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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.

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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.

Extremely Warm Cyclone Predicted to Drive 50-60 F Above Average Temperatures Across North Pole

Our lexicon of what’s considered to be normal weather does not include February days in which temperatures at a North Pole shrouded in 24-hour darkness cross into above freezing ranges. But that’s exactly what some of our more accurate weather models are predicting will happen over the next five days.

Another Unusually Warm and Powerful Storm

During this time, a powerful 950 to 960 mb low is expected to develop over Baffin Bay. Hurling hurricane force gusts running from the south and digging deep across the North Atlantic, Barents, and Arctic Ocean, the low is projected to drive a knife of 50-60 F above average temperatures toward the North Pole by February 5th.

(20-25 foot surf heading for the increasingly fragile sea ice in this February 4 wave model forecast. Note the 30-40 foot waves off Iceland and associated with the same storm system that is predicted to bring above freezing temperatures to the North Pole on February 5th. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

These warm winds are predicted to bring above freezing temperatures to areas that typically see -20 to -30 F readings in February. They are expected to rage over a sea ice pack that is at record low levels. And if the storm emerges, it will hammer that same dwindling ice pack with 20 to 25 foot or higher surf.

Fragile Arctic Sea Ice Faces a Hammering

Presently, Arctic sea ice extent is trending about 200,000 square kilometers below record lows set just last year for the period of late February. And recent scientific research indicates that warm winter storms like the one that is now predicted to form can have a detrimental impact on sea ice.

(Arctic sea ice extent is presently at around 13 million square kilometers [bottom red line] — a new record low for this time of year. It should be around 15 million square kilometers and would be if the world hadn’t warmed considerably since the 1980s. Image source: JAXA.)

Not only do the storms bring warmer temperatures with them — a kind of heat wave that interrupts the typical period of winter freezing — they also drive heavy surf into a thinner and weaker ice pack. The surf, drawn up from the south churns warmer water up from the ocean depths. And the net effect can dissolve or weaken large sections of ice.

The presently developing event is expected to begin to take shape on February 4th, with warm gale and hurricane force winds driving above freezing temperatures near or over the North Pole on February 4th – 6th. To say that such an event, should it occur, would be practically unprecedented is the common understatement of our time. In other words, this is not typical winter weather for the North Pole. It is instead something we would expect to see from a global climate that is rapidly warming and undergoing serious systemic changes.

(February 5 GFS model run shows above freezing temperatures crossing the North Pole. Temperatures in this range are between 50 and 60 degrees [F] above average for this time of year. If the extremely warm cyclone event occurs as predicted, it will be a clear record-breaker. It will also further harm Arctic sea ice levels that are already in record low ranges. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)

Extreme Cyclone Beneath an Extreme Jet Stream

In the predicted forecast we see more of the extreme jet stream waves that Dr. Jennifer Francis predicted as an upshot of human-forced polar amplification (a condition where the poles warm faster than the rest of the globe under a larger warming regime). The particular wave in question for the present forecast involves a high amplitude ridge running very far to the north over Svalbard and knifing on into the high Arctic. The facing trough over Baffin Bay, Greenland, and North America is also quite pronounced and elongated. A feature that appears to want to become a cut off bubble of displaced polar air in a number of the model forecasts.

High amplitude Jet Stream waves during Northern Hemisphere winter as a signature of global warming are predicted by Francis and others to generate greater temperature and precipitation extremes in the middle latitudes. They are a feature of the kind of stuck and/or upside down weather we’ve been experiencing lately where temperatures in the Northeast have been periodically colder than typically frigid locations in Alaska. These flash freezes have, at times, faded back into odd balmy days in the 50s and 60s (F) before plunging back into cold. But the overall pattern appears to get stuck this way for extended periods of time.

(Very high amplitude ridge and trough pattern at the Jet Stream level of the circumpolar winds is thought by a number of scientists to be a feature of human caused global warming. One that is related to polar amplification in the Arctic. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

Heat in the Arctic is driving sections of cold air south even as warm air invades through places like Alaska, Northeast Siberia, and the Barents Sea. But the main variables of this story are global heat, global warming, fixed extreme temperature and precipitation patterns, and warm air invasion. The winnowing streamers of cold air driven out over places like the U.S. Northeast are just a side effect of the overall warming trend. One that is starkly apparent in the very odd western warmth that has grown more and more entrenched with each passing year.

For Now, It’s Still Just a Forecast

As with any five day forecast, we can take this one with more than just a grain of salt at the present time. But such an extreme event is entirely possible during the present age of human-forced climate change. During late December of 2015, we identified a predicted major storm that ultimately drove North Pole temperatures to above freezing. At the time, that storm was considered unusual if not unprecedented. However, since February is typically a colder period for the North Pole region, a warm storm drawing above freezing air into that zone would be even more unusual. It would also be a feature of the larger trend of loss of typical seasonal winter weather that we’ve been experiencing for some time now.

5 FEB UPDATE: Storm and Heat a Bit Further South and East Than Predicted

A powerful warm storm in the 952 mb range did form and track across Greenland to exit over the Greenland Strait earlier today. The storm drove warm air far north, pushing above freezing temperatures past Svalbard and over the dark and frozen sea ice. It hurled gale force winds, hurricane gusts, and massive swells into the ice. But it did not push temperatures to above freezing at the North Pole as some models had earlier predicted.

(Warm cyclone hurls much warmer than normal temperatures across the Barents Sea and Arctic Ocean on 5 Feb, 2018. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

It did, however crank temperature there up to -4.3 C or about 26 C above average for this time of year.

The storm is now predicted to drive above freezing temperatures across the Barents Sea, over Novaya Zemlya, through the Kara Sea and ultimately into Northern Siberia over the next 24-48 hours. In numerous regions, temperatures are already hitting near 30 C (54 F) above average. This extremely warm spike relative to typical conditions — associated with a high amplitude Jet Stream wave and related cyclone — will continue to ripple through the Arctic over the next few days.

Overall, total Arctic region temperature anomalies are predicted to range from 2.5 to 3.5 C above the 30 year average for the next few days. These are very warm departures. But not so warm as recent spikes in the range of 4 to 5 C above average for the region. In addition, there appears to be a tendency for powerful warm storms to continue to develop near Svalbard in the longer 5-15 day model runs. So the North Pole isn’t out of the woods yet for potential above freezing temperatures this February.

