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Wild is the Windy City
January 30, 2013 10:40 PM   Subscribe

Chicago has been having some fairly remarkable weather lately, even by their standards. On the 25th of January there was more than an inch of snowfall recorded for the first time in 335 days, a new record. Then a surge of warm air from the south brought a temperature of 63 degrees at O'Hare airport on January 29th, a new record for that date, exactly one week after a temperature of 9 degrees was recorded (which, combined with the 35mph winds on that date, produced a windchill factor of about -20f). The current forecast (at time of posting this) calls for a high of only 14f on Friday (Feb. 1st), another significant temperature swing within a few days.
posted by MattMangels (37 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
Not just Chicago.
posted by amro at 10:50 PM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Not just USA.
posted by stbalbach at 10:57 PM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


World.
posted by ericost at 10:59 PM on January 30, 2013


It's 464 °C (867°F) here, and no sports bar in sight. Chicago has it easy.
posted by Wordshore at 11:00 PM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Probably most MeFites know this already, but wildly variable weather is one of the stronger predictions of climate change; we're adding heat to the atmosphere. Heat is energy. And energy makes winds blow, moving weather patterns further than normal.

The air at the poles is always terribly cold, year-round, and the air at the equator is pretty hot. Roughly speaking, 'weather' is the process of those two systems trying to equalize their temperatures. Since we're adding a bunch of heat to the atmosphere, the winds from the tropics have more energy, and blow much further north, bringing weirdly warm weather in the wintertime, or heatwaves in the summer. At the same time, all that hot air displaces a bunch of cold air elsewhere, so some other spot on the globe will be weirdly cold. This often happens out over the ocean, so nobody notices, but you can usually see this when it's really butt-cold in the US. Check Canadian temperatures, and chances are pretty good that it will be bizarrely warm up there. The extra energy from climate change pushed a bunch of warm air up into Canada, displacing their cold air down to us, messing up both weather patterns.

It's been so warm here this winter, so much of the time, that I'm getting worried the trees are going to start budding out too soon. A couple days this last week felt like spring. It was 68 degrees today, but we'll freeze tonight, and it will be about 45 tomorrow.

I'm not a botanist, but I really doubt that's very good for the plants.
posted by Malor at 11:03 PM on January 30, 2013 [24 favorites]


even the snow we got tonight would be tame for a November snow. January snows are supposed to be epic and local news is supposed to yell at us to stay inside. it's at the point now where my truck is full of various jackets and shoes and sweaters because I've stopped being able to accurately predict what type of weather protection i'll need when I leave the house every day.

this winter has been deeply strange. it seems like the jet stream has just kind of gone wacko. where usually it lets the northern cold air from Canada progressively push it downward in a smooth parabola, this year it seems like it has lost any sort of rhythm. especially this week.

i've never been one to disbelieve that climate change was a thing. the science says it is happening and has been happening. i know they don't know in the future how fast or how bad things will change, but this is the first winter (the summer was odd too) where I've just had this daily sense that we're in deep trouble. and i've lived in this place my entire life, and Chicago weather is dramatic and always has been, but this is different somehow.
posted by ninjew at 11:40 PM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think we broke the polar vortex.
posted by TedW at 12:09 AM on January 31, 2013 [2 favorites]


Lived in Chicago for 14 years. I don't care how warm it is today or any day in January or February, be prepared for winter to last through tax day. And then get ready for the 100 degree days of July and August. Nothing like sitting in the bleachers at Wrigley on a hot sunny afternoon downing an Old Style for every hit.

Fwiw, I am awake here in the suburbs of NY because of the 60 mph winds and the buffeting rains hitting my house causing all sorts of creepy sounds and the cat to freak like a scared...well.. cat.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 12:13 AM on January 31, 2013 [2 favorites]


we drove the weather insane.
posted by angrycat at 3:28 AM on January 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm always bothered by weather stats of "record temp". If you only have a 130 years of records, then it would make more sense to have a record temp in a two week period or something. Every winter here we have a couple of massive thaws, they are guaranteed to happen, it's just a question of what day. The media goes nuts and announces a record temp. It doesn't really tell me anything. Now highest/lowest temp ever recorded in January would be significant.
posted by sety at 3:47 AM on January 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


335 days is less than a year.
posted by windykites at 4:12 AM on January 31, 2013


70 here yesterday, 30 now, down to 17 tomorrow. Crazy and a little scary.
posted by octothorpe at 4:17 AM on January 31, 2013


63 now in seacoast New Hampshire, after a night of 50 mph wind gusts. It was in the single digits last week, and should get down to 30 by the end of the day. The bugs and birds are confused.
posted by schoolgirl report at 4:24 AM on January 31, 2013


Wundeground's history data page is incredibly useful and also a little bit scary when you start to realize that it's consistently warmer year round.

