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Wind topples California’s famous Tunnel Tree

January 9, 2017 Leave a comment
pioneers-cabin-tree-circa-1966
This photo of California’s Pioneer’s Cabin Tree, dated 1866, is from the Library of Congress.

The Pioneer Cabin Tree, a California landmark loved by tourists for decades, has been toppled by wind.

A giant sequoia, the huge tree was 150 feet tall. The cutout in its trunk was wide enough to drive cars through and, over the years, many cars did pass under the tree.

Eventually California authorities closed access to cars, but in recent years there has been a hiking trail that leads to it and visitors could still stand in the cutout.

tunnel-tree-photo-by-claudia-beymer
This photo of the base of California’s Tunnel Tree was posted on the Facebook page of the Calaveras Big Trees Association. Image by Claudia Beymer.

Located in Calaveras Big Trees State Park, the Pioneer Cabin Tree – also known as the Tunnel Tree – was estimated to be over 1,000 years old. The large hole in its trunk was carved by owners of the land on which it grew in 1880.

A report in the San Francisco Chronicle explained that there is no way to be sure of the reason why the Tunnel Tree could not withstand the storm that has hit the Golden State in recent days. That storm, the worst in at least a decade, flooded Calaveras Big Trees State Park. The Chronicle explained that the Tunnel Tree’s shallow root system, typical for a sequoia, was likely a factor.

fallen-tunnel-tree
This photo shows the splintered remains of California’s Tunnel Tree on Jan. 8, 2017. Image courtesy Calaveras Big Trees Association, photo by Jim Allday.

Giant sequoias (Sequoiadendron giganteum), also known as redwoods, are the world’s largest organisms by volume. They can grow to a height of 85 meters and have been known to live for more than 3,500 years.

Now that the Pioneer Cabin Tree has fallen, there are no longer any known living sequoia trees with tunnels through their trunks.

Southwest U.S. readies for possible record-breaking heat

June 15, 2016 Leave a comment

The southwestern United States may be facing near record-breaking summer heat during the next few days.

According to the National Weather Service, major cities in Arizona, Nevada, and even southern California will experience temperatures of at least 100 degrees Fahrenheit at the beginning of next week.

The forecast officially calls for Phoenix to hit 117 degrees on Sunday and 118 degrees on Monday. Las Vegas may hit 110 degrees on Monday and Tuesday, while Tucson’s temperature could reach 114 degrees on Sunday and 112 degrees on Monday.

Meteorologist Bob Henson, writing at the Weather Underground blog, thinks it could be warmer.

WU forecast SW June 2016

Graphic courtesy Weather Underground.

So does Ryan Maue, a meteorologist affiliated with Weatherbell Analytics. Maue predicts that the temperature in Phoenix will reach 120 degrees on Monday.

The all-time hottest temperature in Phoenix is 122 degrees, which was reached in 1990. At least one forecast map shows that the metropolis in central Arizona’s Salt River Valley might reach 120 degrees on Monday.

The Valley of the Sun has experienced four straight record-breaking warm days this month (June 3-7), as well as its earliest 115 degree day in recorded history. If Phoenix reaches 116 degrees on Sunday, it would be the hottest day ever recorded in the city prior to the summer solstice.

The heat record in Las Vegas (most recently on June 30, 2013) and Tucson (June 26, 1990) is 117 degrees, while Yuma’s all-time mark is 124 degrees (July 28, 1995).

Los Angeles could reach 101 degrees on Monday, June 20. That is not close to the city’s all-time record high temperature of 113 degrees.

Southwest temperatures

This graphic shows the forecasted high temperatures on June 20, 2016. Graphic courtesy Weatherbell Analytics, National Weather Service.

Records maintained by the National Centers for Environmental Information, an agency of the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, show that record high temperatures are much more common in the U.S. this year than are record low temperatures.

Winter 2015-2016 is warmest on record in U.S.

March 9, 2016 Leave a comment

Winter in the northern hemisphere is not quite over (the spring equinox is March 20), but it is already clear that, at least in the continental United States, there hasn’t been a winter like it since at least 1894.

The National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration said Tuesday that the average temperature this season throughout the contiguous 48 states was 4.6 degrees Fahrenheit above average. The mean temperature on the mainland U.S. was 36.8 degrees Fahrenheit between December and February.

The previous record high winter temperature was set during 1999-2000.

Mean Temperature Deviation - US - Winter 2015-16 - courtesy NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information

Graphic courtesy NOAA

El Niño may have contributed, at least to some extent, to the unusually warm winter temperatures. The current ENSO is among strongest since at least 1950; a NOAA blog described it last summer as the “Bruce Lee of Niños.”

