Missouri Air Quality Improved in 2016

Figure 1. Data source: Environmental Protection Agency.

Air quality in 13 out of 20 counties in Missouri improved in 2016 compared to 2014, while air quality in 7 declined. The data come from the Air Quality System Data Mart maintained by the EPA , which contains data on the air quality of a number of Missouri counties going back to the early 1980s. For a fuller discussion of air quality and the data maintained by the EPA, or for a map of the counties, see my previous post.

Figures 1 shows the percent of monitored days on which the Air Quality Index was in the Good Range. The top chart is for a group of counties along the Mississippi River, the middle chart is for a group of counties in the Kansas City-St. Joseph region, and the bottom chart is for a widely scattered group of counties in neither of the other two groups.

(Click on chart for larger view.)

First, compared to 2014, the percentage of good air days increased in 13 out of the 20 counties. Most of the increases were small, but the percentage of good AQI days jumped by 31% in Cass County, by 28% in the Jackson County, by 19% in Buchanan County, and by 16% in the City of St. Louis. The increase in Jackson County is especially notable, as their trend had not been toward significant improvement for several years. It is hard to achieve a very high percentage of good AQI days in large cities, and both Jackson County and the City of St. Louis have made significant progress over the years.

The percentage of good AQI days fell in 7 counties. In three of them, the decline was greater than 10%: Stoddard County (-13%), Clinton County (-12%), and Perry County (-12%).

While the overall trend in 2016 was favorable compared to 2014, local factors seem to have controlled the variation between counties. The overall trend may not be attributable to weather, as it was almost 3°F warmer in 2016 than in 2014.

Second, in almost all Missouri counties the percentage of good air quality days was high in 2016. In no county was it below 60%, and it was 80% or above in 16 out of the 20 counties. As in previous years, the outstate group led in the percentage of good AQI days, which is expected because they don’t experience the concentration of pollution sources that large cities do.

In 2016, Stoddard County and the City of St. Louis tied for the lowest percentage of good air days of any county in Missouri: 64%. For Stoddard County, this represents a significant decline: they had 91% good AQI days in 2015. For the City of St. Louis, however, it represents a continuing trend of improvement from very poor AQI. St. Louis still has plenty of air quality challenges, but we’ve come a long way, baby!

Over a longer term, the chart for the Mississippi counties is encouraging. The lines start pretty low for some of the counties, but have a clear upward trend. The chart for the Other counties is also encouraging. The lines start pretty high, most had an upward trend for a number of years, and in recent years most seem to be staying high. The chart for the Kansas City-St. Joseph counties is more variable, showing yearly ups and downs. When I looked at the 2014 data, the air quality in most of the Kansas City-St. Joseph counties had declined since 1983. In 2016, that trend has largely been reversed.


Environmental Protection Agency. Air Quality Index Report. This is a data portal operated by the EPA. Data downloaded 3/23/2017 from

Air Quality Update, 2016

I last looked at Missouri air quality data through the year 2014. This post begins a series to update the information through 2016. First will come an introduction to the Air Quality Index (AQI) criterion pollutants, then a post on AQI trends over the years, and then a post on which are the most important pollutants.

Figure 1. The St. Louis Cathedral viewed from the Park Plaza on Black Tuesday (11/28/1939). Source: St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Missouri has a notorious role in the annals of air quality. On November 28, 1939, a temperature inversion trapped pollutants in St. Louis; a thick cloud of dark smoke blanketed the city, blotting out the sun. The day came to be known as “Black Tuesday,” and it was one of the worst air quality events in recorded history. Figure 1 at right shows a view that day of the St. Louis Cathedral from (I think) the Park Plaza. More photos are available by searching on Google Images for “Black Tuesday St. Louis.”

Since then, many steps have been taken to reduce air pollution, and air quality has improved dramatically. Has the trend continued, or has the trend begun to backslide?

Since the 1980s the EPA has gathered air quality data from cities and counties in Missouri and maintained it in a national database. The following posts look at yearly data from 2003-2016. In addition, to give a longer term perspective, they include data for 1983 and 1993.

Figure 2. Missouri counties with AQI data. Data source: Environmental Protection Agency.

I have been following data for 20 counties in Missouri. Though the EPA data now includes 2 more counties, measuring began in them only recently, thus, meaningful trends over time cannot be inferred. Figure 2 is map showing the locations of the 20 counties. They can be gathered into three groups: a group along the Mississippi River, a group in the Kansas City-St. Joseph Area, and a widely dispersed group that does not fall into either of the other two groups.

