Friday, August 1, 2008

Olympics Pollution Watch: Contingency Plans Announced

Today's WaPo front page reports that Chinese officials have announced contingency plans in response to persistent pollution in Beijing:
On Thursday, the Ministry of Environmental Protection announced that officials would close 220 more factories, coal-fired power plants and steel plants in Beijing, as well as in nearby Tianjin city and surrounding Hebei province if air quality is forecast to be poor for any 48-hour period.

Beijing will also ban all forms of construction "if there is very unfavorable weather, and the air quality is forecast to not be up to standard for the next 48 hours," according to the ministry's Web site. Experts said they interpreted this to mean that the emergency plan would begin if Beijing's air pollution index, or API, was forecast to be 100 or more for two days in a row.
Reports also appear in NYTi and WSJ.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Record New England Tornado

The National Weather Service (NWS) has updated its review of the tornado which ripped through New Hampshire last week (July 24). The EF-2 tornado had a path 50 miles long, and the maximum width was over 1/3 of a mile. In an update to his coverage of the 2008 tornado season, The Weather Channel's Dr. Greg Forbes points out that this is the longest tornado track ever observed in New England, exceeding the infamous 1953 Worcester tornado by 4 miles. The longest previous track in New Hampshire was 15 miles (1955).

Video from NECN.

Sky is Falling! Snow in Sydney!

Update: Added definition of soft hail.

The global warming denialist blogosphere is undoubtedly salivating, but recent reports of snow in Sydney, Australia have been somewhat premature. Even the Australian press, home to Murdochian sensationalism, is reporting that the Bureau of Meteorology has described the precipitation as "soft hail" and sleet. Soft hail is generally known as snow pellets or graupel in the U.S. Some snow did fall at higher elevations, where such occurrences are not rare.

As far as temperatures are concerned, the lowest temperature this month at Sydney of 5.5°C was not only well above freezing, it was warmer than the low of 3.7°C last July, which was above average at Sydney and across the state of New South Wales as a whole.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Capital Corner: Green Auto Loan

Update: Corrected link to Veridian CU.

Your new car can be red, white, blue, black, or any other color, but if it is rated at 30 mpg or higher (combined city and highway), MCT Federal Credit Union will give you a ¼% discount on the loan rate. Rates are as low as 3.99% for 36-month terms or less. Eligibility for membership in MCT includes teachers and students of public and private schools in Montgomery County, MD, as well as their families. Employees of over 100 companies and organizations in Montgomery County are also eligible.

Elsewhere around the Beltway, a green discount is also being offered by NIH Federal Credit Union. Their discount is ½% for vehicles getting city mpg of 25 or better.

A search reveals that similar programs are being offered by other credit unions around the country. Among them are:

EPA Email-gate: Senators Demand Resignation

Today's WaPo notes (via AP report) that 4 senators have called on EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson to resign over allegations that he lied to Congress over the rejection of regulations to limit CO2 emissions: Democrats Urge Head Of EPA To Resign

Other coverage is provided by:

DC Heat on Historical Beat

With a temperature of 90° at 2 pm this afternoon, Washington DC is right on the recent historical track for the number of days with 90° or higher temperatures. The 14 occurrences so far this July are exactly equal to the historical average and the numbers observed in each of the previous two years. Cumulatively for the season, the total of 22 is one short of the long term average through July and exactly equal to last year's amount.

With a late-season surge, including 3 days in October, the year 2007 went on to exceed the annual average of 37 by 7 days. The previous year, however, ended up with one less than the long term average.

CapitalClimate chart, from NWS data

Colbert Conquers Carbon Conspiracy

Update: The Intersection science blog recently reviewed Roston's book.

Interview with author Eric Roston on last night's Report:

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Huge Arctic Ice Chunk Breaks Off

DeSmogBlog has a link to today's Toronto Globe and Mail story, "Huge chunk snaps off storied Arctic ice shelf":
A four-square-kilometre chunk has broken off Ward Hunt Ice Shelf - the largest remaining ice shelf in the Arctic - threatening the future of the giant frozen mass that northern explorers have used for years as the starting point for their treks.

