Daily Archives: January 6, 2010

Southeast Braces for More Record-Breaking Cold

Florida Citrus Growers Scramble as Southeast Braces for Second Wave of Cold Air

ABC | Jan 5, 2010

By MATT GUTMAN

MIAMI, Fla. – Arctic air tumbling into much of the Southeast U.S. has farmers in central Florida scrambling to protect crops, and people from Texas to Virginia bracing for a second wave of sub-freezing weather.

In Florida, strawberry, beans, squash and other crops risk significant damage from extended freezes, but most eyes are on the billion-dollar-a-year citrus industry.

The National Weather service has forecast temperatures plunging below the zero mark from the Great Plains to the Northeast, and into the 20s in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and Florida, where it has issued hard freeze watches.

It is one of the longest cold snaps in decades, and lows in some parts of Florida tonight are set to break records.

Watch More on the Cold Weather Tonight on ABC’s ‘World News with Diane Sawyer.’

Bob Norberg, the chief economist for the Florida Department of Citrus said, “From the forecast that I’ve seen, we’re right on the edge of crop damaging weather versus not having an impact.”

The $400 million-a-year strawberry industry could also be vulnerable.

Temperatures under 28 degrees sustained for over four hours can cause significant crop damage, said Norberg. The nearly week-long cold spell is the longest endured in Florida since 2001, according to the National Weather Service.

Kay Subick, scampering from plant to plant at her Lucas Nursery in Oviedo, Fla., said she’s sold out of thermal blankets designed to cover plants. She’d taken as many of her own plants as she could indoors and left the rest to the elements. She thinks several types of plants and highly cultivated gardens in the state would likely suffer, along with the crops.

“So we’re taking inside as much as we possibly can. We’re covering, we are also spraying with frost protection.”

Sleep-deprived farmers are doing the same, cranking open their irrigation systems during the coldest part of night — the pre-dawn hours. The developing mist and the formation of ice generate heat, which can insulate large swaths of orange groves. The frozen condensation on fruit and blossoms does the same, encasing the fruit in what farmers like to call a miniature igloo, keeping the fruit inside above 28 degrees — warm enough to survive.

Full Story

Coldest Orange Bowl on Record in Miami

Fox | Jan 5, 2010

MIAMI  —  The Orange Bowl is chilled.

Tuesday night’s matchup between Iowa and Georgia Tech is the coldest Orange Bowl ever, with the kickoff temperature 49 degrees and a northwest wind making it feel seven degrees cooler.

Forecasters at the National Weather Service say wind chills across South Florida will be in the 30s by game’s end, part of the region’s worst cold snap in a decade. Temperatures across the region have been about 20 degrees colder than normal for several days.

The previous Orange Bowl low was 57 degrees, set two years ago for the matchup between Kansas and Virginia Tech.

North China Braces for Coldest Weather Since 1950s

Bloomberg | Jan 5, 2010

Jan. 5 (Bloomberg) — Temperatures in northern China may fall to the lowest in half a century, threatening to disrupt transportation system and power supplies.

Beijing temperatures are forecast to drop as low as minus 16 degrees Celsius (3.2 degrees Fahrenheit) tonight, according to the China Meteorological Administration. Northern China may have 50-year low temperatures today, China Central Television reported yesterday.

Schools in the Chinese capital were shut after it was hit by the heaviest daily snowfall since 1951 on Jan. 3, the official Xinhua News Agency reported. Premier Wen Jiabao called on local authorities that same day to ensure food supplies, agricultural production and the safety of transportation, Xinhua reported.

Snowfalls have hampered transportation of coal to power plants in the eastern province of Shandong, reducing inventories of the fuel in the region to 2.7 million metric tons, enough for less than nine days of consumption, the Dazhong Daily newspaper reported today. That’s below the recommended minimum level of 15 days, it said.

Reduced coal supplies are threatening the “stable operations” at power stations in Shandong, the daily reported.

Power-station coal stockpiles are falling in northern, eastern and central China because of weather-related disruption to deliveries of the fuel, the China Business News reported yesterday.

Limiting Electricity

Some cities started to limit electricity supply because of reduced coal stockpiles, the newspaper reported, citing an unidentified official from the State Electricity Regulatory Commission.

Beijing Capital International Airport had re-opened all of its three runways by 12 p.m. local time yesterday, the China National Radio reported. The airport canceled more than 500 flights, CCTV reported. Fifteen highways in northern China remained closed as of 4 p.m. yesterday because of snow, according to the Ministry of Transportation.