The EPA constructs an air quality index based on measurements of 6 criterion pollutants: particulates smaller than 2.5 micrometers particulates between 2.5 and 10 micrometers, ozone, carbon monoxide, nitrous oxide, and sulphur dioxide.


Figure 3. Size difference between human hair and PM2.5 particle.

Particulates are tiny particles of matter that float around in the atmosphere. When we breathe, we inhale them, and if there are too many of them, they cause lung damage. There are 2 sizes: inhalable coarse particles have diameters between 2.5 and 10.0 micrometers, while fine particles have diameters less than 2.5 micrometers. How small is that? The diameter of a human hair is about 70 micrometers, so they are roughly 1/30 the width of a human hair. Figure 3 illustrates the size difference – these are really tiny particles. Recent evidence suggests that fine particles cause serious health problems; they get deep into the lungs, sometimes even getting into the bloodstream. (EPA 2015)

Ozone is a highly corrosive form of oxygen. High in the atmosphere, we need ozone in order to absorb ultra-violet radiation. But at ground levels, it is corrosive to plants and animals, and too much of it can cause lung damage.

Sulfur dioxide smells like rotten eggs. Too much of it causes lung damage, and it also reacts with water vapor in the atmosphere to form sulfuric acid, one of the main ingredients of acid rain. A series of posts I wrote on background air pollution shows that background levels of sulfur dioxide have decreased over the last 30 years. However, concentrations of it can still build up and affect public health near emission sources.

Nitrous oxide is corrosive and reacts with ozone and sunlight to form smog. It is also one of the main causes of acid rain. Background levels in the atmosphere have decreased, but it, too, can build up locally near emission sources.

Carbon dioxide, the main cause of climate change, is not included in the list of pollutants monitored by the AQI.

The biggest sources of air pollution are power plants, industrial facilities, and cars. These tend to concentrate in urban areas, but air quality can be a concern anywhere; some of Missouri’s air quality monitoring stations are located near rural lead smelters, for instance. Indeed, in my countdown of the largest GHG emitting facilities in Missouri (here), I discovered that 7 out of 10 were located in rural areas. In addition, weather plays an important role in air quality. On some days, weather patterns allow pollution to disperse, but on others they trap it, causing air quality to worsen. Hot, sunny summer days are of particular concern, although unhealthy air quality can happen any time. Black Tuesday was in November, after all.

The EPA has established maximum levels of each pollutant, and reports the number of days on which there are violations. The EPA also combines the pollutants into an overall Air Quality Index, or AQI, in order to represent the overall healthfulness of the air. The AQI is a number, but it does not have an obvious meaning. Suppose the median AQI is 75 – what does that mean? So the EPA has created six broad AQI ranges: Good, Moderate, Unhealthy for Sensitive Individuals, Unhealthy, Very Unhealthy, and Hazardous. The EPA reports a yearly AQI number and the number of days in which the AQI falls in each range.

In the following posts, I will update Missouri’s AQI, then the specific pollutants that seem to cause repeated problems.


Environmental Protection Agency. Air Quality Index Report. This is a data portal operated by the EPA. Data downloaded on 3/23/2017 from

Environmental Protection Agency. 2015. Particulate Matter: Basic Information. Viewed online 3/23/2017 at

St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Look Back: Smoky St. Louis. This is a gallery of photos concerning the 1930s smog problem in St. Louis. Photo purchased online from

Wikipedia. 1939 St. Louis Smog. Viewed 11/6/15 at

Missouri Fish Advisory for 2017

Table 1. Source: Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, 2017.

Eating fish is thought to have healthful benefits, including cognitive benefits for the young and a reduction in the risk of cardiovascular disease in adults. However, environmental toxins limit the amount of fish you should eat. The principle of bioaccumulation, which explains why, was reviewed in the previous post.

Whether fish are safe to eat depends on the water where they were caught. The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services publishes a report identifying lakes, rivers, and streams where environmental contamination requires a fish advisory. This post looks at the report for 2017.

Table 1 lists the bodies of water for which fish advisories have been issued, the species of fish affected, the sizes of fish affected, the contaminants, and the limit that should be observed (serving advice).

Looking at the table, the toxins include chlordane, lead, mercury, and PCBs. In some cases the fish are safe to eat once weekly, in other cases only once monthly, and in some cases they should not be eaten at all. Several species from rivers near Missouri’s old lead belt tend not to be safe at all. I’ve posted on the Big River previously (here).

The advisories are separated into those that apply to all consumers, and those that apply to “sensitive populations.” Please look at who is included under “sensitive populations”: children younger than 13 and women who are either pregnant, nursing, or of childbearing age. Wow, that is a huge portion of the population! For them, there is no fish caught in any body of water in the United States that is safe to consume more than once weekly. And for them, several important species of game fish caught in Missouri waters should only be consumed once monthly.