Not Even the Briefest of Pauses for Human-Forced Global Warming — Oceans During 2017 Were the Hottest on Record

Where does most of the heat trapped by human fossil fuel and other greenhouse gas emissions ultimately end up? Given our fixation on global surface temperatures, many people would say ‘the atmosphere.’ But this answer is incorrect. The vast majority ends up in the world ocean.

(Global change in ocean heat content through 2015. Image source: Skeptical Science and CMIP5.)

The world ocean system is the largest heat sink on our planet’s surface. This is due to the fact that liquid water contained in the oceans both has a far greater mass and overall heat capacity than the atmosphere. Just a fraction — less than 1/30th of the heat trapped by human-emitted greenhouse gasses ends up in the atmosphere. Similar portions end up getting soaked in by the land and by melting glaciers. The rest, about 90 percent, finds its way into the oceans.

The ocean is thus the best, most reliable global thermometer available. For good reason, most scientists wait for readings from this big, wet thermostat to get an idea where global temperatures are headed and how fast. And what some of the world’s top ocean researchers found this week was that during 2017 the top 6,000 feet of the world’s oceans experienced their hottest year ever recorded.

(Ocean heat content change since 1958. Illustration: Cheng and Zhu (2018), Advances in Atmospheric Sciences.)

Not only was 2017 the hottest ocean year on record, the heat gain from the previous hottest ocean year (2015) was quite considerable. In all 15,100,000,000,000,000,000,000 Joules of heat energy were added by the world ocean from 2015 to 2017. By comparison, 61,500,000,000,000 Joules were produced by the Hiroshima bomb. The world ocean is now taking in a similar amount of heat every 3-5 seconds.

In the atmosphere, we tend to focus on El Nino years as the hot ones in an ongoing upward trend. This is because warm surface waters spreading across the Equatorial Pacific belch a bit of that huge volume of stored ocean heat back into the atmosphere. But during La Nina years, cooler surface waters across wide regions of the Equator swallow up more of the atmospheric heat. It is during these years that oceans tend to warm the most swiftly even as atmospheric warming tends to take a break. 2017 saw a weak La Nina and a comparatively strong rate of related ocean heat gain. And though atmospheric temperatures were ‘only’ the second hottest ever recorded according to NASA, ocean temperatures tracked further into uncharted territory.

(During El Nino years [left], the global oceans transfer a portion of their vast store of warmth to the atmosphere. During La Nina years [right] the oceans draw in more of the atmosphere’s heat. Image source: Climate.gov.)

It’s worth noting that ocean heat gain is presently both quite rapid and rather steady. All of the past five years were each one of the five hottest ocean years ever recorded. Global temperature gain thus hasn’t slowed. And though atmospheric temperature gain has accelerated during recent years, the ocean measure hints that overall heat gain per year has been pretty steady since the mid 1990s. At least for the top 6,000 feet of the world’s surface waters (though other measures provide some hints at acceleration [see image at top of this post]). An observation that would seem to reinforce the present decadal rate of temperature increase in the range of 0.15 to 0.20 C every ten years or about 30 to 50 times faster than the warming that ended the last ice age.

To be clear, the primary driver of what is a very rapid warming in the geological context is human fossil fuel burning and related carbon emissions in the range of 11 billion tons per year. Halting fossil fuel burning is therefore critical to slowing down and ultimately stopping the present rate of warming and dangerous related atmospheric and ocean carbon addition.

The Day the Water Ran Out — Climate Change Day Zero Swiftly Approaching for Cape Town

It’s the worst drought in at least 100 years. Possibly the worst in 300 years.

I’m not talking about Iran or Syria or California or Sao Paulo or the Caribbean or Somalia or Yemen or India or a hundred other places that have suffered severe drought and related water crisis during recent years. This time, I’m writing about Cape Town, South Africa.

For Cape Town, the dry time began two years ago. A strong El Nino initiated a warmer, drier than normal weather pattern. Accelerated by much warmer than normal global temperatures, what would have typically been a milder period of heat and drought bit deep into South Africa’s reservoirs. These hotter temperatures associated with human caused climate change enhanced evaporation causing both lands and lakes to give up their precious moisture at a much faster rate.

(From the video climate scientist Peter Johnston notes that increased heat from global warming means more evaporation which results in less water for Cape Town and other places around the globe. Video source: CBS This Morning.)

El Nino has since moved on and the La Nina months are here. But the blistering drought remains. Stuck in a self reinforcing cycle of heat and lack of rainfall. After such a long period of such abnormal punishment, the reservoirs that feed Cape Town are on the brink of running out.

With supplies dwindling, residents of this major city and tourist destination have been slapped with serious water restrictions. Each has been asked to use just 87 liters of water per day. That’s about 1/4 the average use for an American. One that provides precious little for washing dishes, taking showers, flushing the toilet, doing the laundry, preparing food, and drinking. But only about half of Cape Town’s residents are complying with the restriction.

(The long term precipitation trend for Cape Town reservoirs has been on a steady decline since the 1940s. A signal concurrent with a human-forced warming of the global climate system. Image source: Piotr Wolki and Andrew Freedman.)

In the Cape Town region, crushing drought continues unabated. And as a result of the combined lack of compliance with rationing and lack of rain, the reservoirs are swiftly falling. By February 1, Cape Town will ask residents to adhere to a draconian 50 liter water restriction. And if that doesn’t work, if the rains don’t somehow miraculously come, then Cape Town will effectively run out of enough water to fill pipes.

Under this very difficult scenario, water pipes to everything but essential services like hospitals would be cut off. Residents would be forced to make daily treks to one of 200 outlet pipes to fill up water bottles. If this happens, then Cape Town will be the first major city in the world to be forced to fully cut off its municipal water supply.

The day on which this historic and ominous presage of climate change related water difficulties is predicted to happen is a moving target. And lately the target has been moving closer. Ignominiously called Day Zero, the water cut-off date for Cape Town as of last week was April 21 of 2018. This week, due to failure to adhere to water restrictions and due to unrelenting drought, that date has jumped to April 12.

That’s 79 days left until Cape Town’s taps run dry for the first time since that city, or any other major city, possessed a municipal water system.

