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Thomas Fire Likely to Become Largest in California History

Fanned by Santa Ana winds gusting up to 65 mph, the Thomas Fire swiftly expanded toward the Santa Barbara community of Monticeto on Saturday. The blaze rapidly grew by 8,500 acres forcing numerous evacuations and road closures, including the emptying of a zoo.

Tonight, winds are still fanning burning embers and lighting spot fires in the Monticeto area. This video shows a palm tree burning as sparks fly down a local street.

Montecito is one of Santa Barbara’s more affluent communities. But as of this report, all homes have so far been kept safe due to valiant firefighting efforts by the more than 8,000 personnel battling what has aptly been called a monster blaze. That said, night-time flare ups and spot fires continue to make this defensive effort extraordinarily difficult.

Totaling 267,500 acres by late Saturday, the fire was at the time the third largest in California history. That’s just 12,500 acres smaller than the Cedar Fire which burned through the San Diego area in 2003. Winds presently fanning the fire near Santa Barbara are expected to die down tonight through Sunday. However, Santa Ana gusts of up to 55 mph are expected to return to the Ventura side of the fire on Sunday — risking rapid expansion there.

The blaze is still just 40 percent contained. Its sprawling extent and predicted continued dry and windy weather conditions make it likely that the fire will ultimately exceed the size of the Cedar Fire over the coming days. Firefighters had hoped to get the fire under control by January 1, 2018. But conditions, which include the longest running red-flag warning on record, have made the fire very unruly and difficult to manage despite the amazing efforts of the largest fire fighting force ever assembled by California.

Conditions associated with human-forced climate change are clearly a compounding issue. Various climate studies indicated that persistent ridging, above average temperatures, rising drought prevalence in winter, and unusually strong Santa Ana winds would increase fire danger for California as the Earth warmed. And this is the general state of affairs we now witness.

It’s a trend we see now. Large fires have become more prevalent in California. Fire officials now note that the fire season has grown in lock-step with warming to become a year-round affair. And thirteen of the twenty largest fires on record for California have occurred since the year 2000.

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Investors are Fleeing Fossil Fuels in Droves

When Bill McKibben and 350.org spear-headed a campaign to divest from fossil fuels and go 100 percent renewables as part of a multi-pronged strategy to confront ramping harms from global climate change in 2012, the big push-back was “divestment doesn’t work, it’s just feel-good, someone else will just buy the stocks when prices drop.”

The Green Mouse That Roared

As if where individuals, banks, investment firms and governments put their money doesn’t matter. As if monetary policy at all levels isn’t an enabler of energy and climate policy. As if the world were awash in an infinite flood of money. As if capital just magically grows on trees.

The detractors clearly didn’t get it. They’d already lost the argument. But the ultimate realization would take years to materialize.

The divestment movement wasn’t so much about the short-term, day to day, flux of money on the financial markets. It was instead aimed at triggering a long term mega-trend. The movement did this by shining a light on the intrinsic immorality of fossil fuel burning. By changing the terms of the environmental debate to include such objects as financial risk and stranded assets. By meeting investors on their own intellectual turf on a daily basis. And by revealing to them the very serious and real risk of loss they were exposed to by pumping money into an energy source that produces widespread, ramping and systemic harm.

A long game that is presently gaining some very significant traction. For it appears that Bill McKibben and the various proponents of the divestment movement have managed to outflank the fossil fuel industry on what was, hitherto, intellectual and financial ground under their unquestioned control. They became, all of us involved became, the green mouse that roared.

(The divestment movement helped to shine a light on the various glaring financial risks involved in continued fossil fuel burning. A primary issue being that due to damage caused by climate change, losses to the whole financial system would eventually greatly outweigh gains. At which point, sunk fossil fuel assets would become stranded due to investor flight. Image source: Carbon Tracker.)

From EcoWatch:

We used text analytics software to sift through 42,000 news articles about climate change between 2011 and 2015 and map the influence of the radical flank. In this analysis, we found that the divestment campaign expanded rapidly as a topic in worldwide media. In the process, it disrupted what had become a polarized debate and reframed the conflict by redrawing moral lines around acceptable behavior.

Our evidence suggests this shift enabled previously marginal policy ideas such as a carbon tax and carbon budget to gain greater traction in the debate. It also helped translate McKibben’s radical position into new issues like “stranded assets” and “unburnable carbon,” the idea that existing fossil fuel resources should remain in the ground.

Although these latter concepts are still radical in implication, they adopt the language of financial analysis and appeared in business journals like The EconomistFortune and Bloomberg, which makes them more legitimate within business circles.

Thus, the battle cry of divestment became a call for prudent attention to financial risk. By being addressed in these financial publications, the carriers of the message shifted from grassroots activists to investorsinsurance companies and even the Governor of the Bank of England.

Mass Divestment Underway as Climate Change Impacts Worsen

Today the world is starting to wake up, bleary eyed and hung over from tar sands smog, to the reality that climate change is poised to eat everyone’s lunch. The U.S. has been hammered by not one, not two, but three $100 billion dollar plus hurricanes. All of those storms were made worse by climate change and one — Harvey — was found to be three times more likely due to the heat trapping gasses fossil fuel based industry has collectively pumped into the world’s atmosphere. With the Thomas Fire threatening to burn down Santa Barbara in December, California is reeling from its worst fire season on record. And glaciers from Greenland to Antarctica are teetering at the brink — ready to inundate the world’s cities at rates far faster than previously expected with only just a bit more added fossil fuel trapped heat.

(How investments in fossil fuel based industry generate carbon emissions. Image source: Carbon Tracker.)

That’s with global temperatures at only 1.1 to 1.2 C above 1880s averages. Keep burning fossil fuels and we’ll hit 3 to 7 C or more by 2100. And folks already feeling the pain of lost financial stability, lost homes, or forced displacement are starting to cry uncle.

Some of the investors holding the fossil fuel industry’s purse strings appear to have had enough. AXA Equitable CEO Thomas Buberl this week stated: “A 4 C world is not insurable.” The major financial and insurance firm has pledged to invest 10.6 billion in environmentally friendly projects and to move 4 billion in funds out of fossil fuels by 2020.

But AXA isn’t the only one by far. Other banks, firms, and share holders are realizing in droves that investing in that 4 C world by throwing more money at fossil fuels isn’t worth a darn either. The World Bank just announced it will stop investing in upstream oil and gas projects by 2019. This after resisting appeals to divest for years. The 23 large regional investors of the International Development Finance Club, who hold 4 trillion in assets, have agreed to align their procurement with the goals of the Paris Climate Summit. Dutch ING bank has announced that it won’t fund any utility that relies on coal for more than 5 percent of its energy.

Meanwhile, an umbrella group managing 26.3 trillion dollars in assets is directly targeting the world’s top 100 carbon emitters. The group — called Climate Action 100 — comprises 225 pension funds and other investors. And it aims to get the world’s worst carbon emitters to curb their greenhouse gas pollution and to disclose their climate change related risks to share holders. Oil, gas, coal, cement, mining and major transportation players are all in Climate Action 100’s sights.

(Renewables possess superior economics in a number of key facets. 1. They have a positive learning curve — the more you build the less they cost. 2. They reduce healthcare costs to society and increase productivity. 3. They reduce ramping systemic harms from climate change by replacing fossil fuel burning. Image source: Union of Concerned Scientists.)

The shareholders from Climate Action 100 have effectively drawn a line in the sand. If these top emitters fail to act to reduce their carbon pollution, then the investors from the group will move their money elsewhere. Effectively, this action is directly from the divestment playbook. But it is now one that lives entirely in the realm of global finance. In other words, divestment is no longer just an environmentalist thing. Global finance, to a rising degree, is being infused with rational environmental thought to the point that it owns it.

Mindy Lubber, President and CEO of Ceres notes in an interview to Motherboard:

“These investors are the largest owners of companies and they see climate change as a serious threat to their investments and the global economy. They believe it is imperative these companies move away from high-carbon emitting activities. Such companies [top 100 emitters] are unlikely to have economic success [if they don’t adjust to the reality of climate change].