Figure 1. Source: Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services.

Figure 1 shows a map of the affected bodies of water. Looking at the bodies of water affected, you can see that they cover a lot of territory: the entire lengths of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers in the state, the major portion of the Big River, the Blue River, Clearwater Lake (ironic, no?), and Montrose Lake.

The contaminants of concern listed by the Missouri report include chlordane, PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), lead, and methylmercury. Chlordane was an insecticide. It was widely used as a termite control in residences, and it was used widely on crops. Starting in 1988, sales of chlordane were banned in the United States. However, chlordane persists in the environment. It adheres to soil particles in the ground and very slowly dissolves into groundwater, where it migrates to rivers and lakes. Once in the water of rivers and lakes, it bioaccumulates. That is why, even though banned in 1988, it is still a contaminant of concern in Missouri fish. Elevated levels of chlordane in the blood are associated with an increased risk of cognitive decline, prostate cancer, type-2 diabetes, and obesity. According to the Missouri report, levels of chlordane are gradually decreasing, but remain a concern in some bodies of water.

PCBs are a family of chemicals that were once widely used as insulating and cooling liquids in electrical mechanisms. PCBs were banned in the United States in 1979, however they are extremely long-lived compounds, and it is estimated that 40% of all PCB ever manufactured remain in use. Toxicity varies among specific chemicals in the family. Exposure to PCBs is capable of causing a variety of health effects, including rashes, reduced immune function, poor cognitive development in children, liver damage, and increased risk of cancer. PCBs in the environment generally enter bodies of water, where they enter the bodies of aquatic species and bioaccumulate up the food chain. According to the Missouri report, levels of PCB are gradually decreasing, but remain a concern in some bodies of water.

Lead is a heavy metal that was once heavily mined in Missouri. Lead mining continues, and as recently as 2014, more lead was released into the environment in Missouri than any other toxic chemical. (See here.) Lead used to be released into the environment through the inclusion of tetraethyl lead in gasoline, and through lead paint. Both of those uses have been banned in the United States. Today, lead enters the environment through mine tailings. Thus, it is of greatest concern in locations that either have or had significant lead mining activities (portions of Southeastern Missouri, for instance). Tailings containing lead were (are) dumped on the ground. From the tailings lead washes into nearby bodies of water, where it is ingested by aquatic species and then bioaccumulates. Lead is readily absorbed by living tissue. It affects almost every organ and system in the body. At high levels it can be immediately dangerous to life and health. At lower levels, symptoms include abdominal pain, weakness in fingers, wrists, and ankles, blood pressure increases, miscarriage, delayed puberty, and cognitive impairment.

Mercury enters the environment from many sources. One important source is coal. When coal is burned, it is emitted up the flue. Though the amount in any lump of coal is tiny, so much coal is burned to produce energy that tons and tons are emitted every year. The mercury falls out of the atmosphere, where it gets washed into bodies of water. There, it is converted by microbes into methylmercury, which is then ingested into aquatic species, and it bioaccumulates. In children a high level of methylmercury has been associated with language and memory deficits, reduced IQ, and learning disabilities. In adults, it has been associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and autoimmune conditions.

It seems to me that for all of these contaminants, the situation may be slowly improving, though it is still problematic. The persistence of these contaminants in the environment, in many cases decades after their manufacture was banned, demonstrates an important environmental principle: the environmental problems you create may not go away quickly. They are likely to remain with you for a long, long time.


Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services. 2017. 2017 Missouri Fish Advisory: A Guide to Eating Missouri Fish. Downloaded 3/9/17 from

Wikipedia. Chlordane. Viewed online 3/15/2017 at

Wikipedia. Lead. Viewed online 3/15/2017 at

Wikipedia. Methylmercury. Viewed online 3/15/2017 at

Wikipedia. Polychlorinated biphenyl. Viewed online 3/15/2017 at

Environmental Toxins Limit Fish Consumption

Eating fish may be good for you, or it may poison you. (Pick one)

In the 1970s, researchers reported that native people living in Greenland (Inuits) had very low rates of heart disease compared with counterparts living in Denmark. Scientists attributed these health benefits to the consumption of fish and sea mammals containing high levels of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids. Recently, however, research has questioned the accuracy of these early studies, as more recent research shows that the rate of heart disease and heart attack among the Inuit are similar to those in non-Inuit populations. Thus, there has been some question regarding how strong the association is between reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and fish consumption. The situation reminds me of one of my favorite sayings: It ain’t what we don’t know that’s gonna hurt us, it’s what we do know that just ain’t so.

