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Ten-year study illustrates weather pattern changes

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The study proved that Florida’s normal daily winter temperatures and monthly averages both went down...

By PENNY FLETCHER

RUSKIN — Results of a ten-year weather pattern study show that Florida’s average temperatures are going down while the averages of all the other continental states are rising.

“All the countries in the world do a study every 20 years, but some more affluent countries, like the United States and Great Britain, perform it every 10 years,” said Logan Johnson, senior forecaster at the National Weather Service in Ruskin. “The World Meteorological Organization says normal temperatures and rainfall amounts in all locations must be reported every 20 years.”

The 10-year U.S. program is mandated by Congress and averaged all temperatures from 1980 to 2010. The recent U.S. study took about a year to complete and seven months to “crunch all the data,” Johnson said.

The study proved that Florida’s normal daily winter temperatures and monthly averages both went down, he said.

Florida may have been in a very warm cycle since 1960, but it is impossible to tell exactly what will happen now. Still, it is generally warmer than anywhere else in the country, he added.

“December 2010 and early 2011 had some of the coldest daytime temperatures ever recorded,” he said. “This is a climate change, different from the global warming they talk about on television. We’re talking about cycles.”

If meteorologists had 500 years of data they could predict how often this type of cycle is felt on the planet but they don’t, he explained.

While Europe has kept track of its weather for about 400 years, the U.S. only has about 120 years of data and Florida was settled rather late in our country’s history compared to other states.

“The first recorded U.S. data was taken when Jefferson had the Army take readings in Washington D.C.,” Johnson added. “That was in the 1840s. We’re pushing our forecasts farther and farther out with seasonal projections, but how do we connect the dots? We know what’s happening elsewhere affects us. We know if a big ridge of high pressure is over the Caspian Sea (in Russia) usually two weeks later we get an arctic blast but we don’t have data far enough back to see how the patterns interact.”

Several government agencies are now devoted to researching this and other weather-related issues and are finding many global connections but the Ruskin station is there mainly to predict and warn, more than conduct research.

Johnson says he likes being on the battle lines of meteorology.

He has been at the Ruskin station for two years, having come from Indianapolis and before that, Kansas. In the Midwest, meteorologists are challenged by storms in the plains that have super cells — only one big cell — but in Florida there are large lines of weather coming through with many small cells and tornados inside.

“The job is much more challenging here,” he said.

The weather station has polar orbiting satellites and rapid screen images that change every 10 minutes to get detail on hurricanes and see how quickly a storm may be developing.

Although it is some of the most advanced weather reading equipment in the world, it is about to get another upgrade. In February 2012 the large Doppler tower installed 17 years ago will be upgraded to a new system that can differentiate between rain and hail.

“This change was begun in 2007,” Johnson explained. “The system we have now can detect precipitation, but can’t tell the difference between rain and hail. Now we will be able to see more of what’s coming.”

In hurricane season, for instance, they know that if there is a large ridge of high pressure over the Bermuda area of the Atlantic Ocean, it steers hurricanes away from the U.S.

Data from the 1850s has tracked where the storms hit, and shows that if one hits, more that year are likely due to the climate conditions. Then, when conditions change again, no more may come for several years, or much longer periods of time, until the right conditions appear again.

“For example in 2004 the high pressure steered them right into Florida. And there were lots of hurricanes and tropical storms in the 1920s and then hardly anything for a long time until we were heavily impacted again in the early 2000s. These are repeated cycles.”

The National Meteorological Organization in Washington D.C. recently sent a representative to Ruskin to help set up three new emergency response positions who will be hired not to predict weather, but to meet with emergency responders including FEMA and the Red Cross, and also with private groups like the Tampa Bay Pilot’s Association. They want to learn all aspects of emergency response so they can work better with the communities directly impacted when emergency conditions arise.

The weather service in D.C. will help the Ruskin staff in filling these positions, Johnson said.

To find out more about the weather station or for forecasts, visit www.weather.gov/tampabay. Local daily, weekly and marine forecasts are available by recorded message at 813-645-2506.

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