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Potential Historic Arctic Warming Scenario in the GFS Model Forecast for Late May

For years, Arctic watchers have been concerned that if May and June ran much warmer than average following an equally severe winter, we could see substantial sea ice losses, severe Arctic fires, and related knock-on global weather effects. This May, temperatures over the Arctic Ocean have run much warmer than average. And in the GFS model forecast, we see a prediction for a historic Arctic temperature spike during late May.

(Discussion of a potentially historic Arctic warming event for late May of 2018. Information for this analysis provided by Climate Reanalyzer, Global and Regional Climate Anomalies, and DMI.)

According to GFS model analysis, temperatures for the entire Arctic region could spike to as high as 3.5 degrees Celsius above average from Saturday, May 26 through Tuesday, May 29th. So much warming, if it does occur, would shatter temperature records around the Arctic and accelerate the summer melt season by 2-4 weeks. It would also elevate Arctic fire potentials while likely increasing upstream severe weather risks to include higher potentials for droughts, heatwaves and severe rainfall events (as we have seen recently across the Eastern U.S.).

The model run indicates three ridge zones feeding much warmer than normal air into the Arctic. The zones hover over Eastern Siberia, Western North America, and Central Europe through the North Atlantic and Barents Sea — pushing wave after wave of warmth into the Arctic Ocean region.

(Three ridges transferring heat into the Arctic are feeding the potential for a major polar temperature spike over the next ten days. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)

Over the coming days, this three-pronged flood of warm air could push temperatures over the Arctic Ocean to 2-10 C above average temperatures while Western North America, Eastern Siberia, and the Scandinavian countries could see the mercury climb to 5 to 20 degrees Celsius above average. This translates to 70 to 80 degree (Fahrenheit) temperatures for Eastern Siberia above the Arctic Circle, mid 70s to mid 80s for near Arctic Circle Alaska, and temperatures in the 70s to 80s for Scandinavia. For the Arctic Ocean, it means above freezing temperatures for most zones. Zones that are likely to see more rapid sea ice melt as a result.

Upstream effects include the potential continuation and emergence of fixed severe weather patterns. Extreme heat will tend to intensify for Western North America, while a pattern that favors severe rainfall is likely to remain in place for the Eastern U.S. Meanwhile, South-Central Asia through the Middle East are likely to see very extreme daytime high temperatures. Fire risks will tend to rise from Alberta to the Northwest Territory into Alaska and on through Central and Western Siberia as much warmer than normal temperatures take hold and Arctic lightning storms proliferate.

(Forecast Northern Hemisphere temperature anomaly patterns hint at a hot or unstable late spring pattern for many regions as the pole inters record warm territory. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)

It’s worth noting that should such an event occur during late May, it would represent yet another major and historic temperature departure for an Arctic zone that has thus far seen severe winter warming and related loss of sea ice. The concern is that eventually such heating would result in ice free conditions during summer — although when is a subject of some debate.

To this point, it is also worth noting that we should take the present GFS forecast with a bit of a grain of salt. Such amazingly warm temperatures are still 6-10 days away. Forecasts beyond the 3 day are notably fickle. And this particular model has run a bit hot of late. However, it is worth noting that the model has been correct in predicting a much warmer than normal May. And that we have already experienced one historic temperature spike during early May. So a pattern that demonstrates the potential for such extreme warming has clearly taken hold.

 

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Globe Just Experienced its Third Hottest April on Record

According to reports from NASA GISS, the world just experienced its third hottest April on record. Topping out at 0.86 degrees Celsius above NASA’s 20th Century baseline, April of 2018 edged out 2010 as third in the record books despite the ongoing natural variability based cooling influence of La Nina.

(Analysis of present global temperature anomalies with information provided by NASA, NOAA and Earth Nullschool.)

The warmest regions of the world included large sections of the lower Arctic — encompassing Eastern Siberia, the East Siberian Sea, and the Chukchi Sea. In addition, Central Europe experienced much warmer than normal conditions. Notable cool pools included North-Central North America, the High Arctic, and the Weddell Sea region of Antarctica.

A seasonal reinforcement of the Jet Stream helped to keep cold air sequestered in the High Arctic during April. However, this sequestration appears to be weaker compared to recent April-through-June periods as record warm spikes returned to the High Arctic during early May. The result of strong south-to-north heat transfer through various ridge zones in the Jet Stream.

(Third warmest April on record despite La Nina. Image source: NASA.)

