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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.

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36 Comments

  1. bostonblorp

     /  February 27, 2018

    Some trees are already budding in Boston. It’s still Feb!

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    • Mark Archambault

       /  February 27, 2018

      Red-wing Blackbirds back a bit early to the west of Boston. Growing up in CT in the 70s they’d arrive in mid-March.

      Like

      Reply
    • Greg

       /  February 27, 2018

      Spring continues to arrive 2-4 weeks early in mid-Atlantic and Midwest states. Spring is 22 days early in Cincinnati, and 14 days early in Baltimore. On the other side of the country, the spread of spring is still stalled from California to Washington. (From the National Phenology Network tip to the Washington Post.)

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      • The Bradford pears have been in full bloom here in Raleigh for a couple of days now. Peak is supposed to be mid-March to early April.

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        • rhymeswithgoalie

           /  February 28, 2018

          Live oaks in Austin traditionally swap out their leaves in March, but we’ve had leaves dropping for more than a week.

          Like

      • The ridge-trough pattern has shifted with the West now seeing more persistent troughs while the eastern and central U.S. experience more persistent ridging.

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        • Robert E Prue

           /  February 28, 2018

          What’s persistent in the central U S this drought! Other places are receiving flood producing rains, and we’re in a dust bowl in the making. It’s one extreme or the other.

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        • Good point.

          Like

  2. All those incremental breakthroughs add up, saving heat and cooling energy use – automatically and passively
    https://newatlas.com/vanadium-dioxide-window-coating/53588/
    Ultra-thin coating makes “dumb” glass smart
    Composed of relatively inexpensive vanadium dioxide, the self-regulating coating is just 50-150 nanometers thick. That’s approximately 1,000 times thinner than a human hair.

    At surface temperatures below 67 ºC (153 ºF), vanadium dioxide acts as an insulator, helping to keep indoor heat from escaping through the window glass – it also allows the full spectrum of sunlight to enter from the outside. At temperatures above 67, however, it transforms into a metal that blocks heat-causing infrared solar radiation from entering.

    This means that rooms stay warmer when temperatures are lower and cooler when they’re higher, allowing for less use of both heating and air-conditioning systems. Additionally, if users wish, they can override the coating’s ray-blocking effect using a dimmer switch.

    I want it for my house and car

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    • bobinspain

       /  February 28, 2018

      tsk – ‘species decline’. Darned arthritic fingers!

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    • bobinspain

       /  February 28, 2018

      George Monbiot’s excellent video ‘Trophic cascades’.

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      • Wow. Nice. Thanks for posting.

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      • The wonderful creatures of our natural world provide so many services to us that we take for granted. Many are also increasingly endangered by human activity such as hunting, encroachment, and, of course, human-caused climate change. Yesterday was international polar bear day.

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    • bobinspain

       /  February 28, 2018

      It’s good to see that it’s getting more mainstream press, Kay. I hope and think that people are slowly waking up to what’s going on. There’s so much more in the news about plastic, too. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that things might change.

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    • I think there’s rising awareness. In my opinion, any one event now could serve to mobilize people on a mass scale. We’re reaching a tipping point in the environment and in the political environment as well. A single major climate injustice that impacts a group which is difficult to politicize or smear. A group that decides to take responsibility and speak out against the typical BS and non-response coming, primarily, from the republican party in this country and right wingers and conservatives across the western world.

