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Intensifying Drought Shifts Toward Central U.S.

Last week saw a major increase in drought intensity in the Central U.S. as flash wildfires sparked across Oklahoma. Meanwhile, longer term drought trends remained strong even as the U.S. West Coast saw breaks in the dryness in the form of late winter precipitation.

(Drought expanded across the Central U.S. last week as precipitation deficits there increased. Image source: Drought Monitor.)

A return to severe to exceptional drought across the Western and Central U.S. was one of the hallmarks of the overall warm winter of 2017-2018. Historic drought, which had been suppressed by substantial rains during 2016-2017, appears to have returned — with threat of worsening conditions through spring, summer and fall.

In the Central U.S., the dry pattern reinforced this week which added to already serious conditions. During mid-week, Oklahoma saw the eruption of seven large brush fires as a result of both drought and strong winds sweeping across the plains states. Dry springs can result in fires for this region. However, the recent intensification of droughts brought on by human-caused climate change is spiking fire hazards from the Central U.S. through the West Coast and beyond.

(California snow pack totals remain well below average despite a recent increase in the number of storms affecting the state. Image source: CDEC.)

In California, snow packs are still running well below average, despite a recent wave of storms sweeping through the region. But it’s worth noting that though still much diminished from typical snow depth totals, the present range is now higher than the driest years — 2014-2015 and 1976-1977. So the situation isn’t looking quite so bad as it was a few weeks ago.

In addition, the blocking ridge that had dominated the West for much of the winter has mostly collapsed — allowing more rain and snow-bearing storms to cycle through. Some relatively intense precipitation is expected to fall over central and northern parts of the state later this this week. However, with widespread drought reasserting and with warmer than normal temperatures likely this spring, the increasingly drought-prone state is far from out of the woods.

(Temperatures have tended to remain above average across most of the U.S. this winter even as abnormally dry conditions impacted the Southwest. Image source: NOAA.)

Under human-caused climate change increasingly warm temperatures result in higher rates of evaporation from lakes and soils. This increases drought intensity for many locations around the world. In keeping with this longer-term trend, the winter of 2018 can still be characterized as both warmer and drier than normal for most of the U.S. But the overall drought pattern has shifted more toward the Central U.S. and away from the West Coast with the approach of spring.

 

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16 Comments

  1. Greg

     /  March 13, 2018

    Tuesday. Number 3 for the Northeast U.S. in last 2 weeks. All these systems are connected on the continent.

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  2. Greg

     /  March 13, 2018

    “AUSTIN, Texas — Arnold Schwarzenegger’s next mission: taking oil companies to court “for knowingly killing people all over the world.” The former California governor and global environmental activist announced the move Sunday.

    (Via Peter Sinclair) https://climatecrocks.com/2018/03/12/like-an-alabama-tick-terminator-will-sue-oil-majors-for-murder/

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    • Arnold is so cool. He’s referring to them as the new ‘big tobacco.’ And he’s right. Now there’s a meme I’m happy to have helped kick into gear.

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  3. Greg

     /  March 13, 2018

    ” Sustainable energy is “obviously really important” to the future of humanity, Musk said in a conversation with Jonathan Nolan, co-creator of the HBO show Westworld. Musk believes clean energy solutions have reached a point where they’re technologically viable, and distorted market conditions are the primary thing holding them back. “The core technologies are there with wind, solar, with batteries,” Musk said. “The fundamental problem is there’s an unpriced externality in the cost of CO2…The market economics work very well if things are priced correctly,” he continued. “But when things are not priced correctly and something that has a real cost has zero cost, then that’s where you get distortions in the market that inhibit the progress of other technologies….In the absence of a price, we sort of pretend that digging trillions of tons of fossil fuels from deep under the Earth and putting it into the atmosphere– we’re pretending that that has no probability of a bad outcome,” he said, adding that it’s up to people and their governments to make carbon pricing happen…. Musk pointed out in a matter-of-fact tone that there’s a chance humanity returns to the dark ages at some point in the future, which is what’s driving his work on sustainable energy and space travel….We want to make sure there’s enough of a seed of human civilization somewhere else to bring civilization back and, perhaps, shorten the length of the dark ages,” said Musk.
    Hey humanity, Let’s go to Mars because we have things handled here, not to escape!
    https://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/elon-musk-fossil-fuels-carbon-price-sxsw#gs.j2k6dMI

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    • So it’s worse than even not adding in the external cost. The approx 500 billion dollars we spend every year as a global society to subsidize fossil fuels makes a harmful energy source cost even less on the market than it otherwise would. It’s as if we were providing an incentive for people to to smoke more, and had government providing cheap liquor on every street corner even as cancer, heart and lung disease, liver failure, and alcoholism rates were spiking. Of course, because fossil fuel burning generates severe systemic problems due to infrastructure loss, the problem is much worse. Renewable energy, on the other hand, produces none of these externalities — the carbon emission that is attributed to building renewables coming from the present fossil fuel energy system itself.

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  4. http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-pol-tillerson-ousted-20180313-story.html
    Trump ousts Tillerson as secretary of State, replaces him with CIA chief
    The news was first reported by the Washington Post.

