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Sudden Stratospheric Warming and Polar Amplification: How Climate Change Interacts With the Polar Vortex

Over the past few years, the term Polar Vortex has dominated the broadcast weather media — gaining recent notoriety due to increasingly extreme weather events associated with a number of disruptions to Arctic atmospheric circulation patterns. In short, this swirl of cold air over the furthest north regions is being intensely disrupted by warm air invasions — both at the surface and in the upper levels of the atmosphere. A subject that we’ll explore further as part of this analysis.

Take the recent extreme February warming at the North Pole in which temperatures there rose to above freezing even as a major cold snap slammed into Europe this week. We’ve seen such varied headlines as Yes the North Pole is Warmer than Europe Right Now and Arctic Warm Event Stuns Scientists.

When it’s warmer at the pole than in Europe, it’s a sign that the weather is clearly out of whack. Especially when temperatures in a region spanning tens of thousands of square miles over the Arctic rocket to between 40 and 63 degrees Fahrenheit above normal. Scientists are notably concerned. Dr. Michael Mann, one of the world’s foremost experts on climate change characterized the polar warming event as:

…an anomaly among anomalies. It is far enough outside the historical range that it is worrying — it is a suggestion that there are further surprises in store as we continue to poke the angry beast that is our climate.

But what’s driving all this? Dr. Mann gives us a bit of a hint by describing our climate as an angry beast that’s being poked.

(Polar Amplification writ large. The entire region of the Arctic above the 80 degree North Latitude line has been 8.64 degrees Celsius warmer than normal for all of 2018 thus far. This is an extraordinary departure for a region that plays a critical role in how the Earth’s climate system functions. Image source: DMI.)

Perhaps another way to say it is that it’s a warming atmosphere that’s prodding the Jet Stream to take a chunk out of the Polar Vortex.

How might this work?

First, surface warming in the Arctic caused by increased radiative forcing from rising greenhouse gas levels and by follow-on reductions of Arctic sea ice and snow result in less temperature difference between the Pole and the Equator. This surface warming translates into higher levels of the atmosphere through convection.

Temperature difference is what drives the upper level winds. So a lower difference in temperature causes these winds to slow. When the Jet Stream winds slow, they tend to meander — forming large ridges and deep troughs. The elongated ridges and troughs eventually break like waves — pushing against the circulation of the Polar Vortex.

(NOAA graphic shows how a weak jet stream results in changes in atmospheric circulation and increased disruption of the Polar Vortex.)

When this happens, the speed of the winds that make up the Polar Vortex slow down and sometimes reverse. This results in the collapse of the column of upper level air held aloft by the Vortex’s winds. When the air collapses, it compresses, causing the stratosphere to warm. This falling column of warm air then can end up acting like an atmospheric wedge — driving the Polar Vortex apart and causing it to split.

The split then tends to generate smaller funnels that capture polar air and pull it south. Beneath the funnels, it can be quite cold as Arctic air invades places like North America or the UK (as happened this week). But at the Pole, where the cold air should typically reside, it warms up enormously.

That’s how, under a regime of human-forced climate change, you can end up with periods where temperatures are warmer at the Pole than they are in Europe.

It’s worth noting that Polar Vortex collapse events did occur in the past. But not in such a way that generated the kinds of historically extreme Arctic temperatures we see today. The primary driver for the recently increased extremity of weather driven by Polar Vortex collapse events being human-caused climate change, Polar Amplification, and related influences on the Jet Stream.

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Warmed, Wet and Blocked: Another Storm Taking Aim at the Flooded Central U.S. is Expected to Transition into a Stalled Nor’Easter

The Ohio River Valley is now reeling from the worst flooding event of the past 20 years. Yet one more major event fueled by disruptions to the Earth’s atmosphere facilitated by human-caused climate change. But with another serious plume of moisture issuing from the warmer than normal waters of the Gulf of Mexico, more heavy rains are heading toward a storm-battered Central U.S.

(One more big moisture plume arises from a warmer than normal Gulf of Mexico. It will help to fuel a major storm system that is expected to impact a large swath of the U.S. for most of this week. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

The set-up is similar to previous events of the past two weeks. A strong high pressure system over the Northeast is pulling a heavy load of moisture from a much warmer than normal Gulf of Mexico. Sea surface temperatures there, according to Earth Nullschool reanalysis, range from less than 1 C warmer than normal in the southern Gulf to as much as 5 C warmer than normal in the northern Gulf. Last week, these warmer than normal sea surfaces helped to fuel record atmospheric moisture levels along with historically heavy rains.

This week’s atmospheric moisture pulse will be picked up by a trough sweeping into the Central U.S. over the next couple of days. There, it will help to pump up a series of heavy storms that are predicted to dump another 3-7 inches of rain over the Mississippi River Valley this week. Note that this is on top of the 5-15 inches of rain that has already been dumped over the region during the last two weeks.

(NOAA composite radar imagery shows observed precipitation totals for the U.S. during the past 14 days. Note that another batch of heavy rains is headed directly for the region that has already been hit the hardest.)

Persistent extreme weather patterns of this kind are an aspect of human-forced climate change in that polar warming can result in Jet Stream blocking patterns that cause weather systems to stick around or repeat for long periods of time. This is particularly the case with the storm system now developing in the Central U.S. For as the storm strengthens and moves slowly eastward, it is expected to deepen into a powerful coastal low. This low is predicted to then rake the Northeast U.S. coast with 60 mph winds, heavy rain, high surf and coastal flooding.

As the storm’s eastward passage is blocked by the same weather system that so recently warmed the far north to such extreme winter temperatures, it is expected to linger off the U.S. East Coast even as it intensifies. Due to this predicted stall, the Northeast U.S. is facing the potential of multiple storm tides in which wind-driven water piles up — exacerbating coastal flooding.

(Very strong northeasterly winds are expected to rake the coasts of Maine and Massachusetts by March 2 according to GFS model forecasts. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

Though the shape of the present storm is still a bit unclear, it is likely to both further exacerbate already severe flooding over the Central U.S. even as it generates some serious coastal flooding potentials for the Northeast by the end of this week. What is also clear is that a warming polar environment is contributing to these upstream severe weather events by increasing their persistence even as warming ocean surfaces are helping to feed them with larger moisture loads which generates higher potential storm and rainfall intensity.

A Large Area of Open Water Forms in the Melting Sea Ice North of Greenland During February

In concert with an unprecedented polar warming event, it now appears that the Atlantic side of the Arctic Ocean is seeing some severe sea ice losses.

Warm winds blowing at up to gale force intensity from the south have assaulted the ice with high waves and above-freezing temperatures for about four days now. The ice edge north of Svalbard is being rapidly beaten back. Perhaps more disturbing, is the fact that the ice pack to the north of Greenland has also now withdrawn — opening up a huge polynya.

(Massive hole in the sea ice expands north of Greenland on February 26th. Image source: NASA.)

