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Calendar Says February, But Record Temps Feel Like August


Climate
Calendar Says February, But Record Temps Feel Like August

By Bob Henson

The strong, recurrent Pacific jet stream that's been delivering massive amounts of rain to California has also been pushing mild Pacific air downslope off the Rockies and eastward, keeping the southern two-thirds of the U.S. absurdly warm for early February. From New Mexico to Virginia southward to the Gulf Coast, trees and shrubs are budding out en masse up to three weeks ahead of schedule (see Figure 1).

In Texas, Dallas-Fort Worth recorded its last freezing temperature on Jan. 8. With no freezes expected into at least the last week of the month, there's a chance that the Jan. 8 reading of 20 degrees F will be Dallas-Fort Worth's last freeze of the winter. That would eclipse the earliest final freeze of the season (Feb. 5, 2000), in records extending back to 1899. The February warmth comes after a three-month span that was milder in Texas than any Nov/Dec/Jan period since the 1930s Dust Bowl, according to state climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon.

The warm, moist air prevailing along the South has been teaming up with occasional jet-stream intrusions to produce severe thunderstorms, including an unusually large number of tornadoes for the year thus far. This includes six confirmed tornadoes across southeast Louisiana on Feb. 7, with an EF3 twister causing more than 30 injuries and damaging or destroying more than 600 homes in and near East New Orleans (see the detailed National Weather Service survey report on all six tornadoes).

As of Feb. 13, theNational Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Storm Prediction Center (SPC) had tallied 163 U.S. tornadoes for the year thus far, not quite a record but far above average. On Tuesday morning, NOAA/SPC placed parts of the western and central Gulf Coast under a slight risk of severe weather, with a small enhanced-risk area along the central Texas coast near a large thunderstorm complex that had already produced several tornado reports west of Houston.

Figure 1. An index of the seasonal progress of leafy plants shows conditions 20 days or more ahead of schedule over large parts of the South and Southwest as of Sunday, Feb. 12.USA National Phenology Network / @TheresaCrimmins.

Close to the Century Mark in Oklahoma

While there's been quite a few ups and downs to the national temperature picture in recent days, with frequent frontal passages, the low temperatures haven't been all that low and the highs have been unusually high, as noted by Weather Underground blogger Steve Gregory. For the month to date through Feb. 12, NOAA had compiled a preliminary total of 1,207 daily record highs and 10 daily record lows, for a staggering ratio of more than 100 to 1. It's a picture in line with recent months: November 2016 had the largest ratio of record highs to lows of any month in modern records. It's also consistent with the inexorable effect of human-produced greenhouse gases in boosting temperatures to make record warmth more widespread and extreme than record cold.

One especially strong pulse of warm air jet pushed across the Southern Rockies and into the South from Friday into Sunday. As the already-mild air descended the Rockies, it warmed further due to downslope compression, leading to some eye-popping readings. Several stations in southwest Oklahoma soared into the upper 90s on Saturday. The town of Magnum hit an astounding-for-February 99°F, which tied the state record for any winter month (Dec/Jan/Feb) that was set at Arapaho on Feb. 24, 1918.

Here's a sampling of the all-time February heat records set over the past several days. In many cases, you have to go to mid-March to find comparable warmth!

Friday 2/10:

Wichita Falls, Texas: 94°F (next-earliest reading at least this warm was 98°F on 3/1/2006; records began in 1923)

Liberal, Kansas: 90°F (next-earliest 90° was 3/11/1989; records began in 1893)

Amarillo, Texas: 89°F (next-earliest 89° was 3/10/1989; records began in 1892)

Goodland, Kansas: 87°F (next-earliest 87 was 3/10/1989; records began in 1895)

Denver, Colorado: 80°F (next-earliest reading at least this warm was 81°F on 3/16/2015; records began in 1872). A cooperative observing station at the site of Denver's former Stapleton Airport, where official readings were taken until the mid-1990s, reported 83°F.

Saturday 2/11:

Lubbock, Texas: 91°F (next-earliest reading at least this warm was 95°F on 3/11/1989; records began in 1911)

Sunday 2/12:

Norfolk, Virginia : 82°F (ties all-time monthly high set on 2/4/1890 and other dates; records began in 1874)

High temperatures across Oklahoma on Saturday, February 11, were similar to readings one might expect in early July.Oklahoma Mesonet / @okmesonet

Temperature departures from average for the period February 1-12, 2017. The warm anomalies will likely persist, as models are calling for continued milder-than-average weather over most of the nation through late February.NOAA / CPC Climate Prediction Center

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In early October, Britain's Prince William teamed up with conservationist David Attenborough to launch the Earthshot Prize, a new award for environmentalist innovation. The Earthshot brands itself the "most prestigious global environment prize in history."

The world-famous wildlife broadcaster and his royal sidekick appear to have played an active role in the prize's inception, and media coverage has focused largely on them as the faces of the campaign.

But the pair are only the frontmen of a much larger movement which has been in development for several years. In addition to a panel of experts who will decide on the winners, the prize's formation took advice from the World Wildlife Fund, Greenpeace and the Jack Ma Foundation.