Scientists say the break, the largest on record since 2005, is the latest indication that climate change is forcing the drastic reshaping of the Arctic coastline, where 9,000 square kilometres of ice have been whittled down to less than 1,000 over the past century, and are only showing signs of decreasing further.
The AP and Reuters, and The Canadian Press also have stories on the subject.

Satellite evidence of large cracks in the ice shelf was confirmed in April when a team of scientists and Canadian Rangers observed that the shelf had fractured into three main pieces.

Olympian Heights of Air Pollution

As the pollution level reaches Code Orange here in Spin City on the Potomac, attention is shifting to the pervasive pollution of Beijing. With the Olympic opening ceremonies only 10 days away, reports indicate that attempts to reduce air pollution effects on the athletic competition are having limited effects.

In late June, Chinese officials announced plans to cut auto traffic in half with an odd-even driving schedule and to close polluting manufacturing plants. Despite these restrictions now being in effect, today's WSJ reports that pollution readings have exceeded government targets on 4 out of the last 8 days. The opening of the athletes' village on Sunday was marred by "pea-soup fog". Accompanying WSJ video notes that Beijing is not the only Chinese city contending with serious pollution problems.

If pollution levels remain high, more drastic measures may be implemented. Contingency plans call for reducing vehicle traffic by 90% and ordering further factory closings. China Daily reported yesterday that emergency measures, if required, would be announced with a 48-hour lead time.

Today's Morning Edition on NPR discussed the potential effects of pollution on athletes. Events which are most likely to be impacted are the outdoor endurance competitions, such as the triathlon, road cycling, mountain biking, race walking, and the swimming and running marathons.

Athletes are not the only ones at risk, however. Two researchers at Northwestern University's medical school have warned that breathing high levels of pollution can be very dangerous for spectators in certain risk groups. The effects can even extend into the plane ride home.

The latest Newsweek, out today, includes a column by science writer Sharon Begley analyzing the most controversial aspect of Beijing's attempts to control the Olympic atmosphere. In order to try to prevent rainfall from dampening the opening and closing ceremonies, a massive $100 million cloud seeding operation will be carried out by an army of 32,000 rainmakers. As Begley rightly notes, decades of experimentation with cloud seeding have failed to provide objective evidence that the technique is effective. The current official statement on weather modification by the American Meteorological Society, adopted in 1998, indicates that evidence of artificial rainfall enhancement is inconclusive at best.

The current Ministry of Environmental Protection pollution index reading of 90 for Beijing is slightly below the level of 100 considered serious by the government. The weather forecast for Wednesday calls for cloudy skies, light winds, and a temperature range of 23-31 °C.

Image, from Getty Images via Wall Street Journal: Smog in Beijing's Central Business District on Monday.

Monday, July 28, 2008

EPA Email-gate: Document Peekaboo

The story of the Environmental Pollution Agency's childish games to cover up its aborted CO2 regulation process continued with a report on Friday buried 18 pages behind the WaPo's ongoing multi-part rehashing of a 7-year-old murder investigation. The WaPo article describes how the EPA provided a peekaboo copy of the Dec. 5 email from the agency to the White House proposing to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. The email was provided only in hard copy and on loan for viewing by 3 Senators and their aides. Excerpts from the document, published on the Energy and Public Works Committee web site, include:
In sum, the Administrator is proposing to find that elevated levels of GHG concentrations may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public welfare.
Meanwhile, EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson has "declined" to testify to multiple Senate committees regarding the interference of the White House in the decision-making process. At a press conference, Sen. Boxer (D-CA) condemned the Administrator's actions.

Climate Progress has more commentary on "Bush's Puppets".

Seasonal Outlook

Latest seasonal forecast: Click here.

Latest 3-month temperature outlook from Climate Prediction Center/NWS/NOAA.