This event is happening in a hotter than normal world. It’s happened due to a drought that has been enhanced by that very heat. And it’s happening following an 80-year-long period of declining rainfall for the Cape Town region. Let us hope for the city’s sake that the rains return soon.

Let this serve as yet one more warning to us all. Climate change is generating a much more difficult water security situation for pretty much everyone. It’s just a simple fact that the more heat you have, the more evaporation that takes place. And it’s a more intense rate of evaporation that enables both worsening drought and increased risk of water shortages as we’re seeing so starkly now in Cape Town.

Record Year For Renewables Brings 185 GW of Clean Power Generation and 1.1 Million Electrical Vehicles

Despite policy opposition from fossil fuel backers across the world, renewable energy adoption rates rapidly accelerated during 2017 as both renewable electricity generation and clean energy vehicles saw considerable growth. This rapid growth is providing an opportunity for an early peak in global carbon emissions so long as investment in and broader policy support for clean energy continues to advance.

Solar Leads Record Year for New Renewable Power Generation

At the grid level, the biggest gains came from solar which saw an estimated 98 GW added globally. This is a 31 percent jump YOY from 2016 when 76.2 GW of solar energy was installed. More than half of this new solar generating capacity (52.83 GW) was added by China — now the undisputed solar leader both in terms of manufacturing and installations. That said, large gains were also made by India, Europe and the U.S. even as the rest of the world saw broader adoption as panel prices continued to fall. Uncertainty in the U.S. over the 201c trade case brought by Sunivia and enabled by the Trump Administration hampered solar adoption there. However, it is estimated that about 12 GW were still installed. Australia also saw a solar renaissance with more than 1 GW installed during 2017 as fossil-fuel based power generation prices soared and panel prices continued to plummet.

(Solar energy’s versatility combined with falling prices generates major advantages. In the coming years, solar glass will make this clean power source even more accessible.)

Wind energy also saw major additions in the range of 56 GW during 2017. Though less than banner year 2015 at 60 GW, wind grew from an approximate 50 GW annual add in 2016. This clean power source is therefore still showing a healthy adoption rate despite competition from dirty sources like natural gas and cheap coal due to overcapacity. Other renewable energy additions such as large hydro power, small hydro, biofuels, and geothermal likely resulted in another 30 GW or more– with China alone adding 12.8 GW of new large hydro power capacity.

Overall, about 185 GW of new clean electricity appears to have been added to global generation during 2017 — outpacing both new nuclear and new fossil fuels. This compares to approximately 150 GW from similar sources added during 2016. The primary drivers of this very rapid addition were swiftly falling solar costs, continued drops in wind prices, a number of policy incentives for clean energy adoption, rising access to energy storage systems and increasing concerns over human-caused climate change.

(More bang for your buck. Despite a plateau in clean energy investment over recent years, annual capacity additions keep rising — primarily due to continuously falling wind and solar prices. Image source: Bloomberg New Energy Finance.)

Electrical Vehicles Boom

Even as clean power generation was making strides, clean transport was racing ahead. With new offerings like the Chevy Bolt, the Tesla Model 3, and the upgraded Nissan Leaf, the electrical vehicle appears to have come of age. Luxury EVs are now more and more common in places like Europe and the United States even as mid-priced EVs are becoming widely available. Concern over both clean air and climate change is driving large cities and even major countries like India and China to pursue fossil fuel vehicle bans. A growing number of EVs with range capabilities in excess of 200 miles are hitting markets. And charging infrastructure is both growing and improving. As a result of these multiple dynamics, EV sales grew by nearly 50 percent from about 740,000 sold in 2016 to 1.1 million sold in 2017.

Renewables + EVs Bring Potential For Early Peak in Carbon Emissions

Such rapid rates of renewable energy adoption are starting to have an impact on human carbon emissions. Annual rates of renewable power addition in the range of 150 to 250 GW are enough to begin to plateau and/or reduce global carbon emission so long as reasonable efficiencies are added to the energy system. Meanwhile, annual EV sales in the range of 3 to 5 million per year and growing around 20 percent annually is enough to start to tamp down global oil demand and related externalities.

(Very rapid EV sales growth during 2017 is likely to be repeated in 2018 as more capable and less expensive electrical vehicles like Tesla’s Model 3 hit markets in larger numbers. Image source: Macquarie Bank and Business Insider.)

We are beginning to enter the range of visible fossil fuel replacement by renewable power generation now and it appears that EVs will start to measurably impact oil demand by the early 2020s. To this point, direct replacement of coal with renewable and natural gas based energy sources during recent years has resulted in a considerable slowing in the rate of carbon emissions growth. If renewables continue to make substantial gains during 2018 and onward, this trend of replacement of fossil fuels and reduction of harmful greenhouse gasses hitting the atmosphere will become more and more apparent.

2018 to see Third Consecutive Mass Coral Bleaching Event for the Great Barrier Reef?

One point two degrees Celsius hotter than average (1.2 C). That’s the temperature threshold where 50 percent of the world’s corals are likely to die off according to a scientific study written in Nature during 2013.

The El Nino year 2016 was about 1.2 C hotter than 1880s averages. Meanwhile 2017 was about 1.1 C warmer than normal despite a shift toward La Nina.

We are thus entering a very harmful period for the world’s corals. One in which corals are bleaching and dying off at unprecedented rates. The global bleaching event of 2014 through 2017 was the longest lasting and most damaging in the historical record. Many reefs around the world suffered severe losses. Reefs that had never bleached before experienced bleaching and mortality. And this event included severe damage to the majestic Great Barrier Reef of Australia.

Bleached Staghorn corals on Keppel Island Reef during 2016 event that impacted 93 percent of the Great Barrier Reef. Image source: UNESCO.

Unfortunately, despite an official end to the 2014 to 2017 global bleaching event, ocean temperatures across widespread regions remain at thresholds that are likely to result in stress to corals. And it is arguable that if bleaching were so widespread as it is now in past decades, then the present 2018 period would still be considered a global bleaching event.

Regardless of how we parse official declarations, reef systems are obviously still under stress. Just this past week, reports were coming in that sections of the Great Barrier Reef were bleaching for the third year in a row. The bleaching was rather widespread for this time of year. It was occurring earlier than normal — generating concern that 2018 bleaching could be worse than expected come February and March. It was hoped that the large reef system would be given a bit of respite from the heat. But now that particular hope is in doubt.