    Tillerson clashed repeatedly with Trump during his brief tenure heading the State Department. He resisted Trump’s effort to scrap the deal with Iran that limits that country’s nuclear program. He opposed Trump’s plan to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. And, despite a history of business dealings with Russia in his former job as chief executive of Exxon Mobil Corp., he voiced more public mistrust of Moscow than Trump has.

    On Monday, as he prepared to leave the job, he took one final stand in which he departed from the White House position — denouncing Russia for a poison attack in Britain that targeted a former Russian spy who has criticized President Vladimir Putin.

    The attack “clearly came from Russia” and will “trigger a response,” Tillerson told reporters aboard his plane as he returned from Africa. Earlier in the day, the White House had conspicuously declined to join British officials in blaming Russia for the attack.

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    • It says a lot that Rex Tillerson, ‘Friend of Russia,’ who probably agrees with Russia on a plethora of energy policy related issues that would be harmful to us all, is not pro-Russia enough for Trump. The man is a traitor to his country and to the liberal democracies of the West. The sooner he is removed from the Presidency, the better it will be for us all.

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  5. kassy

     /  March 13, 2018

    ‘Beautiful clean coal’ caused the Permian Extinction…someone dug up the evidence:

    The boundary layer shows elevated zinc, lead, strontium, and nickel, but not at high enough levels to indicate a volcanic ash source.

    There is no evidence in concentrations of siderophile and chalcophile elements for an extraterrestrial impact.

    The stratigraphic section in Utah supports the theory of a massive release of carbon dioxide, resulting in the acidification of the oceans.
    High levels of mercury, as well as elevated levels of zinc and lead, implicate a coal source triggered by the contemporary Siberian Traps sill complex.

    The delay of enriched sulfur and barium content in the stratigraphic record indicates an anoxic ocean and upwelling of methane hydrates from depth.

    *I added some spaces to the quotes. This story is so familiar to regular readers…

    “Further study of this stratigraphic section will aid our understanding of the global impact these catastrophic events had on life and hopefully prevent it from happening again.”

    See:
    What caused Earth’s largest mass extinction event? New evidence from the Permian-Triassic boundary in northeastern Utah

    Benjamin Burger

    https://eartharxiv.org/khd9y

    Liked by 1 person

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    • And all those aerosols produced by burning all that coal didn’t do squat to stop the warming that ultimately resulted. In fact, there is some indication that the climate wrenching caused by the injection of coal aerosols added to the climate shocks that occurred.

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  6. kassy

     /  March 13, 2018

    And another very interesting piece of science:

    Earth may be approaching a carbon dioxide threshold for melting ice in the Arctic

    ….

    study led by UCLA climate scientist Aradhna Tripati appears to put the debate to rest, with major implications for future research across a range of disciplines, from climate science to geology. The paper, which is published today in the journal Nature Communications, also sheds light on how global climate may change as people continue emitting greenhouse gases, revealing a potential tipping point: atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations of 500 parts per million or more. Beyond that threshold, major ice sheets at both poles could melt significantly. Current levels are near 400 parts per million.

    For years, the prevailing belief was that glaciers first appeared on Greenland between 5 million and 11 million years ago. Then, in 2005, Tripati authored a study suggesting the ice had been present there much earlier: about 35 to 40 million years ago.

    Though Tripati’s paper was published in Nature—one of the most-respected scientific journals—it was considered controversial. At the heart of the conflict was a simple question: Why weren’t similar observations made by other studies? Because the findings were not in line with previous knowledge, the paper was regarded as an outlier.

    Tripati chose to send those new samples to Darby because he had published a study that corroborated her 2005 findings. Using a method he pioneered, Darby analyzed them without knowing what he was looking at, where it came from or how old it was—sort of like a blind taste test.

    He found that the samples contained “very high matches” to east Greenland source sites, again confirming Tripati’s earlier research. In fact, his analysis showed that large glaciers were present on Greenland even earlier: up to 47.1 million years ago. That was right at the beginning of the middle Eocene epoch, about 20 million years after dinosaurs went extinct.

    Darby was also able to match ice from the samples to other locations across the Arctic region.

    “That’s important,” Darby said. “It shows this was not just a local or regional effect in Greenland. It was something climatically induced on a much larger scale, a polar event.”

    https://phys.org/news/2018-03-earth-approaching-carbon-dioxide-threshold.html

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    • Ronald

       /  March 14, 2018

      “He pointed to 10,000 years ago in Greenland, when temperatures rose 10 degrees Celsius in 10 years.”
      I have read similar extreme and shocking things before, with regard to the end of the last ice age. What caused such sudden threshold rise in temperature? A methane burb? Or something else?

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      • So regional is not global. And what appears to happen in these kinds of warming events is that various energy balance tipping points are reached in the local atmosphere and ocean as the inertia of factors like ice sheets and sea ice is overcome.

        There is no evidence whatsoever of a very large methane burst at the end of the last ice age. There is, however, clear evidence that atmospheric CO2 increased by around 100 ppm over a rather long period as a result of carbon cycle feedbacks due to the Earth warming. There was also a degree of atmospheric methane increase. However, CO2 had a far greater impact on larger global warming following that period of glaciation.

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  7. kassy

     /  March 13, 2018

    And for those who prefer pictures:

    Street Artist Tackles Climate Change And Fascism, 1 Haunting Mural At A Time

    https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/andrew-burns-colwill-street-art-environment-bristol_us_5a689a14e4b0e563007569fa

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