Dark and Flooded — Puerto Rico Devastated by Maria’s Unprecedented Rains, Terrible Winds

“Once we’re able to go outside, we’re going to find our island destroyed.” — Puerto Rico Emergency Management Director Abner Gómez Cortés.

“There is no hurricane stronger than the people of Puerto Rico. And immediately after this is done, we will stand back up.” — Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló.

“The rain gauge near Caguas, PR also measured 14.31″ in one hour. That’s a candidate for the most ever, worldwide.” — Eric Holthaus.

*****

At present, it is difficult to take account of the scale of the devastation that has been visited upon Puerto Rico. Electrical power has been knocked out for the entire U.S. island of 3.4 million people. Meanwhile, as of this morning, the whole island had been placed under a flash flood warning due to historic rainfall hitting as high as 14+ inches per hour in some places. As a result, communications are spotty at best. Furthermore, the hardest hit areas are still mostly inaccessible due to debris-choked roads, loss of electronic communication, and flooding.

That said, we are starting to get a hint of the vast and often unprecedented damages that have been inflicted.

Power Outages Could Last for 4-6 Months

After suffering a glancing blow from Irma, Puerto Rico’s ailing and under-funded grid was already ill-prepared to face down the strongest storm to make landfall on the island in more than a Century. Fragile hanging lines, ancient substations, and centralized fossil fuel based generation that resulted in flickering lights even during the best conditions were ill-prepared to deal with the might of Maria.

At present, the entire island is without grid-based power generation. And the damage is so severe that officials are saying that it could take up to 4-6 months to completely restore electricity. Since electricity is essential to both communications and a swath of basic disaster relief services, such a severe and extended loss could greatly hamper recovery efforts for this island commonwealth.

Winds Remove Roofs, Collapse Buildings, Knock Holes in Concrete Structures, and Threaten Wildlife

Maria’s winds, which at landfall were as strong as 155 miles per hour (sustained), not only knocked out the entire Puerto Rican grid, they inflicted major structural damage on buildings and littered roads with debris. Across the island, roofs were peeled off even as holes were knocked in some of the strongest concrete structures. Metal gates to affluent homes and communities were torn down even as electrical power poles were snapped like twigs.

In San Juan, reports were coming in that the concrete walls of some condominiums were blasted away, that metal traffic lights had been torn down, zinc roofed structures were destroyed, and windows and doors were knocked out. Some stadiums used for disaster shelters lost their roofs, windows and doors — forcing those inside to huddle under archways.

There is no word, as yet, of the fate of the hundreds of wild horses exposed to the worst winds of Maria as they raked the island of Vieques just south and east. A potential tragedy of innocents to add to all the woes inflicted upon the people of Puerto Rico.

World Record Rainfall

As Maria circulated over the hilly terrain of Puerto Rico, clouds more heavily laden with moisture in a warming atmosphere unburdened their historically extreme loads upon the countryside. More than 20 inches of rain fell in one day or less over most of Puerto Rico — with totals in rainfall hot-spots hitting close to 40 inches in one 24 hour period. Across the island, rivers rose to historically high levels as towns were turned into lakes and roads into churning rivers.

At Caguas, the rain gauge recorded an unprecedented 14.31 inches in just one hour. According to records provided by Christopher C. Burt at Weather Underground and statements by meteorologist-reporter Eric Holthaus, this total, if confirmed, is in the running for the highest hourly rainfall rate in the world on record. After this very extreme rainfall pulse, Caguas saw continued severe rains from Maria totaling 39.67 inches in one 24 hour period. This is more than the typically rainy city of Seattle gets in an entire year.

As a result of this incredibly unprecedented rainfall, rivers were exceeding record flood stages by leaps and bounds. With one river gauge on the Rio Grande de Manati hitting 42.9 feet or 17.7 feet higher than the previous record flood level ever recorded at that location. At another river — the Rio Grande de Loiza — river water volumes increased 200-fold to hit a record flow six times the previous record at that location.

