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Blog Category: National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration

Weather By the Numbers: 2011 Remembered as "Year of Severe Weather"

Satellite image of Hurricane Irene

2011 will be remembered as the year of extreme weather. From extreme drought, heat waves and floods to unprecedented tornado outbreaks, hurricanes, wildfires and winter storms, a record 12 weather and climate disasters in 2011 each caused $1 billion or more in damages—and most regrettably, loss of human lives and property. NOAA's National Weather Service has redoubled its efforts to create a "Weather-Ready Nation," where vulnerable communities are better prepared for extreme weather and other natural disasters.  Video of Hurricane Irene approaching the U.S.  |  Severe Weather blog
 
Here are some fast facts for weather by the numbers in 2011:

  • 3 million-plus: the number of residents who lost power during an unseasonably early nor’easter storm that spanned West Virginia to Maine (Oct 29-31)
  • -31 degrees F: the record low temperature reported in Nowata, Oklahoma, on February 10, 2011, which is the coldest temperature on record for the state!
  • 343: the largest outbreak of tornadoes ever recorded (April 25-28), which left a deadly path of destruction from Alabama to Virginia.
  • 199: the number of confirmed tornadoes across the Southeast on April 27, the most on record for any single day in the United States!
  • 1 million-plus: the number of acres burned across just Texas, during a record wildfire season for the Southern Plains states.
  • 3 billion: the potential cost (dollars) to rebuild Joplin, Mo., after it endured the single costliest tornado in U.S. history on May 22. It was the 7th deadliest tornado the U.S. has seen, with 158 lives lost.
  • -7.97: the value of the Palmer Hydrological Drought Index (PHDI) for Texas in September that indicated the most intense drought to affect the state in 117 year period of record.
  • 300 percent: three times the amount of average precipitation (mainly rainfall) in the Ohio Valley that caused historic flooding along the Mississippi river.
  • 19: the number of tropical storms in the Atlantic this year, the 3rd busiest season since record keeping began in 1851

Building a Weather-Ready Nation

Luchenco on-screen video conference

This week, the Department of Commerce’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) kicked-off a national dialogue to improve our nation’s readiness for extreme weather. At the Weather-Ready Nation: A Vital Conversation workshop, held in Norman, Okla., participants assessed why the nation has become more vulnerable to severe weather and identified ways to improve the public’s awareness, preparedness and response to future extreme events.

More than 1,000 lives have been lost this year to extreme weather, including about 550 from tornadoes. And the economic losses are equally staggering—at least 12 separate weather disasters, each with $1 billion or more in economic losses.

These impacts moved NOAA’s National Weather Service to launch an initiative called Weather-Ready Nation. The goal is to improve America’s readiness for weather events and save more lives and livelihoods. The Norman event is the first in a series of Weather-Ready Nation activities to be held across the country.

A Year of Extreme Weather

Aerial view of Burlington, North Dakota inundated with flood waters from the Souris River on June 25, 2011

Guest blog post by Assistant Administrator for Weather Services and Director of the National Weather Service Dr. Jack Hayes

As the extreme weather year of 2011 comes to a close, I want to reflect back on this year’s events and look ahead at ways to reduce the devastating impacts of weather on our society.

Crippling snowstorms in the Northeast and Midwest, violent tornadoes in the South, massive river flooding in the Central U.S., Hurricane Irene in the mid-Atlantic, and the epic drought in the Southern Plains accompanied by heat waves and devastating wildfires in some areas have all combined to make this a record-breaking year.

This is the first year since NOAA began keeping records that 12 separate weather events each caused more than $1 billion in damage.   The real story is not the number of events, but the severity of the impacts. Total economic losses from these 12 events have reached nearly $52 billion, and there have been more than 1000 weather-related death this year.

Could some of these deaths have been prevented; could the economic losses be reduced?   I think so and that is why we have launched a new initiative to build a Weather-Ready Nation.  This effort is designed to improve America’s responsiveness to weather events with the ultimate goal of saving more lives and livelihoods.

