a pilot project with a single TV meteorologist in Columbia, S.C., with funding from the National Science Foundation. Jim Gandy of WXLT gave his viewers regular updates on how climate change was affecting them through the inaugural Climate Matters.”

In the second video Gandy explains how he uses Climate Matters in his local broadcasts.

Sean Sublette, a Climate Matters meteorologist, says that Climate Matters is making a difference by providing information and graphics.

“The Climate Matters program continues to grow, as more the 600 media meteorologists now receive our Climate Matters releases,” Sean told me in an email. “Nine of those receiving our weekly emails are currently employed on the air in Washington state.”

Sean said the organization does not give out individual names of participants, nor is it clear how much anyone uses the information. Seattle affiliates for ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox are connected in some way, along with others in Spokane and Yakima, he said.

Anyone can sign up for information provided by Climate Central through the online subscription form.

Item 4: President Trump weighs in

With all the climate experts that President Trump can call on for an education about climate change, why does he insist on remaining ignorant — or at least appearing to be? Surely by now he knows the difference between weather and climate, since the topic has come up many times before. Maybe Trump thinks this joke is still funny.

In the third video provided by CNN, the network’s Chris Cuomo and Don Lemon attempt to explain the president’s behavior.

“Maybe he’s just playing to the crowd,” Lemon says. “Maybe he is just reading the room and he understands that his folks don’t want climate change to be real, so he’s trying to reconfirm their beliefs already. It could just be that simple, because it would be stunning that anyone who has any knowledge and any education … wouldn’t believe in actual science and scientists.”

Item 5: Evidence of the polar vortex

The last video is an image captured by NASA’s Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) aboard the Aqua satellite. The video shows the various temperatures of the Arctic air mass, known as the polar vortex, as it moves around the Earth from Jan. 21 to Jan. 29. The coldest temperatures, shown in purple, are as low as 40 degrees below zero (-40 degrees, both F and C), reaching as far south as South Dakota. (Credit for the graphic goes to NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory-Caltech AIRS Project.)

Item 6: Fewer extreme cold temps

Despite the anomalies in the polar vortex, there have been twice as many record highs as record lows since 2010, according to a story by Climate Central.

“In the last half-century, 96 percent of our 244 locations have recorded a rise of at least 1°F in their yearly coldest temperature, while only 2 percent have seen a decrease of at least 1°F,” the story says.

“Climate Sense” is my attempt to share some of the important research, political developments, fascinating viewpoints or inspiring opinions that I come across during my reading. For a further explanation, read my first Water Ways post of 2019: “Climate Sense: I would like to share what I learn during this coming year.”

Climate Sense: Public opinions shift; economic experts propose plan

I would like to share five items related to the Australian summer, medical doctors’ responsibility, public opinions and an approach to carbon taxation favored by many leading economists.

Item 1: Australian weather

It’s summer in Australia, where temperatures in the town of Adelaide reached 115.9 degrees — the hottest temperature ever recorded for a major Australian city. See Associated Press story.

Records were shattered in cities throughout South Australia, as the nation heads toward what could be the hottest January ever for the country. In at least one location, temperatures exceeded 120 degrees F. (49 degrees C.), according to the Bureau of Meteorology.

In Tasmania on Friday, the heat wave combined with a prolonged drought left Australia struggling with more than 50 wildfires, and at least two homes were burned down, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

Item 2: Health emergency

“As physicians, we have a special responsibility to safeguard health and alleviate suffering. Working to rapidly curtail greenhouse gas emissions is now essential to our healing mission,” says an editorial by two doctors in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Doctors can encourage lifestyle changes that reduce the environmental footprint, but they can also play a role in educating people about the health consequences of climate change, say Dr. Caren G. Solomon, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School, and Dr. Regina C. LaRocque, an assistant professor at Massachusetts General Hospital.

“We can help motivate people to act by clarifying the links between environmental degradation and tangible problems, such as air pollution, insectborne diseases and heatstroke,” they write. “We can also emphasize the health benefits that will accrue as we move to alternative sources of energy.”