The Climate Change Context

The combined extreme winds, record rains, and storm surge flooding of Maria have produced an unfolding human and natural tragedy that will reverberate across Puerto Rico for months and years to come. This extreme damage adds to Harvey’s record floods, Maria’s earlier devastation of Dominica and the Virgin Islands, and Irma’s own swath of destruction that ran from the Northern Leeward Islands to Florida and the Southeast U.S. Total damages in dollar estimates for the present hurricane season now exceed 160 billion — a number expected to climb and one that may top 300 billion before all is said and done. And nothing can replace the 210 souls lost or the homes, memories, and livelihoods that have been wrecked.

It’s a tough fact that we need to reiterate time and time again under the present cloud of politically-motivated climate change denial — the weather is getting worse and human-based fossil fuel burning is causing it. The peak potential intensity of the most extreme storms has been increased by a warming world. More atmospheric water vapor increases the highest potential record rainfall amounts even as all that added heat and moisture push the weather toward greater drought and downpour extremes. We can see this in the increasingly prevalent heavy rainfall events, wildfires and droughts across the globe. We see it in the larger, heavier and longer-lasting storms.

(During late 2016, billionaire Richard Branson — who has advocated for responses to climate change — appeared willing to give climate change denying Donald Trump a bit of a window to pivot away from his nonsensical and unethical positions. After having his Carribbean home wrecked by a climate-change-fueled Irma, Branson has since gone after Trump and climate change deniers with a vengeance.)

For the Atlantic, the long term trend has been for more category five hurricanes to form. Back during the late 19th Century no Category 5 storms were recorded for the North Atlantic in the entire 50 year period from 1851 to 1900. In the 27 year period from 1991 to 2017 we’ve had 13 — with some years featuring as many as 2 or more Category 5s in a single season. 2017 was the only year other than 2007 in all of the last 167 years to see two category 5 storms making landfall. So we can clearly state that the long term trend for the Atlantic is for more Category 5 storms and for more of these storms impacting land.

2017 was also the only year to see 3 category 4 hurricanes make landfall in the U.S. (Continental U.S. + Puerto Rico. 1915 saw 2). And according to the Weather Channel only 24 category 4 storms and 3 category 5 storms have made U.S. in the entire 167 year period since 1851.

(Warm ocean surface waters are the primary fuel driving hurricane peak intensity and ability to form. The Atlantic Ocean surface is now warmer than at any time in the past 10,000 years [at least]. Sea surface temperature anomaly map shows variance outside the already warmer than normal 30 year average. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

Recent out-of-season tropical cyclone formation appears to have also grown more frequent and intense. For example, 2016’s Hurricane Alex was only the second hurricane to ever form during January. Moreover, 2017 saw the April formation of Arlene — which was only the second named storm to ever form in that particular month.

Stepping back from these figures, we should be very clear that warmer ocean waters and moister atmospheres both provide more fuel for the tropical cyclones that do form and increase the ability of such storms to form in typically cooler months. The warmer ocean surface has loaded the climate dice for both out of season storm formation and higher peak intensity even as a hotter atmosphere more heavily laden with moisture provides a similar effect by enhancing atmospheric lift. So if we keep dumping prodigious volumes of carbon into the atmosphere, we can expect worse and worse storms to come as the world keeps heating up.

Links:

Maria Strikes and Puerto Rico Goes Dark

Maria Rips Caribbean

2017 Atlantic Hurricane Season

Earth Nullschool

NOAA Hurricane Data

List of U.S. Landfalling Hurricanes

Hat tip to Greg

Hat tip to Eleggua

Hat tip to Wili

Advertisements

As the Worst Storms Grow More Frequent, San Francisco and Oakland Sue Fossil Fuel Companies over Rising Sea Levels

Faced with ramping damages and increased infrastructure costs from rising seas, both San Francisco and Oakland are suing major fossil fuel companies for their considerable contributions to the problem.

According to a report from SF Gate today, the claim is asking coal, oil and gas companies like Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, Shell and BP to pay billions of dollars in damages for not only producing the heat-trapping gases that drove sea-level rise but for knowingly doing so.