Looking at the N. Greenland area, we find a fractured, thinning mess along a region of sea ice that should be meters thick and growing thicker at this time in February. Such a state would be remarkable during summer time, but is much more-so in what should be the dark chill of winter polar night.

To be clear, as Neven notes in his most recent Sea Ice Blog, it’s not simply wind blowing the ice around here. It’s melt due to temperatures rising between 40 and 60 F above average over a large region of the Arctic. A region that yesterday saw a 33-34 F (1-2 F above freezing) temperature at the North Pole.

Closer to the massive expanse of water opening up in the ice, Cape Morris Jesup, the furthest north point in Greenland, has now experienced 61 melting hours during winter in 2018. This is comparable to 2011, which set the previous record for winter and early spring melt at 16 hours for the Morris Jesup location. This weekend, the typically frigid point on Greenland’s north coast saw a 43 degree Fahrenheit high in the 24-hour-long darkness (no sunlight or insolation) and at a time when usual daily peak readings hit a frosty -20 F.

The underside of sea ice melts at around -2 C, due to the salt content in the water. But surface portions of the ice still need above freezing temps to result in melt and ponding. Since this region of the Arctic tends to remain near or well below freezing year-round, the present temperatures are enabling unprecedented winter damage to the ice and the environments it supports.

Overall, Arctic sea ice extent is now at record low levels for this time of year. According to JAXA, hitting 13.64 million square kilometers today — or nearly 2 million square kilometers below 1980s averages.

These record daily and seasonal lows are occurring following a major loss of ice in the Bering Sea and in concert with the rapid sea ice setbacks we are presently seeing on the Atlantic side.

It is possible, given the present trend, that the Arctic will experience back-to-back years of record low seasonal ice during winter. 2016-2017 saw a crash in winter sea ice and we are presently even below the record low extents seen at that time.

(Arctic Basin sea ice is at record lows and trending lower. Image source: The Arctic Sea Ice Blog. Graph by Wipneus.)

Only a month and a half of typical freeze season remains. But ten day forecasts indicate that Arctic region mean temperatures might return closer to normal ranges (0 to 1 C above average as opposed the 3-6 C above average) and could allow for some moderate recovery of the substantially reduced winter ice pack.

Overall, though, the tale so far has been one of highly unusual melt and warming. One that highlights the serious and worsening impacts of human-caused warming and related polar amplification.

(UPDATES TO FOLLOW)

A Hole in Winter’s Heart: Temperatures Rise to Above Freezing at the North Pole in February

“Weather is not Climate.”

But when a warm air influx carves a wide-ranging above-freezing hole into the heart of what should typically be ice-solid Arctic winter, then maybe it’s time to start re-evaluating the gist of the statement.

(Today, on Sunday February 25, 2018 at 0900 UTC — temperatures rose to above freezing at the North Pole. This event, which is probably unprecedented or, at the very least, an extreme instance in the polar record, is an exemplar — or a good example — of the kinds of wrenching weather changes we can expect as a result of human-caused climate change. Image source: Earth Nullschool. Data source: Global Forecast System Model.)

Weather and climate are inexorably married one to the other. Though weather is often variable and tied to locality, climate is broader-ranging and roughly characterized as average weather over 30 years. When climate changes, it ultimately changes average weather. It thus changes the rules in which weather occurs. So you can end up with weather events that are typically not common or have never been seen before — like category six hurricanes, much more heavy rainfall events, historic and unprecedented droughts, and above freezing temperatures at the North Pole during February even as Arctic air is driven south over Europe.

In the context of climate change, what we’re talking about is average global weather across the span of multiple decades. In some locations, this ongoing climate change has resulted in very little perceptible weather change. In other locations, and this is more and more-so the case, the changes to weather are both disruptive and profound.

We could say that they are, as Dr. Sarah Myhre noted in our little climate and weather chat yesterday, exemplars — or good examples of alterations that are characteristic of human-caused climate change.

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Since late January, we’ve been tracking the potential for just such an exemplar extreme weather event — temperatures rising to above freezing at the North Pole during February.

The persistent weather patterns necessary for such an event were already well in play. At the surface, warm air was continuously running northward just east of Greenland — born pole-ward by powerful storms and frontal systems. At the upper levels of the atmosphere, a huge plug of warm air was developing. One that invaded the stratospheric levels of the atmosphere by the week of February 4-11. This plug, in synergy with surface warming, tore apart the heart of cold at the roof of our world that we call the Polar Vortex.

 

(Daily mean temperatures for the entire region of the Arctic above the 80 degree north latitude line rocketed upward to new records over recent weeks. Most recent temperatures are comparable to those typically seen during late May. Image source: Zachary Labe, Arctic Temperatures.)

Nodes of cold air from the remnant Polar Vortex spiraled south — bearing with them regional packets of Arctic air and setting off extreme cold weather in the middle latitudes. Meanwhile, the polar zone just kept warming up into ranges that were increasingly uncharacteristic of Arctic winter.

An extreme wave in the Jet Stream was developing and elongating over the North Atlantic, delivering more and more warm air northward.

By February 21st, the wave had extended into a knife-like extension east of Greenland and through the Barents Sea. Beneath this abnormal Jet Stream wave, which was starting to look more and more like a trans-polar river (of a kind predicted by Dr. Jennifer Francis as a result of human-caused Polar Amplification), was an intensifying thrust of outlandishly warm surface air.

(Jet stream wave originating near Spain extends northward past the North Pole on Sunday, January 25, 2018. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

Over the past 72 hours, gale force warm, southerly winds gathered in the Atlantic, then blasted north.

At this point, we were starting to see some seriously outlandish temperatures in the higher latitude regions. Cape Morris Jesup, which is the furthest north location on Greenland, by Friday the 23rd experienced 6 C or 43 F temperatures on the shores of what should be a frozen solid Arctic Ocean just 400 miles from the North Pole.

The average high temperature in Cape Morris Jesup is -20 degrees Fahrenheit during February — making Friday’s reading a whopping 63 degrees F warmer than average. For reference, a similar departure for Washington, DC would produce a 105 degree day in February.

But it wasn’t just Cape Morris Jesup that was experiencing July-like conditions for the Arctic during February. For the expanding front of that ridiculously warm winter air by Sunday had expanded into a plume stretching tens of thousands of square miles and including a vast zone of temperatures spiking from 45 to 54+ degrees F above normal.

(The zone of pink-to-white in the above anomaly map shows temperatures ranging from 45 to 54 F [25 to 30 C] above average directly over a broad Arctic region centering on the North Pole. To this weather and climate observer, it looks like a hole in the heart of winter. Also note the region of cold air pushed south over Europe and the present above average [1981-2010] global reading. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)

And at the center of the warm air pulse was today’s earlier reading of 1.1 C or 34 F at the North Pole (see image at top of post). What would typically be a summer-time temperature for this furthest north location of our world happening during February. A highlight warm point in the midst of a vast plug of far warmer than normal air. A hole in the heart of winter.