Strong Renewable Energy Economics Mean Investors are No Longer Captive to Dirty Energy

This push for divestment from fossil fuels and holding fossil fuel industry accountable by many of the world’s wealthiest banks and firms comes as renewable energy is making major gains. Solar and wind energy are now less expensive than coal or even gas in many markets. The price of electrical vehicles is falling even as these non-emitting forms of transportation are becoming more capable than traditional ICE vehicles. And the price of related battery storage is also plummeting. So it’s not as if there is no viable alternative to dirty and dangerous fossil fuels. In fact, the alternatives are much more attractive on their own merits. Investors have options at hand to confront climate change. So do the rest of us. And that whole divestment thing that was nonsensically poo-pooed by naysayers — it’s becoming as ubiquitous as oxygen.

CREDITS:

Hat tip to Bill McKibben

Hat tip to EcoWatch

Hat tip to Miles H

Worsening Weather to Feed Monstrous Thomas Fire Through Sunday

It shouldn’t be happening in typically wetter, cooler December. But, due to human-forced climate change, it is.

The Thomas Fire, at 242,000 acres, is now the fourth largest fire in California history. Alone, it has destroyed 900 structures — a decent town’s worth gone up in smoke. And today it threatens pretty much all of Santa Barbara’s 62,000 buildings. For future days promise conditions that could expand the monstrous blaze into the largest fire ever seen for the state.

(Persistent western ridge formation is an expected upshot of sea ice retreat in the Arctic. A feature that will result in a drier, warmer, more fire prone California if the trend toward sea ice melt and global warming continues.)

Firefighters battling the blaze have faced insane odds to manage a herculean feat — achieving 35 percent containment as blowtorch like Santa Ana winds consistently billowed through the region over the past two weeks. These winds have been both abnormally strong and persistent. And they’re run over dry lands through a season that is typically known for its more prevalent rainfall — not the expanding drought we see today.

Given these presently very abnormal conditions, fire officials don’t expect to achieve full 100 percent containment for three more weeks. And that’s with over 8,144 firefighters on the ground assisted by 1,004 fire engines and 27 helicopters.

(The 2012 to 2017 California drought was slaked by rains last winter. However, it appears to have returned in force with southern portions of the state again facing an extended dry period.)

Present weather conditions for California are extraordinary. A persistent ridge of high pressure has hovered over the region. And this high has helped to spike local temperatures, speed a re-emergence of drought, and drive very powerful Santa Ana winds through the region. The high formed as sea ice advance in the Chukchi and Bering Seas far to the north lagged. Open water that is usually ice covered at this time of year radiated more heat into the local atmosphere — providing a slot of warmer air that assisted this drought, heat, and wind-promoting high pressure ridge in forming.

The intensity of these highs, influenced by climate change, out west has consistently risen into the 1040+ hPa range. Highs that have been juxtapposed by a strong low further south near Mexico. And a steep pressure gradient between these two persistent weather systems has helped to drive the very strong, fire-fanning, Santa Ana winds through the region. As the Thomas Fire blossomed last week, fire conditions achieved extremes never before seen in state history as those hot, dry winds roared over hills and through valleys.

(GFS model runs show the fire fanning Santa Ana winds strengthening through Sunday. Hat tip to Dan Leonard.)

Unfortunately, weather models for the next few days show this Santa Ana wind producing pressure gradient either persisting or strengthening. Today, this gradient is producing winds with gusts of up to 55 mph. By Sunday, the high over the Pacific is predicted to face off against a low over Northwestern Mexico. And the gradient between these two systems may further intensify these fire fanning winds. Wind speed and fire hazard are not expected to be as extreme as last week. But the re-intensifying winds will do firefighters no favors.

In addition, and perhaps more importantly to the long range picture, there is not even a hint of rain in the forecast through at least the next week. Dry, warmer than normal weather is expected to remain in place at least through that period. And hope for wetter, cooler weather has only begun to emerge in the longer range, less certain forecast.

New Science Confirms that Harvey’s Record Rains Were Made Much Worse by Climate Change

Hurricane Harvey barreled into Texas on August 25th of 2017. Over the next six days, it dumped 52 inches of rain across parts of the state, resulted in 800,000 emergency calls for help, caused 80 souls to be lost, and inflicted over 190 billion dollars in damages.

Harvey was the most damaging storm ever to strike the U.S. It was more costly than Katrina and Sandy combined. And recent studies now show that this damage, in large part, was due to climate change’s influence over the storm.

(Harvey just prior to making landfall on the Southeast coast of Texas. Image source: NASA.)

According to base climatology, we can expect this kind of event to occur once every 9,000 years. But living in base climatology we are not. Due to fossil fuel burning, atmospheric CO2 levels are above 405 parts per million — levels not seen in at least the past 2.5 million years. Meanwhile, total greenhouse gas forcing (after you add in methane and other heat trapping gasses) is at levels not seen in around 15 million years. So we’re now in a world that’s pretty different from what we are used to. A more dangerous world.

How different and how much more dangerous is a measure of some debate. More to the point, the question of how much the presently serious alteration to the world’s climate impacts the world’s weather is a pretty hot topic. What we already know is that the weather is becoming more extreme, more damaging, and that the most intense storms and droughts are growing worse.

(Incidence of record breaking daily rainfall events are increasing as the Earth warms. New science is starting to attribute aspects of individual extreme events to human caused climate change. Image source: Increased Record Breaking Daily Rainfall Events Under Global Warming.)

But boiling it all down to a single storm like Harvey, how much can you blame on climate change? Well, that’s starting to become clearer thanks to a pair of new scientific studies.

According to a recent study in the Geophysical Research Letters, human-caused climate change increased Harvey’s devastating rainfall intensity by at least 19 percent and likely by around 38 percent. Enough of a human caused influence to tip the scales between a relatively rough event and an epic deluge for the history books. Meanwhile, another study led by World Weather Attribution, found that Harvey was also three times more likely to have formed in the present human-altered climate.

If these peer-reviewed studies are correct, their findings point toward a rather stunning conclusion — the storm was much more likely to form due to climate change and the storm was made much more intense after it formed due to climate change.

In essence, the new science finds that climate change’s finger prints are all over Harvey’s devastating impact. Folks around the world take note. Your severe weather has been hyper-charged.

CREDITS:

Hat tip to Eleggua

Tesla Semi is Racking up the Preorders

Tesla isn’t the only player in the electrical trucking field. It is, however, presenting one of the most attractive offerings for an electric truck in the present marketplace.

(Tesla is again producing best-in-class clean transport capabilities in its all electric Semi offering.)

Tesla’s Semi will have a range of 300 to 500 miles. Its rig will go from 0-60 in less time than many passenger vehicles. And its cost of fuel is so low that it will repay the 150,000 to 200,000 dollars initially invested in energy savings in just three to five years. With economics and performance parameters like these, the fact that the Semi will emit zero harmful greenhouse gas emissions in operation is a much needed layer of icing on the new energy vehicle cake.

All these features are quite attractive. And, as a result, Tesla has already received upwards of 300 pre-orders for what promises to be a truly revolutionary vehicle. Pepsi, Anheuser Busch, SYSCO, Loblaw, Wal-Mart, DHL and numerous others have all jumped onto the Tesla clean trucking bandwagon. Since Tesla requires a 20,000 dollar down payment to reserve a truck (up from 5,000 dollars when the semi was first announced), these pre-orders represent a major commitment by buyers. It also represents between 45 and 55 million in new revenue for Tesla.

(Tesla is already starting to make waves in the U.S. class 8 truck market — in which less than 200,000 units are generally sold each year. Image source: Statista.)

300 pre-orders may not sound like much when compared to Tesla’s massive Model 3 total of about 500,000. However, considering the fact that less than 200,000 class 8 trucks were sold in the U.S. during 2016, this initial wave of orders is far from a drop in the proverbial bucket. For one, interest by major shippers in Tesla will likely bring more interest as competitors race to gain access to that best-in-class efficiency, performance and related energy cost reduction. In addition, pre-orders are likely to be a smaller portion of total sales due to Tesla’s higher reservation asking price.