Fossil Fuel Companies Sued For Role in Rising Seas, Attempts at Cover-up

The suits join those already filed by San Mateo and Marin counties as well as the community of Imperial Beach. San Francisco and Oakland, however, are the first large cities to engage in the suit –with these two cities combined representing a total population of 1.3 million people.

(Melt in the vulnerable regions of West Antarctica produces proportionately high rates of sea level rise for the U.S. West Coast. Sea levels could rise by as much as ten feet, according to recent scientific reports, resulting in tens of billions of dollars in damages and mass displacement of west coast populations. Video Source: California Sea Levels Could Rise 10 Feet by 2100.)

San Francisco notes that seas may rise by as much as 10 feet by the end of this Century. Consequently, the city expects to invest 5 billion dollars or more in improved flood defenses over the long haul. The suit argues that fossil fuel burning is the primary contributor to this problem and that fossil fuel companies have known since at least the 1980s that burning their products would result in these risks and damages. The suit also notes that these corporations falsely attempted to convince the public that they weren’t the primary cause — standing in defiance of basic scientific facts and public safety alike.

The text of the suit reads:

“Defendants stole a page from the Big Tobacco playbook and sponsored public relations campaigns, either directly or through the American Petroleum Institute or other groups, to deny and discredit the mainstream scientific consensus on global warming, downplay the risks of global warming and even to launch unfounded attacks on the integrity of leading climate scientists.

“This case is, fundamentally, about shifting the costs of abating sea level rise harm — one of global warming’s gravest harms — back onto the companies. After all, it is defendants who have profited and will continue to profit by knowingly contributing to global warming.”

San Francisco and Oakland are just two of thousands of coastal communities that now face rising sea levels and worsening ocean storms that were in great majority caused or worsened by fossil fuel burning.

Rising Seas, Worsening Storms Due to Fossil Fuel Burning

While it is less easy to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a single storm was caused by climate change, it is obvious that they are overall growing worse in a warming world.

As an example, the number of the absolute worst cyclones in the Atlantic basin has considerably risen since the 19th Century — from zero Category 5 storms during the 50 year period from 1851 to 1900 to 13 during the 27 year period of 1991 to today. Where two such most powerful storms formed in the 30 year period from 1901 to 1930, the same number have formed during just the single year that is 2017. The climate dice, in this instance, have, indeed, been terribly loaded. And as we have seen throughout the Atlantic, Caribbean, and along the U.S. East and Gulf Coasts, these more frequent, more intense, most powerful, storms represent a dire threat to those inhabiting the cities, states, and island nations in their path.

Moreover, the link between human-caused climate change through fossil fuel burning and sea level rise is irrefutable. As sea level rise through glacial melt and thermal expansion is a direct and obvious result of the warming that comes from rising global temperatures due to increased levels of heat trapping gasses in the atmosphere.

Links:

San Francisco and Oakland Sue Major Oil Companies Over Rising Seas

California Sea Levels Could Rise 10 Feet by 2100

Catastrophic Category 5 Maria Strengthens as it Tracks Toward Puerto Rico

As of the 9:00 PM advisory from the National Hurricane Center, Maria was located 145 miles southeast of San Juan Puerto Rico. The very dangerous storm was tracking toward the west-northwest at 10 miles per hour. Packing maximum sustained winds of 175 miles per hour and a minimum central pressure of 909 mb, the storm is now stronger than it was just prior to devastating Dominica yesterday evening and features a lower central pressure than Irma at maximum intensity. Furthermore, the storm is now one of the ten strongest ever to form in the Atlantic by measure of central pressure alone.

 

Along its present and projected path, the storm will reach the vicinity of St. Croix in the Virgin Islands a bit after midnight. Following a close encounter with St. Croix, the storm should approach Vieques and the Puerto Rican southeast coast by early morning on September 20th. Hurricane force winds should arrive about three to four hours prior to passage of the storm center. Tropical storm force winds are already affecting parts of the Virgin Islands and should begin to impact Puerto Rico soon.

In addition to catastrophic winds, the National Hurricane Center expects 7-11 foot storm surges in the Virgin Islands and 6-9 foot storm surges in Puerto Rico topped by powerful breaking waves. Rainfall totals are likewise expected to be quite extreme — totalling 10-20 inches in the Virgin Islands and 12-25 inches in Puerto Rico.

