Climate Change: Should We Worry?

It seems like we’ve been hearing about it for years, that global warming is coming. And with it will come dramatic changes. The temperatures will rise. The ice caps will melt. Coastal cities will flood, and inland cities will roast from drought and the higher temperatures. But should we really be as worried as Al Gore says we should be, or are some aspects of global warming and climate change being blown out of proportion?

Seemingly, everyone has an opinion when it comes to climate change. Some people emphatically believe climate change is going to eventually make the current weather more severe and extreme. The other category claims climate change will play no role in current weather and we shouldn’t be alarmed. Bryan Busby, chief meteorologist at KMBC-TV in Kansas City, Mo., says there’s a fine line to walk regarding climate change.

“When people or groups ask me to give lectures on climate change, I try to be as impartial as I can,” Busby said. “Even if you’re talking to a group who strongly believes climate change is influencing weather, it might still be a good idea to show them the other side of the coin.”

One side of that coin is the fact our planet is getting warmer. According to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the global average temperature has increased by 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit since 1880. This increase in temperature has caused Arctic sea ice to decrease by an average rate of 12 percent per decade while 100 billion tons of land ice on Greenland is lost per year. Dr. Johannes Feddema, a professor of climatology at the University of Kansas, says there’s one main underlying cause to the increase in temperature over the past century.

“The biggest and most noticeable difference between now and the 1800s is the level of carbon dioxide that is in the atmosphere,” Feddema said. “As the amount of carbon dioxide increases, more and more of the sun’s radiation gets trapped in the atmosphere from the greenhouse effect. That’s what really is causing the temperatures to increase.”

Feddema went on to say carbon dioxide levels have been on the increase ever since the mid-1900s when an all-time record level of carbon dioxide was recorded. This is backed up by NASA data. Around 325-thousand years ago, carbon dioxide levels reached 300 parts per million. That historical record was eclipsed in the mid-1900s and has risen to an all-time high of 395 parts per million today.

With this increase in the carbon dioxide level, a temperature increase is expected; however, climate records show high temperatures have remained fairly consistent throughout recent decades.

“When people think about global warming and the temperature increasing, they think daily high temperatures will increase,” Feddema said. “What we have seen over the past few years is that low temperatures have been getting warmer.”

With the carbon dioxide level, temperatures, and sea level rising, that gives room for people to be concerned. It’s a good idea to be concerned about the planet and where it’s going, but not panicking is the key.

“We’re not going to see anything like in ‘The Day After Tomorrow’ happen,” Busby said. “Sure, people should know what’s going on with the planet, but we all need to keep a level head and look over data and facts and not speculate over what could happen.”

For the most part, Feddema agrees, but this could just be a new era in the history of the Earth.

“Our planet goes through many cycles,” Feddema said. “There’s no doubt that humans have played a role in the amount of carbon dioxide that’s in the atmosphere, but this could also be a part of a cycle with higher amounts of carbon dioxide in the air that we humans have just accentuated.”

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Atmospheric Science Students Prepare for the Chase (Update)


University of Kansas students chase and film a tornado near Geneseo, Kan. in April 2012.

 

 

Every year as the snow finally melts and the days are a little longer and warmer, people realize spring is here. But spring isn’t the only season that has come. For a select group of students, a much more exciting season is upon them – storm-chasing season. For Mike Robinson, a former University of Kansas atmospheric science student, it’s one of the best times of year.

“It’s just amazing being able to go out and see one of nature’s most destructive tools up close. The amount of power tornadoes have being able to destroy buildings is just incredible,” Robinson said.

The atmospheric science students at KU prepare every spring to go and chase storms in hopes of seeing a tornado. They know it can be dangerous and don’t go out chasing haphazardly. In March, the KU chapter of the American Meteorological Society (AMS) held a storm-chasing safety talk.

