Earlier this week something rather interesting and disturbing happened to the Jet Stream.
In the extreme northwest, a large heat pool over Alaska and the Beaufort Sea in the Arctic Ocean kept temperatures in the range of 10 to 36 degrees Fahrenheit above average. To the south, a powerful super typhoon, gorged on Pacific Ocean waters ranging from 1-2 C hotter than normal, raced into the extratropical region of the Central and Northern Pacific. And to the north and east, the cold core that normally resides over the North Pole began slipping south.
(Massive warm air invasion of the Arctic earlier this week led to a major polar vortex disruption driving cold air out of the Arctic and setting off record snowfall in the region of Buffalo, New York. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)
As the supertyphoon’s remnants hit the warm weakness in the Jet Stream near Alaska, it bombed out into a monster extra-tropical low. This kicked warm air even further north, causing a whiplash in the Jet and driving the cold air core south over Canada.
Cold air rocketed down over the relatively warm waters of the Great Lakes. These waters, having soaked up the heat of yet another hotter than average American October and early November, squeezed an epic amount of moisture and storm feeding energy out into the air. Over the past two days, the result was as kind of thundersnow storm that parked itself in one location, dumping foot after foot of snow. By the time the final tally was counted this morning, as much as 8 feet had fallen over Buffalo New York. A record amount never before seen in so short a time span and yet so far ahead of winter.
More than seven deaths, multiple building collapses, a paralyzation of transportation, and extraordinary damages prompted the New York State governor to declare a state of emergency.
Yes, Climate Change Has Put the Weather on Steroids
All these events occurred in the context of a climate increasingly distorted by human-caused warming. The Northern Hemisphere during this week has averaged over 1 degree C hotter than normal. And the Arctic has averaged at around 2.5 degrees C hotter than normal.
In this mix of climate change driven extreme weather soup, that warming Arctic is critical. It provided the weakness in the Jet Stream for a supertyphoon’s remnants to exploit. It provided a wobbly polar vortex all too ready to make another charge south over North America. And the super-hot equatorial waters of the Pacific added yet more energy to this stoked and building climate fire.
Cold Snow to Turn to Warm Flood
But the tale of climate change driven extreme weather isn’t over by a long shot. The cold dipole which drove over the Great Lakes earlier this week was anything but stable. Now, warmth is surging north over the US heartland springing up from the hot pools of the Gulf of Mexico and the Eastern Pacific. It is producing a warm frontal boundary that is now driving across the US heartland. By Saturday and Sunday, it will dump a warming rain over Buffalo’s 7-8 feet of snowpack.
Temperatures are expected to climb into a much warmer than normal range of 50 degrees F by Saturday. By Sunday, the heat will build to 15-20 degrees above average reaching as high as 60 degrees F in the forecast.
(Sunday GFS model forecast shows temperatures at +15 to +20 degrees Fahrenheit above average for the Buffalo region. The added high temperatures are expected to coincide with rainfall and potential major flooding from the melt of a massive 8 feet of snow in some areas. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer. Note that global temperatures in both maps are in the range of 0.39 to 0.51 C above the already hotter than normal 1979 to 2000 average.)
The snow pack is first expected to ripen, then flood away under the rising heat and a half inch to two inches of rainfall. The impact to Buffalo’s infrastructure could again be quite extraordinary. Between 9 and 15 inches worth of liquid water are locked in all that snow. Its sudden release into a landscape of clogged storm drains and choked roads is expected to provide an extraordinary flood risk. And massive piles of snow over buildings collecting more water will increase further risk of building collapse.
As of now, the National Weather Service has posted a Flood Watch — which means extreme conditions may begin in as little as six hours.
Conditions in Context
Radical swings between weather extremes like those experienced by Buffalo this week are exactly the type of climate alterations we would expect as a result of human caused warming. These impacts occur in the context of a world that is now experiencing its hottest year on record globally. A place of increasingly intense droughts, rainfall, and snowfall events. A world in which the Northern Hemisphere Jet Stream is increasingly distended as air over the Arctic warms much faster than the rest of the globe.
Such extremes in weather have been predicted by climate scientists to result from human-caused warming. And we are beginning to see the start, the milder outliers, of these predicted extremes set off by the human heat forcing now. Further heightening Arctic warming, or worse, increasing cold water outflows from melting ice sheets over Greenland, will almost certainly set off far more extreme weather than what we are seeing now.
Message to climate change deniers — this serves as a warning to you. Turn back.