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Posted at 10:00 AM ET, 02/ 9/2011

Washington D.C. weather in the year 2076, part II

By Don Lipman

[ Part I ]

This is a continuation of my futuristic journey into how the year 2076 unfolded, both weatherwise and otherwise--in retrospect from the year 2077. As I mentioned in my first piece, take this little futuristic journey with a grain of salt. The various projections and assumptions are drawn from a variety of sources and some are quite controversial, to say the least.



On Independence Day, 2076, the Mall hosted its annual fireworks display--this year with a new twist, however, as environmentalists have finally succeeded in getting the old-style rocket compounds eliminated. They've insisted that the aluminum, strontium, antimony, barium nitrate, and sulphide and copper compounds have caused past health problems in those who've been exposed. The new compounds are composed of sawdust and rice chaff. (1) Really!

In addition, past fireworks displays have been implicated in massive bird kills, when night-blind birds are uprooted from their roosts and crash into themselves and everything else in sight. Such was the case in January 2010 when a New Year's Eve fireworks display in Arkansas resulted in the death of 5000 blackbirds.


Traditionally the period from about late July to late August, the "dog days" are now plaguing the country during much of the summer. This summer was no exception, so that by late August the Washington area had accumulated almost 65 ninety-degree days, with plenty of summer to go. Seventy ninety-degree days would represent almost double the number experienced at the turn of the century, as pointed out in Part I.

Much of this was predicted by Heidi Cullen, a former senior research scientist with Climate Central, a nonprofit research organization, who published The Weather of the Future, back in 2010.

In her book, Ms. Cullen suggested that by the end of the century, D.C., as well as many other parts of the country, could experience a day every other year "so hot that it is currently experienced only once every 20 years." Her prediction resembled that of NASA research climatologist James Hansen who, in 1988, said that instead of averaging one 100 degree day per year, D.C. might eventually average twelve such days per year. By the end of August, D.C. had seen nine 100 degree days and NYC three. The resulting strain on the electrical grid has been tremendous.


With the hurricane season in full swing, the month began with a couple of near misses for East Coast cities such as Norfolk, Ocean City, and NYC. Thereafter, nerves remained on edge up and down the coastline due to the extreme vulnerability of certain areas to flooding caused by our higher sea levels.

Reagan National Airport, situated on the Potomac, a tidal estuary from D.C. southward, is certainly not immune to such flooding. But perhaps even worse is the situation in New York City. In 2009, Its Climate Change Panel expressed great concern about the city's hurricane vulnerability given that most of the critical infrastructure was less than 10 feet (now 9 feet) above sea level. In particular, the panel mentioned La Guardia Airport and the city entrance to the Holland Tunnel, which were only 9.5 feet (now 8.5 feet) and 7.8 feet (now 6.8 feet) above sea level, respectively. (See the Part I video, which, in 2005, depicted NYC with an 18-inch rise in sea levels.)


By the calendar, fall arrived on schedule this year, but weatherwise it remained quite warm throughout the month. Vacationers returning from September cruises in the Bahamas, Bermuda, and elsewhere have become increasingly alarmed at the continued bleaching and loss of the coral reefs, due primarily to the warmer and more acidified oceans.*

The loss of the coral reefs represents far more, of course, than the loss of their sheer beauty. The reefs also provide natural protection to many island groups and a habitat for many fish species that dwell exclusively within the reefs. But perhaps most important of all, they've been regarded as the "medicine cabinets of the 21st century," providing a source of life-saving pharmaceutical derivatives to treat cancer, bone disease, and other ailments.


With the growing season over, experts remain divided as to whether the net effect on crop yields of a warmer atmosphere has had a negative or a positive effect. A 2008 study suggested very harmful effects in the U.S. on corn, soybean, and cotton crops when temperatures regularly and substantially exceed 86-90 degrees F. This appears to have held true. The same study, however, admitted that there could be agricultural gains elsewhere in the world due to the longer growing season and increase in arable land in Canada, Siberia, and elsewhere.

In 2010, Professor Julian Cribb, an Australian science journalist, warned in his book, The Coming Famine: The Global Food Crisis and What We Can Do to Avoid It, that there would be a catastrophic shortfall of food output unless major countermeasures were undertaken. With almost 9.5 billion people by mid-century, he said, food production would need to double from what it was in 2010 due to higher meat consumption by a growing middle class and a population one third greater. Fortunately (fingers crossed), neither his predictions nor those of many before him, such as Malthus, have materialized, since technology has always seemed to have come to the rescue.