Such levels of demand may support in the range of 5,000 Semis sold per year in the U.S., according to recent clean-tech market analysis. And this would represent about 3 percent of the present U.S. market from a single automaker. But when considering the fact that big rig emissions are about 20 to 40 times that of a typical medium sized car over the course of a year, those projected 5,000 Semis could have an outsized impact in helping to reduce the amount of heat trapping gas hitting the atmosphere.

Not too shabby for a start and for a single automaker. And some people called the Semi a distraction. Pshaw.

NOAA’s 2017 Arctic Report Card Shows Transition Toward Not-Normal Polar Environment Continues

The Arctic shows no sign of returning to the reliably frozen region of recent past decades. — NOAA

Reading this [Arctic Report Card], I feel physically sick. I feel so anxious. I’m not sure how many more years or months I’m going to be able to work daily on climate change. — Eric Holthaus

*****

During 2017, the Arctic experienced much warmer than normal winter and fall temperatures. Meanwhile, according to NOAA’s 2017 Arctic Report Card, somewhat cool late spring and early summer temperatures did little to abate a larger ongoing warming trend.

NOAA notes:

The average surface air temperature for the year ending September 2017 is the 2nd warmest since 1900; however, cooler spring and summer temperatures contributed to a rebound in snow cover in the Eurasian Arctic, slower summer sea ice loss, and below-average melt extent for the Greenland ice sheet.

(NOAA’s Arctic Report Card shows a Polar environment experiencing serious and harmful changes.)

This warming trend was evidenced by continued systemic long term sea ice losses with NOAA stating that sea ice cover has continued to thin even as older, thicker ice comprised only 21 percent of Arctic Ocean coverage compared to 45 percent during 1985.  NOAA noted very slow Chukchi and Barents sea ice re-freeze during fall of 2017 — which was a feature of much warmer than typical sea surface temperatures during late August. Temperatures which ranged up to 4 C above average for this time of year and that created a kind of heat barrier to typical fall ice cover expansion.

Sea ice is a primary indicator of Arctic health. But losses over recent decades have been quite precipitious as indicated by the graph below:

Sea Ice Coverage Loss

(Arctic sea ice loss since 1978 during September [red] and March [black]. Image source: NOAA.)

NOAA also found evidence of ongoing increases in ocean productivity in the far north — which tends to be triggered by increasing temperature and rising ocean carbon uptake (also a driver of acidification).

Other observations of systemic warming came as permafrost temperatures hit record levels during 2016.  Decadal rates of permafrost warming as measured at Dead Horse along the North Slope of Alaska proceeded at a rate of 0.21 to 0.66 degrees Celsius every ten years.

(Changes in Arctic ground temperature [20 meter depth] at varying locations shows widespread movement toward permafrost thaw. Image source: NOAA.)

Tundra greening trends also continued over broad regions:

Long-term trends (1982-2016) show greening on the North Slope of Alaska, the southern Canadian tundra, and in the central Siberian tundra; tundra browning is found in western Alaska (Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta), the higher-Arctic Canadian Archipelago, and western Siberian tundra.

Rapid warming of the Arctic, loss of sea ice, permafrost thaw, greening tundra, changes in ocean productivity and other factors are all starting to seriously impact the people of the Arctic. Coastal towns have been forced to move inland due to erosion and sea level rise. And a number of communities have lost access to key food sources due to sea ice loss or migration of local species away from warming regions. Subsidence has generated harmful impacts to infrastructure. Meanwhile, the increased incidence of Arctic wildfires presents a rising hazard to Northern Communities:

High latitude fire regimes appear to be responding rapidly to environmental changes associated with a warming climate; although highly variable, area burned has increased over the past several decades in much of Boreal North America. Most acreage burned in high latitude systems occurs during sporadic periods when lightning ignitions coincide with warm and dry weather that cures vegetation and elevates fire danger. Under a range of climate change scenarios, analyses using multiple approaches project significant increases (up to four-fold) in area burned in high latitude ecosystems by the end of the 21st century.

Taken together this is tough news — a technical report written in the lingo of science but that, in broad brush, describes evidence of a world fundamentally changed. For those of us with sensitive hearts, it’s a rough thing to write about:

Overall, NOAA calls for increased efforts to adapt to climate change in the far north. In addition, the need for mitigating harms from climate change by speeding a transfer to renewable energy could help to preserve cryosystems and ecosystems that are now under increasingly severe threat.

Signs that the Model 3 Flood Gates are Starting to Open Abound

Tesla’s mission ‘to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy’ appears to be surging forward after hitting a couple of road blocks this fall.

According to news reports, Tesla Model 3 distribution centers are now filling up with units of the highly desirable electrical vehicle. According to Elektrek, hundreds of Model 3s have been spotted at Freemont’s distribution Center. And a new distribution center in Los Angeles with a lot capable of holding 400 vehicles appears to also be full. Meanwhile, smaller centers and sales rooms around the country are reporting an influx of Model 3s.

(Sales lots for the Model 3 are starting to fill — indicating that higher production volumes have been reached)

This news comes after Tesla recently opened orders for a first batch of Tesla reservation holders. It also follows Panasonic’s announcement that battery production bottlenecks at Tesla’s Gigafactory had cleared.

According to reports from Inside EVs, a total of 712 Model 3s had sold through November. But with hundreds of Model 3s now flooding distribution centers and show-rooms, the rate of production appears to have started to take off. How much will be unclear until Tesla releases annual figures by early January of 2018. But it appears likely that Tesla is now producing north of 300 Model 3s per week — with this source pointing toward upward of 1,000 vehicles per week.

Exact numbers are all speculation and conjecture at this point. But clear evidence of swelling inventory is a sign that the steepening ramp of the S curve is upon us.

Tesla presently boasts approximately 500,000 reservation holders for its Model 3 electrical vehicle (EV). Many of these customers are willing to wait a year or more to receive a car. This is an unprecedented level of demand. But with the Model 3 featuring first in class acceleration, handling, EV range, recharging capability, and access to Tesla upgrades and widespread faster charging infrastructure, it’s little wonder that the car has so many admirers.

If Tesla is managing to ramp production as planned, the car-maker is likely to see record vehicle sales during December even as it climbs toward 250,000 to 300,000 approximate sales during 2018 (or up to triple projected 2017 sales). And due to the fact that the Model 3 eclipses the capabilities and features of tens of thousands of luxury and sport fossil fuel vehicles in the 30,000 to 50,000 dollar price range, it’s possible that Model 3 demand will continue to surge as the car becomes more widely available.

(Global EV sales are projected to hit above 1 million during 2017. With the Model 3 and other highly desirable, more affordable electrical vehicles hitting the market in 2018, total global sales are likely to challenge the 2 million mark. Image source: EVvolumes.)

Tesla’s leap forward coordinate with larger global EV adoption couldn’t come sooner. Harms from climate change are rapidly advancing. But the increased efficiency provided by electrical drive trains and their ability to be mated directly to renewable energy systems like wind and solar provide a major opportunity to cut harmful carbon emissions. So the faster global EV production ramps, the more competition that interest in Tesla’s leading-edge EVs spurs, the better it is for us all.

Record Warmth Blankets Alberta

Extreme warmth associated with a powerful western high pressure ridge and conditions related to climate change has broken temperature records across Western Canada during recent days.

On December 9, the southern Alberta cities of Lethbridge and Grand Prairie saw temperatures rising to record highs of 14 C or 57 degrees Fahrenheit. Meanwhile, Calgary experienced 15.4 C temperatures (60 degrees F) — which shattered the previous record of 14.4 C that had stood for 127 years. Four other cities in southern Alberta also saw record warm temperatures on Saturday.

For context, temperatures for this region typically range between -1 to -13 C this time of year.

(The first 11 days of December show far above average temperatures for most of Western North America and the Arctic. Image source: Global and Regional Climate Anomalies.)