Corals around the world are still under threat from extreme ocean heat despite the fact that the 2014-2017 global coral bleaching event was officially ended during summer of 2017. Image source: NOAA.

Corals are one of the many canaries in the climate change coal mine. These organisms are a vital aspect of global ocean health and the reefs they build are the present home for upwards of 2 million species. Humans depend on corals for the food chains they support and for the natural beauty they provide. And a global ocean with less corals provides both less food and support for human beings and for ocean life as a whole.

Because corals are so sensitive to temperature change, it is expected that about 90 percent of the world’s corals will be lost if the Earth warms by 1.5 C. Meanwhile, virtually all of the corals (more than 95 percent) could be gone if the world warms by 2 C. With global temperatures at around the 1.1 C threshold and rising, we are in the danger range for corals at this time. And the world stands at the brink of losing the majority of this vital species with the potential to see 90 percent or more of the world’s corals lost over the next 3 decades under various scenarios in which fossil fuel burning continues.

Warmer than normal sea surface temperatures are again threatening Australia’s Great Barrier Reef (GBR). Jan 15, 2018 sea surface temperature anomaly image provided by Earth Nullschool.

Danger to corals is, today, a very immediate issue. And we are in the period of risk and damage now. This reality is highlighted by the fact that what should be a relative respite period for corals is still seeing abnormally high levels of bleaching.

During 2018, La Nina in the Eastern Pacific has generated relatively cooler surface waters in a number of locations. And we would normally expect La Nina to beat back global coral bleaching severity. However, an anomalous hot blob of ocean water between Australia and New Zealand is causing an unusual spike in ocean temperatures for the zone east of Australia (see image above). The result is that the GBR is again at risk.

Early bleaching for the Great Barrier Reef in 2018 is definitely a bad sign. However, scientists aren’t yet stating that this year will see bleaching intensity hitting levels similar to 2016 and 2017. Let’s hope that remains the case. But so long as fossil fuel burning and related warming continues, the road ahead for corals is one of existential crisis.

How Climate Change is Fueling Iran’s Political Instability

Drought.

Year after year after year for the past 15 years, it’s been the reality for Iran.

As with recent severe droughts in places like Syria, Nigeria, India and in other parts of the world, Iran’s drought impacts have forced farmers to abandon fields and move to the cities. It has enhanced economic and physical desperation — swelling the ranks of the poor and displaced. It has produced both food and water insecurity with many families now living from hand and cup to mouth. And it has served as a catalyst for political unrest, protest, and revolt.

(Iran’s Lake Urmia shrinks to ten percent of its former size following a 15 year long drought. Image source: U.S. Department of the Interior.)

Perhaps the most visible sign of this drought’s epic severity is the drying up of the 5,200 square mile expanse of Lake Urmia. The sixth largest salt water lake in the world and the largest lake in the Middle East, Urmia is now a desiccated shadow of its historical range. Just 10 percent of its former size, it is the casualty of both the drought and the dams that have been built to divert water to Iran’s struggling farmers. But it’s not just the lake that’s drying up. In the interior, individual provinces have seen as many as 1,100, or approximately 1/3 of its springs, run out of water.

Iran is on the eastern fringe of the worst drought to hit parts of the Middle East in 900 years. Ninety six percent of the country has been afflicted by escalating drought conditions over the past seven years. A drought so long and deep-running that it has been triggering unrest since at least 2014. A kind of climate change enhanced instability that has been intensifying over recent years.

(Iran shows long term precipitation deficits over 2016-2017 and 2010-2017 in this analysis provided by Iran’s Meteorological Organization.)

The growing drought-driven unrest has thrust climate change into the Iranian political spotlight even as populist farmer uprisings are on the increase. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has directed government to “manage climate change and environmental threats.” However, with climate harms so long-running and with distrust in government so deep, even positive action by Iran’s leaders may be viewed in a negative light. Hindering impetus for response and generating a ripe field for the revolt or fragmentation.

From the scientific perspective, it appears that the effects of climate change are already enhancing the most recent dry period. Temperatures are rising — which increases evaporation. So more rain has to fall for soils to retain moisture. Complicating this issue is the fact that rains are expected to decline by 10 percent even as drier soils are expected to reduce rainfall and snow melt runoff by 25 percent over the next twelve years. Both are impacts caused by climate change and the predicted warming of Iranian summers by 2 to 3 degrees Celsius.

(Under business as usual fossil fuel burning scenarios, wet bulb temperatures are expected to periodically exceed the range in which humans can healthily function over portions of the Persian Gulf region before the end of this Century. Video Source: MIT News.)

Moreover, a recent MIT study from 2015 found that major cities in the Persian Gulf region may be driven past the tipping point for human survivability under business as usual fossil fuel burning (Wet Bulb of 35 C +) by climate change before the end of this Century (see video above). This means that during the worst heatwaves under this scenario, it would be impossible for human beings to retain an internal temperature cool enough to support key body functions while outdoors for even moderate periods. This would result in higher incidences of heat injury and heat mortality than we see even during present enhanced heatwaves.

Though it is uncertain whether collapse pressure driven by climate change has reached a tipping point for Iran similar to the events which enabled Syria’s descent into internal and regional conflict, the warning signs are there. The international community would thus be wise to both prepare responses and to broadly acknowledge climate change’s role in the enflaming of this and other geopolitical hot spots.

2017 — Second Hottest Year on Record as Climate Troubles Escalate

The world continues to warm. In the geological context, it is warming very rapidly. Likely more rapidly than at any time in at least the past 200 million years. And as long as this very swift warming trend continues, as long as it is not bent back, it spells serious trouble for the world’s weather, for stable coastlines, for corals, for ocean health, for stable growing seasons and for so, so many more things that we all depend on.

2017 was the second hottest year in the global climate record. It was notable due to the fact that it followed the strong El Nino year of 2016 with ENSO neutral trending toward La Nina conditions. The short term conditions that emerged during 2017 would tend to variably cool the Earth. But the resulting cool-down from 2016 to 2017 was marginal at best — representing about half the counter-trend drop-off following the strong 1998 El Nino. Instead, much warmer than normal polar zones kept the world in record hot ranges even as the Equator tried, but failed, to significantly cool.