As we approached Thanksgiving, turkeys were still in decent supply for the holiday feast, but increasingly, poultry farmers were dealing with increased air conditioning and/or ventilation costs to keep their birds healthy and to maintain breeding rates in the face of higher temperatures. On the other hand, in some parts of the country, production costs had actually declined where turkeys and other poultry could be acclimatized outside.

What would "turkey day" be like, of course, without cranberries? Although a plentiful supply was available this year, much of the crop was harvested in Quebec, replacing Massachusetts and Wisconsin as the top cranberry producers in the world. The reason: cranberries are moving northward, so to speak, since they don't tolerate storminess, drought, floods, or warmth very well, all of which have been more common in the northeast and north-central cranberry bogs during recent years.


The last month of our tercentennial year rolled in quietly, with little sign of any real winter weather. In the D.C. area, offices were lightly manned during the pre-holiday period and also because so many are now telecommuting. The "outer" beltway, finally completed in 2060, now seems to have been largely unnecessary, at least for commuters, because so many can now fly, or rather, float to work over sub-standard roadways in anti-gravity vehicles. Others, of course, still require a smooth macadam surface.

By December 10th, Congress had agreed to adjourn for the holidays and return on February 1st, as usual, children still dreamed of a white Christmas...............and so it went during the year 2076.


(1), 5 November 2009

*So much carbon dioxide has been absorbed into the oceans that they have now become a moderate solution of carbonic acid. In 2006, Richard Feely of NOAA's Seattle Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory noted that the average pH level of the oceans had dropped from 8.2 in 1800 to 8.1. He predicted a further drop to 7.9 during this century, which has now come true, meaning that the oceans are now 150% more acidic than they were in 1800.

By Don Lipman  | February 9, 2011; 10:00 AM ET
Categories:  Climate Change, Latest, Lipman  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Forecast: Two cold days, then a nice warm-up
Next: Remembering 2010's Snoverkill


Posted by: DankWin | February 9, 2011 10:43 AM | Report abuse

omg, that pic is so funny. just last night i was noticing how each person in our house has his/her own laptop - and probably each with 1000x more memory than those guys in 1954 could even imagine.

i was recently watching a show about the moon landings. i recall them describing the apollo on-board computer as having as much memory as a 3.5" floppy disc (~1.4Mb for the kids out there who know not of floppy discs...).

amusing article that i'm sure will be picked apart by "skeptics". i think the specific localized effects of AGW are much more difficult to project than the basic idea of rising temperature. i gather you're assuming 12" sea level rise? how many degree C rise are you assuming by 2076?

Posted by: walter-in-fallschurch | February 9, 2011 11:26 AM | Report abuse


Our weather historian Don Lipman actually prepared this one. He can respond to your question when he's online. I thought this was an amusing, interesting read, too...

Posted by: Jason-CapitalWeatherGang | February 9, 2011 11:40 AM | Report abuse

oops... sorry don... it was global warming-related, so i just assumed it was andrew. my bad.

after you answer my question here, do you have any thoughts on the question i'm asking on the previous thread? - about the "return period" for a storm like the '93 superstorm?

Posted by: walter-in-fallschurch | February 9, 2011 11:49 AM | Report abuse

Very powerful stuff. Great writing, Don Lipman.

Posted by: MILWI | February 9, 2011 11:59 AM | Report abuse

Nowadays the ranges of the hackberry and river birch run as far north as the Chippewa Valley in western Wisconsin.

If the bald cypress, sweet gum and swamp chestnut oak extend their ranges north to the Chippewa Valley, it will be a bad day for global warming skeptics.

Posted by: Bombo47jea | February 9, 2011 12:15 PM | Report abuse

walter-in-fallschurch: Last fall, MIT meteorologist Kerry Emanuel told Yale Environment 360 that he could see a 2 degree C sea level temp rise (in the tropics) during this century.

This is a significant rise which, theoretically, could have a major impact on hurricane frequency and intensity (mostly intensity, according to some). But, as he pointed out, if hurricane frequency DID increase, the feedback to the oceans could limit the increase since such storms churn up the cooler waters from below.

Posted by: Don-Capital Weather Gang | February 9, 2011 12:22 PM | Report abuse

walter-in-fallschurch: In a hurry now, but didn't see that thread. As far as the "return period" of a storm like the Superstorm of '93, Wes might have some thoughts on that, but for my money, I think that was largely a random event.