The primary feature driving such extreme temperatures is a power high pressure ridge that has been anchored in place during November and December. The ridge has been drawing warm air north and generating unusually warm weather for regions from the U.S. West through central and western Canada and on up into the Northwest Territories and Alaska.

Very slow reformation of sea ice in the Chukchi and Bering Seas is a likely contributing factor to the ridge. A physical feature associated with human-caused climate change. La Nina is likely also enabling the synoptic transfer of heat into both the Arctic and the North American West through a very pronounced Rossby type wave pattern in the Jet Stream. But present Arctic warmth in the range of 3-5 C above climatological averages is well beyond 20th Century norms during La Nina years. It is instead primarily an upshot of polar amplification — where human-forced warming due to greenhouse gas emissions generates more warming at the poles than in the lower latitudes. So climate change related factors are also influencing this overall warmer than normal pattern.

(Above freezing temperatures aren’t typical for Alberta this time of year. But the region was blanketed by 40-60 degree [F] highs on Saturday. That’s 9 to 27 degrees [F] above average. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

As a result, places like Calgary haven’t received any snowfall so far this year during December. A situation that is likely to continue for at least the next five days as warmer than normal conditions are expected to persist.

December is typically a rather snowy month for Calgary — receiving 8 days of snow during a normal year. But this year isn’t really that normal and the climate, with global temperatures exceeding 1 C above 1880s averages, isn’t normal anymore either.

CREDITS:

Hat tip to Dobby

After a Brief Respite, Climate Change Enhanced Drought is Returning to the U.S.

Unseasonable warmth across the American West and overall dry conditions across the South is causing drought to expand throughout many parts of the United States.

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, most of the southern half of the United States is presently experiencing abnormally dry or drought conditions. Meanwhile, an intense drought that has remained in place over the Dakotas and Montana for multiple months continues to persist.

Severe drought conditions are now present in the south-central U.S. with exceptional and extreme drought expanding through Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana and Missouri. Deepening drought in California and Texas are notable due to the fact that Southeast Texas recently experienced record rainfall due to Hurricane Harvey and California experienced a very wet winter and spring period from 2016 to 2017. Somewhat milder drought is also spreading through the Southeast.

Re-expanding Southern California drought is also enhancing record wildfire activity in that state.

Much Warmer than Normal Temperatures

A strengthening La Nina in the Equatorial Pacific is helping to generate a drought tendency for the Southern U.S. However, various climate change related features including above normal temperatures and a persistent high pressure ridge in the West are lending intensity to the rising drought regime.

(U.S. 30 day average shows much warmer than normal conditions for the lower 48 with extreme warmth prevalent over the American West. Image source: Global and Regional Climate Anomalies.)

Over the past 30 days, temperatures for the U.S. as a whole have been 1.52 C above average (see image above). Much of this excess heat has been concentrated over the West, with mountain and Pacific regions seeing between 4 and 5 C above average temperatures.

Excess heat of this kind helps to speed the drying of soils and vegetation by increasing the rate of evaporation. A condition that can lead to flash drought — whose incidence has been expanding in lock-step with the human-forced warming of the globe.

A Ridiculous Ridge

Linked to the western heat and drought is a strong and persistent high pressure ridge. One that has hit a very intense 1041 hPa pressure as of Monday afternoon over the U.S. Mountain West.

(Very intense high pressure ridge over the U.S. west is presently locking in both warmer than normal and drier than normal conditions. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

Persistent ridging of this kind was a key feature of the recent 2012 through 2017 California drought. Some climate studies have identified a tendency of these kinds of strong western ridges to form as Arctic sea ice recedes. And during the past decade, strong high pressure ridges have been a rather consistent and significant climate feature for the U.S. West. It is also notable that formation of more powerful ridging features during the fall and winter help to strengthen the Santa Ana winds — which fan California wildfires.

Present drought is nowhere near as intense as it has been during recent years. Especially in California which during 2017 has experienced a bit of a respite. However, with La Nina gaining traction in the Pacific, with global temperatures now in a range between 1.1 and 1.2 C above 1880s averages, and with persistent ridging again taking hold over the U.S. West, the risk of a return to intense drought — especially for the Southwest — is increasing.

Southern California Fires Expand to Over 255,000 Acres as Conditions Worsen

On Sunday, driven by above normal temperatures and fanned by warm winds, the Thomas Fire in Ventura County, California rapidly expanded. This resulted in a loss of containment as the blaze jumped fire breaks — placing parts of Santa Barbara under seige.

(Smoke plumes from the Thomas fire as seen by a webcam located atop Santa Ynez Peak, a 4300′ mountain 17 miles northwest of downtown Santa Barbara.)

This single fire, as of Monday morning, covered 230,000 acres. At that time, it was the fifth largest fire in California history. It was burning in December. And, at the time, the fire was continuing to swiftly grow.

Five other fires burning in Southern California together cover an additional 25,000+ acres. As a result, approximately 255,000 acres are now burning in this region of the state.

The 6,000 firefighters now engaged in battling these blazes had hoped that predicted milder Santa Ana winds would afford them a chance to gain an advantage over these fires this weekend. But this didn’t happen. The western high pressure ridge strengthened. Local temperatures increased to well above the seasonal average. And though winds subsided somewhat, very dry conditions dominated.

Due to the worsening situation, 25,000 structures are now threatened by the fires — up from 20,000 earlier this week. More than 790 structures have been burned or destroyed. More than 95,000 people remain under evacuation orders. And more than 85,000 people are without power. Tragically, the fires have now claimed their first human life as well.

Unfortunately, warmer than normal, dry and windy conditions are expected to continue through at least Friday, December 15th. Resulting in a long running period of heightened fire danger. These climate change related features are driven by a very persistent high pressure ridge over the North American west. A feature that has been linked to loss of sea ice and a warming Arctic in some climate studies.

Overall, climate change is worsening fire danger out west. During summer, hotter and drier conditions are intensifying the California fire season. And during fall through winter, the climate change associated warming, drying and strengthening of the Santa Ana winds is enabling the eruption of very large city-threatening fires during the winter months.

(UPDATED)

CREDITS:

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Hat tip to Eric Holthaus

Hat tip to Wili

Hat tip to Titania Baildon

As Climate Emergencies Rise — A Call For Action

With climate change enhanced wildfires raging across California during December, now is exactly the time to redouble our resolve to fight against the causes of such widespread destruction. To enact policies aimed at reducing the force of a rising crisis that continues to impact so many of our people with increasing intensity.

In California today, there is a move afoot to set a deadline for banning the very fossil fuel based vehicles that have fanned the fires of climate change across the state. To resolve, by 2040, to take gas powered cars off the road.

Phil Ting, a San Francisco Democrat and sponsor of this legislative drive, notes that for the State to meet its greenhouse gas reduction targets, it’s going to have to transition away from fossil fuel based vehicles. Such vehicles represent more than 1/3 of all state carbon emissions. And the state can’t effectively address the carbon dioxide emissions that drive climate change disasters without also directly targeting the number of fossil fuel based vehicles in operation.

(According to California’s Air Resources Board, nearly 38 percent of the state’s carbon emissions are due to transportation.)

New electrical vehicle (EV) technology is enabling just such a move. According to Ting:

“The market is moving this way. The entire world is moving this way. At some point you need to set a goal and put a line in the sand.”

If California sets a policy to ban fossil fuel based vehicles by 2040, it will join a growing number of cities and states that have already set similar goals. These include France, the United Kingdom, India, Germany, and Norway. Meanwhile, China is pursuing very aggressive incentives to increase the number of EVs as a means of combating terrible local air pollution and climate change.

Movement by cities and states to ban fossil fuel vehicles and incentivize EVs has an out-sized impact. It signals automakers that EV preference by government is becoming widespread. And because manufacturers have limited capital to spend on new vehicles, this drives a manufacturing preference as well.

