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Reflections of Opal and Why Trump’s Response to Maria’s Monumental Strike on Puerto Rico is, Thus Far, Vastly Inadequate

As a veteran of the U.S. Army National Guard, I’ve responded to my fair share of natural disasters. And having responded to some of the costliest and most devastating storms to strike the U.S. in the 90s, I know what it means when damage estimates, as they do now with Maria, hit a range of 30-95 billion dollars. When you get reports that evacuees are fleeing Puerto Rico with many saying they will never return.

It means total devastation of infrastructure requiring an equally unprecedented level of response to effectively manage a disaster of a class that we are not presently used to dealing with. And without an effective response, you get exactly what we are seeing now — refugees fleeing what has become, through neglect, a sacrifice zone.

(Editorial note — too little, too late.)

The present response to Maria by the Trump Administration is comparable to the level of response to Hurricane Opal. Opal was a devastating storm in its own right. But the damage inflicted by Opal was more than an order of magnitude less than the damage inflicted by Maria. Our response, therefore, must be equal to the level of harm and dislocation inflicted by the disaster. 5,000 troops and FEMA responders for Maria is, therefore, about 45,000 short of the mark.

Moreover, we can absolutely say that failure to pre-position an adequate number of troops, supplies and ships leading up to this disaster, a failure to secure a means of entry into Puerto Rico for troops and other emergency relief workers, a failure to establish law and order in devastated regions, and a failure to adequately and in a coordinated manner work to re-establish infrastructure and communications on the island is leading to a combined expanding disaster and mass exodus.

Reflections on the Effective Response to Opal

Back in 1995, when category 4 Hurricane Opal was roaring toward the Florida Panhandle packing 150 mph sustained winds, I received word of my mobilization while sitting in Shakespeare class, interrupted from listening to the lilting voice of my professor recite the bard in the idyllic halls of Flagler College.

It was October 3rd. And with the storm expected to make landfall sometime early on October 4, troops were already being called in. Units were already prepping. And supplies were already being pre-positioned.

My unit, an Infantry Company based out of Sanford Florida, possessed air mobile capabilities. This meant we linked up with a helicopter unit, mounted up, and performed the functions of air cavalry and air assault. A majority of the unit were ex-Rangers or Special Ops types serving out their retirement in the Guard. The rest were mostly ‘green’ college-age kids like me and a number of police officers, public servants, and school teachers. Our commanding officer was a Bank exec — your archetypal citizen-soldier. Our ranking NCO was a company first sergeant and ex-Ranger who’d served multiple tours in Vietnam.

(When hurricane Opal made landfall along the Florida Panhandel, it became the third most costly hurricane to ever strike the U.S. at the time. Hurricane Maria [above] was larger than even Opal — which at the time was considered to be one of the largest strong storms to strike the U.S. Its impacts devastated the entire island of Puerto Rico — not just a single long stretch of coastline. In dollar estimates, Maria is presently ten times more costly than Opal. However, with the economy of Puerto Rico less vibrant than that of the Florida panhandle, comparative damages are far more extensive. Image source: Commons.)

In the event of war, our mission was to support the 82nd Airborne. But in this peace-time disaster relief operation, our goal was to put first boots on the ground in the disaster area. To assess damage, establish rule of law and order, establish communications, secure key infrastructure, protect life and property, and to establish secure points of entry for disaster relief supplies and technical relief personnel such as medical professionals, engineers, and FEMA personnel.

The lessons-learned from devastating Hurricane Andrew were fresh on our minds as we readied for a hit that some thought could be as bad or worse.

A Far More Effective Mobilization and Response

For my part, mobilization meant cramming my individual gear into my personal vehicle — a 50 mpg Honda CRX — and making an unexpected drive from St. Augustine to Sanford to join with my unit on the afternoon of October 3. As with the environments around most hurricanes, the weather at the time was fair. But a tall, white outflow plume could be seen far off to the west.

Arrival at the unit was met with the usual flurry of activity. Most of our supplies had already been sent out on two and a half ton trucks to a pre-position location in the Pan Handle, but far enough away from the expected path of the storm not to put the unit at serious risk. We drew weapons, communications equipment, and packed up on food and water. Someone issued water purification tablets. I was the radio guy for my platoon — which was a recon platoon modeled after similar units in the U.S. Army’s Ranger divisions. So I picked up that heavy thing and loaded out with the necessary lithium batteries.

Flooding can be seen from the air as a U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Air and Marine Operations, DHC-8 prepares to land in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico, September 22, 2017. U.S. Customs and Border Protection photo by Kris Grogan. More than a week after Maria, the situation in Puerto Rico is arguably getting worse. After a few days of a well organized response and relief effort following Opal, impacted regions had already begun to recover.

We piled into our two and a half ton trucks — which we called duces — and headed out.

By late that evening we arrived at a local school gym in some small town inland in the panhandle. Spreading out on the floor of the gym — we mostly slept. This is a habit you pick up on real quick in the military — sleep when you can, because you don’t know when you’re going to get it next.

Outside, the winds picked up, and tree limbs fell to the ground as Opal’s outer tropical-storm-force bands lashed over our location.

As soon as conditions had relented early that morning, we were loading up into our trucks and running out to a local tar-mac. Helicopters were waiting at the airport. Some of us, including me, piled into the ‘copters. The rest formed a convoy that would attempt to forge a land route out to the beaches along the far western Panhandle. Places like Destin Beach, Fort Walton Beach, and Gulf Breeze near Pensacola.

But those of us on the helicopters would be first in to the disaster area.

Opal had weakened as it roared into the coast. Still packing 115 mph winds, the storm had pushed a massive 15 foot storm surge through the region we were now approaching. From the air, we could see large sections of barrier islands that were literally cut in half. A one-mile section of coastal highway 98 was completely taken out by the surge. Most barrier islands were park beaches. But damage to homes along waterways and the shore line was immediately apparent. In parts, the homes had been completely removed from their foundations as if they were never there in the first place.

(In Navarre Beach, storm surge damage from Opal was quite extensive. In places, homes were washed across barrier islands and into the sound. Image source: Weather.gov. Maria’s impacts were far more widespread and severe.)

Power lines and trees were down everywhere and damage was extensive — if no-where near rivaling the wind-caused devastation of Andrew. Most causeways to the islands appeared to have suffered extensive damage and it appeared that the convoy was going to have a tough time getting in.

After getting a visual assessment from the air, we located a relatively clear landing zone in Destin and set down. Immediately, we began to set up a forward base of operations while sending out patrols into the nearby cities. In the hardest hit sections, we placed armed guards at intersections as a show of force to reassure the public and prevent looting. Residents who’d stayed had lost power entirely. Many were grilling all the food in their refrigerators — engaged in an odd kind of block party where once the food was gone, it was uncertain when one would get more. We handed out some of the water we had (a few pallets had come on the ‘copters) and let people know where we were setting up aid locations for food, water, and medical attention.

We were initially very concerned about individuals needing immediate medical attention or those trapped in buildings. But at our location, it appeared that most people were fortunate — aside from the odd scrapes, bruises and gouges. Most residents near the immediate coast appeared to have gotten out before the massive storm surge rolled in, which was a blessing.

Reports of looting at a local car dealership came in and our platoon dispatched a squad to secure the area, apprehend and detain looters, and secure car keys so that no vehicles were stolen. And that was all on day one.

Over the next few days we slowly re-established order and rapidly widened the aid chain. It was a rough hit, but not as bad as Andrew, and it looked like the region was on the road to recovery.

Quantifying the Urgent Need for a Larger Response

Hurricane Opal inflicted 5.1 billion dollars of damages — mostly to the Florida and Alabama coasts and inland due to very heavy rainfall totaling up to 15 inches. The storm killed 63 people. In total, 3,500 National Guard troops and 700 police officers were mobilized to respond to the disaster. As you can see from the above account, much of this mobilization effort occurred prior to the storm striking land.

In contrast, Hurricane Maria has inflicted far greater damage over a much wider region. Total damage estimates for Maria now range between 30 and 95 billion dollars. Maria’s winds were close to 150 mph at landfall and the thunderstorms associated with this very powerful hurricane dumped as much as 40 inches of rain over Puerto Rico. As of one week and a day following Maria striking Puerto Rico, the Department of Defense had only mobilized 4,500 troops. Members of the U.S. Congress, meanwhile, recommend sending 50,000 — which would be an appropriate response. 

Due to a failure to immediately mobilize the forces necessary to deal with such a massive disaster, Puerto Rico remains on its knees. Reports are coming in that looting is expanding even as people grow desperate after being unable to access food, water, electricity and controlled climates for more than a week. Many homes have been destroyed and the homeless are mostly destitute and without help as disaster relief organizers blunder about trying to reach them. Meanwhile, thousands are leaving a Puerto Rico that looks, increasingly, as if it was basically abandoned for at least one week following one of the most devastating strikes by a hurricane in the Caribbean on record.

To be very clear, this thus far totally inadequate response to Maria is a failure of leadership at the highest levels.

Links:

Hurricane Maria Could Be a 95 Billion Dollar Storm for Puerto Rico

50,000 Troops Needed for Puerto Rico

U.S. Response to Puerto Rico Pales Next to Haiti Quake

Hurricane Opal

Hurricane Maria

Hurricane Opal Floods Florida

Hurricane Maria Dumps 40 Inches of Rain on Puerto Rico

Evacuees Leave Puerto Rico by Cruise Ship — Some Doubting They Will Ever Return

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A Call For All True Americans to Stand With Puerto Rico in Their Hour of Need

When I began writing this blog, it was in the hope that human beings would stand united to face the dire threat that is climate change. I also feared that events such as those that have recently occurred in the Atlantic would begin to rise to ferocious intensity.

Puerto Rico did not deserve the terrible blow she received on September 20th. A small island territory, she did very little to contribute to the warming oceans and atmosphere that made Maria worse. That considerably increased the devastation that was inflicted that engorged the risk to the now 3.4 million Americans who are, tonight, rendered refugees.

It does not have to be this way. Though we cannot control the force of a hurricane, we can determine the resolve of our response. We can aim our efforts at helping those who have been thrust into sweltering 100 degree heat indexes without power, air conditioning, water, and in many cases food. We can provide the leadership, as a country united in the face of adversity, that the person who presently and unjustly claims the office of President so glaringly lacks.

This is the time when we all need to pull together for the people of Puerto Rico who are also the people of this great country. To show, as Elon Musk did today, the true nature of our charity and compassion for one another. To show that we resolve ourselves to leave no American behind in the face of rising climate disasters. That we will respond with heart and justice — not with cynicism or an eye toward gaining personal power by dividing America. By responding for Texas and Florida — but not for Puerto Rico.

This is a general call to all who listen and hear these words to act in any way that you can. Though the storm is now over we risk the loss of thousands, a mass exodus of the destitute, and the surrender of a portion of America to the great and dark abyss. In the absence of Presidential leadership we must each now become a leader and take responsibility for our fellows. It is only in this way — together, indivisible — that we can successfully navigate the time of troubles ahead.

