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Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Global Warming or Arctic Oscillation

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After two fairly cold winters in a row, 2011-12 has started out very mild over a large part of the U.S.  Here in SE Michigan, there is no snow and the lake ice, if present, is exceedingly thin.  Last year, there were ice fisherman on our lake in early December and fairly deep snow from then through most of the winter.  Obviously, the change is much too fast for a climate change... although as pleasant as this winter has been so far, we wouldn't object to a more permanent change in that direction.  Of course, if you are a ski bum or can't wait to get out on the snowmobile, this is not change for the better.

What happened?  From the National Snow and Ice Data Center [NSIDC]:


This graph shows daily Arctic Oscillation Index values from the NOAA Climate Prediction Center for early September 2011 to early January 2012. The index is a normalized (unitless) index of relative pressure anomalies between polar and mid-latitude regions.


Credit: NSIDC courtesy NOAA NWS Climate Prediction Center
High Resolution Image
Positive phase of the Arctic Oscillation
The past two Arctic winters were dominated by a negative phase of the Arctic Oscillation, a large-scale weather pattern that brings generally warm conditions to the Arctic and colder conditions to Europe and North America. In contrast, the winter of 2011 has so far seen a mostly positive phase of the Arctic Oscillation. While temperatures were above normal in the Kara and Barents seas, the positive phase of the Arctic Oscillation tends to keep the coldest winter air locked up in the Arctic, which keeps the middle latitudes free of frigid Arctic temperatures and strong snowstorms. This weather pattern helps to explain the low snow cover and warm conditions over much of the United States and Eastern Europe so far this winter.
Yeah, me too.  I read it, but don't get it.  What's an oscillation?  And what's the "positive phase?"  Well, it's a weather pattern... got that.


Separately, the NSIDC explains the phenomenon this way:

The Arctic Oscillation

The Arctic Oscillation refers to opposing atmospheric pressure patterns in northern middle and high latitudes.
The oscillation exhibits a "negative phase" with relatively high pressure over the polar region and low pressure at midlatitudes (about 45 degrees North), and a "positive phase" in which the pattern is reversed. In the positive phase, higher pressure at midlatitudes drives ocean storms farther north, and changes in the circulation pattern bring wetter weather to Alaska, Scotland and Scandinavia, as well as drier conditions to the western United States and the Mediterranean. In the positive phase, frigid winter air does not extend as far into the middle of North America as it would during the negative phase of the oscillation. This keeps much of the United States east of the Rocky Mountains warmer than normal, but leaves Greenland and Newfoundland colder than usual. Weather patterns in the negative phase are in general "opposite" to those of the positive phase, as illustrated below.
Over most of the past century, the Arctic Oscillation alternated between its positive and negative phases. Starting in the 1970s, however, the oscillation has tended to stay in the positive phase, causing lower than normal arctic air pressure and higher than normal temperatures in much of the United States and northern Eurasia.
Effects of the Positive Phase      |     Effects of the Negative Phase
of the Arctic Oscillation                    of the Arctic Oscillation
Okay, sort of like an atmospheric "fence" that, when positive, is strong enough to keep the cold air in the Arctic, but when negative, allows the cold air to push southward into the U.S. and northern Europe and Asia.  These patterns are not related to CO2 or who is in the White House.

Well, I'm all for remaining positive, but it looks as if things could be changing toward the negative around here:

WedPartly sunny, with a high near 46. South southeast wind around 6 mph.
46° | 34°
Partly Sunny
ThuA chance of rain and snow showers before 1pm, then a chance of snow showers.  Cloudy, with a high near 36.   Chance of precipitation is 40%.
39° | 19°
Chance Rain/Snow
FriScattered snow showers.  Cloudy, with a high near 24.
26° | 16°
Chance Snow

... Time to get the snowblower ready.






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There is always an easy solution to every human problem—neat, plausible, and wrong.
Henry Louis Mencken (1880–1956)
“The Divine Afflatus,” A Mencken Chrestomathy, chapter 25, p. 443 (1949)
... and one could add "not all human problems really are."
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FEDERAL RESERVE & HOUSING

SEARCH BLOG: FEDERAL RESERVE for full versions... or use the Blog Archive pulldown menu.