Elementary and middle schools in the Chinese capital and the neighboring city of Tianjin were also shut because of snow and low temperatures, the city governments said.

A train from Hohhot, Inner Mongolia’s capital, to Tongliao city resumed operation at 5:53 p.m. yesterday after being stuck for 21 hours because of snow, the National Radio said.

Parts of Hunan and Jiangxi province may be hit by heavy snow today, according to the weather bureau. The provinces of Heilongjiang, Inner Mongolia, Jilin, Liaoning, Hunan and Jiangxi may have snow tomorrow, the administration said.

Beijing is forecast to be sunny today and tomorrow, according to the China Meteorological Administration.

Suburban areas of the Chinese capital received more than 33 centimeters (13 inches) of snow on Jan. 3, the Beijing Daily reported. Tianjin got as much as 20 centimeters of snow, CCTV reported.

Forecaster warns, “It’ll be like the great winters of the ‘60s and ‘70s.”

Forecast: Coldest winter in 25 years

buffalo.bizjournals.com | Jan 5, 2010

by Thomas Hartley

Western New Yorkers were lamenting last year’s lost summer when a national meteorologist warned that winter 2009-2010 could be the coldest and snowiest for the Northeast in more than five years.

But wait, weather observers.

Upon further review, an updated forecast from the same prognosticator, AccuWeather.com chief meteorologist Joe Bastardi in State College, Pa., is worse: It could be the worst winter in 25 years, he says.

With nearly the entire eastern half of the United States currently in the grip of a bitter cold wave not felt since 1985, Bastardi’s long-range forecast does nothing to warm anyone’s heart or body.

“It’ll be like the great winters of the ‘60s and ‘70s,” said Bastardi, who hinted last July that the current winter would be a cold one.

Those words must send a shiver through longtime Western New Yorkers who undoubtedly remember those as the decades when historic snowstorms blanketed the region.

Bastardi says that while the upcoming days will bring cold not seen since 1985 or 1982, he believes that this winter is shaping up much like that of 1977-1978. That winter, much of the U.S. east of the Rocky Mountains had a cold October, followed by a warm November and then a cold December — very similar to the pattern for the final three months of 2009.

U.K. Gas Gains Amid Freeze After Coldest December Since 1995

Bloomberg | Jan 5, 2010

By Ben Farey

Jan. 5 (Bloomberg) — U.K. natural gas for immediate delivery rose as Britain remains in the grip of freezing conditions after experiencing its coldest December since 1995.

Gas for delivery today gained 1.6 pence, or 3.6 percent, to 46.5 pence a therm. That’s equal to $7.44 a million British thermal units. A therm is 100,000 Btus. The contract jumped as much as 81 percent yesterday to 62 pence a therm when a supply shortfall and high heating demand forced the network manager to issue a so-called gas balancing alert.

December was the coldest since 1995, Barry Gromett, a spokesman for the U.K.’s Met Office, said by telephone from Exeter, southwest England.

“It stays cold for the foreseeable future into next week,” Gromett said. Gas for tomorrow rose 1.45 pence to 46.5 pence a therm.

U.K. gas demand may climb to 448.7 million cubic meters in the 24 hours through 6 a.m. tomorrow, according to National Grid Plc, the network manager. That’s about 97 million more than normal for the time of year. National Grid may issue another alert to signal the need for more supplies or a cut in gas usage if demand is forecast to reach 449.6 million cubic meters.

“There’s no indication we’ll be issuing one today,” Ross Hayman, a National Grid spokesman, said by telephone. The situation will be kept under review, he said.

Average temperatures in London may drop to minus 5 degrees Celsius (23 Fahrenheit) on Jan. 7 from 0 degrees today, CustomWeather Inc. data show. Colder weather will raise demand for heating.

Gas for the rest of the working week climbed 3 pence to 46 pence a therm. The February contract increased 1.45 pence to 37.25 pence a therm.

UK faces coldest winter in 30 years

Baboons at Knowsley Safari Park try to keep warm with hot potatoes. Photograph: Knowsley Safari Park/PA

Guardian | Jan 6, 2010

by Matthew Taylor and Sam Jones

Much of the UK was blanketed in heavy snow this morning as the extreme weather headed south and forecasters warned that the country was on course for its coldest winter in 30 years.