With Indicators Pointing Toward Back-to-Back La Ninas, NASA Shows August 2017 was Second Hottest on Record

The Earth really hasn’t backed off that much from the record heat of 2016. And since we’re experiencing what NOAA states is more and more likely to be back-to-back La Nina periods, the world should really sit up and take notice.

El Nino and La Nina Variability as Part of the Larger Warming Trend

As a measure of natural variability, La Ninas bring cooler conditions to a large portion of the Equatorial Pacific Ocean. Since the influence of this ocean on the larger climate system is so strong, La Ninas tend to generate periodic cooling in surface temperatures across the globe. El Nino, by contrast, generates periodic warming. The cycling between these two states can be imagined as a wave form.

(1998 and 2016 were both strong El Nino years — producing new record hot global temperatures when they occurred. Follow-on La Nina years resulted in counter-trend cooling that was not great enough to disturb the much larger overall global warming based trend. Image source: NASA.)

This cycle, however, should not be confused with the overall larger climate trend — which has been for considerable and rapid warming over the course of more than a century. That said, and despite the larger and obvious warming trend, La Nina years have tended to be cooler than El Nino years. This prevalence has resulted in years in which global surface temperatures temporarily, but slightly compared to the larger trend, back off from recent records. Meanwhile, El Nino years have tended to bring on new record hot temperatures due to their peaking influence on the greater trend of fossil fuel and carbon emissions based warming.

August 2017 Second Hottest on Record; 2017 Also Tracking Toward Second Hottest Year

According to NASA, August of 2017 came in as the second hottest August in the 137 year climate record. Overall August temperatures were 1.09 C warmer than 1880s averages. A measure that came in 0.14 C cooler than the record hot August of 2016 and 0.05 C warmer than the third hottest August — 2014. This added heat to the Earth System continued a larger record trend that has been in place at least since 2014 in which temperatures near the Earth’s surface spiked to far higher than previous levels (see image above).

Present NASA tracking shows that the first 9 months of climate year 2017 (Dec-Aug) were 1.14 C hotter than 1880s averages. By comparison, climate year of 2016 (Dec-Nov) hit 1.24 C above 1880s averages with January through December hitting 1.22 C above 1880s averages. The third warmest year on record, 2015, came in at around 1.09 C hotter than 1880s. Given this larger trend, NASA scientists presently provide an 83 percent probability that 2017 will come in as the second hottest year on record.

Back to Back La Ninas Probably on the Way, But no Significant Cool-Off So Far

It appears that 2017 is likely to hit around 1.11 C above 1880s averages. This is a 0.11 C dip below the record hot year of 2016. And it’s a dip enabled by the formation of a La Nina during fall of 2016 and a likely back to back formation of La Nina during the same season of 2017. In contrast, the strong La Nina following the 1997-1998 El Nino produced a much greater relative global temperature drop of around 0.2 C. An approximate 0.1 C return from the very strong 2016 spike is not much of a variability-based fall back and could point toward a stronger relative warming and a possible near term challenge to the 2016 global record in a likely El Nino during 2018-2020.

(One of the sole cooler than 30-year climatology regions in the Pacific is the Equatorial zone stretching from the Central Pacific to the West Coast of South America. Periodic cool water upwelling is driving this cooling which is a signal for La Nina. NOAA presently identifies a 55 to 60 percent chance of La Nina developing during fall of 2017. If this happens, late 2016 and late 2017 will feature back to back La Ninas. Despite this development, global temperatures are still hanging near record hot ranges. Image source: NOAA.)

Wild cards for this fall will hinge, in part, on how strong Northern Hemisphere polar amplification ramps up as Arctic cooling lags. Arctic sea ice extent appears to be tracking toward 5th to 6th lowest on record at end of the summer melt season. While sea ice volume has hit near second to fourth lowest on record. Both re-radiated heat from warmer than normal Arctic Ocean sea surfaces and larger energy transfer from the middle latitudes should drive a strong polar amplification signal similar to those seen during recent years. And, already, it appears the upper latitude Northern Hemisphere cooling is lagging typical 30-year climatology. However, it remains to be seen whether fall of 2017 will rival fall of 2016’s record observed heat transfer over the Pacific and north into the Beaufort region.

Such a signal would likely firmly solidify 2017 as second hottest on record. However, stronger than expected variable La Nina based cooling could upset this trend and bring 2017 closer to 2015 values. With so many months already passed, we’re looking at a possible swing of 0.02 to 0.04 C on the lower end if La Nina is stronger and a strong polar amplification signal does not emerge — which would still result in less of a variable dip than we saw post 1998.

(High amplitude Jet Stream waves to again transfer prodigious volumes of heat into the Arctic during fall of 2017? Watch this space. Earth Nullschool GFS model based image from September 28, 2017 shows another larger ridge forming over the Pacific Northwest and extending up into the Arctic.)

The end result is that the world is now firmly in a 1 to 1.2 C above 1880s temperature zone. Such a zone is one that is well outside of typical recent human experience. One that will tend to continue to produce unsettling and harmful weather and climate extremes. Furthermore, increasingly harmful climate change related events are likely to more swiftly ramp up with each additional 0.1 C in global temperature increase and as the world approaches the 1.5 C to 2 C threshold.

Links:

NASA

Dr. Gavin Schmidt

NOAA

Earth Nullschool

JAXA

PIOMAS

DMI

Climate Change Related Extreme Weather Rocks World, Weird Major Hurricane Forms East of Bermuda, Cyclone Energy Closing in on Records

Around the world, the litany of climate change related extreme weather events reached an extraordinary tempo over the past week. And it is becoming difficult for even climate change deniers to ignore what is increasingly obvious. The weather on planet Earth is getting worse. And human-caused global warming is, in vast majority, to blame…

Climate Change Related Extreme Weather Spans Globe

(Climate and Extreme Weather Events for September 17 through 24.)

Puerto Rico is still knocked out a week after Maria roared through. With Trump basically ignoring this worst in class blow by a hurricane ramped up by human-caused climate change, it will be a wonder if this territory of 3.4 million U.S. citizens ever fully recovers.

In other and far-flung parts, Brazil is experiencing an abnormally extreme dry season. Australia just experienced its hottest winter on record. In Teruel, Spain, thunderstorms forming in a much warmer than normal atmosphere dumped half a meter of hail. Antarctic sea ice is hitting record lows after being buffeted by warm winds on at least two sides. And in Guatemala, Mexico, Poland, the Congo, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, India and Oklahoma, there have been extreme or record floods.

Weird Major Hurricane in Central Atlantic

More locally to the U.S., in the North Atlantic warmer than normal surface waters have fueled the odd development of hurricane Lee into a category 3 storm. It’s not really that strange for a major hurricane to develop in the Atlantic during September. It’s just that we’d tend to expect a storm of this kind to hit such high intensity in the Gulf of Mexico, or over the Gulf Stream, or in the Caribbean. Not at 30.6 N, 56.8 W in the Central North Atlantic south and east of Bermuda and strengthening from a weaker storm that was torn apart in the Inter-Tropical-Convergence-Zone, before drifting considerably to the north over what would typically be a less favorable environment.

But typical this present hurricane season is not. Maria, which is still a hurricane after ten days, is presently lashing coastal North Carolina with tropical storm force gusts as it moves ever so slowly to the north and east. With Irma lasting for 14 days, Jose lasting for 17, and Lee lasting for 13 so far, 2017 may well be the year of years for long duration, intense storms. Meanwhile, a disturbance to the south of Cuba shows a potential for developing into yet another tropical cyclone.

Closing in on Record Accumulated Cyclone Energy

(2017 Accumulated Cyclone Energy for the North Atlantic. Image source: Colorado State University.)

Storms lasting for so long and hitting such high intensity produce a lot of energy. And the primary measure we have for that expended energy is ACE or Accumulated Cyclone Energy. 2017 is bound to achieve one of the highest ACE measures for any Atlantic Hurricane Season. Since 1851, only 8 years have seen an ACE value hit above 200. Present 2017 ACE is at 194 and climbing. Highest ever ACE values were recorded in 2005, at 250, and 1933 at 259.

Individual storm ACE values are also impressive with 2017 presently showing 3 storms with an individual ACE higher than 40. Only 27 storms with a 40+ ACE value are ever recorded to have formed in the Atlantic. Irma, so far, is the highest ACE for 2017 at 66.6 — which is the second highest individual storm ACE ever for the Atlantic. Jose produced an ACE of 42.2 (24th) and Maria an ACE of 41.4 (26th).

If 2017 continues to produce strong, long-lasting storms over a record hot Atlantic, it is easily within striking distance of a record ACE year. The restrengthening of Lee to major hurricane status so far north and out in the Atlantic was yet one more surprise that shows how much energy the Atlantic is bleeding off this year. Such a tendency will likely continue through October but with storms probably not forming quite so frequently as during September and originating in regions closer to the Caribbean and U.S.

Links:

Puerto Ricans Waiting For Aid a Week After Maria’s Devastation

When Does it Rain Again in Brasil?

Hail Storm Causes Chaos in Teruel

Antarctic Sea Ice Hits Another Record Low

Colorado State University

The National Hurricane Center

2017 Atlantic Hurricane Season

Accumulated Cyclone Energy

Hat tip to Suzanne

Hat tip to Vic

Hat tip to Umbrios

Tesla’s All-Electrical Spark is About to Grow Much, Much Brighter

Can a single venture born out of one man’s vision for a more sustainable future help to spark the complete transformation of global automobile markets, aid the U.S. and other nations moves toward energy independence, help tamp down the problem of human-caused climate change, spur a rapid influx of renewables in the electrical generation sector, and, all the while, compete toe-to-toe with nationally funded battery, automobile, and renewable energy companies emerging in China?

We’re about to find out.

Tesla, Daimler, China Invest in Gigafactories; Musk and Daimler Spar on Twitter

This week, large German automaker Daimler announced that it would invest 1 billion dollars in an EV battery production plant in Alabama. The move followed very heavy similar investment and policy announcements by China and a multi-billion dollar investment by all-electric automaker Tesla in the first of a number of planned battery gigafactories.

Elon Musk, noting the size of Daimler’s available capital for investment, made the following pithy remark on Twitter:

Daimler, appearing more than a little sensitive to the remark, replied that it would be investing 10 billion in EV development in total, with 1 billion going to batteries. Musk replied — “Good” — with Daimler stating that it had been developing electrical vehicles for more than 100 years.

Of course, Daimler, unlike Tesla, still primarily produces fossil fuel based vehicles. The company’s planned launch of EVs capable of competing with Tesla’s present offerings are slated for around 2020. By that time, Tesla is likely to be producing well north of half a million all-electric vehicles per year. Daimler would have to significantly increase investment to adequately meet such a major challenge by Tesla.

The history of Daimler is one in which it has mostly dabbled in electrical car production while instead dedicating the lion’s share of its efforts to producing unsustainable carbon emitting cars and trucks. In 2016, Daimlier sold 3 million vehicles — the vast majority of which were ICE-based. With Tesla gobbling up larger and larger market share as an electric-only vehicle supplier, that may soon change. A result that would be “Good” for everyone on the planet. Especially in the present situation where harms from human-caused climate change are rapidly ramping higher.

But despite Daimler’s 100 year history of experimenting with electrical vehicle designs, it has a lot of catching up to do when it comes to confronting a serious market competitor in the form of the all-electric Tesla.