Over the years, thousands of research studies have been conducted, with the result that the consumption of fish is included in most dietary guidelines. The benefits are primarily considered to be the previously mentioned reduction in the risk of coronary heart disease in adults, but also an improvement in cognitive development in infants and young children.

The current dietary guidelines in the USA have moved away from the concept of the minimum daily requirement. Instead they describe recommended patterns of healthy eating. The recommendation for seafood has not changed, however: 8 oz. of seafood per week. (Dietary Guidelines, p. 18)

It is generally recognized, however, that some fish species contain significant levels of contaminants. These contaminants include a number of really nasty poisons, including chlordane, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), lead, and methylmercury. These compounds can be toxic even in very small amounts, and they are bioaccumlative.

Bioaccumulation is an important concept in understanding environmental toxins. The basic idea is that even tiny amounts of toxin can build up in the body. Here’s how: at any given feeding, a toxin may be eaten in such tiny amounts that there is no immediate effect on the animal that consumes it. However, it is absorbed by the body, and it is not readily eliminated by natural processes. Thus, over time, the amount in the body builds up each time the animal eats a little more.

Imagine a lake. Mercury emitted by coal-burning power plants falls into the lake, where microbes convert it to methylmercury. Algae living in the lake take in some of that methylmercury. Along comes a tiny fish fry, and it eats some of that algae. Now with each mouthful of algae, the fish fry ingests a dose of methylmercury. And it starts to build up. How many mouthfuls of algae does a fish fry eat? I don’t know, but it is quite a lot. Now, along comes a medium-sized fish, and it eats the fish fry. With one bite, it has ingested not just a tiny amount of methylmercury, but all the methylmercury that built up in the body of the fish fry during its lifetime. How many fish fry does a medium-sized fish eat? I don’t know, but it is quite a few, and the medium-sized fish ingests all of the methylmercury built up in the bodies of each fish it eats. Now, along comes a large fish, and it eats the medium-sized fish. With one bite, it has ingested not just a tiny amount of mercury, but all the methylmercury built up in the body of the medium-sized fish. How many medium-sized fish does a large fish eat? I don’t know, but it is quite a few, and the large fish ingests all of the methylmercury built up in the bodies of each fish it eats.

Now, let’s imagine that our fish are living in a Missouri lake. Along comes a fisherman, and he catches one fish per week and eats it. That will be 52 fish per year. Now, I don’t know what the actual numbers are, but let us assume that a fish fry eats 1,000 individual alga, while a medium-sized fish eats 100 fry, and a large fish eats 100 medium-sized fish. These estimates may be wildly wrong, but the point is to illustrate the principle of bioaccumulation, and they will allow us to do so.

Using the estimates above, each fish fry will ingest the methlymercury contained in 1,000 algae; each medium-sized fish will ingest the amount contained in 100,000 algae; each large fish will ingest the amount contained in 10 million algae, and in a year, our fisherman will ingest the amount contained in 520 million algae. If he continues for 10 years, he will consume the amount contained in 5.2 billion algae.

Over time, the amount of methylmercury in our fisherman’s body will build up, perhaps eventually reaching the point where it starts to poison him.

Now, my presentation is over-simplified; in real life bioaccumulation is much more complex. Further, the numbers I chose for my progression were totally arbitrary. Nonetheless, they illustrate the basic idea of bioaccumulation. And the principle applies not only to methylmercury, but also to lead, PCBs, and dioxins.

The result is that, however good for you eating fish may be in theory, there are limits due to environmental contaminants. The next post will look at what those limits are in Missouri.


Committee on a Framework for Assessing the Health, Environmental, and Social Effects of the Food System; Food and Nutrition Board; Board on Agriculture and Natural Resources; Institute of Medicine; National Research Council; Nesheim MC, Oria M, Yih PT, editors. A Framework for Assessing Effects of the Food System. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2015 Jun 17. ANNEX 1, DIETARY RECOMMENDATIONS FOR FISH CONSUMPTION. Available from:

Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services. 2017. 2017 Missouri Fish Advisory: A Guide to Eating Missouri Fish. Downloaded 3/9/17 from

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture.
2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 8th Edition. December 2015. Available at

The Challenge of Urban Sustainability

Figure 1. The triple bottom line.

Figure 1. The triple bottom line.

There is no generally accepted definition of urban sustainability. A recent report issued by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine defines it as “the process by which the measurable improvement of near- and long-term human well-being can be achieved” in three areas: environmental, economic, and social. These three areas constitute the “triple bottom line” we hear so much about these days. The report conceptualizes them as combining to represent urban sustainability as illustrated in Figure 1 at right. By mentioning “near- and long-term” welfare, the report points to a popular conceptualization of sustainability: not compromising future welfare in the pursuit of short-term goals.