The Met Office issued an alert warning that nearly half a metre of snow was due to fall in some areas, while freezing conditions spread after having brought chaos to the north of England and Scotland today.

Tony Waters, the Met Office chief forecaster, said: “This is expected to cause disruption to transport networks and could lead to problems with power supplies.”

A spokesman for the prime minister said the government was doing all it could.

“The weather is taking a turn for the worse,” he said. “The Highways Agency has kept the vast majority of major road networks running. We are in close contact with local authorities and it is a situation we will keep a very close eye on.”

Forecasters say that the cold snap, which began in mid-December, is the longest since 1981. And they warned there was no end in sight.

“I would normally be loth to look beyond five to seven days, but the way the conditions are set at the moment I think the cold weather is not going to change for some time,” said Stephen Davenport, senior meteorologist at MeteoGroup. “I will stick my neck out and say it will be here for a couple of weeks and possibly longer.”

If the freezing conditions continued for the rest of the month, he said, the UK would be on course for its coldest winter since 1979. The snow was expected to hit southern counties of England, with almost 40cm predicted to fall on Salisbury Plain overnight. Heavy snow was also expected across London and parts of Wales.

Waters said yesterday: “The heaviest snowfall this evening and tonight is expected across parts of Dorset, Wiltshire, Hampshire, Berkshire and Oxfordshire – where fresh snowfall of 15 to 20cm is expected widely, and locally in excess of 30cm. This is expected to cause disruption to transport networks and could lead to problems with power supplies.”

The National Grid issued a rare warning to power suppliers to use less gas yesterday after a 30% rise on normal seasonal demand. It has urged power firms to switch to coal, and order more gas supplies from Belgium and Norway.

The business secretary, Lord Mandelson, told the BBC it was “a time of special pressure on the grid” but did not address claims from the Conservatives that Britain has only eight days’ worth of gas storage left.

Meanwhile stockpiles of gritting salt held by councils for roads are running thin. Emergency deliveries were made to Fife council in Scotland, and in Wales Pembrokeshire council warned that gritting lorries were struggling to cope with the “extraordinary” conditions.

Derek Turner, network operations director at the Highways Agency, said: “We are working flat out to keep our roads safe and serviceable for use. However, it is very important to drive appropriately for the conditions; even when roads are treated and appear ice- and snow-free, they should still be negotiated with care.”

Workers at Winsford rock salt mine in Cheshire said they were unable to meet the unprecedented demand despite pre-winter deliveries being completed.

“The worst continuous spell of severe weather for 20 years has led to massive additional demand. We would obviously like to be able to fulfil every authority’s needs in full, but the reality of the situation at present is that that is simply not possible,” the Winsford Salt unions said.

The mine is capable of extracting 30,000 tonnes of rock salt per week, but local councils in England are spreading that amount on the roads every day in an attempt to keep traffic flowing.

A Local Government Association spokesman insisted that councils, which are responsible for gritting many A roads as well as minor and town roads, were prepared: “As far as we are aware there are sufficient supplies of salt in the country to deal with the current cold snap. How much grit each council holds depends on local circumstances and how much bad weather they tend to get.”

C.I.A. Sharing Secret Spy Satellite Data With Climate Scientists

Secrecy cloaks the monitoring effort

NY Times | Jan 4, 2010

By WILLIAM J. BROAD

The nation’s top scientists and spies are collaborating on an effort to use the federal government’s intelligence assets — including spy satellites and other classified sensors — to assess the hidden complexities of environmental change. They seek insights from natural phenomena like clouds and glaciers, deserts and tropical forests.

The collaboration restarts an effort the Bush administration shut down and has the strong backing of the director of the Central Intelligence Agency. In the last year, as part of the effort, the collaborators have scrutinized images of Arctic sea ice from reconnaissance satellites in an effort to distinguish things like summer melts from climate trends, and they have had images of the ice pack declassified to speed the scientific analysis.

The trove of images is “really useful,” said Norbert Untersteiner, a professor at the University of Washington who specializes in polar ice and is a member of the team of spies and scientists behind the effort.

Scientists, Dr. Untersteiner said, “have no way to send out 500 people” across the top of the world to match the intelligence gains, adding that the new understandings might one day result in ice forecasts.

“That will be very important economically and logistically,” Dr. Untersteiner said, arguing that Arctic thaws will open new fisheries and sea lanes for shipping and spur the hunt for undersea oil and gas worth hundreds of billions of dollars.