(Rate of global warming since the 2010s appears to have accelerated in the above graph following a strong El Nino during 2015-2016 and a very mild counter-trend cooling during 2017. Temperatures in 2018 are likely to be similar to those seen during 2017 if the present prediction for ENSO-Neutral conditions is born out. Image source: NASA.)

Overall, warming above historical baselines remains quite acute in the NASA graph. And global temperatures for 2017 were 1.12 C warmer than 1880s averages. This is comparable to the 1 to 2 C warmer than Holocene range last seen during the Eemian — when oceans were about 20 to 30 feet higher than they were during the 20th Century.

Present rate of warming appears to be at the higher end of the observed 0.15 to 0.20 C warming per decade increase since the mid 1970s. This rate of warming is approximately 30 to 50 times faster than the warming that ended the last ice age. During that time, it took ten thousand years for the Earth to warm by about 4 degrees Celsius. Now we are at risk of seeing a similar warming within 1 to 2 Centuries or less if a switch back to business as usual fossil fuel burning occurs.

(This is what a world featuring temperatures hotter than 1 C above late 19th Century averages looks like. All-in-all not a very cool place. If present levels of atmospheric greenhouse gasses simply remain and do not rise, we are likely to see 2 to 3 times this level of warming long-term and over the course of multiple centuries. Present policy pathways for additional greenhouse gas emissions will likely achieve 2-3 C warming or more by the end of this Century unless more rapid energy transitions, carbon emission curtailment, and atmospheric carbon capture are undertaken. Image source: NASA.)

NASA and other top scientific agencies point toward human CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions as the primary cause of present warming and a related growing disruption to the Earth’s climate system. Action to switch energy systems away from fossil fuels and to, as a follow-on, draw down a portion of that climate warming CO2 now in the atmosphere is presently necessary to prevent ratcheting levels of harm and disruption on local, regional and global scales.

Though mild compared to the potential impacts of future human-forced warming, present warming and presently elevated CO2 levels in the range of 407 ppm and 492 ppm CO2e are enough to generate climate disruptions of serious consequence over the short, medium and long term that negatively impact the health of human civilizations and the natural world. Meanwhile, continued fossil fuel burning and related dumping of carbon into the atmosphere is increasing the risk of catastrophic events and related mass loss of human shelter, forests, fertile growing zones, and earth system life support services. The need for response and a rapid energy transition to renewables is therefore both considerable and growing.

Tesla Model 3 Production Ramp — Steady as She Goes

If a person were to define the goal of aspiration, not in the dictionary sense, but in the ideal sense, a part of it would include attempting to achieve things that were previously considered impossible.

From the point of view of Tesla, setting seemingly impossible goals and then shooting to attain them has apparently become a new model for doing business. As the old adage goes — shoot for the stars. Go ahead try. If you miss them you might hit the moon instead.

With the Model 3, it appears that Tesla, so far, may have just managed to land on the moon after setting some pretty amazingly ambitious initial star-shot-type goals. That said, the moon, at this point, appears to be a temporary way-station as the company course corrects, but is still aiming for some ridiculously starshot-high production goals through 2018.

According to recent announcements from Tesla, the company achieved 2,425 units of production in the 4th Quarter of 2017. This is a considerable jump from third Quarter production of around 260 Model 3s. It is not, however, anywhere near the 5,000 vehicle per week target by year end that Tesla had initially aimed for. In other words — some moon, but no stars as yet. And it’s obvious that some Tesla watchers are disappointed. Perhaps more frustrating to those of us who are EV lovers, Tesla has again scaled back its targets somewhat — shooting for 2,500 vehicles per week by the end of Q 1 of 2018.

(Ramping Model 3 deliveries in a record 4th Quarter for Tesla. Image source: Electrek.)

But before we leave it at that, let’s add just a little context.

The first bit is that reviews for the Model 3 are coming back as very positive. Even Jalopnik, which regularly tears Tesla a new one, recently complained that there wasn’t enough to criticize about the Model 3. Meanwhile, previous Tesla owners are raving about the car. So some credibility must be given, there, to Musk’s recent claim that the company is aiming for a slower ramp to focus more on quality early and push the mass quantity part back for later. But how much later is still a pretty serious question on everyone’s mind.

The second piece of context that’s worth considering is the fact that as of December, the Model 3 was likely the 5th or 6th best selling EV in the United States. If Tesla manages to achieve an average production rate of around 500 to 1,000 vehicles per week in January, then the car will likely be ranked between 1st and 3rd. By March, if the ramp continues to scale up, it’s likely that the Model 3 will hit over 5,000 monthly sales and be the best-selling EV in the U.S.

(Despite moderate production delays, the Tesla Model 3 continues on its ramp to mass production. As you can see from the above video, fans really love this car. Meanwhile, many analysts don’t see major issues with the present Model 3 ramp and still expect Tesla to be selling north of a million EVs per year by the early 2020s.)

Looking still closer, we should take Tesla’s claims of 750+ vehicle per week production in late December with a dash of salt. It’s clear that Tesla production is now ramping. That bottlenecks are being cleared. That said, this announced sustained rate is the highest yet achieved over a relatively decent period of time. And, if past is any guide, it’s likely that Tesla will be speeding and slowing the line as they address issues. We probably shouldn’t assume that every week from now on will produce 750 or more. It could. But it’s likely we’ll see a kind of two step forward, one step back, two step forward progression as Tesla continues to refine the Model 3 line.

To this point we should probably also add that when Tesla says it is aiming for 2,500 vehicles per week by end of Q1, that’s probably a snapshot of peak production. Not of average weekly production during March. Same for the 5,000 vehicle per week target by June.

It’s a lot to digest. But I think those of us who’ve been following EVs for some time should sit back and take stock of what is a really big achievement underway. It may not be happening as fast as many had hoped. But it is happening. And even with its less ambitious ramp, Tesla appears set to at least double its overall EV production during 2018.

Steady as she goes…

Toasted — California’s 2017 Foreshadowing of the Monster Fires to Come

Part One: The Story of How Global Warming Turned California into Toast.