“We thought it would be a good idea to go in detail about how we chase and what kind of precautions we take before, and during, our chases,” said Prescott Bishop, president of KU’s chapter of AMS. “Overall, we think it’s important to continue to stress the safety aspect of chasing the most.”

Storm chasing, while part of the curriculum at other schools such as the University of Oklahoma, is not part of the curriculum at KU for legal and liability reasons. It can be dangerous not only because of the violent storms, but also because of the other chasers. Bishop says he’s seen some people chasing by themselves and checking their phone or computer while driving down the road.

“It’s always better to chase with at least one other person in the car,” Bishop said. “Then you can have one person whose sole duty is to drive and watch the road. We usually have three to five people per car when we chase so we can be constantly checking radars or maps.”

Not only is storm chasing an adrenaline rush to chase twisters, but it can also be beneficial. It gives an opportunity for the students to apply what they’ve learned in the classroom to real life, such as forecasting and how storms are formed. For some students, chasing provides even more experience.

“I learned so much about forecasting and other aspects of meteorology when I would go out chasing,” Robinson said. “It’s really great to be able to pull off the experiences you and the other students in the car have from past chases.”

Not only is it beneficial for the students, it can be beneficial for the National Weather Service (NWS). Chasers can call into the local NWS office while out chasing and report any funnel clouds or tornadoes they see. However, they prefer you go through storm spotter training first.

“It kind of stinks that even though we’re atmospheric science students, sometimes the NWS won’t take our calls as seriously as some random guy that sat through an hour and a half long lecture,” Bishop said. “The only way to really get over that is to go sit through the lecture ourselves.”

Despite storm-chasing season technically being in full swing, KU students haven’t had a good outbreak of potentially severe storms to chase nearby. In mid-April, some students headed south to the Stillwater, Okla. area to try to chase some storms. The outcome wasn’t exactly what the students were hoping for.

“When we went down to Stillwater, we had a pretty big bust,” Bishop said. “We knew the really big severe storms with tornado potential were going to be closer to Texas. We were hopeful we would be able to see some good storms without going that far south.”

At the end of a chase, even if it is a bust, the students are usually glad they went.

“Sometimes when you have high hopes and you don’t see a tornado, you can come away dejected,” Robinson said. “But even then, you had a good time driving around with your friends cracking jokes. And hell, sometimes we have fun just skipping class.”

2013 Looks to Have More Rain Than 2012

It seemed like it hadn’t rained in ages and it seemed like it was never going to rain again ever at some points. One-hundred-degree days were dominating. The soil was unbelievably dry and the crops were withering away. No, this isn’t a description of one of the Dust Bowl years – this is a description of the summer of 2012.

“That was some of the driest weather I have ever seen,” said local farmer Ken Spivey. “I’ve been farming up here for over 50 years and I can’t remember many years much drier than last.”

Spivey was correct. According to the National Weather Service office in Topeka, 2012 was rated as one of the driest years, historically, ranking up there with drought years from the Dust Bowl era and the 1980s. Topeka only saw 23.06 inches of precipitation in 2012, which is almost 13.5 inches below normal.

“What most people don’t realize about 2012 is that we actually had a surplus of precipitation for a little bit,” said Bryan Busby, chief meteorologist at KMBC-TV in Kansas City. “In late March and early April, we were actually approximately two inches above normal for precip. But shortly after that, the faucets just turned off.”

Busby said the reason why the rain opportunities tapered off was because of a giant high pressure system in the upper atmosphere. These systems, also called ridges, are associated with periods of dry, warm weather, especially in the summer. That’s because the air associated with the system is sinking. As it sinks, it warms. In order to get rain, air needs to be lifted into the atmosphere.

“Whenever a storm would move into the area last year, that ridge would either force the storm to go to our north or to our south,” Busby said. “If a storm got under the ridge, it would just die out. With that ‘Death Ridge’ sitting on top of us, it squandered most rain chances while the temperatures got hotter and hotter.”