Some of the far outer bands of Maria are presently lashing Puerto Rico with rains and gusty winds. Meanwhile, St Croix in the Virgin Islands recently reported a wind gust of 72 mph.

Maria is passing over very warm sea surfaces in the range of 29 to 30 degrees Celsius. These abnormally warm ocean waters appear to be facilitating further intensification just prior to potential landfalls.

Maria is now a somewhat larger storm than it was when it approached Dominica. Hurricane force winds now extend upwards of 35 miles from the storm center and tropical storm force winds up to 140 miles. The storm appears to still be strengthening with the most recent report of 909 mb pressures near the storm center over the past hour 11 mb lower than a reading taken late Tuesday afternoon and 3-4 mb lower than a reading taken just one hour ago. Maximum sustained winds from this more recent pass were recorded at 175 mph. Maria is now stronger than Irma at peak intensity by measure of central pressure. A yet more powerful storm capable of producing more damage along a wider swath than during last night’s encounter with Dominica.

To say this is a dangerous situation is an understatement. Those in the path of this storm should heed any and all statements from emergency officials and do everything possible to seek shelter or flee the path of this terrible storm.

Conditions in Context

Climate change related factors like warming ocean surfaces, more intense Equatorial thunderstorms, and increasing atmospheric water vapor content have contributed to higher storm intensities during the present hurricane season. Natural factors, like La Nina-like conditions in the Equatorial Pacific, have also contributed. But we should be clear that the primary limiters to peak hurricane intensity — ocean surface temperature and atmospheric water vapor content — are now higher than they were in the past. So the storms of today can hit higher bars than before.

(Accumulated Cyclone Energy or ACE for 2017 so far is well above average. There are approximately 8 weeks left in this year’s hurricane season. Image source: Colorado State University.)

Overall, 2017 has been a well above average year for storms. One in which a number of records have already been broken.

One measure of tropical cyclone intensity — accumulated cyclone energy or ACE — has hit considerably higher than normal marks during 2017. So far, 2017 has outpaced all years since 2010 and appears to be on track for one of the highest ACE years on record. The record highest ACE for any given year was 2005 at approximately 250.

RELATED STATEMENTS AND INFORMATION:

(UPDATED– UPDATES TO FOLLOW)

Links:

The National Hurricane Center

Colorado State University

Hat tip to Eleggua

Hat tip to Bostonblorp

Energy World Rocked as China Cuts Coal Imports, Aims for Fossil Fuel Car Ban

The global energy posture is changing almost as rapidly as a climate increasingly choked with greenhouse gas emissions. And few parts of the world show this emerging trend more clearly than China. In short, China is adding restrictions to both domestic coal production and coal imports even as it is rapidly building new solar generation capacity and moving to ban domestic fossil fuel based vehicle sales.

Cutting Coal as Solar Grows

Recently, China made two major policy moves that have rocked the global energy markets. The first was its recent closing of terminals to coal imports — which may result in a net reduction of imported coal by 10 percent during 2017. Since July, China has closed approximately 150 smaller facilities to coal imports. These ports, which China has designated as tier two, are less able to test coal for compliance with China’s new emissions standards. As a result, coal imports have re-routed to larger (tier 1) facilities. A move that has created a backlog of coal off-loading ships.

In early September, China then closed the major port of Guangzhou to coal imports ahead of a cyclone. Guangzhou is one of China’s largest ports — capable of handling 60 million tons of coal per year. The closure sent shivers through coal exporters like Australia as the line of ships waiting to off-load coal lengthened. This port has since re-opened but larger constraints to China’s coal import market remain.

(China is defying all expectations with regards to the rate at which it is adding new solar electrical generation capacity. Such a strong renewable energy addition is coming in conjunction with far more restrictive domestic and import policies aimed at reducing coal burning and improving air quality. Image source: Renew Economy.)