The Thomas Fire as seen by a webcam located atop Santa Ynez Peak, a 4300′ mountain 17 miles northwest of downtown Santa Barbara on December 10th.

*****

I want you to indulge me for a minute. I want you to put on your scientist hats with me and engage in a bit of an experiment.

Take a bagel. Cut it in half. Dip about 1/3 of it in water for a couple of seconds. Then put the bagel in the toaster oven for about 5-10 minutes. Remove and see the results.

What you’ll find is that the part of the bagel that hasn’t been dipped in water is, well, toast. The dipped part — significantly less so. If you continued to toast the bagel, eventually the heat from the oven will cause the undipped side to burn. Take even more time and the heat would overcome the moisture on the dipped side and cause it to burn as well.

Here was the result of my at-home experiment after about 10 minutes in the oven at 425 degrees. Can you guess which half was dipped in water?

The more heat, the faster both sides of the bagel burn. But the drier side always first. The wetter side always second.

It’s a simple fact that moisture — whether loaded into bagels or soaking into vegetation and the ground — adds more resiliency and resistance to fire. And this year, given the massive amount of moisture that fell across all of California during the winter and spring of 2016-2017 we didn’t really expect summer and fall to be all that bad of a fire season.

That famous Pineapple Express kept delivering storm after storm after storm. Dams were strained to bursting and over-spill. Roads were washed out. Water rescues were performed. And when all was said and done, California had experienced its wettest water-year in all of the last 122. Given such an obscene amount of water flooding the state, we certainly didn’t expect what happened next. All that moisture soaking into lands, soils, trees, vegetation told us a story. It told us a story that we thought we knew.

Accuweather’s California flood forecast from January 9, 2017 is easy to forget given the record fires we see today. But the temperature and moisture extremes experienced are an aspect of a warming climate. These floods inflicted more than 1.5 billion in damages. Source: Accuweather/Wikipedia.

What we didn’t count on was the oven-like heat that followed. Nor the simple fact that resiliency, no matter how strong at first, is not limitless.

Environmentally speaking, heat is the primary factor in fire hazard so long as fuels are present. Drought is also a factor, though a somewhat less certain one because eventually most fuels are consumed if drought sets in for long enough. As with the bagel, enough heat will eventually blast through any moisture loading so long as that moisture is not recharged to great risk of consuming and conflagrating the fuels that soaked up the moisture in the first place.

At its most basic level, this is why global warming promotes fire hazard. If you bake the forests, grasses and shrubs enough, they will burn.

If there is one thing we know about climate change and weather it is that it promotes extremes. Particularly extreme swings between cooler+wet and record hot+dry as the water cycle is thrown through the atmospheric equivalent of a hyperloop. And the level of extremity California experienced from winter to summer ran a six month race from wettest to hottest. For following the early year deluge, 2017 rapidly rocketed into the hottest summer in California history. Temperatures in many places regularly soared to well above the scorching 100 degree mark. Records for all-time hottest days fell like trees before the wild hurricane.

Large sections of the west, including California, experienced their hottest summer on record. Image source: NOAA.

And given so much excessive heat, it didn’t take long for the fires to arise even following a record wet winter.

We won’t go through all the exhaustive numbers of that grim tally of burning. But we will say that more than ten thousand homes and buildings burned. That many souls perished in the blazes. That billions in damages were inflicted. At times, ash and embers rained down across California as if from a volcanic eruption. The skies — marred by great pillars of smoke erupting from a blasted Earth. To say it was merely the worst fire year California has ever experienced would be to do the nightmare of it all an illiterate, unfeeling, lack-compassion injustice.

The summer fires that came with the heat burned mostly the north. The rains, that were so strong in winter took a bad turn once the heat blazed through the lands enough to dry out all that new forest and grass regrowth. Here we were witnessing, before our very eyes, the kind of new conditions 1.1 degrees Celsius worth of global warming was capable of producing.

Firefighter battling the Thomas Fire, which is just 500 acres away from being the largest in California history. Image source: Campus Safety.

Because of that warming, we know now that fire season never really ends any more in California. A point that was driven viciously home as summer proceeded into fall and the fires still raged in October. By December, the heat and dryness had not relented. Not enough at least. The normally wet month had been transformed. And the carry over of that damage done by the furnaces of summer had prepped the land for more burning.

Howling winds from the longest burst of fire fanning winds ever seen for California fed into a new fire. A fire that is now within 500 acres of becoming the largest fire ever to burn in California history. In December. During what should be a wet, cool month. But one that is hotter and drier and fire blasted.

Toasted.

But if we don’t turn back from the warming that caused this, the worst is yet to come.

CREDITS:

Hat tip to Wharf Rat

Australia’s Hot Ocean Blob Fuels Record Heat, Extreme Weather, Risk to Coral Reefs

Between Australia and New Zealand there’s a kind of climate change fed thing on the prowl in the off-shore waters. It takes the form of an angry layer of far warmer than normal surface water. And it’s been lurking around since late November.

(A hot, angry blob of much warmer than normal ocean temperatures has erupted between Australia and New Zealand.)

We can see this disruptive beast pretty clearly in the sea surface temperature anomaly maps provided by Earth Nullschool. Today’s readings show temperatures in this new blob hitting between 3.5 and 4.2 degrees Celsius above average across a broad expanse of ocean.

That’s much, much warmer than normal for this region of water. A place where 2 degree above average sea surface readings would tend to be unusual. But with global temperatures now hitting between 1.1 and 1.2 C above 1880s averages, we’re starting to see the climate dice more loaded for these kinds of extreme events. To be clear, this is not the kind of extremity we’d experience in a world at 2 C warming, or 4 C warming, or 7 C warming. But we’ve moved up the scale and weather, temperature, and ocean environmental conditions are being harmfully impacted.

(The above graph shows how temperatures have shifted outside of 20th Century ranges. During 2014-2017, the world dramatically warmed — generating further rightward movement in the bell curve. Temperature has an impact on everything from drought, to the severity of thunderstorms, to the length and intensity of fire season, to the fuel available for the most powerful hurricanes, to algae blooms, to coral bleaching events. Image source: NASA GISS.)