During an El Niño event the temperature of ocean water in the eastern Pacific rises beyond the normal range. The warmer ocean water off the west coast of South America drives changes in the jet stream, which in turn tends to cause winter temperatures in North America to be higher than they ordinarily would and increased precipitation in the southern portion of the continent. This explanation from a NOAA blog may be helpful:

Warmer tropical Pacific waters release more heat to the atmosphere, causing more rising air and storminess in the central and eastern tropics. The rising air moves north (and south) away from the tropics, traveling to the mid-latitudes, where it shifts the North Pacific jet stream farther southward and eastward. Movement and extension of the jet stream can bring more storms to the United States, and change the seasonal temperature and precipitation patterns.

 

typical El Nino winter impacts - courtesy NOAA

This graphic shows typical ENSO warm episode impacts. Note that those impacts are not uniform throughout the world. Some areas can be warmer or cooler than others during this type of event. Graphic courtesy NOAA.

In fact, winter has been wet in North America this year. NOAA reported that, during the December-February period, the continental U.S. received the twelfth-most amount of precipitation for that time interval in recorded history.

The term El Niño is a Spanish phrase that means “little boy.” According to a University of Washington website:

The name El Niño (referring to the Christ child) was originally given by Peruvian fisherman to a warm current that appeared each year around Christmas. What we now call El Niño seemed to them like a stronger event of the same type, and the usage of the term changed to refer only to the irregular strong events. It wasn’t until the 1960s that it was widely realized that this was not just a local Peruvian occurrence, but was associated with changes over the entire tropical Pacific and beyond.

The opposite of El Niño is La Niña, which is marked by water temperatures in the eastern Pacific Ocean and near the equator that are below average.

Measurement of the extent to which ongoing anthropogenic climate change has driven the high temperatures experienced in the U.S. this winter is difficult.  However, it is clear that ocean water temperatures are rising as greenhouse gases continue to be emitted to the atmosphere. This happens because, as the temperature of the air in Earth’s lower atmosphere rises, the oceans absorb some of the heat.

The oceans are now warmer than they have been in at least 50 years.

average ocean surface temperatures

The surface of the world’s oceans has become warmer overall since 1880. In this graph, the shaded band shows the likely temperature range, which depends on the number of measurements and the methods used at different times. Source: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Climate Change Indicators (2014). Graphic courtesy U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The rising temperature of the oceans does likely cause warmer winter temperatures in at least some areas of the globe. When liquid water is heated, the molecules of the compound evaporate into a gas called water vapor. The process of evaporation adds heat to the surrounding atmosphere.

 

NOAA: West, New England will have warm winter

October 16, 2014 Leave a comment

Residents of the western states and New England may face a relatively mild winter this year, according to a new prediction by the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration.

The agency’s U.S. Winter Outlook, released today, indicates that the coastal and inter-mountain west will likely experience average winter temperatures that are above normal.

“The temperature outlook for November-December-January (NDJ) 2014-15 indicates elevated probabilities of above-normal mean temperatures for Alaska, the far west, along the northern tier of the continental U.S. eastward to include parts of the northeast and mid-Atlantic,” the document said. “Below-normal mean temperatures are most likely over areas from eastern New Mexico to the western Gulf coast states.”

Graphic courtesy NOAA

Graphic courtesy NOAA

Warmer does not mean drier, though. NOAA said that higher-than-average precipitation can be expected in southern California, the desert southwest, the southern Great Plains, across the deep south, and up the Atlantic coast to southern New England.

Graphic courtesy NOAA

Graphic courtesy NOAA

That may be good news for water-starved California, though the drought there is not likely to end.

“While we’re predicting at least a two-in-three chance that winter precipitation will be near or above normal throughout the state, with such widespread, extreme deficits, recovery will be slow,” Mike Halpert, acting director of NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, said.

An El Nino event could well happen this winter, but if it does, it is expected to be a weak one. NOAA estimated on Oct. 9 that there is a 67 percent chance of an El Nino event in the coming months.

Categories: weather Tags: , , , ,

NASA video dramatically exhibits this winter’s storms on U.S. east coast

April 5, 2014 Leave a comment

On March 27 NASA released a video containing time-lapse photography of this winter’s storm events on the American east coast.

The imagery was obtained by the agency’s Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites between January 1 and March 24.

For more information about how the video was created, visit this NASA web page.

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