Figure 2. Top National Priorities. Source: Pew Center for Research.

Figure 2. Top National Priorities. Source: Pew Center for Research.

This blog typically focuses on the environmental part of sustainability. Research consistently indicates that, while a large majority of Americans favor protecting our environment, they consistently rank its importance below other national priorities. For instance, Figure 2 shows the results of Pew Research Center polls asking Americans to rate which issues should be top policy priorities. The chart shows that out of 20, protecting the environment ranks 14th, and dealing with global warming ranks 19th. Polls in 2009 and 2013 had similar results. I feel that the capacity of the planet to support life should not be a low priority; I focus on it because it is neglected.

The specific urban processes that might underly urban sustainability are still under conceptual development. The real purpose of the report is to review that work. It looks at 4 sustainability rating systems that have been developed: the American Green City Index (EIU, 2011), the Urban Sustainability Indicators (Mega and Pedersen, 1998), The Sustainable Cities Index (Arcadis, 2015), the Sustainability Urban Development Indicators (Lynch et al., 2011). In addition, the report develops its own rating metrics by looking at 9 North American urban centers, plus the United States itself, to see what systems are being monitored, and which specific indicators are being used to monitor those systems. The 9 cities are Cedar Rapids, Chattanooga, Flint, Grand Rapids, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Vancouver.

Table 1. Environmental Indicators. Source: National Academies.

Table 1. Environmental Indicators. Source: National Academies.

Table 1 at right shows the results of the review. I have adapted the table to focus only on the environmental indicators, and to eliminate the scholarly references.

If you are interested in this conceptual work, then the report would make important reading. I suspect than many readers of this blog, however, want to know what the results are: which cities rate as sustainable, and which don’t. As I said, the metrics are still under conceptual development, and I could find only one rating system that has actually been applied to cities in the United States: the US and Canada Green City Index. They rate 27 North American cities using their system. They provide separate ratings on policies related to CO2 emissions, energy mix and consumption, land use, green buildings, green transportation, water consumption and purity, waste management, air quality, and environmental governance. They also combine it all into an overall index.

Figure 3. Source: Economist Intelligence Unit.

Figure 3. Source: Economist Intelligence Unit.

Figure 3 shows the results for the overall index. St. Louis is the only urban area in Missouri represented, and it comes in 26th out of 27; only Detroit ranks lower.

The index values have no specific meaning other than as a score on this particular index. Thus, absolute values probably have no interpretable meaning. They probably do have relative meaning, however, in comparison to each other. What disturbs me is not that St. Louis is low on the scale, anybody familiar with the city would suspect as much, but with how far behind the city is.

In considering this chart, please be aware that the index was not constructed by an academic or governmental body. It was developed by the Economist Intelligence Unit (a part of The Economist Media Group) in cooperation with Siemans AG (a German corporation). This does not mean its conclusions are invalid, but it may mean that their work hasn’t undergone the review processes that academic and governmental publications do.


Arcadis. 2015. Sustainable Cities Index 2015: Balancing the Economic, Social and Environmental Needs of the World’s Leading Cities. Available at
Economist Intelligence Unit. 2010. US and Canada Green City Index. Munich, Germany: Siemens AG. Downloaded 2/26/17 from

Lynch, A. J., S. Andreason, T. Eisenman, J. Robinson, K. Steif, and E. L. Birch. 2011. Sustainable Urban Development Indicators for the United States. Report to the Office of International and Philanthropic Innovation, Office of Policy Development and Research, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Philadelphia: Penn Institute for Urban Research. Online. Available at uploads/media/sustainable-urban-development-indicators-for-the-united-states.pdf.
Mega, V., and J. Pedersen. 1998. Urban sustainability indicators. Dublin, Ireland: European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions. Online. Available at pdf.
National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Pathways to Urban Sustainability: Challenges and Opportunities for the United States. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/23551. Downloaded 1/12/2017 from

More and More Small Missouri Earthquakes

During the last decade, a huge increase in the number of earthquakes striking the Midwest has been reported, especially in Oklahoma. Despite the presence of the New Madrid Fault, historically this part of the country has not been known to produce large numbers of earthquakes. There has also been an uptick in earthquakes in Arkansas, and I have been tracking the yearly number of earthquakes in Missouri.

The last time I looked (here), I looked at data through 2014. This post updates the data through 2016. The U.S. Geological Survey database is not categorized by state, so I have been following earthquakes of magnitude 2.0 or greater in a rectangle that approximates Missouri. The precise boundaries are given in the Sources list.