Back on November 30th, the blob contributed to an extreme rainfall event impacting Southeast Australia. One that dumped upwards of 10 inches or more in a rather short period. Since that time, South Australia has been seeing continued instances of extreme weather. Over recent days, towering supercell storms rocked Victoria with lightning, flash floods, damaging winds, and golf-ball sized hail. In Melbourne, a flood washed away a 40 foot section of a foot path. Meanwhile western parts of Sydney Australia were sweltering under record-shattering heat — with temperatures hitting a never before seen high of 111 F (44 C) on Tuesday, December 19th. Other regions experienced over 113 F (45 C) temperatures.

(Hot ocean blob feeds record breaking heat across Australia on Tuesday. Image source: WindyTV.)

The off shore hot blob is laying its hot, moist tendrils of influence on these weather extremes in a number of ways. First the blob is belching an enormous amount of moisture into the atmosphere above the local ocean. This moisture is being cycled over SE Australia by the prevailing winds and is adding convective energy to thunderstorms. In addition, the blob is also contributing to a sprawling ridge of high pressure that sits squarely over top it. The ridge, in turn, is baking parts of Australia with record hot temperatures.

Hot ocean blobs like the thing off Australia are a feature of human-caused climate change in that ocean and atmospheric warming generates an environment in which these pools of excessive warmth are more likely to form. These are anomalous events that stretch or break the boundaries of past weather and climate patterns by adding unusual amounts of heat and moisture to local and region climate systems in the environments in which they form. A hot blob forming off the U.S. West Coast during 2014-2015 contributed to a number of climate change associated events like the severe California Drought, a ridiculously resilient ridge of high pressure, western wildfires, intense rains into Alaska and Canada and a number of mortality events among sea life that were triggered by heat, low oxygen content, or blooms of harmful microbes that thrive in warmer ocean environments.

Though short-lived in comparison to the Hot Blob that lurked off the U.S. West Coast for the better part of two years, the Australia-New Zealand blob is already having a variety of atmospheric and oceanic impacts. Notably, in addition to the wrenching influences on local and regional weather described above, the blob is also contributing to risks to Australia’s corals.

(NOAA’s Coral Reef Watch shows strong risk of coral stress continuing through March of 2018. The hot blob of ocean water off Australia is contributing to a situation where reefs like the GBR are again at risk. Image source: NOAA.)

Over the past two years, the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) experienced back to back bleaching events. These were the worst ever seen by the reef. And they were triggered by human-caused climate change. This year, in part due to the blob, risks to corals between Australia and New Zealand are again high. If the blob shifts north and west, then the GBR again falls under the gun. This time for a third year in a row. Notably coral reef stress warnings and alerts abound throughout the zone between Australia and New Zealand in NOAA’s Coral Reef Watch report at present.

Due to the potential to continue to contribute to various weather and ocean impacts, the present climate change influenced hot blob between Australia and New Zealand bears continued monitoring. It has, however, already generated a number of impacts. And it is likely that more will follow.

CREDITS:

Hat tip to Carolyn Copeland

Hat tip to Guy Walton

November of 2017 was the Third Hottest on Record Despite La Nina

According to NASA GISS, November of 2017 was the third hottest such month in the 137 year global climate record. This continues a trend of warming that began with fossil fuel burning at the start of the Industrial Revolution and that has recently hit new intensity during the 2014 – 2017 period.

NASA warming trend growing more extreme

(NASA color coded warming trend since 1901. Note the very extreme departures in the recent period since 2014. Image source: NASA GISS.)

Counting in November, 2017 is now solidly on track to be the second hottest year in the global climate record — trailing 2016 and edging out 2015. This new record was achieved despite the fact that La Nina emerged later in the year.

La Nina is a periodic cooling of Equatorial Pacific surface waters that also has a cooling influence over the Earth’s atmosphere when it emerges. The fact that we are on track to be experiencing the second hottest year on record, despite La Nina the cooling influence of La Nina which has been largely over-ridden, should be setting off at least a few warning lights.

Overall, temperatures for November were 0.87 C warmer than NASA’s 20th Century baseline and 1.09 C warmer than 1880s averages. Taking into account temperatures during early to middle December — which show a continuation of November ranges — it is likely that 2017 overall will average around 1.1 C warmer than 1880s averages once all the tallies are counted. Edging out 2015 by 0.01 to 0.03 C (see Dr Gavin Schmidt’s graph above).

By contrast, 2015 was a year in which the Pacific was ramping up toward a strong El Nino. So the La Nina signal for 2017 is important by comparison — validating numerous observations from climate scientists and climate observers that global temperatures have taken another step up (one of many due to human based heat forcing, primarily due to fossil fuel burning) without any indication of a step down.

(November 2017 sea surface temperature [SST] anomaly map at top shows evident La Nina pattern over the Equatorial Pacific. This should be creating a relative cooling signal. November 2015 SST anomaly map shows build up to El Nino type conditions. The fact that we will likely experience a warmer year in 2017 than in 2015 despite this contrast is a notable indicator for human-forced climate change and a continuing warming trend. Image source: NOAA.)

Regional analysis for November (see NASA map below) shows a very strong polar amplification signal with the highest Latitudes in the Northern Hemisphere displaying the most extreme temperature departures. Latitude 80-90 N showed the greatest zonal anomaly at around 5.5 C above average. While the global hot spot in NE Siberia hit an amazing 9.3 C above average for the month. Polar amplification was also more evident over Antarctica during the month with temperatures ranging from 1.5 to 2 C above average in the region of 75 to 80 S Latitude. This was significant given the fact that anomalous polar warming relative to past temperature trends tends to take a step back during late spring and summer months (it was late austral spring in November).

(Global anomalies map shows very extreme polar warming during November of 2017 with few regions of the globe experiencing below average temperatures. Image source: NASA GISS.)

It is worth noting that very few regions experienced temperatures below NASA’s 20th Century baseline. That regions experiencing temperatures below 1880s averages were even more scarce. And that the global cool spot at 4.1 C below average was less than half the amplitude of the most extreme warm departure (9.3 C).

The last time temperatures were globally below average during any month was in 1985. Which means that if you’re younger than 32, you’ve never experienced a below average month globally. Presently temperatures are so extreme now that globally below average single days are almost entirely a thing of the past. Warming has thus thrust us well outside the typical range of variability. And as a result, we are experiencing temperature, rainfall, fire, drought, snow, sea level, and storm conditions that are increasingly outside the norm, that are increasingly difficult to manage and adapt to. A trend that will continue so long as we keep burning fossil fuels. So long as the Earth keeps warming.