NOAA Issues Annual Report Card Outlining Changing Conditions in the Arctic

NOAA Issues Annual Report Card Outlining Changing Conditions in the Arctic

The Department of Commerce’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration today announced findings from the annual Arctic Report Card, a report prepared by an international team of scientists from 14 different countries. These scientists monitor the rapid changes in the Earth’s northern polar region say that the Arctic is entering a new state–one with warmer air and water temperatures, less summer sea ice and snow cover, and a changed ocean chemistry. This shift is also causing changes in the in the region’s life, both on land and in the sea, including less habitat for polar bears and walruses, but increased access to feeding areas for whales.   Release  |  Watch the Arctic Report Card 2011 video

Among the 2011 highlights are:

  • Atmosphere: In 2011, the average annual near-surface air temperatures over much of the Arctic Ocean were approximately 2.5° F (1.5° C) greater than the 1981-2010 baseline period;
  • Sea ice: Minimum Arctic sea ice area in September 2011 was the second-lowest recorded by satellite since 1979;
  • Ocean: Arctic Ocean temperature and salinity may be stabilizing after a period of warming and freshening. Acidification of sea water (“ocean acidification”) as a result of carbon dioxide absorption has also been documented in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas;
  • Land: Arctic tundra vegetation continues to increase and is associated with higher air temperatures over most of the Arctic land mass.

Spotlight on Commerce: Pete Garrison, Official In Charge, Bethel Alaska, National Weather Service

Pete Garrison, Official In Charge, Bethel  Alaska, National Weather Service

Ed. Note: This post is part of the Spotlight on Commerce series, which highlights members of the Department of Commerce who are contributing to the president's vision of winning the future through their work.

Guest blog by Harold "Pete" Garrison, Official In Charge, National Weather Service, Bethel Alaska

As a NOAA employee, I am in charge of the weather service office in Bethel, Alaska, a hub for more than 50 communities and villages with about 25,000 native residents. It is located in the delta regions of the mighty Yukon and Kuskokwim Rivers. The office has a number of responsibilities that include upper-air and aviation observations, climate data collection, and the dissemination of weather products.

I am Inupiat Eskimo with some Russian, from the early explorers, on my mother’s side. After my father died in the US Air Force, My mother, three younger siblings and I moved to Unalakleet. I attended BIA school in Unalakleet and then went to a Native boarding school in Sitka until my high school graduation in 1968. Afterwards, I went to college in Fairbanks, Sitka, and Anchorage; however, I did not complete a degree because I decided I wanted to stay with NWS long-term.

Commerce Veteran Hiring at 16-Year High

Alternate Text

Commerce is proud to announce that in the last year, veteran hiring reached a 16-year high, raising the total representation of veteran new hires to 12.5 percent.

Two years ago, on November 9, 2009, President Barack Obama issued Executive Order 13518: Employment of Veterans in the Federal Government. This Executive order charged all Cabinet-level departments with establishing a Veterans Employment Office, developing an operational plan, and providing mandatory annual training to hiring managers and senior human resources practitioners on veterans preferences and special appointing authorities for veterans.

In response to the President’s Executive Order, Commerce hired Sean Lenahan, former U.S. Coast Guard officer, as their Veterans Employment Program Manager to head the Veterans Employment Team and lead all Department-level veterans hiring initiatives. The Department’s Veterans Employment Team consists of members from the Census Bureau, the Patent and Trademark Office, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

“Our Veterans Employment Team has worked tirelessly to enhance employment opportunities for veterans throughout the Department,” said Bill Fleming, Director of Human Resources, Department of Commerce.  Mr. Fleming, a U.S. Army veteran, is one of the many veterans that hold key senior leadership positions within the Department.  Michael Phelps, Director, Office of the Budget, and Barry Berkowitz, Director, Office of Acquisition Management, are both highly decorated, retired officers of the U.S. Air Force.

Nation’s Newest Environmental Satellite Successfully Launched

An arc of light illuminates the pre-dawn sky at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., as a Delta II rocket launches with the NPOESS Preparatory Project (NPP) spacecraft payload.

NPP is vital for NOAA’s weather forecast mission

America’s newest polar-orbiting satellite roared into orbit this morning, setting the stage for enhanced weather data NOAA scientists will use to develop life-saving severe weather forecasts days in advance.

The NPOESS Preparatory Project (NPP) satellite was launched from Vandenberg Air Force, Calif., at 2:48 a.m. PDT aboard a United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket. At approximately 3:45 a.m. PDT, the spacecraft separated from the Delta II to the delight of NOAA and NASA officials.