Figure 1. Data source: U.S. Geological Survey.

Figure 1. Data source: U.S. Geological Survey.

The data are in Figure 1. It shows that the number of earthquakes continued to increase through 2015. The chart forms a rather dramatic spike, with the number of earthquakes in 2015 being more than 5 times as many as the number in 2012. The number was somewhat smaller in 2016.

The vast majority of these earthquakes are small. In 2016, only 2 were larger than magnitude 3.0, and none were larger than magnitude 3.5. In 2015, 5 were larger than magnitude 3.0, and one was larger than magnitude 3.5. It occurred on April 2, 2015, and was measured at magnitude 3.6.

The felt intensity of an earthquake depends on several factors, including the type of soil, the distance from your location to the epicenter, the type of ground movement that occurred, and the depth underground at which the earthquake happened. Still, in general, earthquakes below magnitude 2.0 are not commonly felt by people. Earthquakes above magnitude 3.0 are often felt by people, but rarely cause damage. Earthquakes above magnitude 4.0 may cause minor damage. Earthquakes above magnitude 5.0 typically cause moderate damage to vulnerable buildings. It is the earthquakes of magnitude 6.0 and greater that cause severe damage. The Richter Scale is logarithmic; that means that every 1.0 increase represents a 10-fold increase in the energy released by the quake. The earthquakes that caused the tsunamis in Indonesia in 2004 and in Japan in 2011 were magnitude 9.1-9.3 and 6.6, respectively.

According to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, the famous New Madrid Earthquake was actually a series of 3-5 major quakes of magnitude 7.0 or larger, and several thousand smaller ones. Major earthquakes are also believed to have occurred in southeastern Missouri around the years 300, 900, and 1400 C.E.

Figure 2. Map showing earthquake locations, 2015-16. Source: U.S. Geological Survey.

Figure 2. Map showing earthquake locations, 2015-16. Source: U.S. Geological Survey.

Figure 2 is a map showing the location of the earthquakes counted above in 2015-2016. It is easy to see that they cluster along the New Madrid Fault in southeast Missouri. The second largest group extends across northern Arkansas.

I don’t know why Missouri is experiencing this increase in small earthquakes, or whether 2016 signals that the increase is ending, and the numbers will return to those typical of the years before 2012. The swarm of earthquakes in Oklahoma has been attributed to the deep well injection of wastewater from fracking, but there is virtually no fracking in Missouri, and Missouri has no deep well waste injection sites. There are fracking operations in Arkansas, but they run through the center of the state from Conway west to Oklahoma. They are not particularly close to the New Madrid area.


United States Geological Survey. Search Earthquake Catalog. Data and map retrieved 2/16/2017 from I searched for minimum magnitude 2.0, no maximum magnitude, starting date 1980-01-01 and ending date 2016-12-31. I searched for earthquakes in a rectangle defined by the following decimal degree coordinates: 40.964 on the north, 35.729 on the south, -95.999 on the west, and -89.099 on the east.

Wikipedia. April 2011 Fukushima Earthquake. Viewed online 2/16/2017 at

Wikipedia. Richter Magnitude Scale. Viewed online 2/16/2017 at

Missouri Department of Natural Resources. History of Earthquakes in Missouri. Viewed online 2/26/2017 at

Wikipedia. 2004 Indian Ocean Earthquake and Tsunami. Viewed online 2/16/2017 at

Above Average Precipitation in 2016

2016 was an above average year for precipitation in Missouri and across the United States.

Source: NOAA Centers for Environmental Information.

Source: NOAA Centers for Environmental Information.

In 2016, precipitation across the Continental United States averaged 31.70 inches. That is above average, but not a record. Figure 1 shows the precipitation trend over time. The green line represents measured precipitation, the blue line represents the linear trend over time, and the black line represents the average yearly precipitation over the reference period (1901-2000). The trend suggests that precipitation is increasing, and that the United States receives, on average, about 2 inches more precipitation per year than it did in 1895.

Some parts of the country receive more precipitation, others less. In addition to the trend, we want to see is how various regions of the country fared compared to usual. Figure 2 shows 2016 precipitation anomalies for climate divisions across the Continental United States. On the map, green represents above average precipitation, while yellow, red, and purple represent below average.

Figure 2. Source: NOAA Centers for Environmental Information.

Figure 2. Source: NOAA Centers for Environmental Information.

Regions of the Pacific Northwest, Texas/Louisiana, Minnesota/Wisconsin, and the Mid-Atlantic Coast received rainfall much above average. The Mid-Atlantic Coast was impacted by 7 tropical storms (!), but none of the other regions were. Louisiana was the site of massive flooding in August that was related to an extraordinary heavy rainfall event, but not a tropical storm. (See here for my post on heavy rainfall events.)