La Nina remained the prominent natural variability related feature during April. And the cooling influence of La Nina has tamped global temperatures down a bit following the recent record hot year of 2016. Overall, it appears that global temperatures are on track to average between 1.04 C and 1.08 C above 1880s averages during 2018. These rather high excessions are, of course, caused by atmospheric greenhouse gasses peaking in the range of 410 ppm CO2 (around 491 ppm CO2e) during April, May and June. Representing the greatest concentration of heat trapping gasses on Earth in about 15 million years.

With La Nina fading, its cooling influence is likely to become less acute and global temperatures may again begin to ramp higher by mid to late 2018. NOAA has indicated a 50 percent chance for El Nino formation during late 2018. If 2018-2019 does see an El Nino emerge, global temperatures will likely again exceed the 1.15 C threshold and potentially challenge 1.2 C.

(A warm Kelvin Wave crossing beneath the Equatorial Pacific brings with it the potential for El Nino formation during 2018-2019. If El Nino does form, and with atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations so high, it is likely that we would see temperatures comparable to the record global warmth of 2016 re-emerge. Image source: NOAA.)

However, it is unlikely that the weaker predicted El Nino, if it does emerge, will force temperatures considerably higher than levels achieved during the strong El Nino of 2016. For that, we will likely have to wait until the early 2020s. But with carbon emissions continuing near record high ranges, temperatures are bound to rise — with the 1.5 C threshold likely to be breached by the late 2020s or early 2030s.

Tips for Responding to Climate Change Denial and Anti-Clean Energy Attacks in the Media

It is becoming more and more obvious that powerful economic interests associated with the harmful fossil fuel industry often spread anti-scientific, anti-factual misinformation relating to climate change and clean energy in the mainstream media. This post will explore some recent examples while providing you with a few simple methods for countering what is essentially a PR industry of lies for profit.

(Day after day we can see The Madhouse Effect in action in the form of major media sources providing a platform for the agents of the fossil fuel industry to cast doubt and aspersions on both science and clean energy.)

Typically, it would fall to a responsible government to reign in bad media actors that spread such fraudulent reports in the press. Reports by paid industry agents that masquerade as news and fact, but are just the opposite. Daily we are inundated with false and misleading attacks on clean energy leaders like Tesla even as major sources baldly spread the anti-factual claims of climate change denialists.

But despite a broad assault against basic reason enabled by some of the most powerful media outlets in the land, the tools are there for us regular folks to counter such attempts to spread doubt, uncertainty, and fear (FUD). We just require the will and the wherewithal to use them. Today, I’m going to pull two blatantly false reports — one from the Wall Street Journal, and one from Politico — to provide examples of the variety of crud we are subjected to every single day.

But before I do, I’m going to share with you my simple little method for dealing with the nonsense. In short — QUADS is a good basic rule of thumb:

  1. Question strange claims.
  2. Ask a scientist who works in the field.
  3. Do the research.
  4. Speak out.

The Wall Street Journal Makes the Ridiculous Statement that Sea Level Rise isn’t Caused by Global Warming

Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal published this ludicrous article written by known climate change denier S. Fred Singer. The article, entitled ‘The Sea Level is Rising, But Not Because of Climate Change’ is quite frankly not worth the paper or the electrons used to bring it to our eyes. Simply put, Singer baselessly casts doubt on long established scientific facts related to sea level rise caused by climate change. Then he makes the equally baseless claim that we can’t do anything about it but build dikes (Fred has long attacked policies promoting carbon emissions reductions — like those that advance the needed transition to renewable energy).

These are indeed strange claims worthy of questioning. And if we were to ask an actual climate scientist, we would find this to be the response:

Doing a little research we find that NASA states:

Sea level rise is caused primarily by two factors related to global warming: the added water from melting ice sheets and glaciers and the expansion of seawater as it warms.

A statement of fact that is validated again and again and again across the field of climate science by such luminaries as the World Meteorological Organization, the Met Office, the IPCC, NOAA, JAXA and ever other major climate science body known to man.

Facts that put Mann’s rebuke to Singer in the context of yes, this guy just basically said the climate science equivalent of ‘objects are falling, but not because of gravity.’ Making Singer here more than just a bit of a voice in the wilderness. Which begs the question — why would the Wall Street Journal give him such a large platform from which to project his nonsense statements?

