Now You See It – Now you Don’t, Drought Monitor Removes D0 in Illinois

There is an inside joke for those of us who work with the folks at the US Drought Monitor. If you want to make it rain (or snow), just put an area in D0 “abnormally dry” and the heavens will open up. That’s basically what happened this week – the rain and snow in Illinois reduced the concern of dry conditions across the state. As a result, the D0 in northern and western Illinois has been removed.

By the way, it is a lot easier to move in and out of “abnormally dry”. It becomes increasingly difficult to recover from drought as you increase the intensity and duration of the drought. 20150203_usdm_home

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After Slow Start to Snow Season, Illinois Catching Up

After a slow start to the snowfall season in Illinois, we are now catching up. Heavy snow fell across northern Illinois over the weekend and more snow is arriving today.

The Chicago NWS office has a nice write-up on the recent historic winter storm that stretched all the way across Illinois and into Indiana. We can call it a historic winter storm because it was the fifth largest in Chicago history with 19.3 inches reported at O’Hare airport.

Here are our snowfall departure from average as of a week ago and as of this morning. Northern Illinois went from a deficit of 1 to 8 inches to a surplus of 1 to 8 inches in green and 8 or more inches in blue. And more snow is falling as I write this so some of the deficits across central Illinois may be erased soon.

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Snowfall departure from average as of January 29, 2015. Click to enlarge.

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Snowfall departure from average as of February 4, 2015. Click to enlarge.

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January 2015 in Illinois – Cool and Dry

January 2015 in Illinois was cooler and drier than average. The statewide temperature was 25.4 degrees, 1 degree below average and the 53rd coldest on record. However, it was not nearly as cold as last January when the average temperature was 19.3 degrees and ranked as the 16th coldest on record.

The statewide average precipitation for January 2015 was 1.53 inches, 0.5 inches below average. Because of dry weather in November, December, and January, the US Drought Monitor introduced “D0″ in northern and western Illinois. As I explained in an earlier post, this is not a great concern yet because of the low demand for water in winter but we are watching the situation.

Snowfall ranged from less than an inch in the far south to 10 to 15 inches north of Interstate 80 (first map).  That results in above-average snowfall in the northern half of the state and below-average for the southern half (second map). However, this was far less snow than January 2014 (last map) when most of the state was covered with 10 to 25 inches of snow.  Continue reading

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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.

Continue reading

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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

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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.

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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

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