Human Hothouse Found to be California Drought Culprit as Ridiculously Resilient Ridge Reasserts

This is an event that is more extreme than any in the observed record, and our research suggests that global warming is playing a role right now. — Stanford Scientist Noah Diffenbaugh


Last week, a strong storm over-rode a powerful high pressure ridge that has been deflecting moisture-loaded weather systems northward and away from the US West Coast for the better part of two years. Though some precipitation did grace the northern and mountain stretches of the drought-stricken state of California, it is no-where near enough to alleviate an epic 21+ month long drought. A drought borne of a blocking pattern that began during the winter of 2012-2013 and now threatens to extend to the end of 2014 and, possibly, beyond.

In the wake of the storm, the powerful ridge reasserted — again delaying hopes that a parched California would at last begin to receive at least a normal allotment of rain.

Blocking Ridge Oct 6, 2014

(Euro Model forecast shows the ridiculously resilient ridge [RRR] strongly in place off the US and Pacific Northwest coasts in the October 6 run. Image source: ECMWF.)

It is a high pressure ridge based blocking pattern that has become so persistent that researchers at Stanford University have given it a new name — the ridiculously resilient ridge or Triple R. And the Triple R, according to those same researchers has climate change based origins.

For this week, Stanford scientists published a new study that found:

The atmospheric conditions associated with the unprecedented drought currently afflicting California are “very likely” linked to human-caused climate change.

Researchers used a combination of climate models and statistical techniques to determine that large, persistent high pressure systems of the kind that have been locking California into perpetual drought are more likely in the presence of high concentrations of greenhouse gasses. They found that the ridge, which has generated year-round wildfires in California and at its peak intensity during January of 2014 stretched from Hawaii all the way to coast of the Arctic Ocean north of Alaska, was a kind of new species of extreme weather far more likely to occur in a human-warmed world.


(January 23 of 2014 weather pattern showing a moisture flow diverted from Hawaii to Alaska by the Triple R west coast blocking pattern. Image source: NASA.)

The anomalous strength of the ridge also likely played a role in the powerful polar vortex disruptions that were commonplace throughout the winter of 2014. As the ridge shoved more warm air into the polar zone north of Alaska the cold core of the polar vortex was displaced south and eastward over the Canadian Archipelago and Hudson Bay — driving extreme weather events over the central and eastern US as well as across the Atlantic and on to the UK.

The Researchers found that ridging was the overall and anomalous tendency of the pattern in this region of the northeast Pacific. They observed that the ridge remained strong throughout the winter of 2013, weakened during the summer of that year, then flared into an extreme intensity by January of 2014. Since that time, the ridge has swelled and spluttered, occasionally letting a storm or two pass but still serving as a kind of brutal sentinel to weather systems that would typically make their way to California.

The results of such a human-caused disruption of the climate are all too visible in the most recent US Drought Monitor.

September 23 drought monitor

(Despite tropical storms and the occasional weakness in the Triple R allowing a brief influx of moisture, 100% of California is still suffering from drought conditions with 58% percent of the state under the most extreme level of drought. Image source: US Drought Monitor)

A drought event that is the most extreme in the observed record and that is now linked to climate change by at least three major studies.

From the Stanford Study’s authors:

“We’ve demonstrated with high statistical confidence that the large-scale atmospheric conditions, similar to those associated with the Triple R, are far more likely to occur now than in the climate before we emitted large amounts of greenhouse gases,” Rajaratnam said.

“In using these advanced statistical techniques to combine climate observations with model simulations, we’ve been able to better understand the ongoing drought in California,” Diffenbaugh added. “This isn’t a projection of 100 years in the future. This is an event that is more extreme than any in the observed record, and our research suggests that global warming is playing a role right now.”


Stanford Scientists: Causes of California Drought Linked to Climate Change



US Drought Monitor

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  1. Reblogged this on GarryRogers Nature Conservation and commented:
    Research indicates a global warming connection for most recent extreme weather events.

