NOAA, Others Predict Active Atlantic Hurricane Season

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University
The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released its predictions for hurricane activity, ahead of the official start of the storm season June 1. In the Atlantic, NOAA forecasts an active season with 13 to 20 named storms. Seven to 11 of those storms, NOAA said, could actually develop into Category 1 or higher hurricanes. As many as three to six of them have the potential to become Category 3 or higher hurricanes.

NOAA’s predictions for the 2013 hurricane season are comparable to those of other independent groups such as and Penn State University’s Earth System Science Center. All cite a similar cocktail of conditions that set the stage for a more active season.

“This year, oceanic and atmospheric conditions in the Atlantic basin are expected to produce more and stronger hurricanes,” said Gerry Bell, lead seasonal forecaster with NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center. “These conditions include weaker wind shear, warmer Atlantic waters and conducive wind patterns coming from Africa.”

In 2012, when hurricanes Sandy and Isaac made landfall, there were 10 named storms. Destruction from Hurricane Sandy was so great that NOAA is now rethinking its approach to storm surge forecasts.

Meanwhile, activity in the Eastern and Central Pacific was predicted to be below normal.

Regulating Carbon Emissions

The U.S. Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has completed its study of the economic and environmental effects of a carbon tax, which would place a fee on oil, gas and coal with the goal of reducing harmful emissions. The report not only looks at the impact of a carbon tax, but also at how large the tax should be and how the revenue would be spent.

Taxing fossil fuels, the CBO found, would increase gasoline and power costs. Specifically, a carbon tax of $20 per ton would increase gasoline prices by about 20 cents a gallon and electricity bills by 16 percent, on average. The impact of these hikes—especially for low-income households—could be reduced or eliminated, (subscription) depending on how the revenue was spent.

In California, the cost of carbon is starting to rise. The state’s Air Resources Board held its third cap-and-trade auction, selling out 2013 permits at a record price. Still, some debate exists about how revenue from the country’s first emissions trading scheme would be spent.

Jackson to Lead Apple’s Environmental Efforts

Lisa Jackson, former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator, will serve as Apple’s top environmental advisor, company CEO Tim Cook announced Tuesday. Cook was going over Apple’s environmental efforts when he referenced the hire on stage at a technology conference in Ranchos Palos Verdes, California, noting Jackson will be coordinating efforts across the company.

“Apple has shown how innovation can drive real progress by removing toxics from its products, incorporating renewable energy in its data center plans, and continually raising the bar for energy efficiency in the electronics industry,” Jackson told the Washington Post in an e-mail. “I look forward to helping support and promote these efforts, as well as leading new ones in the future aimed at protecting the environment.”

Progress forward for Jackson’s potential successor is still in limbo, and Business Week notes that Gina McCarthy’s fate is not entirely in her own hands. In particular, much of the data that EPW Ranking Republican David Vitter is insisting be released before he would acquiesce to her consideration is not even in the control of the agency. Instead, it is possessed by Harvard University and protected by confidentiality agreements between the University and subjects of the study. The Competitive Enterprise Institute also is now suing to obtain McCarthy’s text messages from days on which she testified before Congress.

The Climate Post offers a rundown of the week in climate and energy news. It is produced each Thursday by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.

Global Temperature Rises in 2012, Climate Conditions Questioned

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

Just days after the announcement that last year was the warmest in history for the continental United States, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) found global temperatures are rising too.

In their separate annual analyses of surface temperatures, NASA and NOAA ranked 2012 among the 10 warmest years on record globally (NOAA showed 2012 as the 10th warmest while NASA found it to be the ninth warmest). With the exception of 1998, the nine hottest years have occurred since 2000—with 2005 and 2010 coming in the hottest. Both agencies reported temperatures across Earth rose about 1 degree Fahrenheit.

While each successive year may not be warmer than the year prior, with the current course of greenhouse gas increases, NASA scientists expect each decade to be hotter than the next. “One more year of numbers isn’t in itself significant,” said NASA GISS Climatologist Gavin Schmidt. “What matters is this decade is warmer than the last decade, and that decade was warmer than the decade before. The planet is warming. The reason it’s warming is because we are pumping increasing amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.” Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, according to NASA, were 285 parts per million in 1880; now they are more than 390 parts per million.

Studies out this week in two scholarly journals look more closely at the effects of warming. One, in the journal Nature Climate Change, reports the world may be able to avoid 20 to 65 percent of the adverse effects of climate change by the end of this century. The other finds soot just may be the second-largest contributor to climate change, and that certain emissions cuts could produce cooling effects. “Reducing emissions from diesel engines and domestic wood and coal fires is a no-brainer, as there are tandem health and climate benefits,” said University of Leeds co-author Piers Forster. “If we did everything we could to reduce these emissions, we could buy ourselves up to half a degree less warming, or a couple of decades of respite.” A scientist in the Scripps Institution of Oceanography tells Nature the study does not answer questions about the overall effect of aerosol emissions on climate.