We’ll wait for confirmation from experts like Chris Burt, Bob Henson, and Dr. Jeff Masters at Weather Underground, but it appears that this particular warming event — the highlight of an ongoing polar warming of the past few weeks — is without precedent in the Arctic during February. It is also an exemplar — a good example — of the kind of weather we can expect to frequent the Arctic more and more often as the global crisis that is human-forced climate change deepens and as its primary cause — fossil fuel burning — continues.

(Please also see Neven’s related excellent expert analysis of this unprecedented polar warming event at the Arctic Sea Ice Blog here. More to follow on impacts to sea ice in a developing post.)

Climate Change Driven Record Atmospheric Moisture Produces Major Flooding in Central U.S.

Ten inches. That’s how much rain has fallen over parts of the Central U.S. over the past week. Five-to-ten inches more. That’s how much additional rain could again fall across the same region during the next seven days according to NOAA’s forecast (see below image).

(The Central U.S. is already experiencing severe flooding. But record atmospheric moisture levels driven by extreme ocean warming is setting up conditions for even more intense weather. Image source: NOAA.)

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Warnings of potentially life-threatening flooding were issued today from Michigan to the Ohio Valley and on through a large swath stretching from Texas into Arkansas as severe rainfall again inundated the Central U.S.

A massive double-barrel high pressure system sitting off the U.S. East Coast generated strong south-to-north winds running over sea surfaces in the Gulf of Mexico ranging from 1 to 5 C warmer than average. These winds reaped the waters of a much larger than normal load of water vapor and then pumped it over the Central U.S. The result was record atmospheric moisture levels running over the region producing significant and abnormally intense rain storms. Now, many areas are under flood warnings with moderate-to-major flooding expected.

(Much warmer than normal sea surfaces over the Gulf of Mexico resulted in increased atmospheric moisture loading. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

1-5 C warmer than normal ocean surfaces, as we see in the Gulf of Mexico today, is an extraordinary anomaly. In the past, 2 C warmer than normal readings would have been considered significant. But with human-caused climate change, sea surface temperature anomalies have tended to become more and more extreme.

Though warmer than normal Gulf of Mexico waters are contributing to the presently severe precipitation now falling over the Central U.S., they are not the only waters seeing such high temperatures. In fact, the global ocean is now much warmer than it was in the past and, from region-to-region, produces abnormally high surface temperatures with increasing regularity. These warmer waters have pumped more moisture into the Earth’s atmosphere which has led to an increase in the number of extreme rainfall events both in the U.S. and across the globe. A signal of human forced climate change.

(Large east coast high pressure systems, seen in right of frame as two clockwise swirls, hit a record intensity this week beneath an unusually intense ridge in the Jet Stream. The highs also served to pump that intense Gulf moisture into the Central U.S. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

The large high pressure system driving such a significant moisture flow over the Central U.S. today is also climate change related. Earlier this week, the high hit a record intensity — spurring a never-before-seen spate of record warm temperatures across the U.S. northeast. The high, in its turn was fueled by a warming-driven polar vortex collapse in the Arctic which generated the intense ridge pattern that allowed it to bloom and sprawl.

What we are seeing, therefore, is a kind of climate change related synergy between severe polar warming and more intense ridge and trough patterns in the middle latitudes. Add in the factor of warmer sea surfaces and this changed atmospheric circulation is enabled to more efficiently tap related higher atmospheric moisture levels to fuel the more intense storms we’re seeing today.

This Week’s Climate and Clean Energy Brief: Category Six Hurricanes, 8,000 Model 3s Produced, Bering Sea Ice Crushed, Electric Semi Savings, and California’s 2018 Snow Crash

While we were focused on extreme warming events and off-kilter weather related to polar amplification this week, there were quite a lot of other developments worth taking note of in both the clean energy and climate news sphere. This post will explore a number of highlights for those interested in the ongoing climate disruption and related responses through renewable energy development.

But before we continue, I’d like to send off a big thanks to Sarah Myhre — an ocean scientist who, unlike a number of broadcast meteorologists, isn’t afraid to tell the climate story like it is (in reference to a the major East Coast warming event this week). Kudos for your clarity, Sarah.

Human-Caused Climate Change is Causing the Most Powerful Hurricanes to Grow Stronger. That’s why scientists are now mulling over adding a new category to define the world’s most destructive storms: Category 6. Advanced by scientists meeting with Dr. Michael Mann in New Zealand and alluded to for the past few years in cutting edge blogs like Weather Underground, a 6th Category would be used to define storms with top sustained wind speeds that exceed 200 mph.

(Hurricane and named storm trend for the Atlantic basin. Note that 2017 was the most destructive year on record for hurricanes [not shown on chart]. Image source: National Hurricane Center and Phys.org.)

Global warming, driven by fossil fuel burning, is increasing both atmospheric convection and ocean surface temperatures. These provide energy to tropical cyclones. As a result, storms are forming out of season more often, they are ranging further into the higher latitudes, they tend to last longer, and the strongest storms (major hurricanes) are becoming both stronger and more frequent. 2017 marked the most destructive hurricane season on record for the Atlantic basin. And, unfortunately, with fossil fuel burning still ongoing, the potential for damage is likely to continue to increase with the advent of Category 6 storms.

The clean energy revolution intensifies as Model 3 Production hit an estimated 8,000 this week. According to Bloomberg, Tesla Model 3 production is presently at 1,052 vehicles per week. This is an estimate based on a computer model tracking VIN numbers and internet reports of Model 3 sightings. Overall, the number of this all-electric, clean energy vehicle produced crossed the 8,000 mark on Thursday in the Bloomberg estimate and has now climbed to 8,219. Bloomberg tracking indicates that the 1,052 per week production rate has remained steady for about two weeks.

(Tesla Model 3 production is significantly increasing, but lags earlier and present ambitious targets. Trajectory indicates that end Q1 is likely to be closer to 1,750 to 2,000 vehicles produced per week unless a major ramp in volume occurs soon. Image source: Bloomberg.)

Tesla is struggling to rapidly ramp production amidst amazing demand for its Model 3 vehicle — at approximately 500,000 pre-orders. And it is aiming to hit the 2,500 vehicle per week mark by the end of March. Given past delays in the production ramp, it’s uncertain if Tesla can hit this target (though Tesla says it is presently on track). But what is certain is that Tesla is putting in one heck of an effort. And one optimistic sign that the target may be within reach is the fact that Tesla recently opened Model 3 order configurations to non-Tesla owners.

Tesla isn’t the only clean energy vehicle leader in the world. Nissan, Renault, GM, and a number of Chinese automakers also produce EVs at high quality and in significant volumes. However, its all renewable business model, high quality products, large battery and solar production infrastructure, penchant for producing cutting-edge innovations, and dominance of a number of EV markets distinguishes it as a crucial player. Given the rising volume of Model 3s produced, it appears likely that Tesla will sell between 150,000 and 250,000 all electric vehicles during 2018.