Turning our ‘do the research’ focus back to Singer we find that he’s a big name among the usual suspects of climate change denial nonsense. According to Desmogblog:

Singer founded the Science & Environmental Policy Project (SEPP) in 1990, a 501(c)(3) “educational group” focusing on global warming denial….Leaked documents obtained by DeSmog revealed that Fred Singer has also been receiving $5,000 a month from the Heartland Institute(emphasis added).”

For those who don’t follow climate deniers, the Heartland Institute is an organization that feeds off the money of fossil fuel donors (like Exxon) and then turns around to publish numerous anti-scientific and anti-factual reports that attempt to fog the issue of climate change. This serves the simple polluting industry purpose of delaying or denying helpful government policy, business and social action meant to address climate change. Which is the main reason for the existence of Fred Singer as a media figure and for the endless repetition of his quack-quackish statements.

Politico Says Electrical Vehicles Increase Air Pollution — Which is a Complete and Utter Bullshit Claim

In a similar vein, but along a different tac, on the same day the major media source — Politico — published an equally ridiculous report by the appropriately named Jonathan Lesser falsely stating that electrical vehicles increase air pollution. Our response to Lesser and Politico calls them out for what amounts to publishing a gigantic stinking heap of nonsense:

Digging into actual research and looking at what actual scientists at The Union of Concerned Scientists have to say we find that:

Electric cars and trucks are powered by electricity, which as an energy source is cleaner and cheaper than oil. Even when the electricity comes from the dirtiest coal-dominated grid, electric vehicles (EVs) still produce less global warming pollution than their conventional counterparts, and with fewer tailpipe emissions (or none at all).

Such widely varied and notable institutions like the Department of Energy  and NRDC agree.

So how did Jonathan Lesser produce his claim? In short he double counted the impact of electricity based emissions, assumed all electricity comes from coal (just 30 percent and falling comes from coal in the U.S.), ignored the fact that EVs produce zero tailpipe emissions, overlooked the massive efficiency gains that come from EVs, and ignored the fact that EVs mated with wind and solar produced zero emissions in use. Further, Lesser seems to have fiddled with material lifetime emissions results to generate the most pessimistic view imaginable. One that has no basis in actual fact or reality.

(According to this report from the Union of Concerned Scientists, EVs keep getting cleaner and cleaner at a pace that is impossible to match by their fossil fuel based counter parts. See comparison tool here.)

To be clear, if EVs were only plugged in to coal power plants on net, then it is likely that we would see some specific instances of particulate pollution rise (which Lesser appears to be cherry picking). And when more EVs are used, electrical power demand increases. But not all power generation comes from coal. In fact, coal plants are being shut down all over the world due to an inability to compete with renewables and natural gas. And as cleaner sources of energy keep getting added at higher rates, total life cycle emissions from EVs, which are already lower than ICEs keep falling.

On a net basis, the Union of Concerned Scientists is correct. Due to the simple fact that an electrical motor is x2 to x3 more efficient than an ICE, simply switching the motor results in considerable emissions reductions. However, add in the battery and you have a vehicle that is capable of zero emissions in use when mated to wind and solar.

Moving on, we find that Johnathan Lesser happens to be a rather biased source of information. According to both Politico and Desmogblog, Lesser is a writer for the Manhattan Institute. According to Desmogblog:

The Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, originally known as the International Center for Economic Policy Studies, was founded in 1978 by Anthony Fisher and William Casey and in recent years has promoted climate science contrarianism while defending policies supporting the development of fossil fuels (emphasis added).

The Institute notably receives most of its funding from fossil fuel related interests. Including 1.7 million from the Mercer Foundation, 1 million from Exxon Mobile, and 2.7 million from the Koch Brothers. So reading Lesser’s article is like getting a direct shot of fossil fuel industry PR messaging. In other words — not an honest report devoid of serious conflict of interest related issues.

Speaking Out is Necessary to Expose Bad Actors

It’s understandable that individuals may feel powerless in the face of vast media empires like Politico and the Wall Street Journal who brazenly publish the slanted and unscientific views of fossil fuel industry shills without even providing responsible warning or qualification. However, each of us has a voice with its own degree of power as well. A power that is lost if we stand silent. But one that is enabled if we lift our voices and speak out. The truth itself is a powerful tool. And if we first learn what is true and then communicate that truth, we can have a shot at overcoming the harmful interests who’ve generated such a vastly damaging, short-sighted, and self-serving fire-hose spume of misinformation.