Dry areas included Oklahoma, portions of the Northeast, and a large area centered near Atlanta, GA. This last area received as much as 18 inches of precipitation less than normal, and it has entered a drought that is graded as “Extreme” by the U.S. Drought Monitor.

Meanwhile, precipitation in the Pacific Northwest has brought much of that area out of short-term drought, and a recent set of storms hold promise for the California snowpack. Mammoth Mountain (a ski resort in the Central Sierra Nevadas) is running about 4% ahead of the October-January total for last year, and there are still 2+ weeks left in January.

Parts of California, however, were so far behind that they haven’t yet resolved the long-term drought situation. This is particularly true for a region of mid-coastal California, from about Big Sur down to Santa Barbara. This area remains in an “Exceptional” drought, and as of 12/20/2016, the Gibralter Reservoir was completely empty, and the Cachuma Reservoir was down to 8% of capacity. San Diego relies on these two reservoirs for 82% of its water supply. As I write, it is raining today in Santa Barbara, and since January 1, it has rained about 2.1 inches more than average. Hopefully, even this most stubborn remnant of the drought will finally break.

Figure 3. Source: NOAA Centers for Environmental Information.

Figure 3. Source: NOAA Centers for Environmental Information.

Figure 3 shows annual precipitation in Missouri over time. Statewide, Missouri received 0.55 inches less precipitation than average, basically an average year. The trend, however, suggests that over time precipitation is increasing across the state at the rate of 0.24 inches per decade.

Looking at Figure 2 shows that precipitation varied by region of the state. The northwestern and southeastern portions of the state received above average precipitation, while the rest of the state received below average. In particular, Southwest Missouri, the area around Springfield, Branson, and Joplin, was on the edge of the dry region centered on Oklahoma, and it received 4.3 inches less than average.

For the period 1895-2016, no region of the country shows a strong trend toward decreased precipitation. The Northeast, the Ohio Valley, the Upper Midwest, and the South all show significant trends towards increased precipitation.


City of Santa Barbara. Drought Information. Viewed online 1/10/2017 at

National Drought Mitigation Center. U.S. Drought Monitor for 1/3/2017. Viewed online 1/10/2017 at

NOAA Los Angeles/Oxnard Weather Forecast Office. Climatological Report (Daily) for January 11, 2017. Viewed online 1/12/2017 at

NOAA National Centers for Environmental information, Climate at a Glance: U.S. Time Series, Average Temperature, published January 2017, retrieved on January 9, 2017 from

2016 Second Hottest Year in United States

In the United States, 2016 was the second hottest year on record, replacing 2015, which is now the third hottest.

Data source: NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information.

Data source: NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information.

Weather data for 2016 has been posted on the Climate at a Glance data portal operated by the National Centers for Environmental Information. Figure 1 shows average temperature trend for the contiguous 48 states. The purple line represents the yearly average, the blue line represents the trend over time, and the black line represents the average temperature over the entire reference period (1901-2000).

The average temperature for 2016 was 54.91°F, some 2.89°F above the mean, the second warmest year in the record. The warmest year was 2012 at 55.28°F. The third warmest was 2015 at 54.40°F. There is a lot of variability from year-to-year, but the trend is clearly upward, especially since about 1980.


Data source: NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information.

Data source: NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information.

Figure 2 shows the trend in the average daily maximum temperature (red line), the average daily minimum temperature (blue line), and the average daily average temperature (orange line). I have dropped a dashed linear trend line on each.

If you look at the trend lines carefully, you can see that, while all three are increasing, the trend for minimum daily temperature is steepest, followed by daily average temperature, with the trend for daily maximum being least steep. Though they are not shown on the chart, the equations for the trend lines confirms the visual impression: the average daily minimum temperature is increasing faster than the daily maximum temperature. This finding is consistent with projections for climate change: as the temperature warms, the atmosphere can hold more humidity. The humidity reduces the amount of cooling that occurs at night.


Data source: NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information.

Data source: NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information.

In Missouri, the average temperature was 57.4°F, the fifth highest reading in the record. The highest reading occurred in 2012. Figure 3 shows the Missouri temperature trends. The red line at the top shows the average daily maximum temperature, the orange line in the middle shows the average daily average temperature, and the blue line at the bottom shows the average daily minimum temperature. The dashed lines show the trends.