NPP is a NASA Earth-observing satellite and features five new instruments that will collect more detailed information about Earth’s atmosphere, land and oceans.  NASA will use NPP as a research mission, while NOAA will use the data for short and long-term weather forecasting and environmental monitoring.

“This year has been one for the record books for severe weather,” said Dr. Jane Lubchenco, under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator. “The need for improved data from NPP and the next generation satellite system under development by NASA and NOAA has never been greater.  They will enhance our ability to alert the public with as much lead time as possible.”

In 2011, data from polar-orbiting satellites like NPP allowed emergency managers and communities to prepare for severe weather events . Five days before a destructive and deadly tornado outbreak in Alabama and parts of the Southeast in April, NOAA forecasters were able to see the early atmospheric signs of the storm system developing and issue timely warnings.  NOAA  full release

U.S. Dealt Another La Niña Winter but ‘Wild Card’ Could Trump It

Map of US showing expected temperature by region

Devastating drought in Southern Plains likely to continue

The Southern Plains should prepare for continued drier and warmer than average weather, while the Pacific Northwest is likely to be colder and wetter than average from December through February, according to the annual Winter Outlook released today by Commerce's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

For the second winter in a row, La Niña will influence weather patterns across the country, but as usual, it’s not the only climate factor at play. The ‘wild card’ is the lesser-known and less predictable Arctic Oscillation that could produce dramatic short-term swings in temperatures this winter. 

NOAA expects La Niña, which returned in August, to gradually strengthen and continue through the upcoming winter. It is associated with cooler than normal water temperatures in the tropical Pacific Ocean and influences weather throughout the world.  Full NOAA release  |  Climate Prediction Center Outlook | Temperature outlook  |  Precipitation outlook

$102 Million in Wetlands and Barrier Island Restoration Awards for Louisiana

Acting Secretary Blank Announces $102 Million in Wetlands and Barrier Island Restoration Awards for Louisiana Photo Credit: Tracie Morris Schaefer

Earlier today, Acting Secretary of Commerce Rebecca Blank announced $102 million for three Louisiana projects in the Barataria and Terrebone basins, to restore deteriorated wetlands and barrier island habitats along the state’s coast. These awards are funded by the Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection and Restoration Act (CWPPRA) program.  U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-La., Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority Director Garret Graves and Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Project Director Bobby Guichet also participated in the announcement.

Great Lakes Dredge & Dock and Weeks Marine have been contracted to restore beach, dune and marsh on Pelican Island in Plaquemines Parish, and West Belle Pass barrier headland in Lafourche Parish, respectively. The state of Louisiana will receive the third award to rebuild marsh and construct an 11,000-foot long protective ridge in the Bayou Dupont area in Jefferson Parish. The three projects will employ local citizens and generate further economic benefits for local businesses and coastal communities.

At the event, Blank also outlined help the American Jobs Act would provide Louisiana – putting people to work and boosting businesses. The plan would provide a significant new tax cut for small businesses, make major reforms to unemployment insurance to help get more Americans back on the job, and it would put more money in the pockets of Americans by reducing payroll taxes paid by workers.

The Jobs Act would complement the coastal restoration work funded by the awards announced by Blank today.

NOAA: Globe Had Eighth-Warmest August on Record

Image of Earth from space

The globe had its eighth-warmest August since record keeping began in 1880, while June through August was the seventh warmest such period on record. The Arctic sea ice extent was the second-smallest for August on record at 28 percent below average.

Global Temperature Highlights: August

  • The combined global land and ocean average surface temperature for August 2011 was the eighth-warmest on record.
  • Warmer-than-average conditions occurred across most of North America and the northern half of South America, southern Greenland, eastern Russia, Mongolia, most of Europe, northern Africa to Southwest Asia and southern Australia. Cooler-than-average regions included western Russia, Alaska, Chile, Argentina and Uruguay.
  • The August global ocean surface temperature was 0.79 F (0.44 C) above the 20th century average of 61.4 F (16.4 C), making it the 12th-warmest August on record.
  • Australia’s August 2011 average maximum temperature was the fifth-warmest August in its 62-year period of record. The state of Tasmania had its all-time warmest August maximum and minimum temperatures on record. 

NOAA's National Climatic Data Center provides a monthly analysis of global climate data for government, community and business leaders to help make informed decisions.   NOAA release  |  Graphic