Tesla Ahead in the Electric Race

To understand how serious, we need only look at Tesla’s growing suite of top-in-class vehicle offerings combined with an emerging fierce logistics chain of increasingly low-cost EV batteries.

Part of this story begins at Tesla’s Nevada Gigafactory 1. To look at even the 1/3 complete Gigafactory is to behold the awesome potential of mass production writ large. Back in 2014 when Gigafactory 1 began construction under a partnership with Panasonic, the ultimate aim was to build a facility capable of producing 35 gigawatt-hours of batteries per year by 2018. That number has been raised to 50 gigawatt-hours — with an ultimate goal for this single factory in the range of 100 to 150 gigawatt-hours. By comparison, the entire global total of battery production in 2014 was around 35 gigawatt-hours. And total national production by battery giant China is presently at around 125 gigawatt hours — set to hit around 230 gigawatt-hours by 2023.

(Tesla Gigafactory 1 shows 9 of 21 planned modules complete by late August of 2017. Image source: Commons.)

Producing so many batteries in one facility will enable Tesla to leverage some serious economies of scale. This, in turn, will result in lower prices for the batteries it produces — allowing the automaker to sell electrical vehicles for less or make higher profits on models that are produced. Already, with about 15 percent of the planned gigafactory now producing batteries, Tesla is starting to see the benefits of this scaling. And recent reports indicate that it has pushed battery prices to below 140 dollars per kilowatt hour during 2017. Ultimately, many industry analysts expect the Gigafactory 1 to enable Tesla to produce batteries at near the 100 dollar per kilowatt hour mark before 2020 — substantially reducing base production costs for EVs in total.

Masses of Model 3s

This mass production of batteries is the cornerstone for Tesla’s expected mass release of its Model 3 vehicle.

To be very clear, Tesla’s spearhead Model 3 is the ultimate aim of all of the company’s efforts thus far. Each sale of the more expensive luxury Model X and Model S versions have gone to fund the more mass market Model 3. And recent cancellations of lower cost, shorter range Model S versions appear to have been aimed at creating space for the Model 3 in the 35,000 to 59,000 dollar market segment.

(This week’s Tesla Model 3 news.)

Present production of the Model 3 appears to be ramping up according to Tesla’s plans. More and more of the vehicles have been sighted on California highways. A forward-shifted delivery date spurred a rumor that the Model 3 was being produced faster than expected. Texas has already started to receive some of its Tesla employee-ordered Model 3s. Rising rates of battery production at the Nevada Gigafactory 1 site have been observed. And the appearance of VIN numbers above 700 earlier this week roughly jibe with a planned ramp to 1,500 Model 3s produced by end September.

A clearer picture of this critical production ramp may emerge over the next couple of weeks as Tesla analysts pick up on monthly Model 3 production information and the Tesla Q3 report begins to take shape.

Tesla All Electric Sales Tracking Toward 230,000 to 500,000 in 2018

By end of this year, Tesla expects to be producing 20,000 of these vehicles per month. By end 2018, Tesla is aiming for 40,000 Model 3s per month. Pre-orders in the range of 500,000 vehicles show that demand support for this level of production exists. And even conservative forecasts by investment firms like Morgan Stanley show Tesla vehicle production and sales more than doubling from an expected 90,000 to 100,000 in 2017 to over 230,000 in 2018.

Already Tesla sales appear to be edging higher — with Q3 expected sales in the range of 24,000 to 25,000 including the ramping Model 3 production. Meanwhile, Tesla’s own goals far outstrip expectations by forecasters like Morgan Stanley with the company aiming for 500,000 total sales in 2018.

(Tesla’s Model 3 planned production timeline. Image source: Tesla.)

Regardless of whether Tesla sells 230,000 cars or 500,000 cars in 2018, it will be the first automaker in a long time to see such rapid sales growth. According to Adam Jonas at Morgan Stanley, it has been generations since we’ve seen growth like this. It’s not just 2018 that forecasters like Stanley are looking at. By 2023, the investment firm expects 3 million Tesla cars to be ranging the world’s highways with that number growing to 32 million by 2040.

Tesla’s own goals appear to be significantly more ambitious. The expected 150 gwh ultimate production capacity of Tesla’s Gigafactory 1 alone could support an annual production of 2-3 million Model 3 type vehicles. And earlier this year Tesla announced plans to construct 3 more similar facilities with an ultimate goal of 10-20. Locations for the 3 new expected Gigafactories are set to be announced later in 2017.

Given the totality of this amazing undertaking, it’s unlikely that any present individual vehicle manufacturer is pursuing mass EV production at a quality and scale comparable to that of Tesla. Daimler may now be spending billions, but they are in a race to catch up. Meanwhile, it appears that Tesla may even rival China in its ultimate ability to scale battery production.

Half-way to Catastrophe — Global Hothouse Extinction to be Triggered by or Before 2100 Without Rapid Emissions Cuts

Over recent years, concern about a coming hothouse mass extinction set off by human carbon emissions has been on the rise. Studies of Earth’s deep history reveal that at least 4 out of the 5 major mass extinctions occurred during both hothouse periods and during times when atmospheric and oceanic carbon spiked to much higher than normal ranges. Now a new scientific study reveals that we have already emitted 50 percent of the carbon needed to set off such a major global catastrophe.

Fossil Fuel Burning = Race Toward a 6th Mass Extinction

The primary driver of these events is rising atmospheric CO2 levels — often caused in the past by the emergence of masses of volcanoes or large flood basalt provinces (LIP in image below). In the case of the worst mass extinction — the Permian — the Siberian flood basalts were thought to have injected magma into peat and coal formations which then injected a very large amount of carbon dioxide into the Earth’s atmosphere and oceans.

(In the Earth’s deep past, the worst global mass extinctions were driven by large igneous provinces like the eruptions across Siberia during the Permian. The initial killing mechanism during these extinctions was a result of the upshot ocean anoxia, acidification, and biochemistry change. During the Permian, effects eventually spilled over to land and possibly the upper atmosphere. Today’s human carbon emissions will ultimately produce worse impacts over shorter time scales than the Permian. Image source: Skeptical Science and The History of Seawater Carbonate Chemistry, Atmospheric CO2, and Ocean Acidification.)

Higher atmospheric and ocean carbon drove both environmental and geochemical changes — ultimately setting off hyperthermal temperature spikes and ocean anoxic events that were possibly assisted by methane hydrate releases and other climate and geophysical feedbacks. The net result of these events was major species die-offs in the ocean and, during the worst events, on land.

Considering the fact that present human activities, primarily through fossil fuel burning, are releasing vast quantities of carbon into the Earth’s atmosphere and oceans at a rate never before seen in the geological past, it appears that the world is racing toward another major mass extinction. In the past, the location of this dangerous precipice was a bit murky. But a recent study in Science Advances attempts to better define the threshold at which the worst of the worst mass extinction events — set off by rising ocean and atmospheric carbon — occur.

310 Billion Tons Carbon Entering Ocean = Mass Extinction Threshold

The study used a relatively easy to identify marker — ocean carbon uptake — in an attempt to identify a boundary limit at which such mass extinctions tend to occur. And the study found that when about 310 billion tons of carbon gets taken in by the oceans, a critical boundary is crossed and a global mass extinction event is likely to occur.

Presently, human beings are dumping carbon into the atmosphere at an extremely high rate of around 11 billion tons per year. Today, about 2.6 billion tons per year of this carbon ends up in the ocean. In total, since 1850, humans have added about 155 billion tons of carbon to the Earth’s oceans — leaving us with about another 155 billion tons before Rothman’s (the study author) extinction threshold is crossed.

(Thresholds of Catastrophe in the Earth System finds that present carbon emissions bring us about halfway to the global mass extinction boundary limit. That carbon emissions cuts need to be more aggressive than the most aggressive present international policy scenario to reliably avoid risk of setting off a global mass extinction event.)

At the presently high rate of fossil fuel burning and greenhouse gas emissions from humans, that gives us about 60 years. This is true even if emissions levels remain steady and do not increase. If emissions increase along a business as usual pathway, we could cross that threshold by or before the 2050s. And under all present emissions scenarios identified by international climate policy, the 310 billion ton threshold is either closely approached or greatly exceeded by 2100.

This should set off warning bells for global governments and climate policy advocates alike. What it means is that halting fossil fuel burning and transitioning to renewable energy needs to occur at rather swift rates — with annual global carbon emissions peaking within the next 1-10 years and then rapidly diminishing to zero — if we are to avoid a high risk of setting off another major global mass extinction. Of course, this does not mean that such a response will avoid harmful climate impacts — a number of which have already been locked in. Just that such a major response would be needed to avoid a high risk of setting off a catastrophic global mass extinction event equal to some of the worst in all of Earth’s deep history.

Rapid Movement Toward Terrible Long-Term Global Consequences

The study notes that past major extinctions like the Permian occurred on 10,000 to 100,000 year time-scales. And that during these events the changes inflicted upon the global environment by major carbon additions to the ocean and atmosphere occurred too swiftly for organisms to adapt. The pace of human carbon addition is presently faster than even during the Permian — the worst mass extinction event. So if this very large carbon spike were to continue it has the potential to set off impacts as bad, or worse than the Permian and over much shorter time horizons.

The study also notes that it takes about 10,000 years for the worst impacts of a mass extinction carbon spike to be fully realized. So hitting the 310 billion ton threshold by or before 2100 runs a high risk of consigning the world to many, many centuries of increasingly worsening climate impacts.

Links:

Thresholds of Catastrophe in the Earth System

History of Seawater Carbonate Chemistry, Atmospheric CO2, and Ocean Acidification

Today’s Climate Change is More Comparable to Earth’s Worst Mass Extinction

Heading Toward a Permian Future

Hat tip to Abel

Dark and Flooded — Puerto Rico Devastated by Maria’s Unprecedented Rains, Terrible Winds

“Once we’re able to go outside, we’re going to find our island destroyed.” — Puerto Rico Emergency Management Director Abner Gómez Cortés.

“There is no hurricane stronger than the people of Puerto Rico. And immediately after this is done, we will stand back up.” — Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló.

“The rain gauge near Caguas, PR also measured 14.31″ in one hour. That’s a candidate for the most ever, worldwide.” — Eric Holthaus.

*****

At present, it is difficult to take account of the scale of the devastation that has been visited upon Puerto Rico. Electrical power has been knocked out for the entire U.S. island of 3.4 million people. Meanwhile, as of this morning, the whole island had been placed under a flash flood warning due to historic rainfall hitting as high as 14+ inches per hour in some places. As a result, communications are spotty at best. Furthermore, the hardest hit areas are still mostly inaccessible due to debris-choked roads, loss of electronic communication, and flooding.

That said, we are starting to get a hint of the vast and often unprecedented damages that have been inflicted.

Power Outages Could Last for 4-6 Months

After suffering a glancing blow from Irma, Puerto Rico’s ailing and under-funded grid was already ill-prepared to face down the strongest storm to make landfall on the island in more than a Century. Fragile hanging lines, ancient substations, and centralized fossil fuel based generation that resulted in flickering lights even during the best conditions were ill-prepared to deal with the might of Maria.