Bering Sea Ice Crushed. We’ve extensively covered polar warming and sea ice losses this week. However, one highlight in the overall story continues to be record low ice coverage in the Bering Sea. Earlier this week, warm winds swept much of the ice out of this near Arctic Ocean zone. Though a return to somewhat cooler temperatures is predicted, it is so late in the season that any ice that does form will likely be very thin and vulnerable to melt come late March or early April.

A similar story is unfolding on the Atlantic side near the Barents Sea and the Greenland Strait. With a major warm wind event predicted for this weekend, a clearing of vulnerable sea ice on that side of the Arctic may well be in the offing. If this does occur, it will reinforce the trend of see-sawing ice losses shifting from Pacific to Atlantic zones that we’ve seen for much of the winter of 2017-2018.

Tesla Semi Promises Major Savings (and it’s scary-fast, see video). Major shipping companies are chomping at the bit for access to the new Tesla Semi. And the reason is that they’re seeing dollar signs. According to a new report out from Electrek, DHL — one of the largest logistics firms in the world — expects that a single electrical truck like the Semi would enable it to save tens of thousands of dollars per year. These savings come due to the fact that though the Semi, at a price starting at 150,000 dollars, is more expensive than your standard long-haul truck, is much less expensive to operate and maintain. Primary costs for trucking include both fuel and vehicle maintenance. Charging costs for EVs range from 30 to 60 percent or more less than refueling costs. Meanwhile, much simpler engine design results in far fewer mechanical failures or parts that could require replacing.

These prospects are generating serious interest and excitement from major shippers like DHL. Tesla has already received well over 500 pre-orders for its all-electrical truck which it plans to begin mass producing in 2019. As with other electrical vehicles, replacement of ICE based trucking with electrical trucking not only produces lower fuel and maintenance costs, it also substantially reduces net carbon emissions from transportation as adoption rates rise.

California’s Snow Crash is as Bad as 2015. Throughout most of fall and winter of 2017-2018, the U.S. West Coast has experienced incredibly warm and dry conditions. And despite a recent switch to cooler, wetter weather, it may be too late in the season for California’s snowpack to see any substantial recovery.

(California’s snow pack is tracking near record low levels. Snow melt and a longer term trend toward hot, dry weather in California is a key indicator of human caused global warming. It is also creating water security issues for the state. Image source: CDEC.)

Present snow pack levels are comparable to those experienced during 2015 — which was one of the worst water years ever in California history. The majority of snow will have already fallen by this date in any given year. So even if normal conditions were to prevail over the next few weeks, it appears that the damage is already done.

California relies on its snow pack to provide water to farms, industry, and cities. Summer of 2015 saw serious water shortages with some municipalities forced to make major cuts in supplies. It appears that a similar situation may be setting up for 2018. And human-caused climate change is the primary contributor to California’s water woes as well as its related longer-term drying trend.

 

Polar Warming Translates South as June-Like High Pressure Ridge Brings Record-Smashing Temperatures to Eastern U.S. in February

The North Atlantic and Arctic weather pattern is a real mess. Frequent episodes of severe polar warmth relative to normal conditions for this time of year have been a persistent feature. Arctic sea ice extents are at record lows. Meanwhile, the upstream atmosphere generated a record-smashing high pressure system and related abnormal warmth over the U.S. East on Wednesday.

(Severe warming, both at the surface and in the upper atmosphere over the Arctic helped to generate a polar vortex collapse during recent days. This collapse, in turn, generated a number of high amplitude waves in the Jet Stream — one of which produced a record high pressure ridge over the U.S. East Coast on Wednesday, February 21. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

All these severe weather elements have ties to a climate change related condition called polar amplification. A condition that generates mass sea ice loss and extreme warmth at the northern pole, especially during winter. One that translates into more extreme ridge and trough patterns over the middle latitudes. And due to these features, the weather for both the Arctic and the North Atlantic doesn’t appear to be set to return to anything approximating normal for at least the next five days.

Forecast for More Extreme Warmth…

Far to the north, a long, thin extension in the Jet Stream is setting up to bring predicted above freezing temperatures to the North Pole by Sunday. The surface system anchoring that warm air invasion is a powerful low predicted to bomb out around 930 mb just off the coast of Greenland on Saturday. It will fling hurricane force winds and near to above freezing temperatures over coastal and northeastern sections of this frozen archipelago before translating that significant energy northward into the Arctic by early Sunday.

(Extreme warmth struck both the Arctic and the U.S. East on Wednesday, February 21st. A similar pattern is predicted to repeat by this weekend — pushing temperatures to near or above freezing at the North Pole even as the US southeast swelters. Image source: GFS/Climate Reanalyzer.)

Temperatures over central and northern Greenland are predicted to range between 10 and 25 C above average even as parts of the high Arctic spike to 30 C above average.

… Following Wednesday’s Record-Breaking Ridge

Though much of the recently most extreme weather action has been focused on the Arctic, the mid-latitudes have seen there fair share of climate change wrenched extremes.

Yesterday, a slot of warm air rushing northward built into a powerful ridge over the U.S. East Coast. This ridge was not any typical pulse of warm air at the surface running counter to a much cooler winter time atmosphere. It was heavy and it was tall — translating from the ground and well into the stratosphere.

So much heat generated summer-like conditions across the U.S. East. From the mid Atlantic to the northeast, temperature records last set as far back as the late 1800s were shattered. Washington DC saw 82 degree (F) temps. Vermont shattered several of its all-time record highs for February. Massachusetts saw temps hit 80 in Fitchburg. While New York’s Central Park also broke its all-time record of 68 F as the mercury struck 78 degrees yesterday. It was the strongest outbreak of heat ever to strike the northeastern section of the U.S. since record-keeping began back in the late 19th Century. Temperatures there were more typical of June and far less so of February.

All that extra heat translating so far into the upper atmosphere also generated convection and cloud formations more typical of summer — with cumulus clouds piling up over places like Atlanta.

And it wasn’t just temperatures and clouds that were increasingly trekking into outlandish parameters for February, it was the state of the atmosphere itself. For the central peak of the high pressure system provoking such powerful atmospheric anomalies was a stunning 595 dm at the 500 millibar level. This was the highest pressure ever recorded at the 18,000 foot level of the atmosphere. And the earliest time we’ve ever seen such a strong high pressure system off the U.S. East Coast previously was during June.

By the weekend, another warm air push is expected to invade the U.S. East. This time, it appears that temperatures in the Southeast will be most intense with highs hitting around 85 F across parts of Georgia and Florida even as a broad region of 75 to 80+ degree readings sweeps from the Gulf Coast on up through Virginia Sunday.

