Drought Monitor Says Abnormally Dry – Should We be Worried?

The US Drought Monitor introduced their D0 “abnormally dry” category across northern and western Illinois (first map). Should we be worried? We have been running about 2 to 4 inches below average on precipitation this winter (second map) – that’s both rainfall and the water content of any snow. The good news is that the demand for water is very low in winter. Therefore, the impacts on soil moisture, stream flows, and lake levels so far have been minimal.

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Click to enlarge. http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/

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Contrails and Cloudiness

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Photo by Jim Angel, Champaign, IL, January 28, 2015.

This morning we had a brilliant display of airplane contrails, enough to significantly increase the cloudiness (as if we needed more cloudiness this winter). Despite rumors to the contrary, airplane contrails are just the byproducts of burning jet fuel at high altitudes where the air is very cold and dry. The basic chemistry involves combing a carbon-based fuel and oxygen to produce CO2 and water.  CH4 + 2O2 –> CO2 + 2H2O

It’s the same process you see on a cold morning with car exhaust. The water vapor exits the exhaust pipe and condenses when it hits the colder air temperature, resulting in a white fog.

There have been some studies (mentioned below) to suggest that airplane contrails can lead to regional increases in cloudiness over time. As a result, in certain regions the daytime highs may be lower and the nighttime lows higher. In other words, a reduction in the range of daily temperatures. Continue reading

2014 – 15th Coldest in the Corn Belt

In a earlier post I compared how Illinois temperatures compared to the rest of the world in 2014. Over at the Sustainable Corn blog, I posted some more thoughts on how the Corn Belt just came off the 15th coldest year on record, while the rest of the world was the warmest on record. You would have to go back to 1996 for a colder year, and before that 1978 and 1979. Here is the time series plot for annual temperature for the Corn Belt. See the Sustainable Corn blog post for more.

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One thing I forgot to emphasize in the Illinois post was that, according to Climate.gov, 19 out of the last 20 years have been the warmest on record for the world. That is an impressive streak.

One last thought – 2014 was very unusual year for Illinois compared to both our historical temperatures and what happened around the world. The chances of a repeat in 2015 are very slim.

2014 – Warmest on Record for World, 6th Coldest for Illinois. Wait, What?

I could see this one coming. While Illinois had its 6th coldest year on record, three major groups (Japan, NASA, and NOAA) have noted that 2014 was the warmest year on record. Check out this map from NOAA of the temperature departures for 2014 (red is warmer, blue is cooler). The area from the Great Lakes and southward to the Gulf of Mexico was the only place over land that was colder than average. All the other land masses and most of the ocean surface was warmer than average. In other words, relatively speaking, Illinois was one of the coldest places on earth in 2014.  Continue reading

Seasonal Outlooks for Illinois

Last week, the Climate Prediction Center released their outlooks for February and beyond. There is nothing exciting to report for Illinois. Both the outlook for February and the 3-month outlook for February-April have us in “EC” or equal chances of above, below, and near-average temperature and precipitation. See map below (click to enlarge). That’s not bad news – it means there are no increased risks of a colder than average winter.  Continue reading

Quiet Winter for Snowfall across central US

Snowfall across the central US has been slightly below average so far this winter and stands in stark contrast to last winter. However, the impact on soil moisture, rivers, and streams has been minimal.

Here is an example of snowfall differences. At Chicago O’Hare airport the snowfall total for this winter through January 14 is 13.7 inches. Last year through this date it was 35.0 inches and the 1981-2010 average is 14.2 inches.

In the first map are the snowfall departures for this winter. All the areas in tan or beige are up to 10 inches below average. That includes almost all of Illinois, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Indiana, and Kentucky, as well as large portions of the Dakotas, Nebraska, Kansas, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ohio. Areas in green are above average and include a small area in far southern Illinois and another around Moline. Snowfall is above average across upper Wisconsin and the Michigan UP.  Continue reading

New Report on the 2012 Drought

coverA new report on the 2012 drought was released, providing a state by state account of the impacts of the 2012 drought that struck the Midwest and High Plains. While the drought was largely confined to 2012, some areas did not recover until 2013. And it took time to collect all the data and impacts.

Here is a quote by me from the press release …

“Our ability to monitor and assess drought conditions gets better and better each year as new data networks and monitoring products become available,” said Jim Angel, Illinois state climatologist and one of the authors of the report. “Another standout feature in the 2012 drought was the sheer volume and quality of data coming from state-level monitoring networks, providing measurements rarely collected elsewhere like soil moisture and soil temperature.”

You can find the press release, the executive summary, and the full report at the National Drought Mitigation Center website:

Press Release

Executive Summary

Full Report