June 2012 Climate Update

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North Carolina Climate, the monthly newsletter of the State Climate Office of NC, covers a brief overview of the 2011-2012 CCMMS student projects, information on recent meetings and conferences attended by SCO staff and students, a monthly climate summary for May with impacts across the state, an outlook for the 2012 tropical cyclone season, and a review of the Spring 2012 season.
PDF version available for printing.


CCMMS Student Projects

Every year from fall through the spring of the following year, the SCO hosts students from Centennial Campus Magnet Middle School for an internship program, in which each student is required to propose a hypothesis with respect to a weather- or climate-related phenomenon of interest, retrieve and analyze climate information needed to research their hypothesis, and create a presentation with the findings. During the 2011-2012 academic year, the SCO hosted CCMMS students Erin Cooper, Jalen Heyward, Jim Norris Jr, and Grace Ownbey. Brief descriptions of each student's project can be found below, with presentations accessible on the CCMMS Student Project webpage.

From Left: CCMMS students Jim Norris Jr, Jalen Heyward, Grace Ownbey and Erin Cooper with the Doppler on Wheels

Erin Cooper: Erin's project focused on determining whether there is a correlation between wind speed and ozone concentrations in North Carolina from a climate perspective. Erin retrieved 9 years of ozone data from each of the state's climate divisions and compared the observations to wind speeds from nearby weather stations. Results showed very little correlation between the two parameters overall, with the highest correlations observed in the Piedmont region.

Jalen Heyward: Jalen's project involved assessing the changes in the intensity of storms at several stations across North Carolina by assessing changes in precipitation, wind speed, and wind gusts over the past 10 years. Results of his research show that there is little change in these parameters across the state over the past 10 years.

Jim Norris Jr: Jim's project focused on how multiple, simultaneous volcanic eruptions would affect the world's climate over the next couple of years, with his research based on the eruption of Mount Pinatubo in 1991. Jim studied the amount of sulfur dioxide released in the original eruption, and calculated the amount of sulfur dioxide that would be released if five eruptions had occurred at one time. By graphing the amount of sulfur dioxide released with the 1991 Pinatubo eruption and the corresponding temperature change, Jim was then able to compare amount of sulfur dioxide for the five Pinatubo eruptions to determine the temperature change for the experimental volcanic eruptions.

Grace Ownbey: Grace explored the relationships between climate and energy usage in North Carolina. Using 50 years of climate data and energy usage data from the US Energy Information Administration, energy consumption by residential electricity, heating oil, and natural gas was compared to temperatures and degree days accumulations. Grace found that, after adjusting for the large increase in per capita usage through the 1980s, these climate variables accounted for approximately 50% of the annual variations in statewide energy usage.


May Conferences and Meetings

May was an exciting month of learning as staff and students attended three forestry-related meetings/conferences!

Ryan Boyles and Heather Dinon attended the 2012 Pine Integrated Network: Education, Mitigation, and Adaptation Project (PINEMAP) Annual meeting in Atlanta (http://pinemap.org). The internal project team, which consists of 40+ project investigators plus several undergraduate students, graduate students, post-docs, and staff, discussed highlights and outcomes over the past year as well as project integration ideas for the next four years. Ryan and Heather gave a presentation on as well as facilitated a group activity on the PINEMAP Decision Support System, which will be a critical aspect of project integration since all PINEMAP members will contribute to the DSS, including the four research sub-groups as well as the education and extension sub-groups. By the end of this year, a pilot of the PINEMAP DSS will be released with decision support tools to help the forestry community make better decisions while reducing their risk due to several factors, such as climate, genetics, and economics

Heather Dinon, Adrienne Wootten, and Rebecca Cumbie as well as three other climatologists from the Southeast US region attended the Association of Natural Resource Extension Professionals meeting in Hendersonville, NC (http://www.anrep.org/conferences/2012). This meeting focused on collaboration, sharing of knowledge, and generation of ideas about natural resource extension and engagement programs. The attendees brought back new insights into how natural resource extension professionals view climate-related issues as well as many ideas about reaching individuals through education and extension programs. Additionally, Heather Dinon gave a presentation about the PINEMAP project as well as aspects of the field of climate science and how it relates to natural resources. Field trips were taken to the Coweeta Long Term Ecological Research station, the Mountain Research Horticultural Center, and the NC Arboretum. At Coweeta, research involving the impacts of climate change and exurbanization on water quality and ecosytem services were discussed. In contrast, hop production and forest botanicals were shown at the Mountain Research Horticultural Center. Lastly, best management practices with regards to water quality, such as rain gardens and a green roof, were displayed at the NC Arboretum. At the end of the conference, the new ANREP Climate Science Initative (CSI) met to discuss the need for professional development with regards to Extension climate programming and resources.