In the Context of Human-Caused Climate Change

We would be remiss if we didn’t note that increasing atmospheric thickness and powerful high pressure ridges are noted features of a warming global environment. New record high temperatures are also a climate change indicator — especially when they occur with such high prevalence and frequency. And this is the case even over the continental U.S. as a rapidly warming Arctic is helping to drive increasing hot and cold temperature extremes in the middle latitudes.

North Pole Region Predicted to Experience Another Instance of Above Freezing Temperatures as the Bering Sea Ice is Blasted Away

Those previously rare instances of above freezing temperatures in the Arctic north during winter time are happening more and more often.

(February 20 NASA satellite imagery shows Bering Sea with mostly open water as highly atypical above freezing temperatures drive far north. Note that patches of open water extend well into the Chukchi Sea. Image source: NASA.)

Just Monday and Tuesday of this week, Cape Jessup, Greenland — a mere 400 miles away from the North Pole — experienced above freezing temperatures for two days in a row. This following a February 5 warm air invasion that drove above 32 F temperatures to within 150 miles of this furthest northerly point in our Hemisphere even as, by February 20th, a warm air invasion relentlessly melted the Bering Sea’s typically frozen surface (see image above).

Far Above Average Temperatures Over Our Pole

It’s not just a case of warming near the pole itself. It’s the entire Arctic region above the 66 degree North Latitude line. Over the past few days, Arctic temperature anomalies have exceeded 6 degrees Celsius above the 1981 to 2010 baseline. A period that was already showing a serious warming trend.

(Insane levels of warmth relentlessly invade the Arctic during February — hammering the sea ice and wrecking havoc on local environments. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)

For reference, 6 C warmer than normal daily readings for any large region of the Earth’s surface is a very serious temperature departure. And the Arctic is clearly feeling it as it suffers the lowest sea ice extent in our record keeping. The heat is meanwhile wreaking out of control harm on the Arctic environment — endangering key species like seals, walrus, puffins, and polar bears, setting off very rapid coastal erosion as storm waves grow taller, triggering far more extensive and powerful Arctic wildfires, and causing mass land subsidence and various harmful environmental feedbacks from permafrost thaw. It’s also causing Greenland’s massive glaciers to melt faster — contributing to an acceleration in the rate of global sea level rise.

The warm air has been invading primarily from the ocean zones in the Atlantic and the Pacific. Warm storms have frequently roared north through the Barents Sea and up the Greenland Strait near Svalbard. Massive blocking high pressure systems have shoved outlandishly warm temperatures through the Bering Sea on the Pacific side day after day, month after month.

Warm Air Invasions Clear Sea Ice During Winter

A recent warm air invasion has practically cleared the Bering Sea of ice. And the ice edge there is further withdrawn than it has ever been in its history. As we can see from the below animation, this crazy and rapid clearing of ice continues to drive further and further north — ushered in by a relentless invasion of warm air — during February. A time when Bering ice should be expanding, not contracting.

What’s causing such extreme polar weather? In two words — climate change. But drilling down, the details can actually get pretty complicated.

During recent winters, human-caused climate change has been driving temperatures into never-before-seen ranges over our northern pole. Increasingly, Sudden Stratospheric Warming events have been propelling warm air into the upper layers of the atmosphere. The Polar Vortex, which during winter relies on a column of sequestered cold air to maintain stability, is blown off-kilter as these upper level layers heat up. This, in turn, has generated extreme wave patterns in the winter Northern Hemisphere Jet Stream — enabling much warmer than usual temperatures to rocket northward.

An Ongoing Series of Warming Events

On December 30 of 2015, and enabled by a high amplitude Jet Stream wave, a powerful warm storm event pushed a strong wedge of warm, above freezing, air all the way across the 90 North Latitude line. Meanwhile, Jessup Greenland hit above freezing for what was likely the first time ever over the past two winters. Last year’s Arctic sea ice hit the lowest levels ever seen during March due to all the extra heat. And the warm temperature extremes appear to be deepening.

Now, as of mid February, a powerful Sudden Stratospheric Warming Event has again blown the Polar Vortex off kilter — weakening it and enabling warm air to flood into the Arctic even as colder air is displaced southward over Canada, the Western U.S. and Europe. Translating to the surface, this train wreck in the upper level winds has driven the extreme polar warming events of the past 8-10 days even as cold air invasions have overtaken Europe and the U.S. East experiences record-breaking heat.

The polar warming event is still ongoing. And it is expected to deliver another blow to an Arctic environment that typically experiences -30 degree Celsius temperatures this time of year. For another major warm wind invasion is forecast to drive above freezing temperatures over the North Pole by this weekend. Strong south to north winds along an extreme ridge in the Jet Stream are predicted to push 1-2 C temperatures (or approximately 55 F above average temps) over the North Pole on Saturday and Sunday.

(High amplitude Jet Stream wave predicted to drive North Pole temperatures to above freezing by Sunday. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

Though rare during December, above freezing temperatures at the North Pole during February are practically unheard of. The period of February through April should be a time of strengthening and thickening ice ahead of melt season. But during 2018 this appears not to be the case. The ice instead, in key regions, is being delivered with serious setbacks which is greatly retarding this year’s typical Arctic Ocean ice formation.

If this most recent polar warming event emerges as predicted, it will provide yet one more powerful blow to an already greatly weakened Arctic sea ice pack during a time of year when extents and areas should be reaching their peak. And that’s bad news for both the Arctic and global environments.

Despite Stronger La Nina, January of 2018 was the Fifth Hottest in the 138 Year Climate Record

Major signals of on an ongoing and inexorable global warming trend continued to be apparent during January of 2018, according to NASA records.

The first month of this year saw global temperatures in the range of 0.78 degrees Celsius above NASA’s 20th Century baseline — or about 1 C warmer than 1880s averages when NASA record-keeping began.

Despite the influence of La Nina — which during 2018 is stronger than a similar 2017 Pacific Ocean cooling event — January was the 5th hottest such month in all of the 138 year global climate record. According to NASA, all of the top five hottest Januaries ever recorded have occurred since 2007, with four of those five occurring during the last five years.

(Arctic warming is the primary feature of the fifth hottest January in NASA’s 138 year climate record. Image source: NASA.)

Warm temperature departures for the month were most extreme over the Arctic, over western North America, and through North and Western Europe. This outlier warmth contributed to record low sea ice extent measures in the Arctic and helped to rapidly expand drought conditions across the U.S. In the Southern Hemisphere, Antarctica — recently seeing a series of glacial calving events in the west which hint at a quickening pulse of ice entering the world’s rising oceans — saw an abnormally warm austral summer month. Meanwhile, Australia experienced its own third hottest January even as concerns over renewed mass coral bleaching across the Great Barrier Reef were again on the rise.

During La Nina, movement of warm air and water toward the polar region is enhanced. To this point, global sea ice extent measures are again in record low ranges even after receiving a serious hammering during the winter of 2017. In January, record to near record polar warmth helped to drive a rapid fall in global sea ice extent to today’s record low values in the range of 16 million square kilometers.