 

Warm Oceans, Displaced Polar Air: Why the Eastern U.S. is Likely to See Very Severe Rainfall During May

During recent years, warm ocean surfaces have loaded up the atmosphere with increasing levels of moisture. This moisture, in turn, has fueled more powerful rain storm events across the globe. Meanwhile, climate change is generating regions of increased instability by placing much warmer than normal air masses in confrontation with cold air displaced from a warming Arctic Ocean region.

(How climate change is impacting severe weather potentials across the U.S. East Coast during May. Data provided by Earth Nullschool, Climate Reanalyzer, and the National Weather Service.)

During the coming days, this kind of pattern will generate the potential for severe rainfall events across the U.S. East Coast. NOAA is predicting that between 3-7 inches of rain is likely to fall over the next 5-7 days. But due to the unusual situation, locally extreme and unexpected events may occur.

This severe weather potential has been fed by a combination of factors. A warmer than normal Arctic Ocean has shoved cold polar air south over the Hudson Bay region. The resulting trough is generating stormy conditions and atmospheric instability over much of Eastern North America. To the south and east, much warmer than normal sea surfaces have loaded up the atmosphere with extremely high moisture levels.

(NOAA shows that heavy rainfall is likely to dominate large portions of the Eastern U.S. over the coming weeks. With a number of climate change related influences at play, the potential for outsized severe weather events exists. Image source: NOAA.)

It’s the kind of pattern — within a highly charged atmosphere — that is capable of producing serious instances of severe weather. Heavy rainfall, hail, lightning and tornadoes are all more likely. Factors associated with climate change contributing to the situation include — much warmer than normal ocean surfaces off the U.S. Eastern Seaboard and Gulf Coast, a much warmer than normal Arctic Ocean region for this time of year, displaced polar air near Hudson Bay, and warmer than normal temperatures over much of the U.S.

As Greenland melt comes more into play, and as temperatures continue to spike higher over the Arctic Ocean in coming years, we can expect to see similar patterns producing greater instability and more intense storms. Particularly for the land zones near the North Atlantic. And so what we are seeing now is a likely prelude of events to come as the Earth continues to warm coordinate with continued fossil fuel burning — with mitigating factors primarily involving reduced carbon emissions.

Global Sea Level Rise Accelerated to 4.6 mm Per Year After 2010

Human forced climate change through fossil fuel burning now presents a serious threat to the world’s coastal cities and island nations. Diverse regions of the world are now facing increased inundation at times of high tide and during storms. Unfortunately, this trend is only worsening. And depending on how much additional fossil fuel is burned, we could see between 2 to 10 feet or more of sea level rise this Century.

(Sea level rise analysis and update based on information provided by AVISO, Climate Reanalyzer, and the work of Dr. James Hansen.)

As the Earth has steadily warmed to 1.1 C above 1880s averages, the oceans of our world have risen. At first, the rate of rise was very mild — a mere 0.6 mm per year during the early 20th Century. However, as the rate of global warming increased and the oceans took in more heat, the middle 20th Century saw sea level rise increase to 1.4 mm per year. By the end of the 20th Century, the polar glaciers had begun to melt in earnest. And from 1990 to the present day, the rate of sea level rise has accelerated to 3.3 mm per year.

Due to more warm water invading the basal regions of glaciers and more ice bergs calving into the world ocean, the annual rate at which ocean levels increase continues to jump higher. And during recent years — from 2010 to 2018 — the world ocean has risen by nearly half a centimeter each year (4.6 mm).

Global Sea Level Rise 4.6 mm Per year

(Since 2010, the rate of sea level rise has again accelerated. And it appears that El Nino years have recently tended to produce strong upward swings in the annual rate of increase. This may be due to El Nino’s tendency to set up stronger cycles of energy transfer to the poles. NOAA presently indicates a 50 percent chance that a mild to moderate El Nino will emerge during the winter of 2018-2019. Will we see another sea level spike at that time should El Nino emerge? Image source: AVISO.)

Now both island nationals and coastal cities face the increasing danger of rising tides, of inundation, and of loss of lands and infrastructure. A rapid switch to renewable energy and away from fossil fuel burning is needed to save many regions. However, due to presently high greenhouse gas accumulation, it is likely that some zones will be lost over the coming decades.

Tesla is Pwning Markets Traditionally Dominated by ICEs as Manufacturers Desperately Call for More Battery Production

Last year, the world produced more than 1.2 million electrical vehicles. This was nearly 60 percent growth from the previous year when just shy of 800,000 EVs hit the world stage. During 2018, the world is expected to achieve anywhere between 1.6 and 2 million electrical vehicle sales. And by 2020, the number is likely to exceed 3 million. In other words, clean transportation that transitions away from climate change producing fossil fuel burning is a major emerging and rapidly growing global market.

