Snow Days in Northeast Cities at Record-Low Numbers
It is no surprise if the past few months have not been the winter wonderland you were hoping for.
Recently, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Climate Report found that February 2020 was the second warmest February ever. It also said that it was the third warmest month ever in its variation from average monthly temperatures — only February and March 2016 were farther off average temperatures, but those were spurred a powerful El Niño system, as Scientific American reported.
The thought of quiet streets blanketed in snow and parks filled with children sledding seems like a distant memory for cities in the northeast U.S., which are on track for the least amount of snow days ever, as CNN reported.
With spring set to begin on Thursday night, it seems certain that winter 2020 will set the record for the least amount of snow days in a number of cities, including Baltimore; Providence, Rhode Island; Philadelphia; New York City, Newark, New Jersey; Bridgeport, Connecticut; and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania — none of which reported measurable snowfall (0.01 inches) for the entire month of February, according to CNN.
As AccuWeather noted, above average February temperatures set over 1,000 records in the U.S. alone.
"The 10 warmest Februarys on record globally have all occurred since 1998," AccuWeather senior meteorologist Brett Anderson said.
The average temperature in the Northern Hemisphere was 4 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th century average, according to CBS News. That number would have been higher if it were not for a record cold snap in Alaska and Western Canada.
"February 2020 was one for the record books across some areas of the East in terms of a lack of snow," tweeted the National Weather Service Eastern Region. "Baltimore (BWI) MD and Islip NY recorded no snow in Feb for the 1st time. JFK and LGA airports in NYC and Atlantic City NJ needed the leap day to see their only Feb snow flurries."
The almost-snowless season has meant that Philadelphia has seen only 0.3 inches of snow during the fall of 2019 and the winter of 2020. Boston, which is often pummeled by Nor'easters and snowstorms, has seen only 11 total days with snow, which ties the 1979-1980 season for the least amount of snow, according to CNN. Furthermore, since Jan. 1, Boston has had only 3.6 inches of snow — the least amount ever recorded for the period between January and March.
As CNN noted, Boston's snowy season averages over 3 feet of snow, at 37.7 inches. This year, thanks to some heavy snow at the end of November and the beginning of December, the season total stands at 15.1 inches of snow. That low number almost guarantees that the 2019-2020 snow season will be far off historical norms.
It's not just the northeast U.S. dealing with paltry snowfall. The world's oldest ski race in Finland had to be canceled in February due to a lack of snow, while an area of southwest Russia near the border of Azerbaijan saw temperatures climb above 82 degrees Fahrenheit on Feb. 28, as Scientific American reported. Furthermore, Moscow's average temperatures were 11.3 degrees Fahrenheit above the 1981-2010 average.
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By Aaron W Hunter
A chance discovery of a beautifully preserved fossil in the desert landscape of Morocco has solved one of the great mysteries of biology and paleontology: how starfish evolved their arms.
The Pompeii of palaeontology. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<h2></h2><p>Although starfish might appear very robust animals, they are typically made up of lots of hard parts attached by ligaments and soft tissue which, upon death, quickly degrade. This means we rely on places like the Fezouata formations to provide snapshots of their evolution.</p><p>The starfish fossil record is patchy, especially at the critical time when many of these animal groups first appeared. Sorting out how each of the various types of ancient starfish relate to each other is like putting a puzzle together when many of the parts are missing.</p><h2>The Oldest Starfish</h2><p><em><a href="https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/216101v1.full.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Cantabrigiaster</a></em> is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. It was discovered in 2003, but it has taken over 17 years to work out its true significance.</p><p>What makes <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> unique is that it lacks almost all the characteristics we find in brittle stars and starfish.</p><p>Starfish and brittle stars belong to the family Asterozoa. Their ancestors, the Somasteroids were especially fragile - before <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> we only had a handful of specimens. The celebrated Moroccan paleontologist Mohamed <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.palaeo.2016.06.041" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Ben Moula</a> and his local team was instrumental in discovering <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0031018216302334?via%3Dihub" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">these amazing fossils</a> near the town of Zagora, in Morocco.</p><h2>The Breakthrough</h2><p>Our breakthrough moment came when I compared the arms of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> with those of modern sea lilles, filter feeders with long feathery arms that tend to be attached to the sea floor by a stem or stalk.</p><p>The striking similarity between these modern filter feeders and the ancient starfish led our team from the University of Cambridge and Harvard University to create a new analysis. We applied a biological model to the features of all the current early Asterozoa fossils in existence, along with a sample of their closest relatives.</p>
Cantabrigiaster is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<p>Our results demonstrate <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> is the most primitive of all the Asterozoa, and most likely evolved from ancient animals called crinoids that lived 250 million years before dinosaurs. The five arms of starfish are a relic left over from these ancestors. In the case of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em>, and its starfish descendants, it evolved by flipping upside-down so its arms are face down on the sediment to feed.</p><p>Although we sampled a relatively small numbers of those ancestors, one of the unexpected outcomes was it provided an idea of how they could be related to each other. Paleontologists studying echinoderms are often lost in detail as all the different groups are so radically different from each other, so it is hard to tell which evolved first.</p>
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