Recently, China imposed caps on domestic coal production and aimed to reduce total coal generating capacity. These caps and cuts led some coal exporters to believe that China’s large fleet of coal plants would require more imports to fill a perceived demand gap. But China’s new, more restrictive import policies are belying those earlier notions.

In the larger context, China is engaged in a major shift toward renewable energy production. Through July, China had added approximately 35 gigawatts of new solar electrical generation capacity — with 24 gigawatts of that capacity being added in June and July alone. By early August, China’s total solar electrical generating capacity had exceeded 112 gigawatts. Strong adds that have to be putting more than just a little bit of pressure on traditional and dirty generating sources like coal. Add in China’s more restrictive policies and the picture for coal in the country during 2017 doesn’t look very rosy.

Fossil Fuel Vehicle Ban

After imposing tougher restrictions on coal imports, China’s second major policy move involves a recent statement that it will declare a ban date for all fossil fuel based vehicles. During the weekend of September 10th, Xin Guobin, China’s industry and information technology vice minister, announced that China would set a deadline for car makers to stop selling vehicles that run exclusively on diesel and gasoline.

Though no deadline has presently been announced, the move has resulted in a big freak-out by majority fossil fuel vehicle producers like General Motors.

(National polices are aiding a rapid transition away from fossil fuel based vehicles. These actions are enabling the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement and providing hope for reducing the terrible impacts of human-forced climate change. See interactive graphic of above image here: Bloomberg.)

China’s announcement comes alongside similar moves by Britain, France, Norway, the Netherlands, and India. France and Britain both plan to ban fossil fuel based vehicle sales by 2040. Meanwhile, the Netherlands and India have announced their own plans to phase out carbon-emitting cars. And, according to Bloomberg, countries accounting for 80 percent of the global vehicle market are now undertaking polices pushing toward the phase out of petroleum vehicles and the adoption of electrical vehicles.

China’s 28 million per year automobile sales, however, is a huge addition. And if the country imposes a deadline, it will force major automakers to further accelerate electrical vehicle production plans or become basically irrelevant as the fossil fuel vehicle market disappears.

(Rapid transition away from fossil fuel vehicles means declining prospects for oil just as a rapid transition to wind, solar, and battery based storage means declining prospects for coal and gas. Do we really want to be putting economic eggs into shrinking fossil fuel baskets? Image source: IEA, Bloomberg.)

Ironically, China’s move appears to be mirroring similar policies already put in place by U.S. states like California and U.S. technology leaders like Tesla. Sophie Lu, a Beijing-based China researcher for Bloomberg New Energy finance recently noted that: “Chinese regulators see the success of Tesla and other Californian companies, and want to promote the same success amongst Chinese car manufacturers.”

The fact that the world is following in the footsteps of both California and Tesla should set off a loud ringing in the otherwise deaf to new energy ears of the present administration in Washington. More to the point, valid analysis shows that China is setting itself up to dominate the newer, cleaner, less harmful to climates, and more appealing energy and technology markets of the future. And a failure to successfully engage in what is an emerging global competition at the federal level sets the U.S. up for a serious future failure and ultimate energy market irrelevance.

Links:

China is Banning Traditional Auto Engines: It’s Aim — Electric Car Domination

China Port Halts Coal Imports

China Announces Intention to Ban Fossil Fuel Vehicles

Fears Raised as China Cuts Coal Imports

Electric Cars Reach Tipping Point

 

Hellish Intensification — Maria’s Winds Jump 50 mph to CAT 5 Strength in Just 12 Hours

A special statement from the National Hurricane Center reports that Maria has reached Category 5 intensity — with maximum sustained winds of 160 mph and a minimum central pressure of 924 mb. This is, perhaps, one of the most rapid intensifications the Atlantic basin has ever seen — with the storm seeing a 40 mb drop in pressure in approximately 6 hours and crossing the Category 4 threshold to Cat 5 intensity in even less time.

Maria is now a very dangerous hurricane — barreling into Dominica and the Leeward Islands before turning toward both the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico over the next 36 hours. It is also the second Category 5 storm to threaten the region in just two weeks time.

