Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Welcome 2013 and Happy Perihelion

Belted Kingfisher
Happy perihelion! In case you’ve forgotten or hadn’t thought about it, today is the day when the earth is closest to the sun, proving it’s the earth’s tilt of 23.5% degrees that produces our seasons and not how far we are from the sun.

As is my own personal New Year’s Day tradition, I always try to sneak in a little birding around my family’s tradition of gathering for pork roast, sauerkraut and mashed potatoes. This year emphasized a “little” birding that was limited to my own feeders and a brief trip to nearby Pinchot Lake. The number of species I found was low and not helped at all by the overcast sky and flat light. The weather looked as though a freezing rain or a wet snow would fall any second, but it never did. Birds were mostly few and far between, at least where I was looking. Sometimes the light was so poor I couldn’t tell a blue jay from a cardinal, and I gave up trying to identify sparrows. The little devils wouldn’t let me get close enough for a decent look, and the poor light didn’t give me a chance at the distance where they were.

But no matter, January is only just getting started, and I should have a good many more chances for brighter days to find a few of the smaller birds. The only photo I took on my mini-expedition was of this distant and too-dark belted kingfisher.

Finding a kingfisher on January 1 means that lakes and ponds have open water, as does Pinchot Lake right now. And that open water is a result of December 2012 being 5 degrees warmer than the most recent 30-year normal. In my area, that translates to an average of 38.8 degrees for December, against the normal of 35.43.

I have taken to fussing a bit every time I hear a forecaster say a temperature is warmer or colder than “normal.” They rarely explain that their version of normal is only taken from the past 30 years. If you think today’s temperatures are just a bit warmer than normal, you should compare them to the past 70 or 100 years or whatever number of years records are kept in your own area.

And I have done that for December in Harrisburg so you can better understand why I’m fussing.

Here’s the breakdown:
2012 December average – 38.8 or 3.4 degrees warmer than “normal” temperature of 35.43
1971-2001 – 34.8 - .6 degree lower than current range
1961-1990 – 34.21 - .6 degree lower or 1.2 degrees lower than current range
1951-1980 – 33.21 - 1 degree lower or 2.2 degrees lower
1941-1970 – 32.73 - .5 degree low or 2.7 degrees lower

In other words the difference between December 2012 and the oldest normal range is 6.1 degrees, even more extreme than the 3.4 degrees calculated using the current “normal” range.  I know we're not supposed to think about climate change this locally and that global temperatures have to be looked at. I’m just saying.

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