In my extensive readings of winters in America going back to colonial days, many, many storms seemed to equal and surpass anything we've seen during our lifetimes, including the one you refer to, and AGW was not an issue then, although, ironically, by the middle 1800's at the end of the "Little Ice Age," the milder winters were noticed and people blamed it then on the clearing of the forests.

Posted by: Don-Capital Weather Gang | February 9, 2011 12:39 PM | Report abuse

thanks much don.

not sure i understand the expression "2 degree C sea level temp rise". do you mean to say the sea level rise will be due to a 2 degree C temp rise? since you say "at the tropics", can i gather that most of this rise is due to the oceans expanding, rather than land ice melting?

re '93 superstorm:
i'd like to hear from wes and steve too.

anyway, what you've said supports my thought that 350 yrs is too long of a return period for that storm - and i assume those return periods are not factoring in global warming.

otoh, jason said (on another thread) he thought 350 yrs "may be legit". hhhmmmm....

Posted by: walter-in-fallschurch | February 9, 2011 1:08 PM | Report abuse

Walter, A return period of 350 years does not mean that you necessarily would have to wait 350 years for another storm of that magnitude as there have been 100 year floods in places that occurred again in less than 10 years. What it does mean is that having an event of a similar magnitude is an extremely rare event and doesn't occur often but the probability of such an event next year will be the same as the probability the year after that and the year after that with no real change. Events like 1993 and 1996 and even last year are largely driven by the random alignment between waves in the jet streams while also having cold air available. A big snow event is probably more likely in an el nino year than a la nina but 1996 proves that big events can happen regardless of the enso state. You just have to be real lucky or real unlucky depending on your view of snowfall.

Posted by: wjunker | February 9, 2011 1:52 PM | Report abuse

wes, thanks.

i understand that a 350 year return period doesn't mean that we'll get that storm again in 2343. just like i understand that you can get (2) 100-yr floods in 10 years or even 1 year - just like you could get 2 or 3 or 20 "heads" coin flips in a row. but isn't a "2 flip return period" the same as saying you can expect to get heads once every 2 flips, on average? and isn't that the same as saying you have a 1/2 chance of getting heads on any given toss?

i don't want to get bogged down in the semantics of "350 year return period" as much as i'm wondering if that march '93 superstorm was really that special. i understand it was "extremely rare" and all that, but was it a once-in-5-lifetimes, on average, event?

Posted by: walter-in-fallschurch | February 9, 2011 2:51 PM | Report abuse


It's been 18 years since the March 1993 "superstorm", so there is a 18/350 = 5% chance an event like that could occur again THIS year.

As has been mentioned, the "superstorm" was unique in many ways - storm size, scope of area impacted, intensity, total precip, embedded mesoscale circulations, severe storms, etc.

Most, amazing was that it accompanied a rapid and complete reversal in phase of the largest scales (~ 5500 mile wave length) of the atmospheric circulation over the Northern Hemisphere.

During the few days leading up to the storm the large-scale ridge (high pressure) over central North America transitioned to a large scale and intensifying trough (low pressure) - and the reverse on the opposite side of the hemisphere .

To the best of my knowledge the near reversal in phase of the wave pattern over the Northern Hemisphere in such a short period of time is singularly unique in the weather records. That doesn't mean it hasn't happened or will not happen again. I'm not an authority, but it's hard to explain, dynamically speaking, how it could happen (so rapidly) in the first place.

Posted by: SteveT-CapitalWeatherGang | February 9, 2011 3:20 PM | Report abuse

steve, you said,
"It's been 18 years since the March 1993 "superstorm", so there is a 18/350 = 5% chance an event like that could occur again THIS year."

huh?!?! assuming it really has a 350 yr return period, isn't that a 1/350 chance in a given year? don't you mean to say there's a 5% chance that we would have had a re-occurrence over the past 18 years? the odds of it occurring don't increase each year it doesn't occur. like the odds of getting head each time you flip a coin doesn't change depending on the previous flips.

sorry if i'm being thick here.

Posted by: walter-in-fallschurch | February 9, 2011 3:39 PM | Report abuse

Walter, you are right. I let my key banging run ahead of my thinking! Thanks .

Posted by: SteveT-CapitalWeatherGang | February 9, 2011 3:54 PM | Report abuse

re fireworks:

Sawdust and rice chaff are particulates. The EPA regulates exposure now, so I have a hard time seeing any environmentalist advocating their use.