As of this morning, Maria was a strong Category 2 Hurricane featuring 110 mph maximum sustained winds. Forecasters noted a potential for rapid intensification as the storm began to move over warmer than normal surface waters in the range of 29 degrees Celsius (84 to 85 degrees F) and as the atmospheric conditions became more favorable for storm development.

By late morning, the storm had strengthened into a major hurricane with 120 mph maximum sustained winds. But Maria still had a few surprises in store. The storm swiftly developed a small, pinhole, eye. Such small eye structures enable storms to more rapidly wrap winds around a compact center. It’s the kind of structure that can result in very fast intensification.

After the pinhole eye structure formed, Maria jumped to category 4 strength with 130 mph winds by late afternoon. Then, by the 9 PM advisory from the National Hurricane Center, the storm made the considerable leap to Category 5 status with 160 mph maximum sustained winds.

The storm, at this time is now zeroing in on Dominica — which is presently seeing very rapidly deteriorating conditions.

Maria presently has a smaller hurricane force wind field than Irma — with hurricane strength winds only stretching about 15-20 miles from the storm’s center. Those winds, however, are very intense and capable of inflicting catastrophic damage. All within the path of this terrible storm should seek shelter in the strongest structures possible immediately and heed any warnings or advice from local disaster authorities.

Conditions in Context

Like Irma and Harvey, Maria is tapping warmer than normal sea surface temperatures which is helping it to reach a higher peak intensity. This year, thunderstorms in the Inter-Tropical-Convergence-Zone (ITCZ) have been unusually intense. Strong thunderstorms in this region are basically the seeds that can grow into powerful tropical cyclones. So the larger, more energetic, more moisture-rich, and more numerous these storms, the higher potential that a strong hurricane will ultimately form once such systems enter the Tropical Atlantic. Warmer ocean surface temperatures are a direct upshot of human-caused climate change and there is some evidence that climate change is also increasing the intensity of the world’s most powerful thunderstorms — particularly over the Equatorial regions.

In addition to these climate change related factors, La Nina-like conditions in the Equatorial Pacific are helping to reduce wind shear over the Tropical Atlantic. Reduced shear helps to allow the larger than normal storms emerging from Africa to tap the warmer than normal surface waters across the Atlantic. So in total, this is a pretty vicious combination of both natural and climate change related factors. A set that is enabling one of the worst hurricane seasons on record for the Atlantic.

(UPDATED: UPDATES TO FOLLOW)

RELATED STATEMENTS AND INFORMATION:

Links:

The National Hurricane Center

Hat tip to Bostonblorp

Major Hurricane Maria Could Hit 150 Mph+ Intensity as it Barrels Toward Puerto Rico

As of early afternoon on September 18, Hurricane Maria had reached major hurricane intensity of 125 mph maximum sustained winds and a 956 mb minimum central pressure. Moving west-northwest at 10 mph, the storm is tracking through already the hurricane-weary eastern Caribbean islands on a path toward a Puerto Rico still recovering from its close brush with Category 5 Hurricane Irma.

(National Hurricane Center’s [NHC] projected path and intensity for Maria shows a major hurricane threatening Puerto Rico over the next two days. Image source: NHC.)

Maria is expected to track over very warm Caribbean waters in the range of 84 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit (29+ C) as it enters a favorable atmospheric environment. And forecasters now call for Maria to rapidly intensify. Hurricane watches have already been issued for the American territory of Puerto Rico. And the present official Hurricane Center track and forecast intensity for Maria (see above image) shows a severe blow by a powerful category 4 storm striking somewhere along southeastern Puerto Rico early Wednesday with maximum sustained winds of 150 mph.

2017 Already a Season for the Record Books

It’s worth noting that some models presently show Maria tracking north of Puerto Rico. So the island could still avoid a direct hit. But the current official consensus is a rather grim forecast.

(IR satellite imagery of Maria shows an increasingly organized storm. Forecast points and sea surface temperatures included for reference. Image source: National Hurricane Center.)