At present, the entire island is without grid-based power generation. And the damage is so severe that officials are saying that it could take up to 4-6 months to completely restore electricity. Since electricity is essential to both communications and a swath of basic disaster relief services, such a severe and extended loss could greatly hamper recovery efforts for this island commonwealth.

Winds Remove Roofs, Collapse Buildings, Knock Holes in Concrete Structures, and Threaten Wildlife

Maria’s winds, which at landfall were as strong as 155 miles per hour (sustained), not only knocked out the entire Puerto Rican grid, they inflicted major structural damage on buildings and littered roads with debris. Across the island, roofs were peeled off even as holes were knocked in some of the strongest concrete structures. Metal gates to affluent homes and communities were torn down even as electrical power poles were snapped like twigs.

In San Juan, reports were coming in that the concrete walls of some condominiums were blasted away, that metal traffic lights had been torn down, zinc roofed structures were destroyed, and windows and doors were knocked out. Some stadiums used for disaster shelters lost their roofs, windows and doors — forcing those inside to huddle under archways.

There is no word, as yet, of the fate of the hundreds of wild horses exposed to the worst winds of Maria as they raked the island of Vieques just south and east. A potential tragedy of innocents to add to all the woes inflicted upon the people of Puerto Rico.

World Record Rainfall

As Maria circulated over the hilly terrain of Puerto Rico, clouds more heavily laden with moisture in a warming atmosphere unburdened their historically extreme loads upon the countryside. More than 20 inches of rain fell in one day or less over most of Puerto Rico — with totals in rainfall hot-spots hitting close to 40 inches in one 24 hour period. Across the island, rivers rose to historically high levels as towns were turned into lakes and roads into churning rivers.

At Caguas, the rain gauge recorded an unprecedented 14.31 inches in just one hour. According to records provided by Christopher C. Burt at Weather Underground and statements by meteorologist-reporter Eric Holthaus, this total, if confirmed, is in the running for the highest hourly rainfall rate in the world on record. After this very extreme rainfall pulse, Caguas saw continued severe rains from Maria totaling 39.67 inches in one 24 hour period. This is more than the typically rainy city of Seattle gets in an entire year.

As a result of this incredibly unprecedented rainfall, rivers were exceeding record flood stages by leaps and bounds. With one river gauge on the Rio Grande de Manati hitting 42.9 feet or 17.7 feet higher than the previous record flood level ever recorded at that location. At another river — the Rio Grande de Loiza — river water volumes increased 200-fold to hit a record flow six times the previous record at that location.

The Climate Change Context

The combined extreme winds, record rains, and storm surge flooding of Maria have produced an unfolding human and natural tragedy that will reverberate across Puerto Rico for months and years to come. This extreme damage adds to Harvey’s record floods, Maria’s earlier devastation of Dominica and the Virgin Islands, and Irma’s own swath of destruction that ran from the Northern Leeward Islands to Florida and the Southeast U.S. Total damages in dollar estimates for the present hurricane season now exceed 160 billion — a number expected to climb and one that may top 300 billion before all is said and done. And nothing can replace the 210 souls lost or the homes, memories, and livelihoods that have been wrecked.

It’s a tough fact that we need to reiterate time and time again under the present cloud of politically-motivated climate change denial — the weather is getting worse and human-based fossil fuel burning is causing it. The peak potential intensity of the most extreme storms has been increased by a warming world. More atmospheric water vapor increases the highest potential record rainfall amounts even as all that added heat and moisture push the weather toward greater drought and downpour extremes. We can see this in the increasingly prevalent heavy rainfall events, wildfires and droughts across the globe. We see it in the larger, heavier and longer-lasting storms.

(During late 2016, billionaire Richard Branson — who has advocated for responses to climate change — appeared willing to give climate change denying Donald Trump a bit of a window to pivot away from his nonsensical and unethical positions. After having his Carribbean home wrecked by a climate-change-fueled Irma, Branson has since gone after Trump and climate change deniers with a vengeance.)

For the Atlantic, the long term trend has been for more category five hurricanes to form. Back during the late 19th Century no Category 5 storms were recorded for the North Atlantic in the entire 50 year period from 1851 to 1900. In the 27 year period from 1991 to 2017 we’ve had 13 — with some years featuring as many as 2 or more Category 5s in a single season. 2017 was the only year other than 2007 in all of the last 167 years to see two category 5 storms making landfall. So we can clearly state that the long term trend for the Atlantic is for more Category 5 storms and for more of these storms impacting land.

2017 was also the only year to see 3 category 4 hurricanes make landfall in the U.S. (Continental U.S. + Puerto Rico. 1915 saw 2). And according to the Weather Channel only 24 category 4 storms and 3 category 5 storms have made U.S. landfall in the entire 167 year period since 1851.

(Warm ocean surface waters are the primary fuel driving hurricane peak intensity and ability to form. The Atlantic Ocean surface is now warmer than at any time in the past 10,000 years [at least]. Sea surface temperature anomaly map shows variance outside the already warmer than normal 30 year average. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

Recent out-of-season tropical cyclone formation appears to have also grown more frequent and intense. For example, 2016’s Hurricane Alex was only the second hurricane to ever form during January. Moreover, 2017 saw the April formation of Arlene — which was only the second named storm to ever form in that particular month.

Stepping back from these figures, we should be very clear that warmer ocean waters and moister atmospheres both provide more fuel for the tropical cyclones that do form and increase the ability of such storms to form in typically cooler months. The warmer ocean surface has loaded the climate dice for both out of season storm formation and higher peak intensity even as a hotter atmosphere more heavily laden with moisture provides a similar effect by enhancing atmospheric lift. So if we keep dumping prodigious volumes of carbon into the atmosphere, we can expect worse and worse storms to come as the world keeps heating up.

Links:

Maria Strikes and Puerto Rico Goes Dark

Maria Rips Caribbean

2017 Atlantic Hurricane Season

Earth Nullschool

NOAA Hurricane Data

List of U.S. Landfalling Hurricanes

Hat tip to Greg

Hat tip to Eleggua

Hat tip to Wili

As the Worst Storms Grow More Frequent, San Francisco and Oakland Sue Fossil Fuel Companies over Rising Sea Levels

Faced with ramping damages and increased infrastructure costs from rising seas, both San Francisco and Oakland are suing major fossil fuel companies for their considerable contributions to the problem.

According to a report from SF Gate today, the claim is asking coal, oil and gas companies like Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, Shell and BP to pay billions of dollars in damages for not only producing the heat-trapping gases that drove sea-level rise but for knowingly doing so.

Fossil Fuel Companies Sued For Role in Rising Seas, Attempts at Cover-up

The suits join those already filed by San Mateo and Marin counties as well as the community of Imperial Beach. San Francisco and Oakland, however, are the first large cities to engage in the suit –with these two cities combined representing a total population of 1.3 million people.

(Melt in the vulnerable regions of West Antarctica produces proportionately high rates of sea level rise for the U.S. West Coast. Sea levels could rise by as much as ten feet, according to recent scientific reports, resulting in tens of billions of dollars in damages and mass displacement of west coast populations. Video Source: California Sea Levels Could Rise 10 Feet by 2100.)

San Francisco notes that seas may rise by as much as 10 feet by the end of this Century. Consequently, the city expects to invest 5 billion dollars or more in improved flood defenses over the long haul. The suit argues that fossil fuel burning is the primary contributor to this problem and that fossil fuel companies have known since at least the 1980s that burning their products would result in these risks and damages. The suit also notes that these corporations falsely attempted to convince the public that they weren’t the primary cause — standing in defiance of basic scientific facts and public safety alike.

The text of the suit reads:

“Defendants stole a page from the Big Tobacco playbook and sponsored public relations campaigns, either directly or through the American Petroleum Institute or other groups, to deny and discredit the mainstream scientific consensus on global warming, downplay the risks of global warming and even to launch unfounded attacks on the integrity of leading climate scientists.

“This case is, fundamentally, about shifting the costs of abating sea level rise harm — one of global warming’s gravest harms — back onto the companies. After all, it is defendants who have profited and will continue to profit by knowingly contributing to global warming.”

San Francisco and Oakland are just two of thousands of coastal communities that now face rising sea levels and worsening ocean storms that were in great majority caused or worsened by fossil fuel burning.

Rising Seas, Worsening Storms Due to Fossil Fuel Burning

While it is less easy to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a single storm was caused by climate change, it is obvious that they are overall growing worse in a warming world.

As an example, the number of the absolute worst cyclones in the Atlantic basin has considerably risen since the 19th Century — from zero Category 5 storms during the 50 year period from 1851 to 1900 to 13 during the 27 year period of 1991 to today. Where two such most powerful storms formed in the 30 year period from 1901 to 1930, the same number have formed during just the single year that is 2017. The climate dice, in this instance, have, indeed, been terribly loaded. And as we have seen throughout the Atlantic, Caribbean, and along the U.S. East and Gulf Coasts, these more frequent, more intense, most powerful, storms represent a dire threat to those inhabiting the cities, states, and island nations in their path.

Moreover, the link between human-caused climate change through fossil fuel burning and sea level rise is irrefutable. As sea level rise through glacial melt and thermal expansion is a direct and obvious result of the warming that comes from rising global temperatures due to increased levels of heat trapping gasses in the atmosphere.

Links:

San Francisco and Oakland Sue Major Oil Companies Over Rising Seas

California Sea Levels Could Rise 10 Feet by 2100

Catastrophic Category 5 Maria Strengthens as it Tracks Toward Puerto Rico

As of the 9:00 PM advisory from the National Hurricane Center, Maria was located 145 miles southeast of San Juan Puerto Rico. The very dangerous storm was tracking toward the west-northwest at 10 miles per hour. Packing maximum sustained winds of 175 miles per hour and a minimum central pressure of 909 mb, the storm is now stronger than it was just prior to devastating Dominica yesterday evening and features a lower central pressure than Irma at maximum intensity. Furthermore, the storm is now one of the ten strongest ever to form in the Atlantic by measure of central pressure alone.

 

Along its present and projected path, the storm will reach the vicinity of St. Croix in the Virgin Islands a bit after midnight. Following a close encounter with St. Croix, the storm should approach Vieques and the Puerto Rican southeast coast by early morning on September 20th. Hurricane force winds should arrive about three to four hours prior to passage of the storm center. Tropical storm force winds are already affecting parts of the Virgin Islands and should begin to impact Puerto Rico soon.

In addition to catastrophic winds, the National Hurricane Center expects 7-11 foot storm surges in the Virgin Islands and 6-9 foot storm surges in Puerto Rico topped by powerful breaking waves. Rainfall totals are likewise expected to be quite extreme — totalling 10-20 inches in the Virgin Islands and 12-25 inches in Puerto Rico.

Some of the far outer bands of Maria are presently lashing Puerto Rico with rains and gusty winds. Meanwhile, St Croix in the Virgin Islands recently reported a wind gust of 72 mph.

Maria is passing over very warm sea surfaces in the range of 29 to 30 degrees Celsius. These abnormally warm ocean waters appear to be facilitating further intensification just prior to potential landfalls.