Posted by: kperl | February 9, 2011 4:13 PM | Report abuse

whew... i thought i had forgotten years of math or something...

so, was the "superstorm" really a once in 350 yr, on average, occurrence? i guess i don't mean a storm that exactly replicates the details (embedded mesoscale circulations, near phase reversal etc...) of that storm, but i'm just talking about a storm that "big".

Posted by: walter-in-fallschurch | February 9, 2011 4:21 PM | Report abuse

walter-in-fallschurch: Should have said "2 degree C. sea SURFACE temp rise.

Posted by: Weatherguy | February 9, 2011 4:48 PM | Report abuse

Walter, I have no idea what the real return period is and doubt if anyone else really knows (could know) - 350 years sounds to me like an arbitrary guess. But, if as unique as I believe, a recurrence of something similar is not likely anytime soon.

I wish I had saved the diagrams, etc that I cranked out when studying the storm in '93 at NCEP to show what I meant here in the brief explanation. I'm not aware of anyone else who has/is/or will be looking into similar occurrences with the appropriate diagnostic tools. I don't know how much you (or anyone else reading this) are into this kind of thing, but if interested in the (geek level) diagnostic tools and procedures, let me know at

Posted by: SteveT-CapitalWeatherGang | February 9, 2011 4:51 PM | Report abuse

walter-in-fallschurch: That was me, Walter (re the 2 degree C rise).

Don-Capital Weather Gang

Posted by: Weatherguy | February 9, 2011 4:53 PM | Report abuse

here's where the 350 figure came from:

it's derived with something called a "gumbel distribution" (whatever the heck that is!). seems pretty arbitrary to me, as it seems like there must be some variables ( ) one could adjust to get practically any "return period" one wanted.

note they claim the jan'96 storm has about a 150 yr return period, which also seems way too high to me... it seems like a bit of bias (as in i lived through a really fantastic storm) creeping in to those numbers, imao.

Posted by: walter-in-fallschurch | February 9, 2011 5:07 PM | Report abuse

thanks don. i figured "weatherguy" was you. ;-)

Posted by: walter-in-fallschurch | February 9, 2011 5:15 PM | Report abuse

You do not have to know what a gumbel distribution is to know that a unique, singular event - independent of any other storm as I argue is the case for at least the march '93 case - cannot define or be included in a distribution of any kind! The procedure referenced erroneously assumes the superstorm is not independen of the others in the top 5.

Posted by: SteveT-CapitalWeatherGang | February 9, 2011 5:39 PM | Report abuse


"...I have no idea what the real return period is and doubt if anyone else really knows (could know) - 350 years sounds to me like an arbitrary guess."

The 350 year 'return period' is hardly an arbitrary 'guess.' It's a statistical estimate based on a Gumbel Distribution / probability distribution using the observed magnitude and frequency of 70+ NESIS events. This kind of analysis is common in the study of extreme hydrology and wind events.'s been applied to to NESIS storms.

The calculated 'return period' for the MAR-93 Superstorm is 350 years...or as someone posted last night in a previous thread...there is a 1-in-350 chance (~0.29%) for a storm with that impact to occur in any given year.

Posted by: NEWxSFC | February 9, 2011 8:39 PM | Report abuse

NEWxSFC, the issue I have is that the March '93 storm appears unique - as described above - in ways not encompassed by the NESIS ranking methodology.

Using the NESIS scale to determine the return period of the super storm is like trying to calculate the return period of a flood caused by a singular event, like a dam collapse, as if the level of flooding were amongst the sample of yearly variability of natural flooding.

Posted by: SteveT-CapitalWeatherGang | February 9, 2011 10:00 PM | Report abuse

Point taken Steve.

I'd argue the '93 storm when viewed as a unique... singular anomaly is essentially one and the same as associating an extremely low probability of another such severe winter storm happening in any given year, i.e., long return-period.

The Gumbel analysis is just one method of quantifying its uniqueness.

Posted by: NEWxSFC | February 9, 2011 10:43 PM | Report abuse

Bombo47jea, I guess the trees are going to pickup their skirts and run north, lol.

Posted by: TheAnalyst | February 10, 2011 12:18 AM | Report abuse

Speaking of Professor Kerry Emanuel, he said during an interview with NPR, "... It's really only in the last 30 years that the CO2 signal has emerged from the natural variability of the background."