We've had no winter to speak of in Central FL and while it never does get as cold as everywhere else it at least used to get consistently cool and stay that way. For the last 3 years the temps have been hovering around in the 80's in the winter which I'm sure is playing havoc with the strawberries and tomatoes grown locally and shipped throughout the country.
posted by photoslob at 4:45 AM on January 31, 2013


I live near a town known for snow. Many folks in the area have traditionally depended on revenue from winter sports tourism (mainly snowmobiling, but also snowshoeing and XC skiing) to keep bread on the table. The snow always started falling at Thanksgiving and stayed on the ground, with the occasional minor thaw, until March.

This year, we had about a week of snow around Xmas. Since then, nothing. Yesterday it was over 60 degrees outside. What little snow cover we had is long gone. The hockey rink down the street has been used for only a week or two, and the small lake where folks have always skated has not had ice thick enough for it since 2011.

I overheard someone at the grocery saying, "not much point in even keeping the cross country skis around anymore, never get to use 'em."

Compared to what much of the planet faces, this stuff is trivial. Still, it's just not the same place anymore. The terrifying thing is, this is just beginning.
posted by kinnakeet at 5:16 AM on January 31, 2013 [2 favorites]


Weatherspark is my favorite toy for looking graphically at average temperatures. Off hand, it looks like for Chicago that January last year had more warm days, though the peak high was only 57.
posted by Wulfhere at 5:16 AM on January 31, 2013


To be honest, I'm more than a little worried. Last spring we had warm weather followed by a freeze which devastated the apple crop. The January snow this year is the most we've had in years, but would have been normal even a decade ago. Then numerous wind storms, temperatures in the 60s and the single digits within days of each other.

And yet people still don't believe there's anything to be concerned about.
posted by tommasz at 5:18 AM on January 31, 2013


Only Dr. Hans Zarkov, formerly of NASA, provided an explanation.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 5:28 AM on January 31, 2013 [5 favorites]


On Monday, I learned that freezing rain is just regular rain that freezes after it hits the ground. Sleet / ice pellets is the thing that I though it was. My coworker linking me to the wikipedia page blew my mind.
posted by Phredward at 5:56 AM on January 31, 2013 [2 favorites]


The air at the poles is always terribly cold, year-round, and the air at the equator is pretty hot. Roughly speaking, 'weather' is the process of those two systems trying to equalize their temperatures. Since we're adding a bunch of heat to the atmosphere, the winds from the tropics have more energy, and blow much further north, bringing weirdly warm weather in the wintertime, or heatwaves in the summer. At the same time, all that hot air displaces a bunch of cold air elsewhere, so some other spot on the globe will be weirdly cold.

Sort of. Yes--it is the thermal contrast between the tropics and the poles that helps to drive ocean and atmospheric circulation. But I believe that the poles have been warming much more than the tropics--consistent with climate change predictions--which actually decreases the thermal contrast that drives ocean currents and wind. But the details are fantastically complex. Oceanographers predict that this more even N-S thermal profile will diminish heat transfer in the form of ocean currents (like the Gulf Stream) from the tropics to the poles, potentially cooling northern Europe in the globally warmed world? These changes could be further exacerbated by Greenland melting which would send fresh water into the North Atlantic helping to shut down or slow down the global thermal-haline circulation process---but that is another story.

As far as cold waves are concerned, there seems to be a new theory emerging that extreme winter cold in the temperate parts of the northern hemisphere (like southern Canada, USA, Europe, Asia) is related to sudden and extreme warming of the Stratosphere over the Arctic.
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 6:00 AM on January 31, 2013 [2 favorites]


Changeable weather? Try living on an island* with a massive ocean on one side and a massive landmass on the other, with a jetstream above you. Just the other day it was sunny in the day, snowed then sleeted then rained in the evening, then the next morning the sun came out, and later it was windy but sunny.

Also: Norwegians say everything will be fine till 2050

(* just like the Quo)
posted by marienbad at 6:08 AM on January 31, 2013


Philly went from a 13F minimum about a week ago, to 69F max yesterday (just cuz I like to talk about the weather ...).
posted by carter at 6:14 AM on January 31, 2013


The orchards in Michigan lost their crop last year to a false spring.

Looks like they will again. This is not good.
posted by ocschwar at 6:14 AM on January 31, 2013



Sort of. Yes--it is the thermal contrast between the tropics and the poles that helps to drive ocean and atmospheric circulation. But I believe that the poles have been warming much more than the tropics--consistent with climate change predictions--which actually decreases the thermal contrast that drives ocean currents and wind


Which means instead of a thermal contrast mostly working up and down lattitudes, it works up and down altitudes.

Using lots and lots of water.

That's why the weather's getting weird.
posted by ocschwar at 6:16 AM on January 31, 2013


Fuck Chicago, and fuck its weather and fuck O'Hare and fuck American Airlines and...