Maria is now a somewhat larger storm than it was when it approached Dominica. Hurricane force winds now extend upwards of 35 miles from the storm center and tropical storm force winds up to 140 miles. The storm appears to still be strengthening with the most recent report of 909 mb pressures near the storm center over the past hour 11 mb lower than a reading taken late Tuesday afternoon and 3-4 mb lower than a reading taken just one hour ago. Maximum sustained winds from this more recent pass were recorded at 175 mph. Maria is now stronger than Irma at peak intensity by measure of central pressure. A yet more powerful storm capable of producing more damage along a wider swath than during last night’s encounter with Dominica.

To say this is a dangerous situation is an understatement. Those in the path of this storm should heed any and all statements from emergency officials and do everything possible to seek shelter or flee the path of this terrible storm.

Conditions in Context

Climate change related factors like warming ocean surfaces, more intense Equatorial thunderstorms, and increasing atmospheric water vapor content have contributed to higher storm intensities during the present hurricane season. Natural factors, like La Nina-like conditions in the Equatorial Pacific, have also contributed. But we should be clear that the primary limiters to peak hurricane intensity — ocean surface temperature and atmospheric water vapor content — are now higher than they were in the past. So the storms of today can hit higher bars than before.

(Accumulated Cyclone Energy or ACE for 2017 so far is well above average. There are approximately 8 weeks left in this year’s hurricane season. Image source: Colorado State University.)

Overall, 2017 has been a well above average year for storms. One in which a number of records have already been broken.

One measure of tropical cyclone intensity — accumulated cyclone energy or ACE — has hit considerably higher than normal marks during 2017. So far, 2017 has outpaced all years since 2010 and appears to be on track for one of the highest ACE years on record. The record highest ACE for any given year was 2005 at approximately 250.

RELATED STATEMENTS AND INFORMATION:

(UPDATED– UPDATES TO FOLLOW)

Links:

The National Hurricane Center

Colorado State University

Hat tip to Eleggua

Hat tip to Bostonblorp

Energy World Rocked as China Cuts Coal Imports, Aims for Fossil Fuel Car Ban

The global energy posture is changing almost as rapidly as a climate increasingly choked with greenhouse gas emissions. And few parts of the world show this emerging trend more clearly than China. In short, China is adding restrictions to both domestic coal production and coal imports even as it is rapidly building new solar generation capacity and moving to ban domestic fossil fuel based vehicle sales.

Cutting Coal as Solar Grows

Recently, China made two major policy moves that have rocked the global energy markets. The first was its recent closing of terminals to coal imports — which may result in a net reduction of imported coal by 10 percent during 2017. Since July, China has closed approximately 150 smaller facilities to coal imports. These ports, which China has designated as tier two, are less able to test coal for compliance with China’s new emissions standards. As a result, coal imports have re-routed to larger (tier 1) facilities. A move that has created a backlog of coal off-loading ships.

In early September, China then closed the major port of Guangzhou to coal imports ahead of a cyclone. Guangzhou is one of China’s largest ports — capable of handling 60 million tons of coal per year. The closure sent shivers through coal exporters like Australia as the line of ships waiting to off-load coal lengthened. This port has since re-opened but larger constraints to China’s coal import market remain.

(China is defying all expectations with regards to the rate at which it is adding new solar electrical generation capacity. Such a strong renewable energy addition is coming in conjunction with far more restrictive domestic and import policies aimed at reducing coal burning and improving air quality. Image source: Renew Economy.)

Recently, China imposed caps on domestic coal production and aimed to reduce total coal generating capacity. These caps and cuts led some coal exporters to believe that China’s large fleet of coal plants would require more imports to fill a perceived demand gap. But China’s new, more restrictive import policies are belying those earlier notions.

In the larger context, China is engaged in a major shift toward renewable energy production. Through July, China had added approximately 35 gigawatts of new solar electrical generation capacity — with 24 gigawatts of that capacity being added in June and July alone. By early August, China’s total solar electrical generating capacity had exceeded 112 gigawatts. Strong adds that have to be putting more than just a little bit of pressure on traditional and dirty generating sources like coal. Add in China’s more restrictive policies and the picture for coal in the country during 2017 doesn’t look very rosy.

Fossil Fuel Vehicle Ban

After imposing tougher restrictions on coal imports, China’s second major policy move involves a recent statement that it will declare a ban date for all fossil fuel based vehicles. During the weekend of September 10th, Xin Guobin, China’s industry and information technology vice minister, announced that China would set a deadline for car makers to stop selling vehicles that run exclusively on diesel and gasoline.

Though no deadline has presently been announced, the move has resulted in a big freak-out by majority fossil fuel vehicle producers like General Motors.

(National polices are aiding a rapid transition away from fossil fuel based vehicles. These actions are enabling the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement and providing hope for reducing the terrible impacts of human-forced climate change. See interactive graphic of above image here: Bloomberg.)

China’s announcement comes alongside similar moves by Britain, France, Norway, the Netherlands, and India. France and Britain both plan to ban fossil fuel based vehicle sales by 2040. Meanwhile, the Netherlands and India have announced their own plans to phase out carbon-emitting cars. And, according to Bloomberg, countries accounting for 80 percent of the global vehicle market are now undertaking polices pushing toward the phase out of petroleum vehicles and the adoption of electrical vehicles.

China’s 28 million per year automobile sales, however, is a huge addition. And if the country imposes a deadline, it will force major automakers to further accelerate electrical vehicle production plans or become basically irrelevant as the fossil fuel vehicle market disappears.

(Rapid transition away from fossil fuel vehicles means declining prospects for oil just as a rapid transition to wind, solar, and battery based storage means declining prospects for coal and gas. Do we really want to be putting economic eggs into shrinking fossil fuel baskets? Image source: IEA, Bloomberg.)

Ironically, China’s move appears to be mirroring similar policies already put in place by U.S. states like California and U.S. technology leaders like Tesla. Sophie Lu, a Beijing-based China researcher for Bloomberg New Energy finance recently noted that: “Chinese regulators see the success of Tesla and other Californian companies, and want to promote the same success amongst Chinese car manufacturers.”

The fact that the world is following in the footsteps of both California and Tesla should set off a loud ringing in the otherwise deaf to new energy ears of the present administration in Washington. More to the point, valid analysis shows that China is setting itself up to dominate the newer, cleaner, less harmful to climates, and more appealing energy and technology markets of the future. And a failure to successfully engage in what is an emerging global competition at the federal level sets the U.S. up for a serious future failure and ultimate energy market irrelevance.

Links:

China is Banning Traditional Auto Engines: It’s Aim — Electric Car Domination

China Port Halts Coal Imports

China Announces Intention to Ban Fossil Fuel Vehicles

Fears Raised as China Cuts Coal Imports

Electric Cars Reach Tipping Point

 

Hellish Intensification — Maria’s Winds Jump 50 mph to CAT 5 Strength in Just 12 Hours

A special statement from the National Hurricane Center reports that Maria has reached Category 5 intensity — with maximum sustained winds of 160 mph and a minimum central pressure of 924 mb. This is, perhaps, one of the most rapid intensifications the Atlantic basin has ever seen — with the storm seeing a 40 mb drop in pressure in approximately 6 hours and crossing the Category 4 threshold to Cat 5 intensity in even less time.

Maria is now a very dangerous hurricane — barreling into Dominica and the Leeward Islands before turning toward both the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico over the next 36 hours. It is also the second Category 5 storm to threaten the region in just two weeks time.

As of this morning, Maria was a strong Category 2 Hurricane featuring 110 mph maximum sustained winds. Forecasters noted a potential for rapid intensification as the storm began to move over warmer than normal surface waters in the range of 29 degrees Celsius (84 to 85 degrees F) and as the atmospheric conditions became more favorable for storm development.

By late morning, the storm had strengthened into a major hurricane with 120 mph maximum sustained winds. But Maria still had a few surprises in store. The storm swiftly developed a small, pinhole, eye. Such small eye structures enable storms to more rapidly wrap winds around a compact center. It’s the kind of structure that can result in very fast intensification.

After the pinhole eye structure formed, Maria jumped to category 4 strength with 130 mph winds by late afternoon. Then, by the 9 PM advisory from the National Hurricane Center, the storm made the considerable leap to Category 5 status with 160 mph maximum sustained winds.

The storm, at this time is now zeroing in on Dominica — which is presently seeing very rapidly deteriorating conditions.

Maria presently has a smaller hurricane force wind field than Irma — with hurricane strength winds only stretching about 15-20 miles from the storm’s center. Those winds, however, are very intense and capable of inflicting catastrophic damage. All within the path of this terrible storm should seek shelter in the strongest structures possible immediately and heed any warnings or advice from local disaster authorities.

Conditions in Context

Like Irma and Harvey, Maria is tapping warmer than normal sea surface temperatures which is helping it to reach a higher peak intensity. This year, thunderstorms in the Inter-Tropical-Convergence-Zone (ITCZ) have been unusually intense. Strong thunderstorms in this region are basically the seeds that can grow into powerful tropical cyclones. So the larger, more energetic, more moisture-rich, and more numerous these storms, the higher potential that a strong hurricane will ultimately form once such systems enter the Tropical Atlantic. Warmer ocean surface temperatures are a direct upshot of human-caused climate change and there is some evidence that climate change is also increasing the intensity of the world’s most powerful thunderstorms — particularly over the Equatorial regions.

In addition to these climate change related factors, La Nina-like conditions in the Equatorial Pacific are helping to reduce wind shear over the Tropical Atlantic. Reduced shear helps to allow the larger than normal storms emerging from Africa to tap the warmer than normal surface waters across the Atlantic. So in total, this is a pretty vicious combination of both natural and climate change related factors. A set that is enabling one of the worst hurricane seasons on record for the Atlantic.

(UPDATED: UPDATES TO FOLLOW)

RELATED STATEMENTS AND INFORMATION:

Links:

The National Hurricane Center

Hat tip to Bostonblorp

Major Hurricane Maria Could Hit 150 Mph+ Intensity as it Barrels Toward Puerto Rico

As of early afternoon on September 18, Hurricane Maria had reached major hurricane intensity of 125 mph maximum sustained winds and a 956 mb minimum central pressure. Moving west-northwest at 10 mph, the storm is tracking through already the hurricane-weary eastern Caribbean islands on a path toward a Puerto Rico still recovering from its close brush with Category 5 Hurricane Irma.

(National Hurricane Center’s [NHC] projected path and intensity for Maria shows a major hurricane threatening Puerto Rico over the next two days. Image source: NHC.)

Maria is expected to track over very warm Caribbean waters in the range of 84 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit (29+ C) as it enters a favorable atmospheric environment. And forecasters now call for Maria to rapidly intensify. Hurricane watches have already been issued for the American territory of Puerto Rico. And the present official Hurricane Center track and forecast intensity for Maria (see above image) shows a severe blow by a powerful category 4 storm striking somewhere along southeastern Puerto Rico early Wednesday with maximum sustained winds of 150 mph.

2017 Already a Season for the Record Books

It’s worth noting that some models presently show Maria tracking north of Puerto Rico. So the island could still avoid a direct hit. But the current official consensus is a rather grim forecast.