Heather Dinon attended the joint American Meteorological Society meeting between the 30th Conference on Agricultural and Forest Meteorology and the 1st Conference on Atmospheric Biogeosciences in Boston (https://ams.confex.com/ams/30AgFBioGeo/webprogram/start.html). This meeting highlighted research, which is being performed internationally, on lower atmospheric processes as related to agriculture and forestry. This research includes several field studies within forests and several studies about the energy balance closure problem. Several other interesting presentations were given about urban climatology and the difference in land-atmosphere interactions between urban and rural sites.


Climate Summary for May: Warm and Wet

Temperature and Precipitation by climate division
Departures from Normal for May 2012
Based on Preliminary Data
Temperature and Precipitation Departures from Normal

May 2012 was warm and wet in North Carolina. In particular, the rainfall brought mostly benefits after a very dry winter. The wettest regions were northwestern NC and throughout the coastal plain. Only far western counties generally received less than normal rainfall in May. May 2012 ranked as the 10th wettest May on record (since 1895) based on statewide average rainfall.

Temperatures in May were also warm, averaging 3.5 degrees F above normal for the month. This places May 2012 as the 11th warmest May since 1895. Most of the contribution to the warm average monthly temperatures comes from the very warm minimums. Most locations in NC had minimum temperatures in May that were top 5 warmest for each station’s period of record.

May also brought 2 (two!!!) pre-season tropical storms to eastern North Carolina. Tropical Storm Alberto formed off the SC coast on May 19 and brought minimal impacts to the NC coast. TS Beryl formed further off the NC/SC coast, drifted over the northern Florida coast, and then along the NC and SC coastline before moving out to sea on May 30. Both of these storms formed and dissipated before the official start of hurricane season (June 1).

Precipitation for May 2012
Based on estimates from NWS Radar
Data courtesy NWS/NCEP
MPE Precipitation

Precipitation for May 2012: Percent of Normal
Based on estimates from NWS Radar
Data courtesy NWS/NCEP
MPE Precipitation Percent of Normal

Local Storm Reports for May 2012
Preliminary Count of LSRs courtesy National Weather Service
LSR Summary


Impacts to Agriculture and Water Resources

With spring planting mostly done, the rains in May were generally beneficial for agriculture. Heavy rains from some storms and TS Beryl caused some localized flooding. Perhaps more important is the increase disease risk for many plants due to the warm and wet conditions in May. In particular, fungal diseases are more likely to spread and be a problem when there is excess moisture.

Wet conditions in May helped to alleviate most short-term concerns with hydrological drought. Most reservoirs and stream levels are near- or above-normal for this time of the year, which is a welcome change from 3 months ago. While some groundwater monitoring wells still show dry conditions in the deep sub-surface, there are few water resource concerns right now.

US Drought Monitor for North Carolina
Courtesy NC DENR Division of Water Resources

Drought Monitor


2012 Hurricane Outlook

With 2 named storms already, one might think we're heading into an active hurricane season. While a busy hurricane season is a possibility, the guidance from National Weather Service suggests a better chance of normal activity with 70% chance of 9-15 named storms. But remember what this forecast means - the total number of storms in the Atlantic Ocean is more likely to be near-normal. That being said, if one or more major storms impacts North Carolina, then it certainly counts as an active year for us!


Spring 2012 Review – Warmest Spring on Record

Remember that very warm March we had a couple of months back? Combine March with above normal temperature in April and our warm May and you get the warmest spring on record for statewide average temperature (since 1895). The previous record was in 1945. Statewide average precipitation ranked as the 30th wettest on record.

It's interesting to note that while North Carolina has experienced very warm summers in recent years, our springs have been more moderate. In the past 30 years, only 5 springs have ranked in the top 20 warmest. In contrast, 9 of the past 30 summers have ranked in the top 20 warmest for NC.

Does a hot spring mean a hot summer?
Nope. Statewide spring temperatures are not a good predictor of statewide summer temperatures. In the years since 1895, there are only 39 years when spring temperatures were related to summer temperatures for above-, below-, or near-normal conditions! With a correlation of -0.002, the flip of a coin is just as likely to predict 2012 summer temperatures.

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