  2. Doug

     /  September 30, 2014

    Robert, in case you didn’t see it, I’ve copy pasted David Archer’s response to your methane post here:

    [Response: It’s true that there are lots of uncertainties on the rate of Arctic or oceanic hydrate methane emission. But there isn’t much uncertainty on whether or not these sources are globally significant. They are small, relative to other sources. That’s well known. David] – See more at:

  3. Phil

     /  October 1, 2014

    It will be interesting to see the extent that events turn out to be similar and different from the same time last year running up over into 2015. For example, will we see very warm arctic winter (and whether this also contributes to milder arctic summers), whether the polar vortex re-visits Canada and the USA into the new year and finally whether the UK and Europe are visited by storms similar to last year.

    The other interesting thing is whether WWB’s continue to emerge in the WPAC and whether El Nino develops or the variant which is milder but longer lasting occurs together whether a continued positive PDO continues.

    I have seen some long range model forecasts on the El Nino thread of the arctic sea ice forum web-site that have Nino 3.4 anomalies hovering around the 0.5 to 1 degree c well into next year. Off course, that is very far out and is just speculative at this stage but if further EKW’s were to emerge, it wouild make things interesting – a slower but more persistent burn.

    • The current EKW structure does look like it may be pointing toward slow burn. Very elongated with a good number of warm pulses interspersed.

      SOI did shift a bit more toward zero this past week, though.

      As for the poles, northern amplification appears to be kicking in already. Pacific and Atlantic south-north heat transfer already established.

    • One other bit to look at is that powerful ridge developing over Scandinavia. If you have the NE Pacific Ridge and a Scandinavian Ridge stacking up, we’re likely to see rather strong warm air transport into the Arctic during winter time.

  4. wili

     /  October 1, 2014

    Thanks for this reporting on this important finding. I found it interesting that they have, on the other hand, determined that the biblical flooding in CO earlier this year does not seem to have a GW fingerprint, and that in that particular location at least, such flooding is predicted to decrease as the climate warms.

    “Climate Not a Factor in Epic Colorado Floods”

    (Before denialists jump all over this, it should be pointed out to them that this is study is more evidence (though only denialists seem to need it) that climate scientists are doing…well…science. If they were some kind of government-money-grubbing cabal, presumably they wouldn’t ever come up with any such findings.)

    • Science tests proofs. As such, it can’t be afraid of seeming contraction so long as it is involved in an active investigation of evidence.

  5. Another heat wave hitting this weekend, 90+ F coming here to SD.

    • Andy, was it you who compared the current San Diego landscape to that of Saudi Arabia? I remember being stunned by the dessicated scenes from the recent Cosmos series. And that was many months ago.

      • In terms of groundwater decimation, yes. To me it is identical (with equal foresight).

        • California has a huge amount of work ahead if they’re going to face this thing. I don’t think hoping for rain will help all too much. The drought may break, it may not. But years of much drier conditions lie ahead.

  6. From the department of bizarre mass psychology, and the folks that make denialism and suicidal acceptance a virtue:

    Beauty Companies Want to Protect Your Skin From Air Pollution

    Companies Want to Establish Whether Smog and Car Exhaust Lead to More Signs of Aging
    In the dirty world of car exhaust, cigarette smoke and smog, the beauty industry sees its next big opportunity.

    Air pollution’s suspected effects on the skin—increased signs of aging, dark spots and inflammation—are the latest problems major makers of personal care products want to solve.

    New products and packaging are hitting U.S. store shelves with claims of removing pollution and enhancing the skin’s natural defense system…
    “It’s a huge opportunity,” …

    • Their environment has been rapidly altered in such a way as to move their food sources and to render past foraging techniques mostly useless. They are in a situation where they must adapt to conditions for which their current forms may well be poorly suited. Certainly a time of severe stress.

    • Apneaman

       /  October 1, 2014

      At least folks know where to go when the food stamps program ends.

  7. Robert In New Orleans

     /  October 1, 2014

    Unfortunately, most people will not notice or pay attention to the California Drought until their favorite produce sky rockets in price or disappears altogether from their local grocery store.

    • California civilization put at risk by perpetual drought…

      So th US response is to yawn?

      My thought is that media/politicians/leaders are doing very little to highlight the impacts of this likely human driven weather event.

  1. 100,000 Wells About to Go Dry: NASA Finds California Drought Removing 4 Trillion Gallons of Water Each Year | robertscribbler

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