(IR satellite imagery of Maria shows an increasingly organized storm. Forecast points and sea surface temperatures included for reference. Image source: National Hurricane Center.)

Maria is the fourth major hurricane to form in the Atlantic during 2017 — which has been an exceptional season in many respects. This year saw the early formation of Arlene in April — only the second named storm recorded to have formed during that month. It saw the strongest hurricane ever to form outside of the Carribbean or Gulf of Mexico — Irma — which was also tied as the strongest land falling hurricane in the Atlantic. Both Category 4 Harvey and Irma struck the continental U.S. — the first time two Cat 4 storms have struck the states in a single month. And Harvey produced the heaviest recorded rainfall total from a tropical system at 51.88 inches. Overall damage estimates from the 2017 Atlantic hurricane season presently stand at 132 billion dollars — which makes this season the second costliest so far (behind 2005).

How Climate Change and Other Global Factors Contributed

With damages from Harvey and Irma still uncounted, with Maria barreling in, and with a week and a half left to September and all of October remaining, it’s likely that 2017 will see more to come. Though Irma and Jose have churned up cooler waters in their wakes, large sections of the Gulf, Caribbean, and North Atlantic remain considerably warmer than normal.

(Sea surface temperature anomaly map shows that much of the North Atlantic and Carribbean are between 0.5 and 2 C warmer than the already warmer than normal 30-year average. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

Meanwhile, a very vigorous Inter-Tropical-Convergence-Zone (ITCZ) is still producing powerful thunderstorms over Africa. And cool water upwelling in the Pacific has generated La Nina-like conditions that tend to cut down on Atlantic wind shear — allowing more storms to fully develop and tap those warmer than normal waters to reach higher maximum intensities. Some of these factors — particularly the warmer than normal surface waters and possibly the increased intensity of ITCZ thunderstorms are climate change related. So yes, statements from those like Dr. Michael Mann claiming that this season’s hurricanes were made worse by climate change are absolutely valid.

(UPDATES TO FOLLOW)

RELATED STATEMENTS AND INFORMATION:

Links:

National Hurricane Center

Earth Nullschool

Longest Global Coral Bleaching Event Officially at an End; But Severe Worldwide Risk to Corals Remains

In the Equatorial Pacific, the chances for an ocean-surface-cooling La Nina are on the rise (more on this later). But even with a cool pool of water upwelling in this key climate region, the risk to corals in a record-warm world remains high.

This risk comes despite the fact that by June of 2017, NOAA had officially declared an end to the longest global coral bleaching event on record. The event lasted from 2014 to 2017 and impacted multiple major coral reefs for 2-3 years in a row. According to NOAA, the event affected more reefs than any other previous global coral bleaching event. Meanwhile, some reefs that had never before seen significant bleaching — like northern sections of the Great Barrier Reef — saw severe damage.

(A portrait of the world’s worst global coral bleaching event shows that 70 percent of the world’s corals took a major hit. Image source: NOAA.)

In total, more than 70 percent of the worlds reefs experienced heat stress capable of producing bleaching. An extent never before attained. One that is difficult to imagine. The NOAA graphic above provides some context of the terrible expansiveness — with dark red areas representing widespread bleaching and significant coral mortality and light red regions representing significant coral bleaching over the totality of the 2014 to 2017 event.

To be very clear, the primary driver of this very widespread event was a human-forced warming of the world through fossil fuel burning. This driver has resulted in sea surfaces that are, in many regions, more than 1 degree Celsius above 19th Century temperature averages. Temperatures that are now enabled to spike to 3, 4, or even 5 C above average during variable warming events like the recent strong 2015-2016 El Nino. Temperatures that now never really back off to previous lows. A regime that provides little respite for corals.

For these heat-sensitive creatures, such systemically warming ocean temperatures represent a rising risk of mass mortality in the coming years. And over the next decade alone, global temperatures are expected to continue to increase by between 0.15 and 0.3 C above already harmful ranges.

(4-Month NOAA forecast shows that widespread risk for major coral mortality remains despite an end to El Nino conditions, increasingly likely La Nina conditions, and an official end to the 2014-2017 global coral bleaching event. Image source: NOAA.)

Even with the longest global coral bleaching event officially over and with a potential La Nina on the way, risk of widespread heat stress to corals remains. NOAA’s 4-month heat stress forecast shows a 60 percent that large areas of the Pacific, the Caribbean, and the tropical Atlantic will experience significant bleaching, widespread bleaching, and mass coral mortality (light and dark red areas).

These are severe impacts. Ones that should not be occurring as the Equatorial Pacific is going through a variable cool phase. Ones that have been set off by continued fossil fuel burning and the mass dumping of carbon into the atmosphere at the rate of around 11 billion tons per year annually which has pushed the world into an entirely new and already harmful temperature range.

Links:

NOAA Coral Reef Watch

NOAA ENSO

Major Greenhouse Gas Reductions Needed

Irma’s Projected Path Shifts West; Storm Expected to Restrengthen to Category 5

As of the 5 PM advisory from the National Hurricane Center (NHC), dangerous Hurricane Irma was packing 155 mph maximum sustained winds and tracking just north of due west off the Cuba coast.

The new advisory provides a couple of surprises. One, Irma’s path has shifted more to the west. As a result, the West Coast of Florida and western South Florida is under more of a threat from Irma. That said, the NHC has not backed off its storm surge forecast of 5-10 feet for places like Miami. So, so far, that vulnerable city is not out of the woods — particularly for southern sections of the city.

(Official track shifts west for Irma as the Hurricane Center now predicts the storm will restrengthen to category 5 intensity over the Florida Straits after raking the coast of Cuba. Image source: The National Hurricane Center.)

This is likely due to the fact that Irma has a very large circulation with tropical storm force winds extending outward up to 160 miles from its center and hurricane force winds extending up to 60 miles from the storm’s center. So a west coast landfall in South Florida has the potential to still bring hurricane conditions to places like Miami. That said, if the track continues to shift west, Miami may dodge a bullet as our concerns shift to places like Fort Myers and possibly Tampa.

The NHC’s full statement on present storm surge potential is as follows:

SW Florida from Captiva to Cape Sable…8 to 12 ft
Cape Sable to Boca Raton including the Florida Key…5 to 10 ft
Venice to Captiva…5 to 8 ft
Anclote River to Venice including Tampa Bay…3 to 5 ft
Boca Raton to Flagler/Volusia County line…3 to 6 ft

So basically all of South Florida from Cape Coral to Boca Raton is looking at a 5-12 foot storm surge according to the present NHC forecast. That includes Miami, Ft Lauderdale, the Keys, and the Fort Myers area.

(The NHC’s 5 PM storm surge inundation map shows the potential for significant flooding from South Miami to the Cape Coral area and on out to the Florida Keys. For reference, blue regions are expected to see more than one foot of water above ground, yellow more than three feet, orange more than six feet, and red more than nine feet.)

The second surprise in the recent official forecast is that the NHC now briefly expects Irma to regain category 5 status as it crosses the Florida Straits. Projected 36 hour intensity from NHC is for a storm packing 160 mph winds at that time. This increase in strength now jibes with a number of model forecasts that show Irma tapping much warmer than normal Gulf Stream waters just prior to striking Florida.

It’s worth noting that intensity forecasts are sometimes tough to nail down and the NHC is quick to caution that fluctuations in storm strength are likely. In any case, this is a very dangerous storm that bears watching.

(UPDATES TO FOLLOW)

 

Powerful Irma Threatens to Put South Florida Underwater, Spill Lake Okeechobee

Near category five strength Irma represents a major flood threat from storm surge and rainfall to South Florida. Due to its large size, strong winds, its movement toward shore atop rising seas, and ability to push a tall and wide-ranging surge of water over far-flung coastlines, Irma has the potential to put major cities like Miami under water. In addition, expected 10-15 inch rainfall over Lake Okeechobee threatens the integrity of an aging dike which, if overtopped, could result in severe flooding of inland communities.

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As of the 5 PM advisory from the National Hurricane Center, Irma was a top-strength category 4 hurricane packing 155 mile per hour maximum sustained winds and a minimum central pressure of 925 mb. The storm is presently tracking just north of Cuba along a westerly or west-northwest path. It is expected to turn north by Saturday, ultimately making landfall somewhere in South Florida.

Like Harvey, Irma is very moisture rich. Like Harvey, Irma is set to interact with a deep trough dipping down over the Eastern U.S. Like Harvey, Irma is tapping warmer than normal surface waters off Florida which is helping the storm to maintain a high intensity. And like Harvey we can confidently say that the record-breaking and long-lasting high intensity of Irma has been fueled by human-forced climate change — with some weather models indicating a risk that Irma could restrengthen on approach to Florida as it crosses over the 3.5 degree F warmer than normal waters of the Gulf Stream.

Unlike Harvey, Irma is expected to continue moving after making landfall. And this movement will prevent the kind of prolonged event that occurred during Harvey — with a tropical system raining out over the same region for days and days on end. That said, Irma’s extremely strong winds presently at 155 mph and what is likely to be a very powerful storm surge pose a threat to most locations along the Florida Peninsula — especially South Florida. As with other recent hurricanes like Sandy and Matthew, Irma presents an even greater threat from storm surge flooding due to higher overall ocean levels as a result of melting glaciers in places like Antarctica and Greenland. So Irma’s massive predicted surge is running in on a higher ramp than that of decades past.

(The NAM 3 kilometer model shows a very intense 896 mb storm off South Florida by 10 PM Saturday. This model forecast shows Irma strengthening to a very extreme Category 5 storm over the much warmer than normal waters of the Gulf Stream. Official forecasts from the National Hurricane Center still call for a weaker, but still strong and dangerous, Category 4 or 5 system threatening South Florida at about this time. Image source: Tropical Tidbits.)

According to the National Hurricane Center, preliminary expected storm surges range from 8-12 feet for SW Florida from Captiva to Cape Sable, 5-10 ft from Cape Sable to Boca Rato including the Florida Keys, 5-8 ft from Venice to Captiva, 3 to 6 ft from Boca Raton to the Velusia County line, and 3 to 5 ft from Anclote River to Tampa (note that both Florida coasts expect moderate to severe storm surges and that these totals are increased and expanded from the 2 PM NHC advisory).

To put these numbers in perspective, pretty much all of South Florida, including most of the city of Miami is below 10 feet above sea level. A 10 foot storm surge with breaking, wind-driven waves on top, would therefore have catastrophic impacts for this region (see graphic below). As Irma approaches, these already significant storm surge projections may rise further even as impacts from storm surge are likely to expand up the coast.

(A ten foot rise in base sea levels as could occur during Irma’s storm surge would put most of South Florida under water. Storm surge projections for this region are presently 8-12 feet and 5-10 feet. Note that storm surge impact can vary widely based on location and that changes in Irma’s projected path is likely to alter its storm surge related impacts. Image source: Climate Central.)

Though Irma has been compared with Andrew, we must note that Irma is a significantly larger storm — dwarfing the tiny but intense Andrew. As a result, Irma has the ability to deliver a lot more in the way of a powerful surge of water to both Florida coasts. And where Andrew’s damages were primarily due to extremely high winds, Irma’s damages are likely to come from both wind and water — with the potential for very severe storm surge and flood-based destruction.