The editorial was written in relation to an article in the same Jan. 17 edition of NEJM, a report by Drs. Andy Haines and Kristie Ebi titled “The Imperative for Climate Action to Protect Health.”

Item 3: Public opinions on climate change and carbon pricing

Nearly half of Americans (48%) think people in the United States are being harmed by global warming “right now,” according to the latest survey by the Yale Program on Climate Communication. That’s an increase of 16 percent since March 2015 and 9 percent since March 2018.

Read the executive summary or the full report, “Climate Change in the American Mind: December 2018” by going to the Yale website.

In a different survey, Americans demonstrated growing support for a carbon tax to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, provided they are given sufficient details on how the revenues would be used, according to November’s National Survey on Energy and the Environment, which has been tracking public opinions for the past 10 years.

A majority (60%) of Democrats said they would support a carbon tax even when given little information about how that tax would be designed. But the same is true of only 30% of Republicans, according to the summary of findings.

Yet a majority of both groups are more supportive of a carbon tax when details are given about how the revenues would be used. Among Democrats, 85 percent would support a tax that directs revenues to clean energy projects or to improve energy efficiency, while Republicans support those concepts at 66 and 69 percent.

Item 4: Economists favor carbon dividend

A growing number of economists from both political parties — including four former Federal Reserve chairmen — favors a carbon dividend plan to “send a powerful price signal that harnesses the invisible hand of the marketplace to steer economic actors towards a low-carbon future,” they wrote in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal.

The plan has such broad appeal because it would be “revenue neutral” by giving rebates to all Americans while reducing regulatory uncertainty, according to the group.

In addition to the former Federal Reserve chiefs, the list includes 27 Nobel Laureate economists, 15 former chairs of the Council of Economic Advisers and two former U.S. Treasury secretaries, George Shultz and Lawrence Summers. Schultz and Summers authored a seven-page outline of the plan called “The Dividend Advantage (PDF 1.3 mb).

“For the first time, there’s consensus among economists on what to do with the money, and the answer is to give it back to the American people,” said Ted Halstead, head of the Climate Leadership Council backing the plan, as quoted in Bloomberg.

Item 5: Explaining carbon pricing with chickens

If carbon pricing has you confused, it may be time to return to basics with a video featuring chickens as a way to understand the economic forces that could bring greenhouse gases under control. The video focuses on the two major pricing mechanisms — carbon tax and cap and trade. The “carbon dividend plan,” supported by the economists mentioned above, would simply redistribute the tax to everyone, regardless of how much tax they paid.

The video, seen on this page, was posted on EarthFix Media, a partnership of Oregon Public Broadcasting, Idaho Public Television, KCTS9 Seattle, KUOW Puget Sound Public Radio, Northwest Public Radio and Television, Jefferson Public Radio, KLCC and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

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“Climate Sense” is my attempt to share some of the important research, political developments, fascinating viewpoints or inspiring opinions that I come across during my reading. For a further explanation, read my first Water Ways post of 2019: “Climate Sense: I would like to share what I learn during this coming year.”

Amusing Monday: Simon shares quirky, all-too-familiar stories of a cat

British animator Simon Tofield has turned his love affair with cats into an amusing series of cartoon videos, delighting millions of viewers on YouTube and other outlets.

For his inspiration, Simon relies on his memories of his numerous companions through the years — Jess, Maisy, Hugh, Teddy, Poppy and Lilly — but the name of the cat in his cartoon is known simply as Simon’s Cat.

The first video on this page asks the question “Do cats really hate water?” It is from Simon’s highly informative series called “Simon’s Cat Logic,” in which cat behavioral expert Nicky Trevorrow joins the conversation to explain how cats think.

I have always loved cats and thought I knew something about them, but I have been learning quite a lot from listening to Nicky’s advice in these videos. For example, I never thought it made much difference where you place a bowl of cat food, but Nicky suggests that the food bowl be placed apart from the water bowl, because cats in the wild keep their food away from their water source. She also advises cat owners to place the food bowl out from a wall, so that the cat can eat with the wall behind and thus be able to peer into the open space for protection. It’s at least worth some experimentation.