With more and more global attention on the climate crisis, celebrity endorsement of environmental causes has become more common. But why do environmental causes recruit famous faces for their campaigns? And what difference can it make?

'Count Me In'

"We need celebrities to reach those people who we cannot reach ourselves," says Sarah Marchildon from the United Nations Climate Change secretariat (UNFCCC) in Bonn, Germany.

Marchildon is a proponent of the use of celebrities to raise awareness of environmental causes. In addition to promoting a selection of climate ambassadors who represent the UN on sustainability issues, Marchildon's team has produced videos with well-known narrators from the entertainment world: among them, Morgan Freeman and Mark Ruffalo.

"We choose celebrities who have a lifestyle where they are already talking about these issues," Marchildon explains.

"Sometimes they reach out to us themselves, as David Attenborough did recently. And then they can promote the videos on their own social channels which reach more people than we do — for example, if they have 20 million followers and we have 750,000."

Environmental groups focused on their own domestic markets are also taking this approach. One Germany-based organization that uses celebrities in campaigns is the German Zero NGO. Set up in 2019, it advocates for a climate-neutral Germany by 2035.

German Zero produced a video in March 2020 introducing the campaign with "66 celebrities" that supported the campaign, among them Deutschland 83 actor Jonas Nay and former professional footballer Andre Schürrle. They solicit support as well as financial contributions from viewers.

"Count me in," they say, pointing toward the camera. "You too?"

"We are incredibly grateful for the VIPs in our videos," says German Zero spokeswoman Eva-Maria McCormack.

Assessing Success Is Complex

But quantifying the effectiveness of celebrity endorsement of campaigns is not a straightforward process.

"In order to measure effectiveness, first of all you need to define what is meant by success," says Alegria Olmedo, a researcher at the Zoology Department at the University of Oxford.

Olmedo is the author of a study looking at a range of campaigns concerning pangolin consumption, fronted by local and Western celebrities, in Vietnam and China. But she says her biggest stumbling block was knowing how to measure a campaign's success.

"You need a clear theory of change," explains Olmedo. "Have the celebrities actually helped in achieving the campaign's goals? And how do you quantify these goals? Maybe it is increased donations or higher engagement with a cause."

A popular campaign in China in recent years saw famous chefs Zhao Danian and Shu Yi pledge to abstain from cooking endangered wildlife. While the pledge achieved widespread recognition, both Olmedo and Marchildon say it's difficult to know whether it made any difference to people's actions.

"In life we see a thousand messages every day, and it is very hard to pinpoint whether one campaign has actually made a difference in people's behavior," she explains.

Awareness Is Not Enough

Many campaigns that feature celebrities focus on raising awareness rather than on concrete action — which, for researcher Olmedo, raises a further problem in identifying effectiveness.

"Reach should never be a success outcome," she says. "Many campaigns say they reached a certain number of people on social media. But there has been a lot of research that shows that simply giving people information does not mean they are actually going to remember it or act upon it."

But anecdotal evidence from campaigns may suggest reach can make an active difference.

"Our VIP video is by far the most watched on our social media channels," McCormack from German Zero says. "People respond to it very directly. A lot of volunteers of all ages heard about us through that video."

However, some marketing studies have shown that celebrity endorsement of a cause or product can distract from the issue itself, as people only remember the person, not the content of what they were saying.

Choosing the Right Celebrity

Celebrity choice is also very important. Campaigns that use famous faces are often aiming to appeal to members of the public who do not necessarily follow green issues.

For certain campaigns with clear target audiences, choosing a climate scientist or well-known environmentalist rather than a celebrity could be more appealing — Attenborough is a classic example. For others, images and videos involving cute animals may be more likely to get a message heard than attaching a famous face.

"We choose celebrities who have a lifestyle where they are already talking about these issues," says Marchildon from the UN. "You need figures with credibility."

McCormack cites the example of Katharine Hayhoe, an environmental scientist who is also an evangelical Christian. In the southern United States, Hayhoe has become a celebrity in her own right, appealing to an audience that might not normally be interested in the messages of climate scientists.

But as soon as you get a celebrity involved, campaigns also put themselves at risk of the whims of that celebrity. Prince William and younger members of the royal family have come under fire in recent years for alleged hypocrisy for their backing of environmental campaigns while simultaneously using private jets to fly around the world.

But Does It Really Work?

While environmental campaigns hope that endorsement from well-known figures can boost a campaign, there is little research to back this up.

"The biggest finding [from my study] was that we were unable to produce any evidence that shows that celebrity endorsement of environmental causes makes any difference," says Olmedo.

This will come as a blow to many campaigns that have invested time and effort into relationships with celebrity ambassadors. But for many, the personal message that many celebrities offer in videos like that produced by German Zero and campaigns like the Earthshot Prize are what counts.

The research may not prove this conclusively — but if the public believes a person they respect deeply personally cares about an important issue, they are perhaps more likely to care too.

"I personally believe in the power this can have," says Marchildon. "And if having a celebrity involved can get a single 16-year-old future leader thinking about environmentalist issues — that is enough."

Reposted with permission from DW.

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