(Tesla is surging ahead in the race to produce clean energy vehicles. But Volkswagen has promised to spend 48 billion on batteries in a bid to catch up. Image source: Inside EVs.)

Today, Tesla presently dominates global clean transport sales. Producing just three models — the S, the X, and the 3 — this new automaker is seriously disrupting a number of traditional segments. During most weeks, Tesla now produces more than 4,000 all electrical vehicles in total. This makes it the largest global EV producer by a long shot at a present pace of more than 200,000 vehicles per year. In the key U.S. market, Tesla appears to have sold between 5,000 and 8,500 vehicles during April alone. And the mass-produced Model 3 is presently making up more than half those sales at between 3,875 and 4,777 according to estimates by InsideEVs and CleanTechnica.

For Tesla, it’s just another milestone on the road to mass vehicle electrification. By summer, the clean energy company expects to be producing around 7,000 electrical vehicles per week in total — with fully 5,000 of that number coming from the Model 3 alone.

What this means is that Tesla is both racing ahead of other automakers in the EV field and that it will also start to dominate markets traditionally ruled by carbon-belching ICE makers. As one example of this trend, the Model 3 is presently the #21 best-selling car in the U.S. — out of all cars sold. By summer, it is likely to be #6. In its segment — small to medium sized premium cars — it is presently crushing the likes of Acura, Infiniti, and Jaguar to take the #5 spot. But with 5,000 per week production on the way, in just a few months it will assuredly take the crown from Mercedes and BMW.

(According to CleanTechnica analysis, Tesla appears likely to dominate the small to mid-size luxury vehicle segment in the U.S. come May to June. Image source: CleanTechnica.)

This from a type of vehicle — electric — that was once thought to be humble and non-competitive. One can practically hear the crack of the world-spanning shot running through the global auto industry at this time. An industry that has been mostly caught flat-footed by a trend that us clean energy advocates have long been predicting.

The reaction by traditional industry has been predictably varied and chaotic. Ford appears to be in full retreat from segments that are now increasingly dominated by high-quality EVs — recently announcing that it will no longer build sedans, but will instead focus on trucks and SUVs. On the other side of the spectrum, a Volkswagen still reeling from the PR disaster that was dieselgate appears to have seen the electric light. That OEM has now pledged to spend 48 billion in battery orders in an effort to beat or at least confront Tesla in the market that it created.

Batteries are the key enabler to mass EV production. Hyundai had a hard lesson in this over past days as the all-electric Ioniq — celebrated for its efficient design — ran into a supply wall. The reason? Hyundai had only planned for 1,200 battery packs per month. But demand for the clean energy vehicle quickly outstripped supply. Hyundai subsequently stretched Ioniq production to 1,800 per month. But, at that point, the automaker was dead in the water on further expansions due to a 2 year lead time for battery contracts. In other words — if you don’t have battery production or suppliers, then you’re out of luck if you want to produce EVs in higher volumes.

(Global lithium battery supply and demand keep running ahead of expectations. By 2021, racing global battery producers are likely to supply 344 GWh of battery production or more. Image source: Bloomberg New Energy Finance.)

Battery manufacturers are thus scrambling to meet a rapidly rising demand. In 2017, global battery production capacity stood at about 100 gigawatt-hours (GWh). And global expansion plans appear to be aiming for around 300 to 350 GWh by 2021. But even this estimate could be low. For Volkwagen’s own recent 48 billion dollar call for EV batteries is likely to generate even more supply chain expansions even as other automakers call for more production.

Returning to Tesla, we would be remiss if we didn’t highlight one of its many key advantages — it owns its battery supply chain. Tesla’s Gigafactory in Reno, through its partner Panasonic, is expected to be able to produce 35 GWh of batteries all by itself over the next year or two. This is enough to support annual Tesla EV production in the range of 400,000 to 500,000. Gigafactory battery capacity is expected to expand to 150 GWh by the early to mid 2020s — which would support two million or more EVs each year.

(Without the Tesla Gigafactory in Reno, U.S. battery production would be dead in the water due to myopic and harmful policies produced by the republican-dominated federal government and various similar state legislatures. Europe, China and Tesla have realized that large scale battery production is necessary for a clean energy future and a related strong response to climate change.)