The National Security Threat that Inflicted 400 Billion in Damages This Year

Back in the 1990s, the U.S. Navy asked Congress to address the issue of rising sea levels at the Norfolk Naval Base. The Navy wanted to raise the piers, which were becoming vulnerable to flooding due to rising waters. For various reasons, including climate change denial, Congress has delayed funding for elevating the base’s 12 piers beyond the present and near term projected reach of ongoing sea level rise. Only four so far have been lifted.

According to former Norfolk Naval Base Commander Joe Bouchard, “Washington went bonkers” when it failed to recognize and address an obvious problem — sea level rise.

Up and down the U.S. coastline, the story is much the same. But it’s not just a case of Navy Base piers. It’s a case that every coastal city in the U.S. now faces rising seas threatening homes, real estate, infrastructure. And at the same time that seas are rising, the strongest storms are growing stronger and fire seasons that once ran through a few months of the year in places like California are now a year-round affair.

(A ribbon-thin rise of land separates the Norfolk Naval Base from flooding due to climate change driven sea level rise. Flooded bases not a national security threat? See related article by Vox. Image source: Wikipedia.)

This is the very definition of climate change as a threat to the security, not just to the world’s largest naval base, but to most if not all of the United States.

So how bonkers is Donald Trump and the climate change denying GOP now? How nuts is it that Trump yesterday made the anti-factual determination, in bald defiance of a plethora of U.S. military leaders, that “climate change is not a national security threat?”

Increasingly Destructive Hurricanes are Putting a Growing Number of People and Structures at Risk

This year, the U.S. has experienced not one, not two, not three, not four, but at least five major weather disasters that were made much worse by human-caused climate change. Three of them — hurricanes Maria, Irma, and Harvey all roared out of a warming ocean. They all formed in a hotter atmosphere loaded up with a higher level of moisture. These factors gave them more fuel to feed on. They unarguably increased their peak potential intensity. Scientific studies have found that Harvey alone was three times more likely to form due to human-caused climate change. That its rainfall was considerably enhanced in a warmer atmosphere.

The storms ran in to land on a higher ramp. Seas, like those at the Naval Base and in so many other places, have risen by a foot or more from the Gulf Coast to New England and on into the Caribbean because the Earth has, indeed, warmed. And this made storm surge impacts worse.

You could go on and on with the list of climate change related factors that compounded this year’s disasters. About the climate zones moving north. About hot blobs in the ocean and bigger blocks in the atmosphere. About enhanced convection and ice cliff instability. About ridiculously resilient ridges and persistent troughs. But it’s just a simple fact that the storms were worse than they would have been. That climate change made them more likely (in some cases far more likely) to occur in the first place. In total, and in large part due to the nefarious influence of fossil fuel burning on the world’s weather, these three storms alone have inflicted 368 billion dollars in damages.

That’s billion with a capital B. A level of harm often attributed to warfare but one that can instead be put at the feet of weather indiscriminately weaponized by fossil fuel burning. For the Atlantic Hurricane season this year, at a time when global temperatures are 1.1 to 1.2 C hotter than 1880s averages, was the most destructive ever recorded. These climate change enhanced storms left whole island nations and entire regions in ruins. In many cases it will take months, years, or even a decade or more to fully recover.

Wildfires are Increasing and Wildfire Season is Getting Longer in the Western U.S.

But in the grim tally of climate change related damages during 2017, we don’t stop at just hurricanes. For California, during 2017 experienced its worst fire season on record. One in which 11,306 structures have so far been damaged or destroyed. We say so far because what is likely to become the largest fire in California history — the Thomas Fire — is still burning.

11,306 structures would be enough to make a decent sized city. All gone due to a fire season that is now year round. Due to western heating, drying and temperature extremes that are increasingly forced to well outside the normal range. Total damages this year for California are presently estimated at more than 13 billion dollars. That’s nothing to shake a stick at. But this damage total is likely to continue to climb as the tally of losses is counted.

(Abnormally above average temperatures and below average precipitation contributed to fire danger in California during December. This odd heat and drought was driven, in no small part, by climate change. Image source: NOAA.)

As with hurricanes, the presently more intense fires are linked in numerous ways to a warming climate. Warmer temperatures increase the rate of evaporation and the intensity of precipitation in the most extreme events. Such variance increases the rate at which vegetation grows during wet season and the rate at which it dries during times when the rains depart. This adds more ready fuels for fires. In addition, northward movement of the Arctic sea ice contributes to an overall warmer and drier pattern for the U.S. West. This pattern, helps to produce stronger high pressure systems that, in turn, strengthen the fire-fanning Santa Ana winds.

This year, December, which is typically a wet month for the U.S. West, especially during La Nina (which we are presently experiencing) has been incredibly dry. This dryness helped to fuel the Thomas Fire. But the dryness didn’t happen in a vacuum. It was associated with a major climate change related influx of heat into the Arctic linked to climate change driven polar amplification.

Failure to Recognize Climate Change Leaves U.S. Citizens Vulnerable to Harm

Anyone following the increasingly clear evidence of how Trump campaign officials coordinated with Russia to disrupt the 2016 elections and how ardently Trump is attempting to cover the whole thing up could draw the reasonable conclusion that Trump cares more about his own personal advancement than the safety and security of the American people. Trump’s, and by extension, the GOP’s climate change denial, can be seen through the same morally relativistic lens. Wealthy fossil fuel donors have for a long time now held an unreasonable influence over persons in higher office. The denial of climate change for both the Republican Congress and the Presidency is, in other words, well-funded.

(GOP funding by fossil fuel donors just keeps going up and up in lockstep with GOP climate change denial and anti-environmental policy. Image source: InsideClimate News.)

Such denial may line the pocketbooks of republican politicians and wealthy oil, gas, and ailing coal companies. But it places the American people, their homes, their livelihoods, beneath the blade of a falling ax. So when Trump says climate change is a hoax, forces government websites to shut down, scrubs words related to climate change from government communications, opposes alternative clean energy, and tells the Department of Defense not to treat climate change as a national security threat, he is culpable and a contributor to a very clear, present, and growing danger.

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