In addition to the problem of Irma’s likely large and wide-ranging surge, a second issue is the fact that there’s some concern that an aging dike holding water back from communities near Lake Okeechobee might not withstand projected rainfall totals from Irma of 10-15 inches. Though not Harvey-level rainfall amounts, these rains would come in very intense bands over the course of perhaps one day. Such heavy rainfall could cause the lake to over-top the dike — resulting in severe flooding for downstream communities.

 

(Irma’s heaviest rains are expected to fall over Lake Okeechobee — adding to an already significant flood risk to South Florida. Image source: NOAA.)

The seventy year old dike is presently vulnerable not just due to its age, but also due to the fact that a construction project aimed as shoring up the dike is underway. This rebuild in progress makes the dike even more vulnerable to heavy rains and to large waves that would be stirred up on the lake by hurricane force winds. The Army Corps of Engineers has reassured the public that a dike breach is unlikely — as its most vulnerable section in the southeast has already been strengthened. Concern remains, however, that flooding from the dike could combine with a backing up of canals due to storm surge to swamp communities far inland from the coast.

(UPDATED — UPDATES TO FOLLOW)

RELATED STATEMENTS AND INFORMATION:

A Visibly Extreme Jet Stream in Advance of Irma

On Tuesday, I wrote this blog about how Jet Stream behavior and related severe weather during summer of 2017 jibed with the findings of recent climate science. About how human-forced polar warming appears to be impacting extreme summer weather patterns by altering the upper level winds — with a particular focus on impacts to North America.

Yesterday, I looked at the upper level wind patterns running over North America in advance of Irma’s approach and saw this:

(Classic ridge-trough pattern like that identified by Dr Jennifer Francis and Dr Michael Mann. One that, according to their related research, increases the likelihood of certain kinds of extreme weather patterns and events. One that these scientists associate with polar warming set off by human-caused climate change. Image capture from 1500 UTC on September 6. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

It’s a classic high amplitude wave form in the Jet Stream. One that shows an extremely deep trough digging all the way down to the Gulf Coast in the east and arching back up into a pointed ridge north of Alaska and into the Arctic Ocean in the west. This kind of high amplitude wave pattern is not typical. Or if such a pattern did appear in the past, it tended not to stick around for so long. But during this summer, such intense high amplitude ridges have been forming again and again over the west and such deep troughs have been forming again and again in the east.

New Precipitation and Temperature Extremes

The most apparent visible effect of this ridge-west — trough-east pattern has been to produce record heat, drought, and wildfires in the west and record rainfall in conjunction with an extremely stormy weather pattern in the south and east. You can plainly see this dipolar relationship in the precipitation and temperature anomaly maps provided by NOAA below:

These maps cover precipitation and temperature observations for the last 30 days compared to climatological averages. In the west we find that precipitation for large regions has been less than 10 percent of normal (less than 1/10th normal). Meanwhile temperatures in the west have ranged between 1 and 4 C above average. In the south and east, large regions have seen between 200 and 800 percent of typical precipitation amounts (2 to 8 times the norm). Temperatures, meanwhile have ranged between 1 and 3 C below average.

This is the very definition of heightened extremes. Looking at the prevalent upper level air pattern over the U.S. for the summer of 2017, it’s clear that south to north upper level winds pulling air up from the Equatorial zone toward the pole are facilitating one side of the extreme and that a countervailing upper level wind originating near the pole and running south toward the tropics is driving the opposite extreme.

Slowing Upper Level Winds in a North-South Orientation Weakens the Steering Currents

Unfortunately, prevalent and long lasting heat or heavy rainfall isn’t the only apparent impact of this new pattern. Another aspect of this extreme dipole is a weakening of the west to east steering currents that typically begin to pick up in a region between 25 and 30 degrees North Latitude and to intensify further beyond the 30 N line. This effect is due to the fact that upper level wind patterns are oriented more in a north-south (west) or south-north (east) direction and due to the fact that under such large Jet Stream meanders the upper level steering winds tend to slow down.

(It’s not just Harvey and Irma. Weak upper level steering currents are contributing to a long range potential that Jose might loop back to strike South Florida.)

For Hurricanes like Harvey and Irma, stronger west to east steering winds have had two protective effects for the United States. First, they have helped storms to keep moving — working to generally prevent the kind of long duration stall we saw that helped to produce such catastrophic flooding during Harvey. Second, they have tended to deflect storms away from the U.S. East Coast. And for Irma, what this means is that this storm is more likely to strike the U.S. East Coast if the upper level steering winds that would typically turn it to the east are weak.

This is a dynamic upstream aspect of human-forced polar warming. One that produces added extreme weather risks on top of those already generated by warming ocean waters — which increase peak potential storm intensity — and rising atmospheric water vapor — which helps to add latent heat, lift and related convective available potential energy that increases top limits for storm intensity and heavy rainfall.

And as we sit here hoping and praying that Irma will re-curve away from the U.S. east coast, we should consider how polar warming may be helping to make such a terrible strike more likely — increasing risks to so many people and to so much that we all hold dear.

RELATED STATEMENTS AND INFORMATION:

Links:

Dr Jennifer Francis

GFS Model Runs illustrated by Earth Nullschool

Extreme Weather Events Linked to Climate Change’s Impact on Jet Stream

This is the Pattern Climate Scientists Warned us About

NOAA

Hat tip to Scott

Hat tip to Wharf Rat

Models Show Irma Tracking Toward 88 Degree (F) Waters Before Setting Sights on Florida, Georgia and South Carolina

As of yesterday and today, Irma was the strongest storm ever to form in the Central Atlantic. Fueled by record atmospheric and ocean heat and related high atmospheric moisture content, the storm plowed into the Leeward Islands of Barbuda, St. Martin and Anguilla as a top-strength Category 5 monster hurricane.

(Alex Woolfall takes shelter in a concrete stairwell in St. Martin to avoid Irma’s catastrophic winds. It’s worth noting that hurricanes are heat engines. Tapping 87 F sea surface temperatures and producing 100 percent humidity would result in the very hot conditions Alex was experiencing 7 hours ago. We’re all pulling for Alex and those like him who were trapped in the belly of this massive beast. His last report was at 5:45 AM.)

As Irma’s eyewall began to pass over Barbuda, a reporting station recorded a wind gust of 155 mph before it was knocked out. That island of 1,800 people is now completely cut off from the outside world. Having just experienced winds in excess of those hosted by Andrew and Camille, it is likely that catastrophic damage was inflicted.

On St. Martin, which also passed through Irma’s eye and most intense wind bands, initial reports are also showing very considerable damage. Four of the strongest buildings on the island have been destroyed. And it is expected that most structures across this French/Dutch shared island which is home to 75,000 have seen moderate to catastrophic damage.

(Footage this morning, apparently taken from a camera near the airport at Simpson Bay in St. Martin shows debris, flooding, and very strong winds.)

Anguilla, which is north of St. Martin and is home to another 15,000 souls, passed through the northern eye wall. This is typically the most intense part of a hurricane. So far, reports from Anguila are spotty. But the damage there is likewise expected to be catastrophic.

As of the 5 PM advisory, according to the National Hurricane Center, Irma is still a devastatingly powerful Category 5 monster hurricane hosting maximum sustained winds of 185 mph. The storm had seen some weakening due to apparent eyewall replacement and mild wind sheer — which pushed pressures back up to 920 mb from a low of 914 mb last night earlier today. However, this weakening was not significant enough to impact Irma’s amazing wind intensity. Since that time, Irma’s central dense overcast has thickened while pressures have dropped back down to 914 mb as of the 5 PM advisory.

(Irma tracking just slightly north of the officially projected path from the NHC as of early afternoon on Wednesday. Image source: The National Hurricane Center.)

As the storm passes toward the Virgin Islands, roars by Puerto Rico, and howls into the Turks, Caicos and Bahamas, it is likely that some weakening will occur. Despite this fact, the storm is expected to maintain Category 5 intensity through at least the next 48 hours. After 72 hours, the official forecast calls for Irma to drop to strong Category 4 intensity and eventually a strong Category 3 by Monday. However, some models like the GFS show Irma again strengthening as it taps very warm waters off Florida.

(Very hot sea surface temperatures off Florida could provide fuel that allows Irma to strengthen a second time as predicted in forecast models like the GFS. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

Most models are now starting to settle on a consensus that brings Irma toward Florida and along a course that may threaten Georgia and South Carolina. The GFS model shows Irma tapping extremely hot sea surface temperatures in the range of 88 degrees Fahrenheit (about 3.5 F hotter than average) and pumping up again into very strong Category 5 intensity with an 895 mb minimum central pressure off Florida by Sunday. This would be a stronger intensity than the 914 mb reached last night by measure of pressure alone.

(The GFS, ECMWF and other major models are starting to agree on a consensus track which has Irma raking the Florida coast before threatening Georgia and the Carolinas. Image source: The National Hurricane Center.)

GFS shows the storm raking most of the Florida coast as it bounces from one landfall or near landfall to another across the eastern seaboard before making a final landfall as a 924 mb monster along the Georgia-South Carolina border. Meanwhile, another major model — the Euro (ECMWF) — has the storm following approximately the same path at a lower intensity.

Though the GFS modeled intensity does not jibe with the official forecast — which calls for weakening of Irma to strong Cat 4 and then strong Cat 3 status — we should not completely rule out the GFS prediction due to those very warm ocean surfaces mentioned above. If predicted wind shear does not emerge, then it would allow Irma to more effectively tap those very warm waters off Florida and hit a second peak intensity. And if such a forecast were realized, it would produce a seriously catastrophic disaster for the U.S. East Coast.

(Models are starting to come into consensus on Irma’s track — which is zeroing in on it raking the Florida coast and then slamming into Georgia or South Carolina — but forecast intensity varies widely. GFS shows Irma off Florida at an intensity stronger than her present extreme strength by Sunday. Image source: Tropical Tidbits.)

Of course, the official forecast track and intensity — in which a strong Category 4 storm rakes coastal Florida and then tracks up into Georgia or South Carolina to make final landfall as a strong Cat 3 is bad enough. So in this case, we are looking a present forecast scenarios in which models are starting to come into consensus on track that range from bad (official Cat 4 and then Cat 3 intensity storm impacting Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas) to worse (GFS potential for a very strong cat 5 storm threatening the U.S. Southeast Coast).

(UPDATED — UPDATES TO FOLLOW)

STATEMENTS AND RELATED INFORMATION:

Links:

The National Hurricane Center

Earth Nullschool

Tropical Tidbits

Strongest Central Atlantic Hurricane on Record — Dangerous 185 MPH Irma Defies Intensity Projections

As of the 8 PM advisory from the National Hurricane Center (NHC), Hurricane Irma was located 85 miles east of Antigua moving west at 15 mph. The storm hosted maximum sustained winds of 185 mph and a minimum central pressure of 916 mb.

This is an intensity considerably stronger than that previously projected or even expected as an outlier possibility for today. One that has heightened concern over an already powerful storm. A storm that is drawing extra energy from an atmosphere and ocean warmed by climate change.