Maria is the fourth major hurricane to form in the Atlantic during 2017 — which has been an exceptional season in many respects. This year saw the early formation of Arlene in April — only the second named storm recorded to have formed during that month. It saw the strongest hurricane ever to form outside of the Carribbean or Gulf of Mexico — Irma — which was also tied as the strongest land falling hurricane in the Atlantic. Both Category 4 Harvey and Irma struck the continental U.S. — the first time two Cat 4 storms have struck the states in a single month. And Harvey produced the heaviest recorded rainfall total from a tropical system at 51.88 inches. Overall damage estimates from the 2017 Atlantic hurricane season presently stand at 132 billion dollars — which makes this season the second costliest so far (behind 2005).

How Climate Change and Other Global Factors Contributed

With damages from Harvey and Irma still uncounted, with Maria barreling in, and with a week and a half left to September and all of October remaining, it’s likely that 2017 will see more to come. Though Irma and Jose have churned up cooler waters in their wakes, large sections of the Gulf, Caribbean, and North Atlantic remain considerably warmer than normal.

(Sea surface temperature anomaly map shows that much of the North Atlantic and Carribbean are between 0.5 and 2 C warmer than the already warmer than normal 30-year average. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

Meanwhile, a very vigorous Inter-Tropical-Convergence-Zone (ITCZ) is still producing powerful thunderstorms over Africa. And cool water upwelling in the Pacific has generated La Nina-like conditions that tend to cut down on Atlantic wind shear — allowing more storms to fully develop and tap those warmer than normal waters to reach higher maximum intensities. Some of these factors — particularly the warmer than normal surface waters and possibly the increased intensity of ITCZ thunderstorms are climate change related. So yes, statements from those like Dr. Michael Mann claiming that this season’s hurricanes were made worse by climate change are absolutely valid.

(UPDATES TO FOLLOW)

RELATED STATEMENTS AND INFORMATION:

Links:

National Hurricane Center

Earth Nullschool

Longest Global Coral Bleaching Event Officially at an End; But Severe Worldwide Risk to Corals Remains

In the Equatorial Pacific, the chances for an ocean-surface-cooling La Nina are on the rise (more on this later). But even with a cool pool of water upwelling in this key climate region, the risk to corals in a record-warm world remains high.

This risk comes despite the fact that by June of 2017, NOAA had officially declared an end to the longest global coral bleaching event on record. The event lasted from 2014 to 2017 and impacted multiple major coral reefs for 2-3 years in a row. According to NOAA, the event affected more reefs than any other previous global coral bleaching event. Meanwhile, some reefs that had never before seen significant bleaching — like northern sections of the Great Barrier Reef — saw severe damage.

(A portrait of the world’s worst global coral bleaching event shows that 70 percent of the world’s corals took a major hit. Image source: NOAA.)

In total, more than 70 percent of the worlds reefs experienced heat stress capable of producing bleaching. An extent never before attained. One that is difficult to imagine. The NOAA graphic above provides some context of the terrible expansiveness — with dark red areas representing widespread bleaching and significant coral mortality and light red regions representing significant coral bleaching over the totality of the 2014 to 2017 event.

To be very clear, the primary driver of this very widespread event was a human-forced warming of the world through fossil fuel burning. This driver has resulted in sea surfaces that are, in many regions, more than 1 degree Celsius above 19th Century temperature averages. Temperatures that are now enabled to spike to 3, 4, or even 5 C above average during variable warming events like the recent strong 2015-2016 El Nino. Temperatures that now never really back off to previous lows. A regime that provides little respite for corals.

For these heat-sensitive creatures, such systemically warming ocean temperatures represent a rising risk of mass mortality in the coming years. And over the next decade alone, global temperatures are expected to continue to increase by between 0.15 and 0.3 C above already harmful ranges.

(4-Month NOAA forecast shows that widespread risk for major coral mortality remains despite an end to El Nino conditions, increasingly likely La Nina conditions, and an official end to the 2014-2017 global coral bleaching event. Image source: NOAA.)

Even with the longest global coral bleaching event officially over and with a potential La Nina on the way, risk of widespread heat stress to corals remains. NOAA’s 4-month heat stress forecast shows a 60 percent that large areas of the Pacific, the Caribbean, and the tropical Atlantic will experience significant bleaching, widespread bleaching, and mass coral mortality (light and dark red areas).