Record low sea ice coverage is a climate change amplifier in that it uncovers dark ocean surfaces that capture more of the sun’s rays than white, reflective ice. In addition, open ocean ventilates more heat into the polar atmosphere. Heat that would typically be sequestered beneath the ice. This warming amplification (polar amplification) can also have an impact on the polar circulation of the Jet Stream — causing it to meander more which results in increasing instances of extreme weather (hot, cold, wet, dry, stormy) in the middle latitudes.

(Global sea ice extent is again in record low ranges. This is a primary signal of a warming polar environment — which can have far-ranging harmful impacts. Image source: Global Sea Ice and NSIDC.)

Over the coming months, we should expect some continued stress to both Arctic and Antarctic sea ice — with the caveat being that cloudier late springs and early summers have tended to retard warm season ice loss during recent years in the Northern Hemisphere. That said, continued movement into record low ranges for the Arctic hint that rapid advance of melt during winter may eventually translate to summer.

The primary driver of these serious changes to the global environment is continued fossil fuel burning. And with atmospheric CO2 likely to hit between 411 and 412 parts per million this year (with CO2e ranging toward 493 ppm adding in all greenhouse gasses) the amount of warming already being locked in is starting to look quite dangerous in a number respects. That said, damage can still be greatly limited if the world works to rapidly transition toward renewable energy and keeps harmful fuels where they belong — in the ground.

 

Breaking Through the 300,000 EV Barrier: What Math Can Tell us About Tesla Model 3 Production

Like most of Elon Musk’s endeavors, Tesla is not a risk adverse venture.

Quite to the contrary, by taking on established energy and automotive players on fields that they’ve dominated for decades socially, politically, and economically, it would seem that Musk and, by extension, Tesla have done everything they can to give risk a big, fat, honking troll.

Helpful Risk of Undertaking Clean Energy Transition vs Risk of Extreme Harms From Climate Change

But if there was ever a time when the serious risk inherent to rapidly breaking new ground in the clean energy field was necessary, then it is now. Just today, in the dead of what should be frigid Arctic winter, a tanker brimming full with climate change amplifying liquified gas (LNG) crossed the typically frozen solid Arctic Ocean. And here’s the kicker — it did it without the need of an escorting ice breaker.

This is the first time a vessel has navigated across the Arctic in such a way during February. Ever. An ominous new marvel made possible by a warming Arctic that is also bringing along such terrors as a multiplying list of endangered species, loss of fisheries, increasing rates of ocean acidification, thawing permafrost, melting glaciers, massive Arctic wildfires, and quickening sea level rise.

In light of such hard facts, we could reasonably say that the risks Tesla and Musk are taking are needed, are indeed necessary if modern society is to have a decent chance at confronting the rising age of human-caused climate change. That the efforts by Tesla and others to speed a transition to energies that do not contribute to the already significant climate harms coming down the pipe are something both valid and necessary. Something that all true industry, education, civil and government leaders would responsibly step up to support.

Of course, the story of clean energy isn’t all about Tesla. It’s about the global need for a swift energy transition away from climate change driving fossil fuels. But Tesla, as the only major U.S. integrated clean energy and transport corporation presently operating that does not also have a stake in fossil fuel infrastructure, is a vision of what energy companies should look like if we are to achieve a more benevolent climate future. And it is for this reason that the company has generated so much support among climate change response and clean energy advocates.

300,000 All-Electric Vehicles Produced

But in order for Tesla to succeed in helping to speed along a necessary clean energy revolution, it needs to produce clean energy systems in increasingly high volumes. During recent days Tesla crossed a major milestone on the path toward mass production of clean energy vehicles. For as of the first half of February, Tesla is reported to have produced its 300,000th electrical vehicle.

A somewhat vague indicator, it nonetheless gives us an idea of the pace at which Tesla EV production is increasing. And, by extension, how fast the more affordable Model 3 is also ramping up.

Consider that approximately 101,000 Teslas were produced during 2017. Also consider that by the end of the year, Tesla had produced about 286,500 EVs throughout its lifetime as a company. If the company crossed the 300,000 mark during early February as indicated, it tells us that Tesla is presently producing around 10,000 EVs per month in total.

This extrapolated pace (keep in mind, we are reading tea leaves here), suggests that Tesla is already building on record 2017 production levels. It also suggests that Model 3 is having a strong impact on the overall rate of production. What’s even more significant is that Tesla production has historically tended to slow down at the start of each quarter and then speed up at the end of each quarter. Right now, overall Tesla production appears to still be on an up ramp.

(Bloomberg has built a model aimed at tracking the total number of Tesla Model 3s produced. It presently estimates that 7,438 Model 3s in total have been built and that Tesla has finally broken the 1,000 vehicle per week threshold consistently. See Bloomberg’s report and interactive graphs here.)

Add to this report the results of a recent Bloomberg model study estimating that around 7,438 Model 3s have been produced in total since July of 2017 and that average weekly production rates are now slightly above 1,000. The Bloomberg study relies on extrapolation from VIN number reporting and observation as well as on internet reports. The reports and data are then plugged into a mathematical model that provides an estimate of total Model 3 production.

The Bloomberg study indicates that Model 3 hit a big surge in production during late January and early February. Which is cautious good news for those still standing in the long line waiting for one of these revolutionary vehicles. A 1,000 Model 3 per week production rate roughly translates to 4,000 per month — which would account for the apparent early year acceleration in total Tesla EV production. But in order to satisfy demand any time soon, Model 3 production will have to increase to more than 5,000 vehicles per week in rather short order.

So Model 3 still has a long way to go before it can start substantially meeting the amazing pent-up demand of the 500,000 person waiting list. In addition, production will have to continue to rapidly pick up if Tesla is to meet the stated goal of 2,500 Model 3s per week by the end of March. That said, Tesla appears to be well on the road toward expanding mass clean energy vehicle production and could more than double its annual EV output this year. Considering the state of the world’s climate, this couldn’t happen sooner.

 

 

Coastlines in Danger: The Rate of Global Sea Level Rise is Accelerating

A new NASA study published just yesterday confirms long-held warnings about rising oceans from IPCC and other climate change watch dog bodies. What it found, looking back over the last 25 years, was not only that seas were rising, but that they were rising at an ever-increasing annual rate.

If we took a snap shot of the present day, we’d find that oceans are rising at a rate of around 3.3 mm per year. If that rate were to hold steady, it would translate to a 33 centimeter rise per century. Or about 1.1 feet. This is global average rise, of course. In more vulnerable places like Tidewater, VA, or New Orleans, or Miami, such a larger swelling of the world’s ocean could translate to 2-3 feet due to local conditions like subsidence or ocean current change.

That’s bad enough. But it’s not the whole story.

(NASA study shows that sea level rise rates are accelerating due to the melting of large glaciers in Greenland and Antarctica. The key driver of this melt is human fossil fuel burning and related accumulation of heat-trapping carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere. Carbon dioxide levels this year will hit near 412 ppm in April-May, a level not seen in 10-15 million years. Video Source: NASA.)