30 years ago. Have you ever Googled "Great Pacific Climate Shift" of 1976-1977? The climate shift of 30 years ago.

And here is a new study that Professor Emanuel might find interesting. No tipping point for Arctic Ocean ice, study says. I have no doubt that all of the catastrophic man made global warming alarmists will be relieved to know that their fears and warning cries about the Arctic reaching a tipping point were misplaced. ;)

Mr. Q.

Posted by: Mr_Q | February 10, 2011 12:58 AM | Report abuse

i know you know a whole lot more about this stuff than i do, but your reverence for the superstorm is puzzling, imho. maybe it's a case of "too much knowledge". apparently you've studied this storm extensively, as probably every weather geek (meant in the most complimentary way) has. but, it was still just a storm. (i can imagine you raising your fist and cursing me, saying, "just a storm!?!? just a storm?!?!")

maybe it's like the bob beamon 29'+ long jump. in a sport where records are broken by an inch or two at a time, he broke it by almost 2 feet!!! it was spectacular, and no one thought that record would ever be broken, but it was still just a long jump - and the record was eventually broken.

anyway, maybe your trying classify it as different in kind, rather than degree, supports the idea of a 350 yr return period. still seems way too high to me. i mean, that's based on a sample of only 70 storms - the oldest being from 1956. and, it still seems to me like one could tweak that gumbel distribution formula to get the desired result.

Posted by: walter-in-fallschurch | February 10, 2011 9:45 AM | Report abuse

"great pacific climate shift"?

aka, "it's the PDO"?

really? that's #57...

arctic tipping point:
wow... so arctic ice isn't doomed? (it is... read on)

a quick googling of "no arctic tipping point" shows that mr.q's half-truth has been making the skeptic website rounds lately. so predictable. i would say "disappointing", but my expectaions are so low.... sigh... as is typical, skeptics only tell you the part they want you to hear, carefully concealing the context...

from the paper's press release:

The researchers underline that their results do not question the dramatic loss of Arctic sea ice or its relation to anthropogenic climate change. “If we don't slow down global warming extensively, we will lose the summer sea-ice cover in the Arctic within a few decades”, says Tietsche. “Our research shows that the speed of sea-ice loss is closely coupled to the speed of global warming. We think that it's important to know that we can still do something about slowing down or possibly even stopping the loss of the sea-ice cover.”

first of all, it's pretty hilarious how skeptics LOVE and trust THIS "no tipping point" model, but are so skeptical of models in general (since they all show inexorable AGW...)

and second, this paper is NOT saying ice isn't decreasing, or that the arctic will never be ice free, or that AGW isn't causing it. all they're saying is there doesn't appear to be a tipping point. "tipping point" is a red herring in the discussion. and, it turns out that what we can do to save arctic ice is REDUCE CO2 EMISSIONS... global warming marches on despite skeptics' obfuscations.

now, we can argue about whether an ice-free arctic is a bad or good thing. that's a whole different discussion. but please don't try to make the case or implication that arctic sea ice is not melting, or that anthropogenic emission of co2 is not the cause.

Posted by: walter-in-fallschurch | February 10, 2011 9:58 AM | Report abuse

Walter, I don't think "saving" arctic ice is the least bit possible even if there was the political will to do it. I am glad there is no such political will because ice loss is not a serious problem. More northerly populations of polar bears will do better with a shorter ice season (too long right now), although southerly ones are doing poorly with too long of a no ice season. Overall there will be polar bears and probably more of them. But "stopping" CO2 now will do nothing for ice for quite a while.

One thing about the ice and tipping points, there is often the insinuation that Arctic ice loss will add to global warming. It might a tiny bit (less ice means more global warming in summer, but some global cooling in winter). Ice loss is one of many examples of a local feedback, ice loss one year leads to more ice loss the next year. Whether there is a "tripping point" is kind of like arguing whether winter is over here as of 2am this morning when the last flurry ended, we don't really know and it doesn't really matter (except to a few oddball snow lovers).

On the return period, any time I see a probability distribution I kind of shudder. The first question I ask myself is how many dozens of similar storms over how many millennia did they measure to come up with the distribution? Oh no, they say, we just need the one storm measurement and we can do all kinds of other analysis to come up with the distribution. Uh huh I say.

Posted by: eric654 | February 10, 2011 10:29 AM | Report abuse

thanks eric.

Posted by: walter-in-fallschurch | February 10, 2011 10:40 AM | Report abuse

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