(In this National Renewable Energy Laboratory study, the most rapid carbon emissions reductions were achieved in scenarios where large-scale EV deployment was combined with wholesale replacement of coal, oil, and gas fired electricity generation with renewable sources like wind and solar.)

Since EVs are more efficient that internal combustion engine based vehicles, they greatly reduce carbon emissions when tied to even traditional grids. But when linked to renewable power sources like wind and solar, EVs produce zero emissions in operation. This combination enables a far more rapid rate of carbon emission reduction.

In addition, the manufacturing base for EV batteries can also be used to build storage systems for intermittent wind and solar energy. This enables the removal of fossil fuel emitting coal and gas fired generators held in reserve for times when the wind doesn’t blow or the sun doesn’t shine even as the EVs themselves remove the need for oil based transporation. Such a manufacturing chain also opens up a new market for auto manufacturers — a fact that both Tesla and Hyundai have learned to their benefit.

Because EVs are based on electronic technology that is closely tied to the information age, they can benefit both from synergistic related economies of scale and from various innovations and breakthroughs. This means that EVs already outperform fossil fuel based vehicles in a number of areas. A performance advantage that is increasing and will likely overcome most traditional vehicles by the early 2020s. Because of this advantage, EVs would probably ultimately win out over time. However, the present climate crisis lends urgency to speeding their rate of adoption and in accelerating the rate of harmful fossil fuel based vehicle replacement.

Rise of the Fimbul Fires: Climate Change Enhanced Jets of Flame Rage Across Southern California

Some say the world will end in fire. Some say in ice. From what I’ve tasted of desire. I hold with those who favor fire… — Robert Frost

I am Lorn Sparkfell, guardian of First Frost, without which the world will burn. — Luthiel’s Song, The Death of Winter

*****

Fimbul is an old icelandic word for mighty, giant, great. It is an archaic word that has fallen out of modern use. But considering the fact that the fires now ripping through Southern California are both out of the context of recent milder climates and have explosively expanded to gigantic proportion, it is perhaps time that we should re-introduce the term.

(Photograph of Southern California Fires taken from the International Space Station on December 7 of 2017.)

Sections of Southern California are now experiencing never-before-seen levels of fire hazard as winds gusting to near 80 mph across the region are fanning five out of control blazes. The fires are burning during what should be the cooler month of December. But cool conditions have eluded that part of the state. And the blow-torch like Santa Ana winds that are fanning the flames are being enhanced by conditions consistent with human-caused climate change.

Today, the fire index for Southern California is 296. The threshold for an extreme fire index is 165. And 296 is the highest fire index So Cal has ever experienced according to local firefighters. Fire index is a measure of fire risk. So, if these reports are correct, this region has never seen fire danger hit such an extreme intensity.

(Hurricane Force Winds Fuel Massive Wildfires in Southern California from ClimateState.)

Five fires now burning across Southern California have consumed upwards of 120,000 acres — or a region larger than Atlanta. The Thomas Fire in Ventura County is the largest at approximately 96,000 acres. The Rye Fire, Creek Fire, and Skirball fire all continue to burn. And a new fire — the Horizon Fire in Malibu — has recently ignited. None of these fires are more than 15 percent contained. So all are effectively still out of control.

In total, approximately 20,000 buildings are threatened by fire with more than 300 homes and businesses burned already. 200,000 people are under evacuation orders — enough to fill a relatively large city. Thankfully, there have been no reports of loss of human life so far. But animals, including these horses, haven’t been so lucky.

(Average temperatures across the U.S. West were around 4 C above normal for the entire past 30 day period. This is not at all typical. Image source: Global and Regional Climate Anomalies.)

Climate change skeptics and deniers will try to say that such events are normal for California. That fires always happen. That weather is variable. And tell you five or six or seven other kinds of hogwash.

But the fact is that these conditions are not normal. That California has just experienced its worst fire year on record. That the incidence of large fires in the West has risen fourfold since the mid 1980s. And that report after report after report are linking presently worsening fire conditions in the region to climate change.

Other politically motivated individuals will tell you that now is not the time to discuss climate change — by stating that responding to the disaster itself is more important that examining causes. This is also a red herring — as any effective disaster response will include a responsible review of causes.

To this point, if we are to be effective in both responding to this disaster and in reducing future harm, we should look seriously at the underlying causes that are making fires in places like California worse. And if we are exploring why these Fimbul Fires are happening now, then the big issue is climate change — writ large.

CREDITS:

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Hat tip to Andy in San Diego

Hat tip to ClimateState

Winter is Supposedly Coming; So Why is California Burning?

As forecasters expect a warming climate will make Santa Ana winds more frequent and faster, that Santa Ana blowtorch is likely to do a lot more damage to the developed parts of the state. — One of the conclusions of a recent climate study.

You can only imagine the impact this weather is having. — Los Angeles Fire Chief.

*****

The popular refrain these days is that ‘winter is coming.’ But for California and the North American West, this is clearly not the case.

(Four large wildfires burn across Los Angeles in this December 5 satellite shot. Image source: NASA Worldview.)

Conditions across the West have been drier lately. Hotter lately. A lot less winter-like during the winter season lately. Add in the fact that climate change is expected to increase the strength of the wildfire-sparking Santa Ana winds and this trend of ebbing winter is a rather serious factor.

The very reason why we use the words — fire season — is due to the fact that fire is more prevalent when it is hotter, when it is drier, and when the dry winds blow more strongly. For California, fire season happens twice a year — once in early summer and again in autumn as the dry Santa Ana winds begin to howl.

(Consistent unseasonal heat and the development of powerful high pressure ridges over the North American West amplify the Santa Ana winds and set the stage for more severe wildfires. This week, a strong ridge and related abnormal warmth and drought helped to fan a historic Los Angeles outbreak. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)

The Santa Ana season lasts from October through April. It notable due to the fact that it tends to threaten more heavily populated areas. Its primary mitigating factor — cooler winter weather — is receding. And, according to this research, the same factors that are warming the U.S. West are also making the Santa Ana winds blow stronger. So we have good reason to believe that the effects of human-caused climate change are making California’s fall and winter fire season considerably worse.

Today is December 6, just a little more than two weeks before the Winter Solstice. Seasonally, we are at the gates of winter. Winter should be coming. But, instead, we have drought in Southern California. Instead we have had consistently warmer than normal weather over the past 30 days. Instead we have 70 mile per hour Santa Ana winds raging over withering peaks and through the drying valleys. These are conditions consistent with a fire season amplified by climate change. Not with normal winter.

And today, in Los Angeles alone, we have four fires raging simultaneously.

The largest fire, the Ventura Fire, has now burned more than 65,000 acres. It threatens 12,000 buildings. And it is already estimated to have consumed at least 150 of these structures. The fire has cut off power to upwards of 250,000 people and has forced numerous closures and evacuations.

The Creek Fire, Rye Fire, and Skirball Fire have reportedly burned an additional 15,000 acres and forced more than 150,000 people to evacuate. The Skirball fire is threatening the Getty Museum even as it has forced the closure of a section of highway 405. This 150 acre fire is also encroaching upon a 28 million dollar home owned by right wing media mogul — Rupert Murdoch. Notably, Rupert has used his media empire to support the views of climate change deniers and has called rational concern over climate change related risks ‘nonsense.’ Today, one of his many homes may burn as a result of such ‘nonsense.’

(Present location and extent of Los Angeles wildfires. Image source: Google Maps.)

In total, more than 1,000 firefighters are presently battling these four fires around the Los Angeles region. And the risks to the city are now as high as they have ever been. For on Wednesday, weather forecasters are calling for Santa Ana winds to continue to gust as high as 70 miles per hour. With the strength of these powerful fire-inducing winds peaking on Thursday as gusts are predicted to hit as high as 80 miles per hour. The winds will loft sparks and burning material from the fires and drop it over the city — creating nightmare conditions for firefighters trying to contain the four blazes. Red flag warnings — indicating that conditions are ideal for fire combustion — are expected to remain in place over Southern California through Friday.