This year is off to a similar start to last year. Topeka has seen 7.91 inches of precipitation this year, compared to last year’s 7.96 inches. Despite the similarities, this year is expected to be a better year for precipitation amounts. In fact, the U.S. Drought Monitor has classified the Topeka and Lawrence areas as only having a moderate drought, an upgrade in the past few weeks. Busby says the winter was especially helpful with this.

“We had practically no snow in 2012. I think it was roughly around three inches for the whole winter,” Busby said. “This year, we’ve had almost 30 inches of snow. That greatly helped the situation. And it looks like we’re moving into a pretty active pattern for rain and storm chances – especially this upcoming week.”

More rain and storm chances is exactly what Spivey wants to hear this time of year.

“Last year was a hard one for us farmers,” Spivey said. “I think we’ll do better this year. Crops are already looking healthier than last year. I hope I never have to go through another summer like that again.”

Severe Weather Kits Are a Good Idea

Roughly one year ago, a storm system moved out into the Great Plains. According to the National Weather Service (NWS), this storm system spawned 114 confirmed tornadoes over 10 states from April 13 to April 16, 2012. The state of Kansas saw 42 tornadoes overall, but five of the six strongest tornadoes struck the state, including an EF4 tornado in north-central Kansas. Mike Robinson, a former University of Kansas atmospheric science student, was out chasing that day and saw the EF4.

“When we saw it touch down, it was just amazing,” Robinson said. “It was just so polarizing to see something that big and that powerful up close and personal. It was Mother Nature’s way of saying you really need to be prepared at all times.”

April is just the start of the severe weather season. But it is always good to have a severe weather preparedness plan already thought of before the severe weather season starts, and to keep it updated for the different seasons. Mark Bogner, a broadcast meteorologist with KSNW-TV in Wichita, Kan., says it’s not wise to let your guard down anytime of the year.

“People in the Midwest are used to hearing all about severe weather, especially in the spring months,” Bogner said. “But the real truth is severe weather can happen anytime of the year. People are most concerned about the springtime tornadoes, but they also need to prepare for the summer heat and drought, or the winter blizzards.”

According to the NWS weather forecast office in Norman, the first thing to do in preparation for a springtime severe weather risk is to plan ahead. You should already have your storm shelter figured out, as well as have a supply kit already prepared. Some things suggested for the kit are food, water, a battery-operated television or radio, a cell phone and shoes. Bogner says most of these hold true for other seasons as well.

“Your winter survival kit is actually very similar to your spring one in terms of what’s in it,” Bogner said. “But key things to add to it would be blankets and cold-weather clothes so you can keep warm should the heat go out in your house or car. But overall, you just need to make sure you’re prepared no matter when.”

Spring Brings Warmer Weather, Allergies

 

Springtime is synonymous with allergy season. As the weather warms up and gets wetter, trees and plants release pollen. Lawrence has seen five inches of precipitation so far this year. Despite still being slightly below average, Debbie Bolden, a registered nurse at Watkins, still expects this to be a significant allergy season.

Social Media and Sports

As new technology is developed and older technology is revamped, we see an increase in the various methods people use to gather information – including information regarding sports. Some people still read the newspaper every day to see the box scores, while some take advantage of television broadcasts. But more and more people have been using the internet to get their sports news, especially with the onset of social media.

As social media has continued to develop and evolve, there have been two main frontrunners that have emerged – Twitter and Facebook. Both mediums can be used to access news and information about sports teams, as well as scores. But which social networking site is best for getting the information? Brad Wandell, a senior in communications from the University of Kansas, says it may mostly boils down to personal preference.

“If you have someone who hates Twitter and isn’t on it, then they obviously aren’t going to use it to get their sports information,” Wandell said. “But as for people who are on both sites, immediacy plays a big role in which medium they use.”

Twitter would seem to be the king of social media immediacy. It makes it easy to send out a score update or player information immediately. While this is also doable on Facebook, Wandell says it’s not really what it’s tooled for.