Last week, a federal study also laid much of the blame for record U.S. temperatures on greenhouse gas emissions produced by human activity.

Renewable Energy on the Map

While representatives from France and the United Nations discussed the importance of renewable energy at the World Future Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi, delegates remained unsure whether the U.N. 2030 target of 30 percent renewables is achievable. “The shift towards low-carbon energy has started,” said Christina Figueres, the executive secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change. “But it is not happening at the scale or speed required.” Fossil fuels still account for about 80 percent of the global energy mix.

As Ontario phased out coal and the first portion of an offshore wind power line in the northeastern U.S. moved ahead, one organization launched an open-access global atlas aimed at helping countries assess their renewable-energy-generating potential to better meet the target. The map only offers solar and wind data sets currently, but other renewable information will be added in the future.

Sandy Relief Package Passes House

Weeks following Hurricane Sandy, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a roughly $50 billion package designed to provide backing for long-term structural repairs as well as emergency relief for victims in Connecticut, New Jersey and New York. It comes on top of a nearly $10 billion package to replenish flood insurance programs authorized earlier this month. The damage is extensive, with areas such as New York requesting nearly $42 billion from the federal government.

The Senate is expected to consider the aid next week.

The Climate Post offers a rundown of the week in climate and energy news. It is produced each Thursday by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.


Heat Wave: 2012 Labeled Hottest Year on Record

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

It’s official. Last year was the warmest year in history for the contiguous United States with at least 356 record high temperatures tied or broken, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Average temperatures in 2012 were above the 20th century average by more than 3 degrees Fahrenheit. Temperatures also beat a previous record set in 1998 by a full degree, even though 2012 was not an El Niño year. “Well, 1998’s heat was attributed to a strong El Niño, said Meteorologist Matt Mosteiko. “For 2012, there wasn’t one main factor that led to warm temps.”

Researchers on the NOAA study were reluctant to connect specific weather events in 2012 to climate change, but they did describe the data as “part of a longer-term trend of hotter, drier and potentially more extreme weather” to The Washington Post.

While global temperatures for 2012 are not yet available, predictions for temperature increases globally were released. But the United Kingdom’s Met Office downgraded its previous forecast for average global temperatures through 2017. The cut—20 percent—takes the average to 0.43 degrees Celsius above the 1971-2000 average, down from 0.54 degrees. The report led some media outlets to claim “global warming is at a standstill,” but others said that isn’t true. Rather, natural fluctuations in the climate system are currently having a combined cooling effect on the atmospheric temperatures, which is damping the full extent of human-caused temperature rise.

Australia has also been experiencing record-breaking heat of late, which has led to a rash of wildfires in some of the country’s most populous areas. The average temperature on Tuesday reached 104 degrees Fahrenheit—the hottest since record-keeping began in 1911. The extreme heat forced meteorologists to add a new color to their temperature maps to show temperatures near 129 degrees.

Energy in Arctic under Review

Shell Oil has experienced more than a dozen mishaps as it pulls together offshore drilling operations in the Arctic. Just last week off the coast of Alaska, Shell grounded its drilling vessel, the Kulluk. Some reports say the ship’s lifeboats may have leaked diesel fuel.

This series of accidents has led the U.S. Department of the Interior to initiate a review of Shell’s exploration efforts to help guide future permitting in the region. The process, officials have said, is estimated to take 60 days. The outcome could threaten the company’s drilling plans for 2013 during the limited window when weather conditions and regulators allow exploration. “It is troubling that there was such a series of mishaps,” said U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. “There is a troubling sense I have that so many things went wrong. It may be that Shell isn’t even ready to move forward in 2013, because of assessments taking place of the Kulluk.”

Cities Adapt as Full Extent of Sandy Relief Remains in Limbo  

As the northeastern U.S. continues to recover from Hurricane Sandy, President Barack Obama signed a bill to provide emergency federal aid to the hurricane’s victims in three of the hardest hit states—Connecticut, New Jersey and New York. The $9.7 billion, earmarked mostly to help pay for flood insurance, is only a piece of the $60 billion sought to aid in recovery following the October storm. Lawmakers are expected to weigh in on the remainder of the package Jan. 15. House Republicans asked members to submit amendments to the relief package by Friday.

Some states aren’t waiting on Washington. New York now has a new commission focused on how to cope with worsening storms. So far, the expert panel’s recommendations—still part of a draft report— include measures such as turning industrial shoreline into oyster beds, storm barriers with moveable gates and rail connections between commuter lines.

The Climate Post offers a rundown of the week in climate and energy news. It is produced each Thursday by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.