U.S. Electrical Vehicle Sales Rose by 30 Percent in November, Likely to Hit Near 200,000 by Year End

Good news continues in the U.S. on the renewable energy front where electrical vehicle sales increased by about 30 percent in November of 2017 vs November of 2016.

In all, 17,178 electrical vehicles sold on the U.S. market in November. This number compares to 13,327 sold during November of 2016. Top selling brands for the month were the Chevy Bolt EV, The Tesla Model X, the Chevy Volt, the Toyota Prius Prime, and the Tesla Model S. The Chevy Bolt topped the list of monthly best sellers with nearly 3,000 vehicles going to owners during the month. The top annual seller remains the Model S (at 22,085 estimated sales so far) — which the lower-priced Bolt is unlikely to surpass this year.

(Over the past few years, the performance of electrical vehicles has been steadily catching up to or outpacing that of conventional fossil fuel vehicles. The Tesla Roadster by 2019-2020 will have a 620 mile range, hyperfast charging, a top speed of 250 mph, and be able to go from 0-60 in 1.9 seconds. A combined set of specs that no gas guzzler could hope to match. By 2022, most EVs will cost less and perform better than their comparable fossil fuel counterparts. Image source: Tesla.)

Total electrical vehicle sales for the year so far has hit nearly 174,000 through November. This compares to 158,614 for all of 2016. Given that December is often a top sales month and that Model 3 production is continuing to ramp, it’s likely that final sales for 2017 will hit close to or exceed the 200,000 mark for the year in the U.S.

Model 3 Production Ramp Rate Still a Mystery

Model 3 sales will likely continue to ramp through December as Tesla works through scaling production. Considering the fact that there are more than 500,000 Model 3s on order, the big question is — how fast? For even if Tesla were able to produce 10,000 Model 3s per week, it would take more than a year to fill all the orders.

Production is presently considerably lower. But it more than doubled in November to an estimated 345. A similar rate of increase would result in 800 of the vehicles being sold in December. Meanwhile, the company plans to be making 5,000 Model 3s per week by Q1 of 2018.

There are some indications that Tesla is preparing for a start of mass market releases. It is filling an LA Model 3 distribution site even as it has opened up ordering to customers outside of employees. Meanwhile, Panasonic recently announced that battery production issues will soon clear. Which raises the possibility of a faster ramp going forward.

Updated Nissan Leaf Begins Mass Production

New developments also include the start to mass production of the 2018 Nissan Leaf in the U.S during December. The 2018 Leaf features longer range (150 miles), lower cost (700 dollars less) and higher performance (more horsepower) than the previous Leaf. And it will be followed on by a (higher-priced) 225 mile range version in 2019 which will put it in a distance capability class similar to that of the Bolt and the base line Model 3.

Electrical Vehicles — Key Aspect of the Renewable Energy Transition

In context, solar energy, wind, and battery storage are the triad of new renewable energy systems that have the serious potential to really start cutting down global carbon emissions as they replace fossil fuels.

All these energy systems are getting less expensive. All have what they call a positive learning curve. And all can work together in a synergistic fashion while leveraging technological advances. Economic advantages that fossil fuel based systems lack.

In addition, renewable energy sources help to drive efficiency, even as they clean up transportation, power generation, and manufacturing chains they are linked to by producing zero carbon emissions in use.

(By transitioning to renewable energy as the basis for economic systems, we can dramatically reduce global carbon emissions. In order to stave off very harmful impacts from climate change, this transition will have to be very rapid. In the best case, more rapid than the scenario depicted above. Video source: IRENA.)

On the battery storage side, electrical vehicles are a crucial link in the battery development chain. As electrical vehicles are mass produced, this process drives down the cost of batteries which can then be used to store electricity and to replace base-load fossil fuel power generators like coal and gas plants. Meanwhile, battery electrical vehicles are considerably more efficient than gas or diesel powered vehicles and those linked to wind and solar or other renewable energy sources emit zero carbon in use.

Both electrical vehicles and other renewable energy systems have a long way to grow before they provide the same level of energy produced by dirty fossil fuels today. This large gap represents a great opportunity to cut back on the volume of harmful gasses hitting our atmosphere in the near future.

Deadly California Wildfire Erupts in December, Forcing Thousands to Flee

Last night a 500 acre fire exploded to massive size — raging over the hills of Ventura County in Los Angeles. Fanned by strong Santa Anna winds, the fire ballooned to over 45,000 acres by Tuesday morning forcing the evacuation of several thousand homes.

Already there are reports of homes and structures destroyed as the fire rages in or near a number of populated areas. Late last night, power was cut off to upwards of 200,000 people as the fire crossed utility lines. And as of early this morning, the fire was reportedly advancing toward Ventura with 500 firefighters on the scene trying to beat the blaze back. Thankfully, as of yet, there are no reports of injury or loss of life.

Climate conditions on the ground have been very conducive to out-of-season wildfires. During the past month, temperatures across the region have trended between 2 and 4 degrees Celsius above average. Southern California is settling into drought. And over the past day, a strong high pressure system gathering to the north helped to send 40-60 mph Santa Ana winds rocketing over the hills and valleys around Los Angeles.

(Powerful high pressure ridge north of California sent strong Santa Ana winds over a region of California experiencing a warmer than normal fall and falling into drought. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

Due to human-forced climate change and a related warming of the U.S. Southwest, the fire season for California now never really ends. Global temperatures have increased by 1.1 to 1.2 degrees Celsius since pre-industrial times, and climate zones are moving north. Both warmer temperatures and more extreme ranges of precipitation due to climate change aid wildfires in the west — first by allowing for rapid growth of vegetation during more intense wet periods and second by drying out these growths more swiftly as the climate regime switches to dry.

Since the 1980s, the number of large wildfires out west has quadrupled. But if fossil fuel burning continues, warming will also continue and the already difficult conditions we see will further worsen.

We are entering a time when a region of the west from California all the way north to Alaska and Alberta are starting to see wildfires capable of threatening cities with increasing frequency. If we are to dampen this trend, we need a change to less harmful energy sources and fast.

CREDITS:

Hat tip to Andy in San Diego

Gigantic Iceberg Disintegrates as Concern Grows Over Glacier Stability, Sea Level Rise

The stability of a key Antarctic glacier appears to have taken a turn for the worse as a large iceberg that broke off during September has swiftly shattered. Meanwhile, scientists are concerned that the rate of sea level rise could further accelerate in a world forced to rapidly warm by human fossil fuel burning.

(Iceberg drifting away from the Pine Island Glacier rapidly shatters. Image source: European Space Agency.)

This week, a large iceberg that recently calved from West Antarctica’s Pine Island Glacier rapidly and unexpectedly disintegrated as it drifted away from the frozen continent. The iceberg, which covers 103 square miles, was predicted to drift out into the Southern Ocean before breaking up. But just a little more than two months after calving in September, the massive chunk of ice is already falling apart.

The break-off and disintegration of this large berg has caused Pine Island Glacier’s ice front to significantly retreat. From 1947 up until about 2015, the glacier’s leading edge had remained relatively stable despite significant thinning as warmer water began to cut beneath it. But since 2015, this key West Antarctic glacier has begun to rapidly withdraw. And it now dumps 45 billion tons of ice into the world ocean each year.

(Glaciers like Pine Island balance on a geological razor’s edge. Because they sit on a reverse slope, it only takes a relatively moderate amount of ocean warming to precipitate a rapid collapse. These collapses have happened numerous times in the past when the Earth warmed. Now, human-forced climate change is driving a similar process that is threatening the world’s coastal cities. Image source: Antarctic Glaciers.)

The present rate of melt is enough to raise sea levels by around 1 millimeter per year. That’s not too alarming. But there’s concern that Pine Island Glacier will speed up, dump more ice into the ocean and lift seas by a faster and faster rate.

Pine Island Glacier and its sister glacier Thwaites together contain enough water to raise seas by around 3-7 feet. The glacier sits on a reverse slope that allows more water to flood inland, exposing higher and less stable ice cliffs as the glacier melts inland. If the glacier melts too far back and the ice cliffs grow too high, they could rapidly collapse — spilling a very large volume of ice into the ocean over a rather brief period of time. As a result, scientists are very concerned that Pine Island could swiftly destabilize and push the world’s oceans significantly higher during the coming years and decades.