By contrast, Volkswagen is presently targeting 3 million EVs per year by 2025. In 2018, it is well behind Tesla — unlikely to see sales across all EV models exceeding 100,000 while Tesla is likely to at least double that number. So VW will have to race to catch up. A 48 billion dollar battery buy will be key to achieving this goal. It’s a very aggressive move that will enable the manufacturer to produce millions of EVs in the future. But, at the present time, it is seriously lagging. A situation that doesn’t have much chance of changing until the early 2020s even as Tesla gains both credibility and market share.

At least Volkswagen appears to have seen the proverbial writing on the wall. Transition is, after all, the best option in the face of competition from far more healthy and desirable EVs. For the other laggards in the traditional auto industry — time’s a-wasting.

Arctic Ocean Deep in the Grips of May Temperature Spike; Beastly Summer Melt Season on the Way?

The Arctic Ocean as it appeared from space on May 6, 2018. Image source: NASA Worldview.

The Arctic sea ice is presently at its second lowest extent ever recorded in most of the major monitors. However, May is shaping up to be far, far warmer than normal for the Arctic Ocean region. If such high temperatures over this typically-frozen part of our world continue for much longer than a couple of weeks at this key time of year, precipitous summer melt is sure to follow.

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During recent years there has been much speculation about when the Arctic Ocean will start to experience ice-free summers as fossil fuel related industries pump higher and higher volumes of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. In the early-to-mid 2000s, scientific consensus was that melt would tend to be more gradual and ice-free summers would hold off until the final decades of the 21st Century when the world was around 3-4 C warmer than 19th Century averages.

But the Earth System is far more sensitive to temperature increases than the early forecasts expected. Major Arctic sea ice losses surprised the world during September of 2007 and subsequently in the same month of 2012. Now, it is obvious that a pattern of far more rapid sea ice melt has taken hold. And the scientific consensus appears to have settled on a more likely and much nearer date around the early 2030s — when the world will have warmed by about 1.6 degrees Celsius.

(An oddly warm pattern in which above freezing temperatures have come early to the High Arctic is setting up during May of 2018. Content Source: Climate Reanalyzer. Video source: Scribbler’s Youtube.)

However, when it comes to sea ice, nothing is certain at this time. Any single Arctic year in which temperatures spike — particularly during normal melt season — could result in the losses that we once expected to occur much later in time.

There are many factors that will ultimately determine when a summer ice free state occurs. Warm winters are a major one. And the past two years (2017 and 2018) have seen Arctic winters in which temperatures hit some ridiculous high extremes. But another major factor is the set-up to Arctic summer that takes place during the window months of May and June.

Neven, one of our best Arctic sea ice watchers (you can check his blog out here), notes:

May and June are very important for the rest of the melting season. Not only do we now see these warm air intrusions, but high pressure maintains its presence over parts of the Arctic as well (which means relatively cloudless skies -> insolation -> melt onset and melt pond formation -> preconditioning of the ice pack -> melting momentum that gets expressed during July and August, regardless of the weather)… We have to wait and see what happens, step by step, but this isn’t a good start for the ice.

If May and June are unusually warm, particularly over the Arctic Ocean, then the sea ice — which is already greatly weakened — is bound to face an extended period of above-freezing temperatures. If such a period stretches for 5 months from May through September rather than the typical 4 months (June to September), then we are more likely to see the Arctic Ocean briefly flip into an ice-free or near ice-free state for the first time in human history.

(The coming week is expected to feature between 1 and 10 C above average temperatures for locations across the Arctic Ocean. These are very strong warm departures during May. Last week saw similar extreme warm departures. And we are already starting to see sea ice losses pile up. Image source: Global and Regional Climate Anomalies.)

This year, May is shaping up to be much, much warmer than normal for the High Arctic. Already, a large May temperature spike has occurred (see right image below). A temperature spike which is predicted to continue for at least the next ten days.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but this severe warming trend might end up presenting a bit of a problem. The extended period of melt mentioned above may begin in force — setting off a chain of feedbacks that could tip the Arctic Ocean into a far less frozen or even an ice-free state (under absolute worst case scenarios) this year.

To be clear, this is not a forecast that such a condition is bound to occur during 2018. It is just an analysis of underlying trends and a statement that risks are higher if such trends as we now observe continue. Late May could flip to a cooler than normal regime. June could be cooler and cloudier than normal (as happened during 2016 and 2017). And if that happens again, we may be spared.