      Like

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  3. Hilary

     /  February 28, 2018

    OT with apologies but I imagine of some interest here:
    “A New Zealand company is turning plastic waste into high-quality concrete.
    Plazrok, the brainchild of south Auckland-based company Enviroplaz, is unique in that it can transform absolutely any type of plastic into a rock-like substance that forms the aggregate of concrete.
    “We don’t take the labels off, we don’t have to disassemble it or take any of the other components off it, we can use it in its entirety,” said Enviroplaz founding director Peter Barrow.
    “We don’t even need to clean it – the process we put it through does everything for us.”
    What’s more, concrete companies would not have to change their processes at all in order to use the Plazrok in their product.
    Yet they would end up with concrete that is 10 to 40 per cent lighter than usual. That spells big savings.”

    http://www.nzherald.co.nz/business/news/article.cfm?c_id=3&objectid=11802845

    Also in NZ this week:
    Campaigners have taken their call for a ban on plastic bags to the steps of Parliament.
    More than 65,000 New Zealanders, including high-profile supporters Helen Clark and Sam Neill, have signed a petition calling for a regulatory ban on single-use plastic bags.
    Green Peace plastics campaigner Elena Di Palma said the effects on the environment had gone too far and it is clear a ban is what New Zealanders want.
    She said it had gotten to the point where the Government needs to step in and intervene.
    “They have a devastating impact on our marine life. One-in-three turtles that have washed up on New Zealand beaches have swallowed plastic bags.”
    The petition is being handed to Associate Minister for the Environment Eugenie Sage.

    Hilary

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    • Anywhere you go now, you can find a layer of plastic. I was hiking the Eastern Shore of VA last weekend on a national park beach and the sea grasses at the high tide line were choked in a uniform film of broken down plastic. It reminded me of the gray goo of sci-fi fame. Although this stuff is just a product of factories linked to a toxic fossil fuel based substance.

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    • Vaughn An

       /  February 28, 2018

      Hilary, I am wondering about the wisdom of putting waste plastic into concrete. My family built my house on concrete blocks they poured in 1909. I have other concrete around that was poured at various times since then. Also, growing up in a farming family we poured a “bit” of concrete. I just poured another 9 yards last year, so I can see what happens to concrete over a span of more than 100 years; Compared to gravel and sand that make up most of the concrete, the cement weathers comparatively rapidly leaving the sand and gravel mostly intact.

      I completely agree that plastics are a scourge to the planet and we need to have a final solution for them. I am consciously aware of the problem and I do not use any plastic except for very limited uses where there is no other replacement available.

      One concern is as concrete weathers, either chemically or mechanically, small pieces of plastic will be dumped into the environment for several hundred years as this concrete weathers thereby only delaying and extending the problem of the scourge of plastics.
      You say that this concrete is lighter than regular concrete so I assume the plastic pieces will float in water much like plastics do now as the cement weathers away over a few centuries. This keeps the gooey mess that Robert mentions continuing on for many years albeit probably at reduced amounts.

      Or, perhaps the weathering issue has been resolved? I didn’t see anything about what eventually happens to the plastic.

      Another concern is for people who work with this product in the cured and “dry” form. Cutting, chipping, cleaning, and driving or walking on concrete causes dust. People and animals breathe this dust. This dust can also get incorporated into living organisms through biological processes.

      Have my concerns already been addressed with this product and if they have been addressed please explain how?

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    • I would second Vaughn. Just as bad as the current widespread method of using coal fly ash for aggregate – all the concentrated heavy metals and whatnot from the coal residue. The Romans used volcanic ash. (see wiki ‘Roman concrete’, which was pretty durable. That in seawater incredibly, unbelievably, astonishingly so). I haven’t seen a formal analysis of volcanic ash. I would think toxicity pretty low, but could be wrong.

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      • Hilary

         /  March 1, 2018

        Thank you Vaughn & mlp for your helpful comments here.
        I am not sure about the merits of this myself either, so put it up for others thoughts. Afterall it still has the same CO2 emissions generated by making regular concrete. I have not yet seen any debate about this process. My one thought is at least it locks up the plastic for some time, so slows the flow into the ocean, maybe buying us time?

        Also it means aggregate can be used for other things, eg. locally they are looking at all sorts of coastal structures for defence against sea level rise.
        NZ’s coastline is ~15,000km cf. USA’s at ~ 19.000. So we will be needing to do A LOT of SLR adaptation here!