“Sure, you can post things on Facebook and send them out immediately,” Wandell said. “But Twitter is more set up to get things out quicker. Granted, that does bring in the issue or accuracy into the mix.”

Twitter accuracy has been called into question in the past. Sometimes, inaccurate news has been tweeted out about trade or team information that hasn’t been entirely true. This tends to make people wary about believing everything they see on social media sites.

“When I’m getting ready to tweet out something, I always want to make sure I’ve done some fact checking and a little bit of research first,” said Bob Lutz, a sports columnist for the Wichita Eagle. “There’s no bigger blemish for your credibility record than tweeting out something that turns out to be fake.”

Sam Mellinger, a sports columnist for the Kansas City Star, isn’t quite sold on using social media in such a way.

“When you ask about accuracy and reliability, I’m not sure either is great,” Mellinger said. “These are very good tools to use, but there are so many wives tales that get spread on Facebook and so many fake accounts on Twitter, you can’t just take it for the truth. But for me, and what I do, Twitter is a thousand times better than Facebook.”

For the most part, Lutz agrees and went on to say he has seen a “polarizing shift” in the amount of sports information people receive from social media sites – especially from Twitter.

“It’s just the nature of the beast,” Lutz said. “It’s much easier for teams to send out quick little updates about team events and scores via Twitter than via Facebook. People have picked up on that. Sure, accuracy can be an issue sometimes, but if it’s a reputable account, the information they post should be good.”

Dual-Pol Upgrades Expected to be Beneficial

When severe weather approaches, there’s one tool meteorologists everywhere depend on to give out an accurate explanation of what is currently going on, as well as what may happen – radar. Up until now, the radars used by the National Weather Service offices as well as television stations have gotten the job done. But there have been some complaints.

“The biggest problem with past and current Doppler radars has been trying to differentiate between different types of precipitation,” said Dave Freeman, chief meteorologist at KSNW-TV in Wichita, Kan. “For instance, sometimes it can be difficult to tell the difference between a very heavy rain echo or maybe just a hail core on radar. But it looks like dual-pol will help fix that.”

Freeman is referring to the dual-polarization (dual-pol) radar upgrade being installed across the United States. This upgrade is expected to give meteorologists better, more accurate information about what kind of precipitation is falling in an area, as well as help with tornado detection. The difference between dual-pol radars and conventional ones are in the way each transmits and receives the data.

Dual-Pol

Picture showing the difference between conventional, dual-pol radar. Picture courtesy of NWS Wichita.

“A conventional Doppler radar transmits and receives a beam that moves in a horizontal motion,” said Robb Lawson, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service office in Wichita, Kan. “But a dual-pol radar sends and receives beams that are moving both in a horizontal direction and a vertical direction.”

The additional vertical component to the radar beam can tell the meteorologist the shape and size of the precipitation particles that are suspended in the storm clouds. While also being able to predict how much precipitation will fall, this upgrade can help lead to better distribution of flash flood warnings, severe thunderstorm warnings and tornado warnings.

“If there were to be a rain-wrapped tornado, it’d be hard to see with the older Doppler radars,” Lawson said. “There would just be too much rain in between the radar and tornado for the radar to see it. But adding this horizontal component will vastly help in our ability to penetrate through the rain and see inside the storm better.”

This is welcome relief in the Great Plains region where tornadic activity is most common. Norman, Okla. and Wichita, Kan. were the first and third radar sites to be upgraded to dual-pol, respectively. Upgrades to dual-pol for all National Weather Service radar sites are expected to be complete by May 2013. That’s not a moment too soon for Freeman.

“We didn’t really get to reap the benefits of the dual-pol upgrade last year due to the severe drought we experienced,” Freeman said. “I look forward to using dual-pol. Its perks and benefits mean I’ll be able to get better information out to the public more quickly and possibly save more lives.”