(Average Arctic temperatures for 2017 [left] and 2018 [right]. The red line depicts the yearly temperature trend. The green line depicts the Arctic climatological average for 1958-2002 [which was already warmer than normal]. Note the big temperature spike in the right hand graph. That’s where we are now. Image source: DMI. For further reference, see Zack Labe‘s composite temperature analysis for the 80 North region.)

However, we are already on a much higher ramp for spring temperatures in the northern polar region than during 2017. And though 2016 saw a slightly warmer than normal spring near the pole, the May 2018 spike already far exceeds anything we saw at that time. So much, in fact, that present temperatures for May 6 are comparable to those typically seen during early June from the 80 degree N Latitude line to the Pole.

This higher ramp and related record warmth is already accelerating melt. Sea ice losses over recent days have greatly picked up and we are getting closer to record low daily ranges. If melt accelerates to a point, the greatly expanded darker ocean surfaces will draw in more heat from the sun’s rays during June — potentially overcoming the impact of the increased early summer cloudiness we have seen during recent years. Such a scenario, if it continues to develop, would be a nightmare from the climate change perspective.

Climate Change Ignores all Borders as Rain Bombs Fall on Kauai and the Middle East Alike

The weaponization of weather language has long been a topic of some controversy in the meteorological press. Peace-loving people the world over rightly try to communicate in a manner that discourages violent conflict. And the term ‘rain bomb’ has taken quite a lot of flak from those with thus-stated good intentions.

However, whether or not the language itself bristles with perceived warlike phrases, the weather itself is steadily being weaponized against everyone and everything living on the face of planet Earth by the greenhouse gasses fossil fuel related industries and technologies continue pumping into the air.

(Bruce Haffner snapped this photo of an extreme heavy rainfall event over Phoenix, AZ during 2016. Climate change has been increasing the intensity of the most severe storms. So we see historic an unusually strong events more and more frequently.)

So I’ll add this brief appeal before going into another climate change related extreme weather analysis — fight climate change, not wars. The opportunity for a peaceful, hopeful, prosperous future for basically everyone depends on it.

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Whether you like the phrase or not, more rain-bombs — or extreme heavy rainfall events far outside the range of usual weather norms — keep falling. And most recently the all-time record for the most rain to fall within a 24 hour period was shattered on April 14-15 as nearly 50 inches inundated Kauai, Hawaii. In a separate instance half a world away, late April and early May has seen extreme drought giving way to extreme flooding over parts of the Middle East. Both increasingly extreme drought events and much heavier than usual precipitation events are signals of human-caused climate change. And, lately, these signals have been proliferating.

Rainfall Records Shattered in the World’s Rainiest Place

For the Kauai event, the Washington Post reports that 49.69 inches of rain accumulated at the Waipa rain gauge on Kauai in just one 24-hour period. Though Kauai is the rainiest place on Earth — receiving some 400 inches per year with rain on most days — this single day rainfall was far in excess of even that soggy norm. In total, it amounted to about one and a half months of precipitation for the world’s wettest location falling in just one day.

The previous all-time record for single day rainfall in the U.S. occurred in 1979 in Alvin, Texas during Tropical Storm Claudette. This storm dumped 43 inches over a 24-hour period. The recent Kauai event shattered this record. And it involved no tropical cyclone — just historically high moisture levels over the Pacific colliding with unstable air masses streaming down from the north. In this case, warming ocean surfaces are generating higher levels of evaporation which in turn are feeding extreme thunderstorms all across the Pacific and over adjacent land masses.

(Historically heavy rains flip cars and wreck structures in Kauai on April 14-15. Image source: Lace Anderson and Hawaii News Now.)

Chip Fletcher, an expert on the impact of climate change on Pacific island communities, told the Los Angeles Times:

“The flooding on Kauai is consistent with an extreme rainfall that comes with a warmer atmosphere. Just recognize that we’re moving into a new climate, and our communities are scaled and built for a climate that no longer exists.”

The present record Kauai event has been classified as a 1 in 100 year instance in the context of past climatology. But given present conditions and ever-increasing Earth surface temperatures, this new record may fall within a decade or less as the atmosphere continues to load more moisture and as evaporation and extreme precipitation events steadily increase.

Middle East Hammered by Extremes of Drought and Storm

Half a world away, the Middle East is seeing its own series of weather and climate shocks. The nations of Egypt, Jordan, Yemen, Lebanon, Syria, and Saudi Arabia have been experiencing widespread and long term drought. This drought has, as with the recent Central U.S. event, in large part been driven by rising temperatures. Evaporation plays its role here too as lands dry out more swiftly when temperatures rise.

