Image courtesy of NOAA/UCAR.

Elwell: Weather’s ‘bad mood’ and what it costs you

Whether or not you realize it, the weather affects us in almost everything we do.

It affects us on what we wear each day and how much our utility bills will be from one month to the next. It even affects the price you pay for your groceries.

Often, when I am visiting a school or other group, I am asked, “What got you into forecasting the weather?”

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Besides the fact I was incredibly scared of thunderstorms as a young boy, I really found interesting the fact that the weather is rarely the same every day. Something is always new each day, for the most part, and whether you pay attention to the forecast or not, the weather will likely affect something you are doing in the next 24 hours.

With our changing climate, it is fascinating how we are seeing the weather change and how challenging forecasting is becoming.

Before I go any further, we all need to understand what the difference is between weather and climate. Weather is what occurs day to day — be it sunny, rainy, hot or cold. Climate is an average of sunny versus rainy or snowy days, and hot versus cold days — over a much longer time-scale, typically over many years.

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Marshal Sheppard, a very well-respected climate scientist whose career has taken him to NASA and the American Meteorological Society, says we should think about weather as what mood we are in from hour to hour or day to day, and that climate would be what your personality is. They are certainly much different things.

As you likely know, there are always record-high temperatures and record-low temperatures set each year. This has been happening since record-keeping started hundreds of years ago. But what you may not know is that the types of records are changing and are changing rapidly.

In the last 365 days in the United States, for each record low temperature set, there were two record high temperatures set. For comparison, in the 1950s, for each record low there was almost an equal number of record high temperatures. That is a pretty amazing statistic.

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The temperature readings, collected at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Climatic Data Center, undergo a quality control process at the data center that looks for such potential problems as missing data as well as inconsistent readings caused by changes in thermometers, station locations, or other factors. In a stable climate, the number of record highs versus record lows would very close to 1 to 1. But currently, we are running 2 to 1 of record highs to lows.

Just two weeks ago, a rainstorm developed over the town of Imperial, California. At the time of a rainstorm on July 24th, the temperature was 119° Fahrenheit – setting a new world record for the hottest temperature with rain falling. Granted, with the extreme heat and low humidity at the time, most of the rain evaporated with only a trace measured in area rain gauges.

Another change just in the last few years that likely affects you each week are food prices. Because of the uptick in volatile weather, prices are on the rise. You may have noticed how the price of your morning cereal and coffee has increased just over the last few years. According to US News and World Report, the price of cereal is expected to climb 4 percent by the end of this year thanks to increased ingredient costs. Even your steak and hamburgers are up 2% this year, as feed for cattle increases due to drought and heat.

The hope for us is that we can somehow begin to control the rate of change in our climate and hopefully get the rising costs under control. Unfortunately, this will take time and the will to get it done. Right now, meteorologists and climatologists are seeing the “mood” of our weather changing to be more volatile, and what we really need is a “personality adjustment” to get our weather in a better mood – and for that matter, the rest of us.

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