(No, I'm not still really angry about getting stuck in Memphis Sunday night and getting home a whole day late. Not AT ALL!)

#eponysterical
posted by bitter-girl.com at 6:57 AM on January 31, 2013


Chicago winters haven't been the same for a long time. 30 years ago there was a lot more snowfall, maybe 1/2" every couple of days. Now we get 2-3 massive dumps that melt off in a weekend.

I always wonder about people that I see around here that own snowmobiles. They're the pinnacle of optimism.
posted by JoeZydeco at 6:57 AM on January 31, 2013


Now highest/lowest temp ever recorded in January would be significant.

The highest recorded temp during January in Chicago was 67 degrees F in 1950. We came very close the other day.
posted by IvoShandor at 7:02 AM on January 31, 2013


Yeah, the weather here can eat the biggest bag of dicks that has ever been bagged by the Dickbaggers' Union (Local 319).
posted by adamdschneider at 7:13 AM on January 31, 2013 [4 favorites]


Weirdest thing was the rainstorm where the rain was these enormous warm water droplets, like God decided to have a June water balloon fight in the middle of January. It was so odd.
posted by bleep at 7:34 AM on January 31, 2013


Which was relevant because it was in Chicago and Tuesday.

someday I'll not hit "post comment" before I'm done thinking...
posted by bleep at 7:34 AM on January 31, 2013


Hell, I drove through about four different weather patterns just to get to work today (29 miles in Metro Detroit). When I got to the relatively calm area near the job I thought, the boss isn’t going to believe I was in two whiteouts during the first half of my commute.

And yes, it was 60 and raining yesterday.
posted by NorthernLite at 8:38 AM on January 31, 2013


I am a city slicker. My girlfriend is from a family of farmers. So while I'm celebrating the 65 degrees and the fact that I get to wear shorts for a day, she is concerned because what will it mean for the crops and when will the drought end and will crop insurance come through again this year and did you know that our state is third in the country for corn production, etc. etc.

Climate change: bad for the Earth, bad for human relationships.
posted by Comic Sans-Culotte at 9:55 AM on January 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've just had this daily sense that we're in deep trouble. and i've lived in this place my entire life...

Ninjew: I've lived in various places around the USA and a bit overseas, but I've lived in this place on this planet my entire life--and yes, this is different somehow.

Looking at the snow pack, it appears that it ranges from 73-129% of normal, with my watershed, the Boise Basin, at 82%. Not so bad, but there are two issues: Depending on the coming weather, things could be good, or extremely bad, considering that late May and April snow pack percentages define drought or a good year's irrigation. So, weather.

The second issue is more interesting. This year marks a change in the reference point used by the Natural Resources Conservation Service for calculating normal snowpack levels. Now, the 30-year period for calculating normal begins in 1981 and stretches to 2010, as opposed to the old period that included the early '70s. The current water year, which began Oct. 1, is an increase of snowpack levels 12 percent above the new 30-year normal. My gut feeling is that 'normal' should be calculated using all records as far back as possible.

It hasn't been this cold since the early 70's. I remember lots of snow down here in the desert.
posted by BlueHorse at 3:00 PM on January 31, 2013


Today in west-central Florida: Get the hoodies back out, guys! It's not over yet!

The temp dropped 20 degrees overnight, which is a lot for us. Yesterday's high was 80, which is way too much, even for here, for January. Today is 60, which is as it should be. It's funny to see people scrambling around, confused, half of them dressed for yesterday and half for today.

Two or three years ago, we had a crazy cold-for-here winter with a week straight, if not more, of freezes all night and barely scraping to 50 during the day. A freeze is 8 hours or more at night of sub-freezing temps. (Hush, Snow People. We know it's ridiculous.) This year, today is the third or fourth day that I've actually considered it to be appropriately Not Hot.

This heat worries me, because the ocean water needs to cool off and stay that way as long as possible. When summer comes and those dust storms roll off the Cape Verde assembly line into the Atlantic, the warmer the water is, the nastier and longer the season will be. Especially the near-shore Gulf water, where hurricanes tend to intensify at the 11th hour.

I do not like this warmness. I do not like it one bit.
posted by cmyk at 3:26 PM on January 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


...the boss isn’t going to believe I was in two whiteouts during the first half of my commute.
They probably would believe you.
posted by Flashman at 3:45 PM on January 31, 2013


Welp, it was spitting snow on my way home in Philly. And yesterday it was 60-70.
posted by angrycat at 3:54 PM on January 31, 2013


I drove through that same storm 3 times (due to a 220 mile zig-zag itinerary) on Tuesday. I was not amused. It's just rain people, no need to do 40 in the left lane!
posted by gjc at 4:41 PM on January 31, 2013


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