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SUMMER IN MARCH– RECORD HIGH TEMPERATURES AND $4.00 GAS: Some explanations. And Bernie Sanders has a plan.

March 26, 2012

RECORD BREAKING HEATWAVE: CLIMATE CHANGE AT WORK? 

Northampton Beach, NH on March 22, 2012
Are you kidding me?
Source: Accuweather

Thousands of Records Fall: Since March 12, more than 7,000 warm temperature records (warm daily highs and warm overnight lows) have been set or tied, including numerous all-time monthly high temperature records from the High Plains to the East Coast, and north into Canada.  Dr. Jeff Masters co-founder of Weather Underground  summarizes the situation as follows:

“The most incredible spring heat wave in U.S. and Canadian recorded history is finally drawing to a close today, after a 10-day stretch of unprecedented record-smashing intensity. Since record keeping began in the late 1800s, there have never been so many spring temperature records broken, and by such a large margin. .. The 85°F measured at Western Head, Nova Scotia  (March 22) was the third warmest temperature ever recorded in Canada in March, according to Environement Canada. … Michigan’s all-time record for March warmth was toppled on Wednesday, when the mercury hit 90°F at Lapeer. The intensity of the Summer in March, 2012 heat wave are simply off-scale… one of the most extraordinary weather events in recorded history. For additional information on the “Summer in March.” Go to Jeff Masters’ Blog. 

What explains the “Summer in March?” The NOAA satellite photo ( March 21) below shows a large area of mostly clear skies over the eastern third of the nation. The warm condition over this enormous region was caused was a very slow moving weather system known as a ‘blocking high.” See Satellite photo.  In such high pressure systems, the outflow at the surface causes (arrows) causes air to sink and sinking air becomes warmer and drier and clouds are suppressed.  The bright sunshine and southerly wind flow over much of the area also raises temperatures. The comma shaped band of clouds represents a slow moving low pressure system and front that is now bringing relief and rain to the eastern U.S.

March heat wave caused by a blocking high pressure system in East & Midwest. Yellow arrows show wind directions. Date of NOAA Source:http://www.climatecentral.org/

Role of global warming and climate change. This event (now coming to a close) is the latest in a series of weather events that are way beyond the normal variation typical of global climate.  Texas is experiencing one of its worst droughts in history with many areas running out of water. Moscow in summer 2010 experienced worst heat in recorded history — coupled with uncontrollable fires and smog. And don’t forget the high frequency of unusually severe tornadoes that destroyed dozens of communities across the south.

 For the consensus view of scientists on the relationship between climate change and weather extremes, visit this link.

Also, for the best overview of global warming see this video: James Hansen on TED.

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WHY THE NEAR $4.00 GAS?  The feverish atmosphere nonetheless,  high placed politicos (mostly Republican) are attempting to reap political points on driver outrage over rising gas prices. Without any basis in fact, they blame President Obama for the rising gas prices because he wants to make sure that offshore drilling is safer and wants to follow the law on having a valid environmental impact statement before giving a green light to the Keystone Pipeline project. He is also mindful that lots of ranchers and farmers in the Great Plains don’t want the pipeline anywhere near the Ogalala Aquifer or their ranches. So Obama’s approach is more balanced and emphasizes renewable energy and efficiency (e.g cars). But this doesn’t satisfy the “drill it all no matter what crowd.

Somethings askew with the messages: First, it turns out, there is more drilling for natural gas and oil going on now than at any time during the Bush Administration. Secondly, U.S. demand for gasoline is not going up it’s going down! Thanks mainly to the increasing efficiency of cars being driven in the U.S. according to leading experts such as Daniel Yergin. (See recent NPR piece.)

So the GOP / Big Oil charges seem unfounded. In fact recent spikes in gasoline prices don’t correlate well with the usual supply and demand factors either in the U.S. (See US Demand chart bottom of post ) or global demand for oil (See Global Demand Table bottom of post). So what’s going on? And by the way, don’t blame your local gas station franchise; they have to pay the price for gasoline driven by crude oil prices — and when the wholesale prices spike so do the retail prices — both can happen within days. This gives us the clue — what can change faster than Clark Kent in a phone booth? A stock market on steroids!

Buying and selling oil futures on the NY Mercantile Exchange. They make the commissions, who makes the profits?

The Oil Speculators: There is growing evidence that the recent peaks in gas prices have little to do with traditional supply and demand but are being fueled by speculators — the Wall Street guys. By buying up huge volumes of oil futures stocks, the big investors drive up the price of oil and then profit when their holdings are big enough — never mind the damage done to most people, and to the fragile economic recovery.

See the CBS Sixty-Minutes piece (2008) which explains just how speculative investors manipulate the oil futures commodity market.

To see a very funny piece showing how speculators can drive up prices link to this video which uses clips from the wonderful film Trading Places. 

BERNIE SANDERS TAKES ACTION TO CONTROL OIL SPECULATORS: When it comes to standing up for the majority of Americans and the environment against the energy interests and Wall Street profiteers, it’s often U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (VT, Ind) who takes the lead. See our previous post.  This time around, Sanders led a group of progressive Senators to introduce a bill that would give the Commodities Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) greater ability to prevent dangerous speculation on oils futures. The bill, which after its passage would give the CFTC 14 days to create regulations designed to halt excessive oil speculation, is co-sponsored by Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Al Franken (D-MN), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Bill Nelson (D-FL).  To continue.  See Sander’s speech on Senate floor. 


Recent gasoline trends for U.S. and East Coast locations. Source: GasBuddy. Click to enlarge.

World demand for oil over the past year -- steady or downward!
Source: International Energy Agency, http://omrpublic.iea.org/currentissues/full.pdf click to enlarge

US Gasoline demand down over past few months. Source: The Big Picture: http://www.ritholtz.com/blog/2012/02/what-does-declining-gasoline-consumption-mean/ click to enlarge

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