According to NASA, that annual rate of sea level rise is also rising. In other words, it’s accelerating like a car when you slowly but inexorably increase pressure on the peddle.

The present annual increase measured by NASA’s satellites shows a 0.08 mm rate of acceleration averaged over the past 25 years. What this means is that if the rate of increase remains steady, next year seas will rise by 3.38 mm, and the following year seas will rise by 3.46 mm. Extrapolate that to the end of this Century and you’d get an annual rate of rise of around 10 mm per year — or about 3.3 feet every 100 years.

This translates to roughly 26 inches of additional sea level rise from now to 2100 globally — or about 3-5 feet in more locally vulnerable places like Tidewater, New Orleans, and Miami.

(Over the past 25 years, the rate of sea level rise has been accelerating by 0.08 mm per year. A backwards extrapolation by NASA of satellite data is a broad confirmation of sea level observations and predictions by IPCC. However, increasing ice sheet instability in Greenland and Antarctica could further spike rates of acceleration, endangering coastal cities even more. This serious global risk is amplified by continued fossil fuel burning, and moderated by more rapid transitions to clean energy. Image source: AVISO.)

Of course, given the fact that we continue to burn fossil fuels, that the necessary renewable energy transition continues to be delayed by predatory industries and their proxy politicians (primarily republicans like Trump in the United States), there is no guarantee that the rate of annual increase in sea level won’t accelerate faster than it already is. So, for this reason, the new NASA, IPCC-confirming, report should be viewed under a caveat (Dr Eric Rignot points toward sea level rise of greater than 1 meter by 2100).

In other words, if we don’t respond soon, the glaciers in Greenland and Antarctica that are already speeding the rate of global sea level rise could start to really let loose and get us into even more trouble than we already are.

(UPDATED)

Arctic Sea Ice Extent at Record Lows as Winter Temperatures Soar

Five point five degrees Celsius above average.

That’s how much warmer than ‘normal’ the entire region of the Arctic above the 66 degree North Latitude Line was earlier today. Areas within this large warm pool saw temperatures spike to a range of 15 to 25 C warmer than the already warmer than normal 1981-2010 base period. And broad regions saw temperature between 10 and 20 C above that 30-year average.

(The entire Arctic is an incredible 5.5 C warmer than normal today. Meanwhile, Arctic sea ice extent has plunged, once-more, into record low ranges. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)

It’s just a snapshot. But day after day, week after week, month after month, the story has been much the same throughout Fall and Winter of 2017-2018.

And as during last year’s ridiculously warm Arctic winter, the sea ice has taken a considerable pounding. Yesterday dropping to a new record low extent of 13.774 million square kilometers. Beating out the previous record low for the day set just last year. And dipping more than 1.8 million square kilometers below the 1979-1990 average. A period that already featured greatly reduced Arctic sea ice cover when compared to extents seen in the early 20th Century.

(Arctic sea ice extent for 2018 [lower pink line above] dipped into new record low ranges during recent days. Note that the 1979 – 1990 extent average is indicated by the green line at top. Image source: NSIDC.)

The primary cause of these ice losses is warming both of the ocean and of the air. And, as we can see in the ongoing trend, the Arctic is getting more than its fair share of both. Such polar amplification is a direct upshot of the massive volume of harmful greenhouse gasses being injected into the atmosphere through fossil fuel burning. And we are seeing the dark fruits of that burning now in the massive and ongoing winter losses of sea ice, the harm to various Arctic life forms like puffins and polar bears, and the risk of increasing sea level rise, ocean circulation destabilization, and increasingly extreme weather events that all result from the heating-up of polar environments.

What’s the Real U.S. Weather Story for Fall and Winter of 2017-2018? Abnormally Warm, Abnormally Dry.

It seems that every time a snow storm or burst of cold weather roars out of a less stable and warming Arctic, the news media is all a-buzz. Perhaps this is due to the fact that these events are abnormal in their own right. Perhaps because they are more and more the extreme punctuations and back-blasts of a larger warming climate. Perhaps it is due to the fact that cold events are steadily becoming more of a nostalgic novelty even if, when they do arrive, they can come on with a fierce intensity.

 

(The overall trend for winter is one of warming. This despite the fact that more extreme Jet Stream patterns due to polar amplification can still produce bursts of cold weather. Note that regions furthest north are warming the fastest. Image source Climate Central.)

In the larger trend of warming and related climate change signaled extremes, the U.S. fall and winter of 2017-2018 is no exception.

Over the past 90 days, temperatures have been well above average across the western two-thirds of the country. Consistent blocking high pressure systems over the Pacific have generated both warmer and drier than normal conditions. In states like Wyoming, Nevada, Arizona, and Colorado, sections have experienced 5-6 C (9-11 F) above average temperatures for the entire three month period.

The Northeast, by comparison, which has seen the bulk of news coverage for recent briefer, less consistent, generally less intense cold events, has, at most, seen temperatures ranging 2-3 C (3.6 – 5.4 F) below average. In other words, the peak warm anomalies are beating out the peak cool anomalies by about 3 C — or 2 to 1 on the basis of intensity overall.

(Most of the U.S. has been much warmer and much drier than normal during the Fall and Winter of 2017-2018 with western heat and drought as the prominent feature. Image source: NOAA.)

Meanwhile, the high amplitude jet stream waves featuring cold air driven out of the Arctic by larger warm air invasions have been increasingly linked by scientific studies to human-caused climate change. These intense local cold snaps are now more often identified as a by-product of Arctic warming. Great floods of warm air invade northward, driving remnant cold air into the middle latitudes.

This bullying of cold by hot pushing mid-latitude temperatures into off-kilter extremes overlays a larger warming trend and is related to both sea ice loss and polar warming. But this particular climate change link — the fact that warm air in the Arctic is basically bullying the cold air out and is generating local, if intense, cold snaps — is presently under-reported in major broadcast weather media. Nor is the fact that daily record highs for the U.S. continue to greatly outpace daily record lows in the longer term trend being consistently highlighted.

(Though a handful of regions are experiencing cooler than 30 year average temperatures on February 7 of 2018, most of the globe today is much hotter than normal. Note that cold snaps, where they do occur appear to be concentrated in the Northern Hemisphere mid-latitudes. Also note that none of the major climate zones are experiencing below average temperatures even as much warmer than usual conditions are concentrated at the poles. These are all signatures of a warming world. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)

Despite a general overlooking of the context and causes for mid latitude weather extremes as identified by climate science, perhaps the most under-reported weather and climate change related story of the Winter of 2018 is the return of drought. Presently, more of the Continental U.S. is under drought conditions than not. And we are now experiencing, as a nation, the largest drought footprint in four years.

