If the weather gurus at WeatherBank, Inc., know what they’re talking about, the summer of 2012 could end up being one of the top, three hottest summers in the U.S. during the past 60 years.
If you pay much attention to national weather news and the recent heat waves, you may wonder, as I do, how many of our seasonal residents who fled Mesquite in late May and June have considered coming home.
If you’re going to undergo temperatures above 100 or 105, you may as well do it where’s it’s expected and the humidity isn’t as soggy as elsewhere. But I haven’t heard of any early returning migratories, so hopefully the cooler climes where our neighbors have fled remain comparatively cool or at least temperate.
But Steven A. Root, Certified Consulting Meteorologist and President and CEO of WeatherBank, Inc., says, "The summer of 2012 is on pace to finish third hottest on the list of 62 summers since 1950, but is still in the running for number two or one on the list."
WeatherBank is an AccuWeather, Inc., long-range forecasting and data partner.
Root comes up with his estimates by comparing “cooling degree days” or CDDs.
A CDD, like its winter counterpart “heating degree day” (HDD), is a calculation of how much energy it would take to cool or heat a building using the outside temperature as a base.
The air-conditioning, cooling season for the U.S. and southern Canada is calculated from May 15 to Sept. 15. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), known to most of you as “the U.S. weather bureau” has calculated a 30-year, average of 53,933 CDDs with the past 10-year average at 56,134 CDDs.
Root has been examining hourly and daily temperatures in 59 centrally located U.S. cities, dating back to Jan. 1, 1950, to come up with his, longer 60-year trend.
Based on what has happened so far this year and his temperature projections for the next two months, Roots estimates summer 2012 to end up with 59,484 CDDs.
"This tells you that the summers are trending hotter in the most recent decades and years for the U.S. and southern Canada as a whole," said Root in an on-line, AccuWeather, newsletter, dated July 18.
At the moment, Root lists the hottest summer as 2011 with 60,402 CDDs. The second hottest summer, according to Root was 1951 with 60,078 CDDs. In his 60-year average, the meteorologist cites 1965 as the coolest summer with 43,337 CDDs.
He notes that these are just averages – some parts of the country will experience cooler than average summers, while some parts will experience hotter summers, a fact most of us who live in Southern Nevada have figured out quite nicely on our own.
Root's calculates his 60-year average at 51,923 CDDs.
He’s also calculated the average for the past decade and says seven out of those 10 summers have been hotter than the 60-year average. He adds that from 1960 to 1970, seven out of those 10 summers where cooler than the NOAA's recent 30-year average.
As for the 1980s and 1990s, it was about a 50-50 split for the national average to run above or below the NOAA 30-year average.
Root doesn’t expect summer 2012 to top summer 2011. He told AccuWeather, summer heat got a later start last year compared to this summer. So he expects temperatures between now and Sept. 15 to fall below the 2011 pace, which was still heating up at this time in July. That will reduce total CDDs.
"It will still be close and another big, broad surge of extreme heat can push the summer over the top in terms of CDDs," he cautioned.
Paul Pastelok is a veteran meteorologist who heads AccuWeather's long-range forecasting department.
Another return to hotter days is very possible, according to his estimates.
"We expect more surges of heat to build out of the Plains and into the East in the coming weeks,” he said. "While cooler and potentially wetter conditions are projected to expand in the West, the most extreme warmth, relative to normal, could be forced out of the Plains and take root in the Great Lakes and Northeast during September and October,”
Average temperatures and average CDDs are affected by several variables. One is soil moisture, according to AccuWeather.
“Soil moisture takes energy away from the sun, so that less of the sun's energy is available to heat the ground and the air nearest the ground,” the AccuWeather newspaper explained.
And both Root and Pastelok agreed the current dry soil conditions, as well as existing extreme warmth skew averages and could continue to skew them through the remainder of the season and into the fall.
Soil moisture probably is what makes this data more important than just something for global warming advocates and opponents to argue about. U.S. corn crops need moist soil and that’s provided by precipitation, but is lost through high temperatures and drought.
In a July 17 newsletter, AccuWeather reported that additional corn crop failures are likely, due to too little rain and too much heat through the middle of August.
Only spotty downpours in the northern and eastern parts of the Corn Belt are predicted into August and that could mean a disaster for the crops that do not depend upon irrigation, but need rain to replenish soil moisture.
AccuWeather said its agricultural meteorologists feel that drought conditions will continue in much of “Nebraska and Kansas, as well as huge sections of Illinois, Missouri, Iowa, southeastern South Dakota, southwestern Minnesota, southwestern Michigan and southeastern Wisconsin,” where crops are not irrigated.
Only a few tenths of an inch of rain are projected to fall in those areas for the next few weeks and some localities will see no rain at all.
"The region has suffered and will continue to suffer from a lack of frequent thunderstorms,” said AccuWeather’s Senior Meteorologist Jim Andrews. “Warm-season rainfall is the primary source of soil moisture for the region."
He added that the combination of too much heat and too little rain will be too much for the corn to take if conditions don’t change between now and mid August.
“Essentially, most of these areas are beyond hope for a significant crop this year,” he added.
Some corn-growing areas of the East and much of Pennsylvania, New York State and New Jersey are “in reasonably good shape,” AccuWeather says.
Those areas, and irrigated crops in the High Plains and Midwest, as well as other areas not usually thought of as being corn country, will be the only fields trying to meet the high 2012 expectations of corn production originally set by the United States Department of Agriculture.
The good news in the report, if any, was that, “The northern and eastern areas will have less intense heat, less long-lasting heat and at least occasional episodes of rainfall, which should be enough to sustain the corn crop in general.”
But where the significant tracts of corn are grown in the southwestern and central part of the Corn Belt, little rain is predicted. That will lead to crop failures and lower, overall yields
Beef cattle, hogs and chickens are fed corn and as the cost of feed escalates, the higher production costs will be passed on to us, the consumers.
If those weather gurus at WeatherBank, Inc., and AccuWeather know what they’re talking about, our grocery budgets, which already seem to be shrinking despite claims inflation is not an issue, are going to feel a big pinch later this summer.
And if tensions in the Persian Gulf continue to rise, expect higher, per-barrel oil prices to cause, not only pain at the pump, but add to the weather-caused higher prices for food because of increased transportation costs.
But the Iranians have rattled their sabers before without drawing steel, and weather and climate predictions do require a lot of tweaking and adjustments.
Root confesses that for his calculations for the past five years, he’s had to manually override some of that data generated in computer models because temperatures have hit some remarkable highs and lows during the period beyond what his models were programmed to handle. And he chose 1950 as a starting point because that was when more weather stations in the U.S. and Canada started recording hourly temperature data, necessary for accurate CDD calculations.
"Even with this starting point we had to create a few virtual weather stations for the first few years, based on knowledge of weather in the missing locations, relative to surrounding actual stations," Root admitted.
This doesn’t mean the calculations are pure guesswork, by any means. And the data is probably as good as any you can get.
But predicting weather and climate is not an exact science so the predictions of crop failures and record average temperatures are not guaranteed to come to pass.
What is just about guaranteed, however, is no matter what the weather gurus at WeatherBank, Inc., and AccuWeather, Inc., predict for the rest of the nation, it will be hot in Mesquite. Hopefully, not a sticky, soggy heat but still the kind of heat that will keep many of our migratory neighbors away until summer descends into fall.