No one is presently predicting an immediate catastrophe coming from the melt of glaciers like Pine Island. However, though seemingly stable and slow moving, glacial stability can change quite rapidly. Already, sea level rise due to melt from places like Greenland and Antarctica is threatening many low-lying communities and nations around the world. So the issue is one of present and growing crisis. And there is very real risk that the next few decades could see considerable further acceleration of Antarctica’s glaciers as a result of human-forced warming due to fossil fuel burning.

Dr Robert Larter, a marine geophysicist at British Antarctic Survey, who has researched Pine Island Glacier in his work with the Alfred Wegener Institute, recently noted to Phys.org:

“If the ice shelf continues to thin and the ice front continues to retreat, its buttressing effect on PIG will diminish, which is likely to lead to further dynamic thinning and retreat of the glacier. PIG already makes the largest contribution to  of any single Antarctic glacier and the fact that its bed increases in depth upstream for more than 200 km means there is the possibility of runway retreat that would result in an even bigger contribution to sea level.”

CREDITS:

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Hat tip to Erik Friedrickson

From Record Floods to Drought in Three Months: Unusually Hot, Dry Conditions Blanket South

Back during late August of 2017, Hurricane Harvey dumped as much as 60.48 inches of rain over southeast Texas. Harvey was the wettest tropical cyclone on record ever to strike the U.S. — burying Houston and the surrounding region under multiple feet of water, resulting in the loss of 91 souls, and inflicting more than 198 billion dollars in damages.

Harvey was the costliest natural disaster ever to strike the U.S. Its tropical rains were the heaviest ever seen since we started keeping a record. But strangely, almost inexplicably, just a little more than three months later, the region of southeast Texas is now facing moderate drought conditions.

(Just three months after Harvey’s record rains, Southeast Texas is experiencing drought. No, this is not quite normal despite a mild La Nina exerting a drying influence. Image source: U.S. Drought Monitor. Hat tip to Eric Holthaus.)

How did this happen? How did so much water disappear so soon? How could an instance of one of the most severe floods due to rainfall the U.S. has ever experienced turn so hard back to drought in so short a time?

In a sentence — climate change appears to be amplifying a natural switch to warmer, drier weather conditions associated with La Nina.

Climate change, by adding heat to the Earth’s atmosphere and oceans fundamentally changes the flow of moisture between the air, the ocean and the land. It increases the intensity of both evaporation and precipitation. But this increase isn’t even. It is more likely to come about in extreme events. In other words, climate change increases the likelihood of both more extreme drought and more extreme rainfall.

Of course, climate change does not exist in a vacuum. Base weather and climate conditions influence climate change’s impact. At present, with La Nina emerging in the Pacific, the tendency for the southern U.S. would be to experience warmer and drier conditions. But in a normal climate, these conditions would tend to be milder. In the present climate — warmed up by fossil fuel burning — the tendency is, moreso, to turn toward an extreme. In this case, an extreme on the hot and dry end of the climate spectrum.

For the region of Southeast Texas flooded so recently by Harvey’s record rains, it means that a turn from far too wet to rather too dry took just a little more than 3 months.

(Both temperature and moisture took a very hard turn over the past 30 days. Such extremely warm and dry conditions increase the likelihood of flash drought. A climate feature that has become far more frequent as the Earth has warmed. Image source: NOAA.)

South Texas, however, is just one pin in the map of a larger trend toward drought that is now blanketing the South. Over the past month, precipitation levels were less than 50 percent of normal amounts in most locations with a broad region over the south and west experiencing less than 10 percent of the normal allotment of moisture. Meanwhile, 90-day precipitation averages are also much lower than normal across the South.

Precipitation is a primary factor determining drought. But temperature can mitigate or worsen drought conditions. Higher temperatures cause swifter evaporation — driving moisture out of soils at a faster rate. And average temperatures across the south have been quite warm recently. With one month averages ranging from 1 C above normal over most of the south to a whopping 8 C above normal over parts of New Mexico. As with lower than normal precipitation, higher than normal temperatures have also extended into the past 90 day period across most of the South.

 

(Moderate drought conditions are widespread as severe to extreme drought is starting to crop up in the South-Central U.S. With La Nina likely to continue through winter and with global temperatures in the range of 1.1 to 1.2 C above pre-industrial averages, there is risk that conditions will intensify. Image source: U.S. Drought Monitor.)

The upshot is that moderate drought is taking hold, not just in southeast Texas, but across the southwest, the southeast, and south-central U.S. Severe to extreme drought has also already blossomed from northern Texas and Louisiana through Oklahoma, Arkansas and Missouri. This is relatively early to see such a sharp turn, especially considering the fact that La Nina conditions have only lasted for a short while and have, so far, been rather mild on the scale of that particular climate event.

Furthermore, like Texas, many of these drying regions experienced extreme rainfall events during spring and summer. Such events, however, were not enough to stave off a hard shift to drought in a world in which human-caused climate change is now driving both droughts and more extreme rainfall events to rising intensity.

(Predicted temperature and precipitation variance from normal over next three months. Climate change is likely to enhance this variability related feature. Image source: NOAA.)

With La Nina likely to remain in place throughout winter, the typical climate tendency would be for continued above average temperatures across the south and continued below average rainfall for the same region. Present human-caused global warming through fossil fuel burning in the range of 1.1 to 1.2 C above pre-industrial averages will tend to continue to amplify this warm, dry end of the natural variability cycle (for the southern U.S.).

In other words, there is not insignificant risk that the hard turn away from record wet conditions in the South will continue and that severe to very severe drought conditions will tend to spring up and expand.

RELATED STATEMENTS:

Tesla Model 3 Production More than Doubled During November

Hands down, no other electrical vehicle company possesses the charging infrastructure, the high quality electrical vehicles, and the production infrastructure that’s now in Tesla’s hands. This system synergy provides unparalleled value to Tesla customers. Enabling them to use and improve their electrical vehicles with far greater ease than offerings from other automakers.

So when one reads about rising sales of the Chevy Bolt or how Volkswagen plans to sell 100,000 EVs per year by 2020 (Tesla sells that many now, in 2017), one should realize that both of these companies, though presently producing or planning to produce high-quality EVs, are behind in a race to catch Tesla. The Bolt, which sells for around 36,000 dollars hasn’t even yet caught up with the Tesla Model S — which costs more than twice as much. And Volkswagen is still waiting for its signature EV brands to be built over the next two years.

(Tesla deposits are an indicator of customer interest. Model 3 has been a primary driver of deposit increases since openings for reservations began in Q1 of 2016. Image source: Bloomberg.)

Struggles by Tesla to hit a rapid Model 3 production ramp, however, have caused some to question whether the revolutionary EV manufacturer and renewable energy company would hold on to that lead. Whether the delay would allow others to start to catch up. And of course some of this conjecture was puffed up by traditional Tesla bears and opponents — grasping at any bad news to spin against a rising green energy giant.

To be very clear, Tesla is at least 1-2 years ahead of the competition. So a month or two or three delay for the Model 3 production ramp — a vehicle which more than half a million customers have reserved — is not going to knock it out of its present leadership status. Longer term problems — lasting for more than 6 months — would be more telling, especially if reservation holders began to drift away. But Tesla’s present advantage is so significant at this time that the production fail on the Model 3 would have to be pretty monumental to provide any serious opening for the competition.

(Model 3 starting to break out of the pack. The vehicle is now the #21 best selling EV for all of 2017 and probably #11-12 for November. If the production ramp continues, the car will easily break the top 10 in December and probably become the best-selling EV in the U.S. by January or February. Image source: Inside EVs.)

To this point, according to reports from Inside EVs, Tesla produced and sold an additional 345 Model 3s during the month of November. This number is up 200 from the estimated 145 produced and sold during October. In total, Inside EVs estimates that 712 Model 3s had been sold by end of November.