The trend lines show that the national pattern applies in Missouri: minimum daily temperature is increasing most rapidly, followed by daily average temperature, then daily maximum temperature. The change in Missouri is less than the average nationwide change, and the reason is, again, humidity. Missouri is a humid state, and it takes more energy to change the temperature here than it does in a dry state.

Because I have been following the water situation in California, I will note that the average temperature there in 2016 was 60.2°F, the third highest since record keeping began. The highest on record occurred in 2014, and the second highest in 2015. Thus, it has been a really warm 3 years in California.

To summarize, 2016 was warmer than average. Across the entire contiguous United States, it was the second warmest year in the record, while in Missouri it was the fifth warmest.

I’ll look at precipitation during 2016 in the next post.


NOAA National Centers for Environmental information, Climate at a Glance: U.S. Time Series, Average Temperature, published January 2017, retrieved on January 9, 2017 from

Oroville Dam: When It Rains, It Pours

If you have been watching the national news, you know that California has had record precipitation for the winter so far. There has been so much rain that one of the state’s biggest reservoirs, Lake Oroville, has exceeded its capacity. Water flowing through the emergency spillway has eroded portions of the dam, threatening a dam collapse that would kill thousands and wipe out communities below the dam. Emergency efforts are underway to repair the dam.

Following are two photos that show just how badly the dam has been damaged. The photos are a bit hard to interpret, but here’s what I think they show: water overtopped the dam into the emergency spillway in amounts that the spillway was not designed to handle. In Figure 1, the water is no longer overtopping the dam, but a huge section of the dam face has been badly damaged. Several channels have been carved down the face of the dam. Figure 2 shows water surging down the damaged main spillway. The spillway is the concrete structure at left. You can see that the water isn’t flowing in it, but rather down a rogue channel that the water has cut in the face of the dam. This actually occurred 2 days after the photo in Figure 1, as the California Department of Water Resources dumped water out of the lake in anticipation of large inflows from a new storm.

Figure 1: Damage on the face of the Oroville Dam. Source: Kolke 2017.

Figure 1: Damage on the face of the Oroville Dam. Source: Kolke 2017.

Figure 2: Water Damaging the Face of Oroville Dam. Source: Grow, 2017.

Figure 2: Water Damaging the Face of Oroville Dam. Source: Grow, 2017.










It sure seems like the surface water drought in California has been broken. The most important snow survey of the year (and often the final one) occurs on or about April 1. So I’m going to wait for that date before I do an analysis of how the wet winter has changed their water situation. Hopefully, at that point there will be enough data to allow an analysis that goes beyond the headlines and looks at long-term implications.


Kolke, Dale. 2017. DK_Oro_Spillway_damage-4109_02_15_2017.jpg. California Department of Water Resources > Galleries > Dams > Oroville Dam > Oroville Spillway Damage. Downloaded 2/21/17 from

Grow, Kelly. 2017. KG_oroville_damage-1 2868_02_20_2017.jpg. California Department of Water Resources > Galleries > Dams > Oroville Dam > Oroville Spillway Damage. Downloaded 2/21/17 from

And Now, Three Consecutive Record Warm Years

2016 was even hotter than 2015!

Figure 1. Source: NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

Figure 1. Graph of Global Average Temperature. Source: NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

Data released by NASA reveals that the average global temperature in 2016 was even hotter than in 2015, and by a substantial margin. The data is shown in Figure 1. 2014 was a record, then 2015 was a new record, and now 2016 is a new record: this marks the first time in the data maintained by NASA that the world has set three consecutive records. The data indicates that the temperature was at record highs during every month of the year.


In 2016, global surface temperature was 0.12°C warmer than in 2015. In 2016, the temperature was .99°C warmer than during the reference period, from 1951-1980, and about 2.0°C warmer than the late 19th Century.

Figure 2. Map of Annual Temperature Anomaly, 2016. Source: NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

Figure 2. Map of Annual Temperature Anomaly, 2016. Source: NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

Figure 2 shows a map of global temperature anomalies. In terms of heavily populated areas, portions of the United States, Canada, Russia, and Brazil were especially warm. But in truth, the real pattern here is that the farther north you go, the more severe the warming.

The NASA report is based on satellite measurements of temperature over both land and sea. In general, satellite measurement is quite accurate. The report does not address the many other climate variables that are addressed in the State of the Climate report published by the American Meteorological Association. That report, however, takes many months to prepare. In the previous post, I reported on the most recent State of the Climate report, which concerns 2015, not 2016.


NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies. GISS Surface Temperature Analysis: Global Maps from GHCN v3 Data. Downloaded 1/18/2017 from

NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies. GISS Surface Temperature Analysis: Analysis Graphs and Plots. Downloaded 1/19/2017 from