The second video on this page is Simon’s very first “Simon’s Cat” animation from March 4, 2008, called “Cat Man Do.” It illustrates perhaps the most important question in a cat’s life: Who really is in control?

From that first video, Simon went on to produce a series of short delightful animations that cover all sorts of cat experiences, including interactions with other animals. Check out the full list of Simon’s Cat Shorts.

In 2013, he produced a video that tells about his early life and how he progressed to become a professional animator with an ongoing love of cats. It’s called “The Simon’s Cat Story.”

His Latest video, released in December, is called “Winter Games” and can be viewed in the third video player on this page.

Simon’s most ambitious project so far is a 13-minute full color action video with sound effects and music called “Off to the Vet,” which you can view in the last video player on this page. The care that went into this project is obvious, but if you want to see behind the scenes and learn about the intricacies of animation, check out the 10 videos that cover all aspects of the production, from story inspiration to character voices, along with a companion book of the same name.

Simon, who works as an animator at Tandem Films in London, has had a lot of success with his cat animations, branching into:

As for cat knowledge you can use, check out these episodes of “Cat Logic”:

The word is ‘average’ for the first three months of Water Year 2019

Average, very average. That was my first reaction as I looked over the rainfall data for the first quarter of Water Year 2019, which began Oct. 1.

The point was driven home when I looked at the rainfall totals for Silverdale on the website of the Kitsap Public Utility District. October’s rainfall total was 3.23 inches, compared to a median average of 3.74 inches. November’s total was 5.51, compared to a 6.83 average. And December’s total was 9.31, lining up perfectly with a 9.31 average. (Exactly the same! What’s the chance of that happening?)

Looking at Hansville at the northern tip of the Kitsap Peninsula and Holly in southwest region, monthly totals were pretty close to the averages — with one exception. In December, Holly received 19.86 inches of rainfall, well above the median average of 13.93 inches for the month.

As you can see from the charts, the current trend (blue lines) are fairly close to average (pink lines) and not far off from last year (orange lines), which also was a fairly average year.

Here are all the numbers for October-December in these three areas, with this year’s monthly totals followed by the long-range median average for that month:

  • Holly: October, 5.52, 6.51; November, 12.41, 11.86; December, 19.86, 13.93.
  • Silverdale: October, 3.23, 3.74; November, 5.51, 6.83; December, 9.31, 9.31.
  • Hansville: October, 3.04, 2.68; November, 3.88, 4.37; December, 5.12, 3.91.

As we well know on the Kitsap Peninsula, drier areas are found as you go north with wetter areas to the south. By the way, December is clearly the wettest month of the year for Silverdale and Holly, putting December at the peak of a bell-shaped curve for data collected over many years.

Hansville’s long-term pattern looks a little different, with November at the top of the curve and successive months going slightly lower than the previous month through September, when the rainfall jumps up in October and again in November.

All this information can be found on Kitsap PUD’s webpage for Hydrological Data. Click on “rain gauges” and choose a location. Especially helpful are the current water year daily reports, cumulative charts and monthly box charts.

Looking ahead, the National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration is predicting warmer-than-average temperatures and lower-then-average precipitation over the next three months.

The predicted El Niño has not yet formed, although sea-surface temperatures in the northern Pacific Ocean are well above average. Forecasters for NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center say there is a 90 percent chance that El Niño will still form this winter and a 60 percent chance that it will persist through spring.

In the Pacific Northwest, El Niño often diverts the jet stream and winter storms to California, leaving us with warmer and drier weather. (La Niña brings the opposite.) So far, oceanic conditions remain neutral, which creates unsettled conditions which are less predictable over the long term.

King Tides don’t always follow the tide tables

UPDATE: Dec. 19

An app used for reporting King Tides can also be used to report marine debris along the shoreline. Check out the news release issued today by the Washington Department of Natural Resources.
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Higher-than-predicted marine waters, brought about in part by recent weather conditions, have given us unexpected “King Tides” in many areas of Puget Sound.

I noticed that the waters of Hood Canal seemed exceedingly high this afternoon, as I drove along Seabeck Highway where the road hugs the shoreline. The waters were not supposed to be this high, according to tide tables developed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, so I checked some actual levels recorded at nearby locations.