February 3, 2006
Go back to 1999-2000 and see what the Fed did. They are following the same pattern for 2005-06. If it ain't broke, the Fed will fix it... and good!
August 29, 2006 The Federal Reserve always acts on old information... and is the only cause of U.S. recessions.
December 5, 2006 Last spring I wrote about what I saw to be a sharp downturn in the economy in the "rustbelt" states, particularly Michigan.
March 28, 2007
The Federal Reserve sees no need to cut interest rates in the light of adverse recent economic data, Ben Bernanke said on Wednesday.
The Fed chairman said ”to date, the incoming data have supported the view that the current stance of policy is likely to foster sustainable economic growth and a gradual ebbing in core inflation”.

July 21, 2007 My guess is that if there is an interest rate change, a cut is more likely than an increase. The key variables to be watching at this point are real estate prices and the inventory of unsold homes.
August 11, 2007 I suspect that within 6 months the Federal Reserve will be forced to lower interest rates before housing becomes a black hole.
September 11, 2007 It only means that the overall process has flaws guaranteeing it will be slow in responding to changes in the economy... and tend to over-react as a result.
September 18, 2007 I think a 4% rate is really what is needed to turn the economy back on the right course. The rate may not get there, but more cuts will be needed with employment rates down and foreclosure rates up.
October 25, 2007 How long will it be before I will be able to write: "The Federal Reserve lowered its lending rate to 4% in response to the collapse of the U.S. housing market and massive numbers of foreclosures that threaten the banking and mortgage sectors."
November 28, 2007 FED VICE CHAIRMAN DONALD KOHN
"Should the elevated turbulence persist, it would increase the possibility of further tightening in financial conditions for households and businesses," he said.

"Uncertainties about the economic outlook are unusually high right now," he said. "These uncertainties require flexible and pragmatic policymaking -- nimble is the adjective I used a few weeks ago."
http://www.reuters.com/

December 11, 2007 Somehow the Fed misses the obvious.
fed_rate_moves_425_small.gif
[Image from: CNNMoney.com]
December 13, 2007 [from The Christian Science Monitor]
"The odds of a recession are now above 50 percent," says Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Economy.com. "We are right on the edge of a recession in part because of the Fed's reluctance to reduce interest rates more aggressively." [see my comments of September 11]
January 7, 2008 The real problem now is that consumers can't rescue the economy and manufacturing, which is already weakening, will continue to weaken. We've gutted the forces that could avoid a downturn. The question is not whether there will be a recession, but can it be dampened sufficiently so that it is very short.
January 11, 2008 This is death by a thousand cuts.
January 13, 2008 [N.Y. Times]
“The question is not whether we will have a recession, but how deep and prolonged it will be,” said David Rosenberg, the chief North American economist at Merrill Lynch. “Even if the Fed’s moves are going to work, it will not show up until the later part of 2008 or 2009.
January 17, 2008 A few days ago, Anna Schwartz, nonagenarian economist, implicated the Federal Reserve as the cause of the present lending crisis [from the Telegraph - UK]:
The high priestess of US monetarism - a revered figure at the Fed - says the central bank is itself the chief cause of the credit bubble, and now seems stunned as the consequences of its own actions engulf the financial system. "The new group at the Fed is not equal to the problem that faces it," she says, daring to utter a thought that fellow critics mostly utter sotto voce.
January 22, 2008 The cut has become infected and a limb is in danger. Ben Bernanke is panicking and the Fed has its emergency triage team cutting rates... this time by 3/4%. ...

What should the Federal Reserve do now? Step back... and don't be so anxious to raise rates at the first sign of economic improvement.
Individuals and businesses need stability in their financial cost structures so that they can plan effectively and keep their ships afloat. Wildly fluctuating rates... regardless of what the absolute levels are... create problems. Either too much spending or too much fear. It's just not that difficult to comprehend. Why has it been so difficult for the Fed?

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Michigan, United States
Air Force (SAC) captain 1968-72. Retired after 35 years of business and logistical planning, including running a small business. Two sons with advanced degrees; one with a business and pre-law degree. Beautiful wife who has put up with me for 4 decades. Education: B.A. (Sociology major; minors in philosopy, English literature, and German) M.S. Operations Management (like a mixture of an MBA with logistical planning)