The monitoring program has little or no impact on regular intelligence gathering, federal officials said, but instead releases secret information already collected or takes advantage of opportunities to record environmental data when classified sensors are otherwise idle or passing over wilderness.

Secrecy cloaks the monitoring effort, as well as the nation’s intelligence work, because the United States wants to keep foes and potential enemies in the dark about the abilities of its spy satellites and other sensors. The images that the scientific group has had declassified, for instance, have had their sharpness reduced to hide the abilities of the reconnaissance satellites.

Controversy has often dogged the use of federal intelligence gear for environmental monitoring. In October, days after the C.I.A. opened a small unit to assess the security implications of climate change, Senator John Barrasso, Republican of Wyoming, said the agency should be fighting terrorists, “not spying on sea lions.”

Now, with the intelligence world under fire after the attempted airliner bombing on Christmas Day, and with the monitoring program becoming more widely known, such criticism seems likely to grow.

A senior federal official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, defended the scientific monitoring as exploiting the intelligence field quite adroitly.

Ralph J. Cicerone, president of the National Academy of Sciences and a member of the monitoring team, said the program was “basically free.”

“People who don’t know details are the ones who are complaining,” Dr. Cicerone said.

About 60 scientists — mainly from academia but including some from industry and federal agencies — run the effort’s scientific side. All have secret clearances. They obtain guidance from the National Academy of Sciences, an elite body that advises the federal government.

Dr. Cicerone said the monitoring effort offered an opportunity to gather environmental data that would otherwise be impossible to obtain, and to do so with the kind of regularity that can reveal the dynamics of environmental change.

“It’s probably silly to think it will last 50 years,” he said of the program in an interview. “On the other hand, there’s the potential for these collections to go on for a long time.”

The C.I.A. runs the program and arranges for the scientists to draw on federal surveillance equipment, including highly classified satellites of the National Reconnaissance Office.

Officials said the effort to restart the program originated on Capitol Hill in 2008 after former Vice President Al Gore argued for its importance with Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, who was then a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee; she became its chairwoman in early 2009.

The Obama administration has said little about the effort publicly but has backed it internally, officials said. In November, the scientists met with Leon E. Panetta, the C.I.A. director.

“Director Panetta believes it is crucial to examine the potential national security implications of phenomena such as desertification, rising sea levels and population shifts,” Paula Weiss, an agency spokeswoman, said.

The program resurrects a scientific group that from 1992 to 2001 advised the federal government on environmental surveillance. Known as Medea, for Measurements of Earth Data for Environmental Analysis, the group sought to discover if intelligence archives and assets could shed light on issues of environmental stewardship.

It is unclear why Medea died in the early days of the Bush administration, but President George W. Bush developed a reputation for opposing many kinds of environmental initiatives. Officials said the new body was taking on the same mandate and activities, as well as the name.

“I’m extremely pleased with what’s been happening,” said Michael B. McElroy, an atmospheric scientist at Harvard University and a senior member of the group. “It’s really first-rate.”

Among the program’s first responsibilities has been to assess earlier Medea projects to see which, if any, produced valuable information and might be restarted or expanded.

Dr. Untersteiner of the University of Washington said that in June the government posted some imagery results from that assessment on the Web sites of the United States Geological Survey in an area known as the Global Fiducials Library, which advertises itself as an archive of intelligence images from scientifically important sites.

Among other things, the online library displays years of ice imagery from six sites inside the Arctic Circle, including the Fram Strait, the main route for icebergs moving from the Arctic basin into the North Atlantic.

Scientists consider the Arctic highly sensitive to global warming and are particularly interested in closely monitoring its changes as possible harbingers.

In July, the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences released a report that praised the monitoring.

“There are no other data available that show the melting and freezing processes,” the report said. “Their release will have a major impact on understanding effects of climate change.”

Dr. Untersteiner said the federal government had already adopted one of the report’s recommendations — have reconnaissance satellites follow particular ice floes as they drift through the Arctic basin rather than just monitoring static sites.

For this summer, Dr. Untersteiner said he had asked that the intelligence agencies start the process sooner, “so we still see the snow cover, maybe in early May.”

Such research, Dr. Untersteiner said, promised to promote understanding of the fundamental forces at work in global climate change, including the endless whorls and gyres of polar ice.

“We still have a problem with ice mechanics,” he said. “But the dynamics are very revealing.”