High-water levels measured on the waterfronts in Seattle, Tacoma and Port Townsend were nearly 1½ feet higher than what had been predicted by NOAA for those areas. For example, in Seattle the preliminary high-water level was listed at a tidal elevation of 12.98 feet at 12:54 p.m. today, compared to a predicted high tide of 11.56 feet.

This is the season for King Tides, a name given to the highest tides of the year. High tides, mostly generated by the alignment of the sun and the moon, are predicted for Christmas Eve, rising higher to the day after Christmas and then declining. But, as we’ve seen this week, as well as on Thanksgiving Day, predicted high tides can be dramatically boosted by heavy rains, low atmospheric pressure and onshore winds.

As one can see by looking at observed and predicted tidal levels in Seattle, the actual tidal level has exceeded the predicted level more often than not over the past 30 days — and lately it has been higher by quite a lot (shown in chart at bottom of this page). Actual levels are measured in real time in only 14 places in Washington state. One can access the charts from NOAA’s Water Levels — Stations Selections page.

King Tides are promoted as an event by Washington Sea Grant and the Washington Department of Ecology, because today’s extreme tides provide a reference point for sea-level rise caused by climate change. The highest tides of today will be seen more often in the future, and even higher tides are coming. Check out the blog post on Water Ways from Jan. 3 of this year. See also the website “Washington King Tides Program.”

Washington Sea Grant has posted a list of dates when high tides are expected in various areas, called King Tides Calendar. Sharing photos of high tides hitting the shoreline is part of the adventure, so sign up for MyCoast to share your pictures or view images posted by others, or download the cellphone app to make the connection even easier.

The chart shows the actual tidal water levels in Seattle (red) compared to the predicted levels (blue). Click to go to NOAA’s website.
Chart: NOAA

Low streamflows have constrained the salmon migration this fall

If you are hosting out-of-town visitors this Thanksgiving weekend, it might be a good time to take them salmon-watching — or go by yourself if you get the urge to see one of nature’s marvelous phenomena.

Rainfall in Hansville. Blue line shows current trend.
Graph: Kitsap Public Utility District

Kitsap County’s Salmon Park on Chico Way near Golf Club Road tops my list of places to watch salmon. Expect to see plenty of dead fish as well as live ones, as we have apparently passed the peak of the run.

Dogfish Creek near Poulsbo also has a fair number of chum at this time, with a good viewing spot at the north end of Fish Park. Gorst Creek and other streams in Sinclair Inlet are known for their late runs of chum salmon, which are likely to be spotted right up until Christmas at Otto Jarstad Park.

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Some salmon take the low road to get back home to spawn

“Why did the salmon cross the road?”

OK, I’ll admit that I used this line once in a story many years ago when I first observed the Skokomish River overflowing its banks. I was amazed at the number of chum salmon swimming through farm fields and across pavement in the Skokomish Valley as they tried to get back to their spawning grounds.

Despite extensive work in the Skokomish River estuary, the waters still back up and fish still swim across roads during heavy rains and floods.

I was not the first to bend the old joke to ask, “Why did the salmon cross the road?” And I was definitely not the last, as two new videos went viral the past few days, resulting in news reports across the country. Hundreds of thousands of people must have been surprised to see Puget Sound salmon skittering across the pavement in a most unnatural way.

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Amusing Monday: Earth becomes art when viewed from satellites

Scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey have created an “Earth-as-Art” collection of brilliant images from space, as seen from Landsat satellites.

Icy Vortex // Image: USGS, Landsat program

Some pictures of Earth formations are reminiscent of actual paintings; some include familiar objects; and some are like abstract creations. Some show the actual colors of earth, sea and sky, while some of the colors are created with filters to highlight natural colors or even to capture light beyond the visible spectrum.

These images remind me of the LIDAR images created by the Washington Department of Natural Resources, which I called works of art in a blog post nearly a year ago. See Water Ways, Dec. 11, 2017. I included images of Puget Sound among some satellite photos posted previously. See Water Ways, Sept.11, 2017.

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