Number sold is not number produced. So if Inside EVs estimates are correct, then Tesla has likely built over 800 Model 3s so far. And present trends make it likely that Tesla will complete between 1300 and 3000 of these revolutionary new vehicles by year-end. If this is ultimately the case, then the Model 3 production ramp is 2-3 months behind schedule. Disappointing to the hundreds of thousands waiting to get their hands on a Model 3, for sure. But not a crisis set to break the back of Tesla — as some have implied.

Hot Blob off Southeast Australia Fuels Life-Threatening Rain Bomb Event

Hot Blobs. These pools of severe warmth at the ocean surface have, during recent years, fueled all kinds of climate change related extreme weather ranging from droughts to floods to record hurricanes.

(Hot blob southeast of Australia features ocean temperatures as high as 8 F [4.5 C] above average. This is an extreme climate and severe weather-triggering feature related to climate change. One that has also been associated with strong, persistent atmospheric ridges and related high pressure systems. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

The blobs themselves often form under persistent and strong high pressure systems which lock-in both heat and high rates of evaporation. These highs, sometimes called resilient ridges, are thought by a number of experts to be an upshot of changes to both atmospheric circulation and energy balance as a result of the Earth warming. They are an example of the kinds of extreme climate and related severe weather triggering outliers you would tend to expect in a warming world. A new kind of weather phenomena producing new effects.

Today, sea surface temperatures between Australia and New Zealand are ranging as high as 8 F (4.5 C) above average. A very significant warm temperature departure for this area of ocean. One that well meets the qualification for the term ‘hot blob.’ The large blocking high associated with the blob has, for some time now, been circulating very high volumes of moisture evaporating off these much warmer than normal waters over Eastern Australia. This moisture loading provides fuel for powerful storms in the form of both more explosive atmospheric lift and higher rainfall potential.

(Ridge-tough dipole triggers extreme weather in region prepped by moisture venting off an ocean hot blob. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

All that heat and moisture bleeding off the hot blob just needed a catalyst to produce the kind of climate change related event I’ve been calling a ‘rain bomb.’ And, unfortunately for Southeast Australia, just this kind of catalyst in the form of a sharp facing trough in the Jet Stream and related upper level low forming over South Australia is on the way.

From today through late Friday, this low will generate added atmospheric energy that will produce very severe thunderstorms over Southeast Australia. Ones capable of generating extreme rainfall amounts in excess of 2 inches per hour over certain locations. With total rainfall amounts hitting between 4 inches (100 mm) and 12 inches (300 mm) between now and late Friday.

(Predicted extreme rainfall event is being fueled by very warm sea surface temperatures to the east.)

The storm system will also generate strong winds, lightning, and tidal flooding for some locales.

This is a dangerous event risking loss of property and life with a number of climate change related factors involved. Those in the areas affected should stay tuned to local weather (BOM) and government emergency management for storm and response information.

CREDITS:

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Hat tip to Vic

The Global Smack-down Against the Infernal Combustion Engine Achieves Full Charge

As the climate-wrecking fossil fuel age was climbing to dominance in 1943, Winston Churchill perhaps made the most famously telling Freudian slip of all time. In an attempt to laud the transition from the horse and buggy to the fossil-fuel driven car, he said to an audience at Harvard:

“Man has parted company with his trusty friend the horse and has sailed into the azure with the eagles, eagles being represented by the infernal combustion engine–er er, internal combustion engine. [loud laughter] Internal combustion engine! Engine!”

And as people from the Arctic to the Maldives to Bangladesh to the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico can now attest, the effects of the gasses produced by internal combustion have indeed started to become quite infernal as the leading edge of climate change related disasters begins to take hold.

(The LA auto show this week was dominated by new electrical vehicles.)

But at the same time that seas are rising and the weather is worsening, there is renewed hope that all this infernal combustion and related climate wrecking carbon dioxide spewing into the atmosphere may start to taper off. For if the age of unsustainable fossil fuels was heralded by an infernal engine, then the age of sustainability itself is being heralded by blessed batteries and the cars they power.

UBS — 1 in 6 New Cars to be Electric by 2025

For the electrical transition is happening now. And it’s charging up as we speak.

According to a recent report by UBS, the number of affordable, desirable electrical vehicles will vastly expand between now and 2020. Multiple vehicles that are competitive with, if not matching the performance of, Tesla’s Model 3 will be available by that time. These models will continue to proliferate through 2025.

(UBS estimates rapid increases in EV market share. This is bad news for fossil fuels and good news for sustainability.)

At the same time, prices for both batteries and vehicles are expected to fall. Total cost of ownership for electrical vehicles is already less than a comparable fossil fuel based car for a number of models. This is due to lower fuel and maintenance costs. However, overall total cost of ownership is expected to be less on average than fossil fuel cars by the early 2020s. Meanwhile, base price for EVs is expected to out-compete that of fossil fuel based cars by 2025 even as EVs are expected to consistently outperform ICE vehicles by that time.

As a result, UBS expects that between 6 and 25 percent of all new cars will be electric by 2025 with the average between these two predicted ranges hitting 16 percent or 1 in 6 of all new cars sold.

Volkswagen Invests More than $12 Billion in EVs

Tesla, presently the global EV market leader, is today’s company to beat. And Volkswagen, recently stung by an emissions scandal, appears to be stepping up to the plate as a serious challenger.

The company, this month, decided to invest 12 billion dollars to build as many as 40 electrical vehicle models in China. A market that by itself may support as many as 6-9 million EV sales per year by 2025. Volkswagen, in total, aims to sell 1.5 million electrical vehicles per year at that time.

(Volkswagen electrical car, SUV and Hippie Van spotted in California on November 27th. Image source: Clean Technica.)

Already, the company is developing multiple high-quality models to include an electric version of its iconic hippie bus, an electric car based on traditional Volkswagen styling, and a new SUV crossover called the CROZZ. All are expected to have a 200+ mile electric range and feature better performance than their fossil fuel counterparts.

Movement Toward Electrification Across Entire Industry

But it’s not just Volkswagen that appears ready to move aggressively toward electrification, pretty much every major automaker is adding new EVs between now and 2022 — with a number focused on total or near total electrification (see Jaguar video at top of post).

To name just a few, GM plans 20 new electrical models over the next six years, Ford plans 13 by 2020, and both Daimler and Renault plan to have 8 BEVs on the road by 2022. New entrants like BYD and Tata are also advancing electrical vehicles in their home markets of India and China. And the above-mentioned Jaguar expects all its new vehicles to have electric or hybrid electric drive trains by 2020.

Tesla Still Leading the Charge, But Will that Last?

Though numerous factors have driven the industry toward electrification to include falling battery costs, concerns about mass devastation from human-caused climate change, and drives by cities like Paris and nations like China to clean up air quality, it was Tesla, primarily, that proved to the world that EVs could be mass produced at market-setting quality and performance.

Tesla advances continue today with news reports indicating that the Model 3’s performance beats pretty much all of the BMW 3 series internal combustion engine cars hands down. And reviewers over at Motor Trend have gone so far as to call the Model 3 a BMW 3 series killer.

Meanwhile, indications are that production bottle necks may be starting to clear for the market-setting Model 3. Panasonic recently announced that battery production for the vehicle is about to speed up even as the company introduced reservation options for non employees this past week. If this is the case, Tesla is in the process of securing at least a 1-2 year jump on most major automakers.

(The new Tesla Roadster. Image source: Tesla.)

Tesla has also not let its various aspirational goals slip. Its offering of a 500 mile range long-haul truck by 2020 at $180,000 is yet another trend-setter. And the new Tesla Roadster with a 250 mile top speed, a 600 mile range, and featuring hyper-fast charging will basically far outperform even the top fossil fueled vehicles in pretty much every metric.

As the race between Tesla and the rest of the auto industry to produce the next trend-setting EV ramps up, it looks like the main loser will be that old pollution-belching infernal combustion engine. Good riddance.

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