Though moving west at this time, Irma is expected to turn toward the west-northwest. On its present and predicted path, the NHC expects severe hurricane conditions including hurricane force winds, very tall and destructive breaking waves, and life-threatening 7-11 foot storm surges to start impacting the extreme northern Leeward Islands by late Tuesday afternoon and early evening.

A Worrisome Set of Forecasts 

The storm is expected to continue on a west and then west-northwest track bringing it close to Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic and over the Turks and Caicos and southeastern Bahamas by Thursday. After which time, the storm is expected to skirt the northern coast of Cuba before turning toward the Florida Keys on Saturday.

(National Hurricane Center’s official path brings Irma to the Florida Keys by Sunday. Image source: NHC.)

The current official National Hurricane Center forecast has the storm maintaining major hurricane status all along its projected path. Category 5 intensity is expected to be maintained for much of the next three days after which time the NHC projects Irma to weaken a bit — remaining in the very dangerous, strong category 4, range.

Meanwhile, various models, including GFS and SHIPS produce a very severe Category 5 storm featuring intensities from 895 to 910 mb in the vicinity of U.S. southeast by Saturday through Monday. This storm is, therefore, very dangerous and is likely to stay that way for some time — barring a close interaction with the mountains of Puerto Rico or Hispaniola or a prolonged landfall over Cuba.

(The present GFS model run shows a nightmare scenario for the Carolinas with an 890 mb hurricane on approach by Monday. It’s worth noting that the official NHC projected track is more to the south with a weaker — but still very dangerous — category 4 storm in the region of Florida by late Saturday. Image source: Tropical Tidbits.)

Strongest Central Atlantic Storm on Record

The storm’s present intensity is now among the strongest storms ever to form in the Atlantic, Gulf or Caribbean. An earlier report from Weather Underground found that Irma, at 180 mph maximum sustained winds, was already the 5th strongest Atlantic storm as measured by wind speed. Irma has since strengthened to 185 mph —  tying it with Wilma, Gilbert and the Labor Day Hurricane as second strongest Atlantic storm as measured by maximum winds. The strongest was Allen at 190 mph.

It’s worth noting that the Carribean and Gulf of Mexico are included in Atlantic hurricane listings. However, most of the top intensity storms have formed in these typically warmer seas. Irma, on the other hand, has reached such extreme strength over the typically cooler waters of the Central Tropical Atlantic. Though these waters, as with everything else that has been altered by human-caused climate change, are today warmer than they were in the past. As a result, the storm is now the strongest hurricane ever to form in that open water region.

NHC official forecast projections keep the storm quite strong as it moves into the warmer Carribean, though eventually weakening to CAT 4, as it moves west. Meanwhile, some models (GFS and SHIPS) show potential for an even more intense storm as Irma approaches Florida, the Gulf or the SE U.S. (strong CAT 5 that may dip into the 890 mb range).

Evacuation Orders Posted as Storm Defies Intensity Models

Officials appear to be very worried. Already evacuation orders and closings have been listed for Florida as interests across the Southeast take notice. This caution is wise. Irma has the potential to produce worse impacts than Harvey. So all interests should remain vigilant.

Irma is presently exceeding both its predicted and its top predicted storm intensities — defying traditional storm prediction models like SHIPS. This is another concerning development for a powerful storm in a warming climate. That said, if the storm tracks further west (and some models show the storm tilting in this direction), interaction with large Caribbean islands will tend to reduce the storm’s intensity as it approaches the U.S.

This storm appears to be very efficiently tapping warmer than normal sea surfaces and a moister than normal atmosphere in order to spike its peak intensity. Two conditions set in play by human-caused climate change that are now helping to make storms like Irma both more intense and more dangerous. And it’s a condition that we need to take into account as we follow the track of Irma toward U.S. shores.

(UPDATED — UPDATES TO FOLLOW)

RELATED STATEMENTS AND INFORMATION:

Links:

National Hurricane Center

Tropical Tidbits

Irma — 5th Strongest Atlantic Hurricane on Record

Hat tip to eleggua

Hat tip to wili

U.S. Electrical Vehicle Sales Growth Continues Ahead of Model 3 Tsunami

During August of 2017, U.S. electrical vehicle sales continued to increase at a respectable pace year-on-year.

According to Inside EVs, total sales for electric-powered cars in the U.S. totaled 16,624 during August. This represents another record — growing by 2,032 or 12.2 percent above 2016’s previous record August total of 14,592.

The Tesla Model S and Chevy Bolt EV held the first and second rank among individual model sales by sending 2150 and 2107 vehicles out to new owners respectively. The 238 mile range Bolt priced at $36,000 before incentives continued to show strong sales growth as Chevy accelerated expanding offerings to new states across the U.S. Model S sales, while holding top position, were down year-on-year — likely in part due to anticipation of the Model 3 ramp-up.

(Elon Musk recently reassured investors that the Model 3 will achieve its 10,000 per week production target in 2018. Image source: EV Network.)

Inside EVs estimates that 75 of the game-changing Model 3 — with best in class features, a 220 to 310 mile range, and a 126 MPGe fuel efficiency rating — were produced and sent to customers during August. If this number is correct, it would signify a somewhat slower ramp than the expected 100 sales for the month. However, this report is preliminary and may be subject to revision. And there have been more than one or two hints circulating around the web that Tesla is actually ahead of its production goals — hitting 200 vehicles by end August (see tweet below).

Presently ranked 30th on the EV sales chart for all of 2017, the Model 3 (with its approximate half-million reservations) is likely to climb into the top 20 by end September. At that point, Tesla expects about 1,500 Model 3s to be produced monthly. By October, monthly sales of the Model 3 may eclipse all other U.S. EVs as production exceeds 5,000.

At this point, the Model 3 will likely start having a noticeable influence on overall U.S. EV sales — with that impact further dilating during November and December. And if Tesla meets its December sales goal of 20,000 units for the Model 3, then the U.S. overall may see December 2017 total EV sales from all models nearly double December 2016 numbers (of nearly 25,000 units).  Meanwhile, through 2018, the Model 3 could help to drive total U.S. EV sales to around half a million or more.

In other words, the U.S. EV market is about to be hit by a tidal wave of very high quality and relatively low cost Model 3s — with profound and long-lasting results. This is good news for renewable energy and climate change response advocates. For such a large wave of electrical vehicles coming to market provides considerable opportunity for reduced carbon emissions from both vehicle based fossil fuel burning and from the ancillary electrical power market where batteries used for EVs can also replace base load coal and gas fired power stations with energy storage linked to wind and solar.

Links:

Monthly Plug-in Sales Scorecard

Plug In Electric Car Sales for August

Tesla Model 3 Production

Tesla Model 3 Information

This is the Climate Pattern Scientists Warned Us About — Wildfires Approach 8 Million Acres in U.S. During Summer of Extreme Western Heat, Severe Eastern Storms

“If the same weather persists for weeks on end in one region, then sunny days can turn into a serious heat wave and drought, and lasting rains can lead to flooding.” — Dr. Stefan Rahmstorf.

“The warming of the Arctic, the polar amplification of warming, plays a key role here. The surface and lower atmosphere are warming more in the Arctic than anywhere else on the globe. That pattern projects onto the very temperature gradient profile that we identify as supporting atmospheric waveguide conditions.”Dr. Michael Mann.

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To say that, for the U.S., it’s been hot out west and stormy in the east this summer is a bit of an understatement. For while the east has seen numerous storms producing local-to-national record rainfall amounts, the west has been baking under heatwaves that appear to have set off one of the worst years for wildfires nationally on record. This is an extreme summer weather pattern that recent scientific studies have linked to human-caused climate change.

(Severe western wildfires blanket northern U.S. under a massive plume of smoke. Image source: NASA Worldview.)

Last week, extreme heat baked the U.S. west coast. On Friday, San Francisco hit a record high of 106 degrees (F), striking up to 102 (F) on Saturday. Regions further inland near Eureka hit a Death Valley-like 115 F.  36 million Californians fell under a heat advisory as excessive heat warnings ranged on up the west coast through Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia.

The heat wave — which was just the most recent of many for the region this year — baked hills and valleys covered with new vegetation springing up after unusually heavy winter rains. Setting off a spree of wildfires that has seen very severe burn rates throughout summer.

Los Angeles County in Burbank experienced its largest fire on record Saturday as a massive blaze swept through the hills — igniting 7,000 acres before being tamped down by the oddly northward tracking remnants of a tropical storm drifting through the region on Sunday.

The fire spurred the response of 1,000 firefighters, forced 700 people to evacuate, closed route 210 for a time and consumed three homes. Assisted by the rains and moisture flowing off the remnants of Lidia, firefighters have now managed to contain 30 percent of this particular blaze. But with many more fires continuing to burn throughout the west, the region is far from out of the proverbial woods.

According to the National Interagency Fire Center, 70 large fires continue to burn in the western states of Montana, California, Oregon, and Washington. The vast majority of these fires remain uncontained. And at least two exceed 100,000 acres in size. Smoke from these fires has been cycling into the upper level winds for some time now — with most of the northern U.S. falling under a high altitude smoke plume (see top image above).

In total, more than 7,800,000 acres have burned so far in the U.S. this year. This represents the second worst fire year on record so far compared to the last ten years and may ultimately beat out 2006 as the second worst fire year ever recorded. By end 2006, 9 million total acres had burned. During the worst fire year for the U.S. — 2015 — 11 million acres burned in total. By this time during 2015, nearly 9 million acres had been consumed compared to 2017’s present total near 8 million acres.

These fires are occurring primarily in the west where a persistent high amplitude ridge in the Jet Stream has formed. This ridge keeps enabling heatwaves to bake the region and spike fire dangers. And it’s a weather feature that some scientists are saying is linked to human-caused climate change — which is causing the Arctic to warm, while pulling meridional south-to-north upper level winds into the polar zone and producing a wavier jet stream during extreme weather patterns.

(A study produced by a team of scientists including Dr. Michael Mann in March linked extreme summer weather patterns to polar warming and a wavier jet stream.)

The net effect is to create a kind of Halo of Storms and Heatwaves over the middle and upper latitude regions of the world. Earlier this year, The Scientific American noted:

What we think happens is that when there is a ridge forming in a location where Arctic warming can intensify it, that makes the ridge strong and builds it even farther northward. It creates an even bigger wave in the jet stream. You get a stronger ridge over western North America and a stronger southward dip that is farther toward eastern North America.

A subsequent scientific study lead by Dr. Michael Mann and presented in March of this year found that:

… analysis of both historical model simulations and observational surface temperature data, strongly suggests that anthropogenic warming is impacting the zonal mean temperature profile in a manner conducive to wave resonance and a consequent increase in persistent weather extremes in the boreal summer.

And this is exactly what we’ve seen over the U.S. this summer. A stronger than normal ridge in the west fueling record heatwaves and wildfires and a stronger than normal trough in the east fueling more extreme storms. This is a pattern of juxtapposed extremes. One that appears to be fueled by climate change related factors.

Links:

NASA Worldview

National Interagency Fire Center

Largest Wildfire in Los Angeles History Burns Amid Record-Setting Heat

The Arctic is Getting Crazy

Extreme Weather Events Linked to Climate Change’s Influence on the Jet Stream

A Halo of Storms and Heatwaves

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