This is notable due to the fact that four years ago — 2014 — the U.S. west was experiencing one of the worst droughts in its history with California in the grips of a six year long extreme drought period. In other words, it would take both widespread and intense drought conditions to begin to compare to the 2014 drought situation either in extent or intensity.

With California receiving so much rain last winter (2016-2017) it is also notable how rapidly drought conditions have returned. California exited a drought emergency just a little more than a year ago. Now, a similar situation is again looming. Snow packs there are swiftly diminishing — and are presently just 27 percent of average for a normal February. Fire hazard never really went away following the record blazes of spring, summer, and fall of 2017. And concern over water reservoirs is again an issue on the minds of city and state emergency planners.

As is the case in climate change related impacts on Cape Town, South Africa’s own dwindling water supply half a world away, warming related concerns are a serious issue now for California and the U.S. West. And the fact that the most populous state in the U.S. may again be facing a similar crisis so soon after the 2012-2017 drought is a major piece of weather and climate news that everyone should be reporting. It’s part of a larger and ongoing climate crisis that a few flakes of snow or even a few severe cold snaps across the Northeast can’t really even hold a candle to. Especially when a jet stream riled by an Arctic forced to warm through human fossil fuel burning is the common thread running between both the eastern cold snaps and the western heat and drought.

Tesla Model 3 Leads Record Electrical Vehicle Sales in January 2018

For those concerned about human-caused climate change, electrical vehicles and the batteries that their engines derive stored energy from are a key innovation. These zero emissions platforms stand to potentially replace more than a billion internal combustion engines — each dumping about three tons of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere every year. Moreover, the powerful batteries in these cars can be used to store electricity generated by renewable sources. Making clean energy available 24/7 despite hours of darkness and lulls in the wind periodically sapping generation.

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

Recognizing the climate-saving potential of this clean tech, nations have pledged to rapidly transition vehicle fleets away from fossil fuel burning automobiles. Leaders of this revolutionary move include China, India, France, Germany, the Netherlands, and Britain.

The U.S. is also presently a leader in EV innovation — primarily due to efforts by California, a handful of states, and locally based clean energy giants like Tesla. However, U.S. leadership in this crucial new industry is presently threatened by the Trump Administration which is seeking to remove incentives for EV adoption while also undermining the ability of states like California to set clean car goals.

(With numerous countries, states and cities planning to ban fossil fuel based vehicles, the Trump Administration’s proposed policies to disincentivize EVs would put the U.S. at a competitive disadvantage. Image source: Commons.)

Such moves could rightly be called myopic as the global electrical vehicle market last year grew to 1.2 million and will likely hit near 2 million in 2018. So EV incentives in states like California aren’t just good for the environment, they’re good for U.S. competitiveness even as they benefit the larger economy. By the early 2020s, if Trump succeeds in undercutting the U.S. clean car market, around 5 million EVs will be sold per year even as U.S. automakers will be faced with the prospect of dwindling fossil fuel vehicle sales. A combination that may, once again, threaten bankruptcy for a key U.S. industry.

That said, despite ominous moves by Trump, the U.S. EV market presently continues to grow apace.

Tesla Model 3 Leads U.S. EV Sales

During January of 2018, approximately 12,000 EVs were sold. This beats out January of 2017 by about 1,000 cars to hit a new record for the U.S. market. And topping January’s sales is Tesla’s flagship Model 3. In all, about 1,875 of these clean cars were sold on the U.S. market last month according to Inside EVs. That’s about 80 percent growth from December sales and probably represents a total production of between 2,000 and 2,500 cars for the month.

(With 500,000 reservations, the all-electric, zero emissions Tesla Model 3 is probably the most desired car produced by an American automaker within the last 40 years. Can Tesla satisfactorily meet this demand by swiftly scaling production of high-quality versions? If it does, it will rapidly rocket to the top of the automotive world. Image source: Tesla.)

Model 3 is thus still steadily moving up the S curve according to this recent Inside EVs report. It is not, however, yet anywhere near target production volumes of 5,000 to 10,000 vehicles per week (which it now plans to meet by June). Nor is it in a position to hope to fulfill an unprecedented 500,000 pre-orders before 2019. Tesla thus still appears to be facing some production bottlenecks. But they appear to be steadily clearing even as the Model 3 line continues to ramp up. And at this point, it is notable that the Model 3 is now the best-selling EV in the U.S. We are likely to see continued progress with around 2,400 to 4,000 Model 3s sold during February. Ensuring that the Model 3 remains a top contender for the #1 EV sales spot for the foreseeable future.

2018 Nissan Leaf Enters U.S. Market with Potential to Surprise

Other top clean car sellers during January included Chevy with its Bolt (1,177) and Volt (713) offerings, Toyota’s Prius Prime (1,496), Honda’s Clarity (853), and Tesla’s Model X (700) and S (800).

(The 2018 Nissan Leaf ain’t as sexy as the Tesla Model 3. But it’s no slacker either — having already racked up numerous awards and tens of thousands of sales around the globe, this EV is now starting to enter the U.S. market. With a 150 mile range, a 30,000 dollar price point, and a jump in horsepower, this car has the potential to surprise during 2018. Image source: Commons.)

Nissan also released its new longer range Leaf in January.  But low initial rates of production resulted in only 150 sold. This vehicle will be one to watch as Nissan has a track record for both producing and selling Leafs in high volumes. The Leaf has good reviews and a considerably expanded range, horsepower and other capabilities. It also comes in at a price about 5,000 dollars lower than the higher performance luxury Model 3. So it’s not surprising that the car has already racked up 14,000 pre-orders in the U.S.

Overall EV sales in the U.S. near 200,000 represented about 3 percent of the 2017 market. During 2018, we should expect the U.S. EV market share to grow to between 280,000 and 400,000. This growth will primarily be dependent on new higher performance, lower cost Model 3, Leaf, and Bolt sales. But detrimental policy moves by Trump or his Republican allies in Congress may negatively and unexpectedly impact this key emerging market.

FEB 5 UPDATE: Tesla Model 3 Sales Projections For January Now Range Between 1875 and 3,000

In lieu of actual numbers coming out of Tesla itself, two firms have lately been producing reliable numbers based on analysis of factory output, VIN numbers, and employee statements — Inside EVs and Clean Technica.

This weekend, Clean Technica put out its own estimate in which total numbers of Model 3s, Model Ss, and Model Xs sold were considerably higher than Inside EVs estimates at 3,000, 2,300, and 2,200 respectively. If Clean Technica’s numbers are correct, then the Model 3 is much further up the S curve than we thought earlier. In addition, the larger Model S and X estimates would be enough, if they bear out, to push total U.S. EV sales to over 16,000 for January.

Clean Technica’s perspective is one of more rapid growth. But either estimate shows both growth and progress. And they probably provide a decent bracket between the more conservative and aggressive estimate ranges. We’ll see who ends up revising their numbers over the coming days and weeks. But overall, this is cautious good news for EV and clean energy enthusiasts.

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