(A storm sweeping in from the Med brings heavy rains and havoc to a drought-stricken Middle East. Image source: Tropical Tidbits and The Washington Post.)

However, with climate change, you can never discount the hard swing back to heavy rain despite prolonged drying as weather chaos ensues. Such was the situation during the recent week as an intense weather disturbance crossed the Mediterranean and entered the Middle East on April 26th and 27th. The colder air mass tapped high levels of moisture bleeding off the, again, much warmer than normal sea surfaces in the Med. It then dumped this moisture in the form of extreme precipitation over the Middle East.

In Israel, the resulting flash floods swept away ten teenagers as street flooding that was described as ‘epic’ ran through the country’s cities. Waters over-topped sidewalks and rushed into homes and businesses as the heavens unleashed. One to two inch per hour rainfall rates were reported. Meanwhile, in Syria, heavy hail pelted down. Jordan and Egypt were also inundated — with many streets described as impassable due to flood waters. The leading edge of cooler air kicked up a massive haboob — which spread its immense cloud of dust over Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Over recent days, the stormy pattern continued. Heavy rains overtook parts of Yemen — forcing a dam to burst and washing away dozens of homes and farms.

Two More in a Lengthening Tally

These two events are just the most recent affairs in a much larger and far more widespread pattern of ramping extreme global weather events. Events that will continue to proliferate so long as the world continues to warm. This is the state of affairs that continued fossil fuel burning has brought about. The rain bombs are hanging, enlarging, above us. They are waiting to fall. And the politically-charged denials of their chief manufacturers — oil, gas, and coal — only make the situation worse for us all.

Worsening Prairie Fires: Exceptional Central Heat and Drought Spurs More Oklahoma Blazes

Today, as with many recent days, Oklahoma is experiencing hot, dry, critical fire hazard conditions. And over the past month, historically exceptional drought and hotter than normal weather have spurred a spate of very severe and seemingly unrelenting wildfires across the state.

(The Rhea Fire burned nearly 300,000 acres in Oklahoma during mid-April. This large fire is now 100 percent contained. But blazes continue to break out. Image source: Climate.gov.)

During mid-to-late April, the Rhea Fire scorched 286,000 acres destroying more than 50 homes and killing hundreds of cattle. At about the same time, the 34 Complex fire burned through 62,000 acres and forced many Oklahoma residents to evacuate. For reference, the massive Thomas Fire which burned hundreds of structures in California this past December was 240,000 acres in size.

Unfortunately, severe fire conditions continued through today with 500 acres going up in flames near Pawnee Oklahoma in just the past 24 hours. In total, about 350,000 acres have burned so far this year (an area half the size of Rhode Island), numerous structures have been destroyed and an estimated 2,000 cattle have likely been killed. With severe drought, heat, and extreme fire conditions expected to continue throughout at least the next month, there is little relief in sight.

 

(The U.S. Drought Monitor shows severe dry conditions expanding across the Central U.S. during early 2018. Long range forecasts show drought continuing or worsening over Central and Southwestern States over the coming months. Image source: Drought Monitor and NOAA.)

The causes of the present fire hazard are quite clear. Throughout fall, winter, and spring, the Central U.S. has experienced both hotter and drier than normal conditions. During recent weeks, drought in this region has become exceptional — the highest drought category provided by the National Drought Monitor. In addition, strong, warm south-to-north winds have tended to prevail over the region. These winds have rapidly fanned many recent Oklahoma fires to massive size.

Over the coming month, this drought is expected to dig in as temperatures warm. And, as a result, fire danger is expected to be quite high for a broad region of the U.S. South stretching from just west of the Mississippi all the way to California.

(Above normal wildfire potential is expected to remain in place for Oklahoma even as risks rise for neighboring states. Image source: NOAA.)

Though spring wildfires do occur across Oklahoma and parts of the plains states, the trend has been for an increasing large fire incidence. This trend, in turn, has been driven by human-caused climate change. For as the U.S. has warmed, the rate of evaporation from soils, vegetation and lakes has increased. This higher rate of moisture loss both intensifies drought and spikes fire risk.

Warming and worsening drought has been a particularly acute set of affairs for Central and Western states. The number of weeks when large fires are a risk has increased from 50 to 600 percent for most of these regions. In other words, if it seems like there are more large fires, it’s because there are. And what we see now are spring prairie fires that are far more intense than they were in the past.

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