        So this product is not ideal of course but in NZ we have a problem with plastic waste. We recycle a lot here but I dont think China is currently buying that & we dont presently have any reprocessing facilities here for plastic.

        Waka conducting plastic trawls finds higher concentrations around harbours
        https://www.stuff.co.nz/environment/101758004
        This is about our local ocean going waka (some may have seen it in San Franscisco harbour some years ago, more recently it voyaged to Easter Island, took 45days!)
        They have been doing local trawls under the guidance of some the visiting 5 Gyres team.
        Hilary

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  4. Shawn Redmond

     /  February 28, 2018

    It would seem city planners are a little upset.

    https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/environment/global-warming/climate-change-pushing-weather-extremes-off-the-scale-says-global-cities-group/articleshow/63090740.cms

    “Given that all the scientific models are failing to predict the pace that climate impact’s actually having, how do you do good public policy?” he said on the sidelines of the C40’s Women4Climate conference.

    Nearly half of the 92 cities in the C40 network saw extreme flooding last year, according to Watts, who said an “optimism bias” was built into scientific forecasts.

    Like

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    • Overly optimistic forecasts are a based in scientific skepticism and caution. You don’t want to over-forecast. And the general sense is that it’s better to be conservative and not be labeled an ‘alarmist.’ However, there’s a down-side in that we’re not as aware of the potential worst case scenarios as we should be. The language at large in the scientific community has shifted on topics like glaciers, sea level rise, and extreme weather events, though. And most statements now come with the caveat that predictions do not include factors that are difficult to model and the potential exists that outcomes could be worse than predicted due to this noted difficulty in forecasting.

      Where the scientific community has been spot-on, thus far, has been on larger trends like rate of warming. It’s just that the impacts of that warming have been difficult to predict in many cases. That said, most scientists warned that 1.5 C, not 2 C, was a risky and potentially damaging threshold about two decades ago. Political and fossil fuel industry pressure kind of forced the 2 C threshold has a benchmark. I think there are a lot of people who are going to feel the consequences of politically pressuring scientists to downplay the impacts of warming.

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      Reply
    • What is worth noting is that some cities are really starting to wake up. But we need more of a mass movement and the hour is getting late.

      This map should show every coastal city at least. They’re in a fight for their future, whether or not their mayors or city council members realize it yet.

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    • Also, scientists have grown increasingly outspoken:

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    • I wish journalists would not report such inane statements. What does he plan to do? Kill the messenger, the one that has been warning since, oh, 1912.

      Like

      Reply
  5. John McCormick

     /  February 28, 2018

    Daily CO2
    Mauna Loa Observatory | Atmospheric CO2 Concentrations February 26, 2018

    409.02 ppm

    NOAA-ESRL

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  6. wharf rat

     /  February 28, 2018

    Recommended Evacuation Warning Issued for Parts of Santa Barbara County
    Posted February 28, 2018

    Recommended Evacuation Warning Issued for Parts of Santa Barbara County — Effective 8 a.m. Tomorrow (Wednesday, Feb. 28)
    The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office, in consultation with other public safety officials, has elevated the current Pre-Evacuation Advisory to a Recommended Evacuation Warning for the Thomas, Sherpa and Whittier burn areas (in Goleta, Santa Barbara, Montecito, Summerland and Carpinteria) due to an approaching winter storm. This Recommended Evacuation Warning becomes effective at 8 a.m. tomorrow Wednesday, Feb. 28.

    The National Weather Service predicts that a storm arriving Thursday night and continuing through Friday will have rainfall in the range of 1/3 to 2/3 of an inch per hour. NWS informed the County that moderate to heavy rainfall rates early Friday may be enough to generate isolated mud and debris flows near burn areas. The communities near and below the Thomas, Sherpa and Whittier burn areas are strongly recommended to relocate to safer locations for their own safety. High risk for loss of life and property exists.

    https://www.sbsheriff.org/recommended-evacuation-warning-issued-parts-santa-barbara-county/

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