These are severe impacts. Ones that should not be occurring as the Equatorial Pacific is going through a variable cool phase. Ones that have been set off by continued fossil fuel burning and the mass dumping of carbon into the atmosphere at the rate of around 11 billion tons per year annually which has pushed the world into an entirely new and already harmful temperature range.

Links:

NOAA Coral Reef Watch

NOAA ENSO

Major Greenhouse Gas Reductions Needed

Irma’s Projected Path Shifts West; Storm Expected to Restrengthen to Category 5

As of the 5 PM advisory from the National Hurricane Center (NHC), dangerous Hurricane Irma was packing 155 mph maximum sustained winds and tracking just north of due west off the Cuba coast.

The new advisory provides a couple of surprises. One, Irma’s path has shifted more to the west. As a result, the West Coast of Florida and western South Florida is under more of a threat from Irma. That said, the NHC has not backed off its storm surge forecast of 5-10 feet for places like Miami. So, so far, that vulnerable city is not out of the woods — particularly for southern sections of the city.

(Official track shifts west for Irma as the Hurricane Center now predicts the storm will restrengthen to category 5 intensity over the Florida Straits after raking the coast of Cuba. Image source: The National Hurricane Center.)

This is likely due to the fact that Irma has a very large circulation with tropical storm force winds extending outward up to 160 miles from its center and hurricane force winds extending up to 60 miles from the storm’s center. So a west coast landfall in South Florida has the potential to still bring hurricane conditions to places like Miami. That said, if the track continues to shift west, Miami may dodge a bullet as our concerns shift to places like Fort Myers and possibly Tampa.

The NHC’s full statement on present storm surge potential is as follows:

SW Florida from Captiva to Cape Sable…8 to 12 ft
Cape Sable to Boca Raton including the Florida Key…5 to 10 ft
Venice to Captiva…5 to 8 ft
Anclote River to Venice including Tampa Bay…3 to 5 ft
Boca Raton to Flagler/Volusia County line…3 to 6 ft

So basically all of South Florida from Cape Coral to Boca Raton is looking at a 5-12 foot storm surge according to the present NHC forecast. That includes Miami, Ft Lauderdale, the Keys, and the Fort Myers area.

(The NHC’s 5 PM storm surge inundation map shows the potential for significant flooding from South Miami to the Cape Coral area and on out to the Florida Keys. For reference, blue regions are expected to see more than one foot of water above ground, yellow more than three feet, orange more than six feet, and red more than nine feet.)

The second surprise in the recent official forecast is that the NHC now briefly expects Irma to regain category 5 status as it crosses the Florida Straits. Projected 36 hour intensity from NHC is for a storm packing 160 mph winds at that time. This increase in strength now jibes with a number of model forecasts that show Irma tapping much warmer than normal Gulf Stream waters just prior to striking Florida.

It’s worth noting that intensity forecasts are sometimes tough to nail down and the NHC is quick to caution that fluctuations in storm strength are likely. In any case, this is a very dangerous storm that bears watching.

(UPDATES TO FOLLOW)

 

Powerful Irma Threatens to Put South Florida Underwater, Spill Lake Okeechobee

Near category five strength Irma represents a major flood threat from storm surge and rainfall to South Florida. Due to its large size, strong winds, its movement toward shore atop rising seas, and ability to push a tall and wide-ranging surge of water over far-flung coastlines, Irma has the potential to put major cities like Miami under water. In addition, expected 10-15 inch rainfall over Lake Okeechobee threatens the integrity of an aging dike which, if overtopped, could result in severe flooding of inland communities.

*****

As of the 5 PM advisory from the National Hurricane Center, Irma was a top-strength category 4 hurricane packing 155 mile per hour maximum sustained winds and a minimum central pressure of 925 mb. The storm is presently tracking just north of Cuba along a westerly or west-northwest path. It is expected to turn north by Saturday, ultimately making landfall somewhere in South Florida.

Like Harvey, Irma is very moisture rich. Like Harvey, Irma is set to interact with a deep trough dipping down over the Eastern U.S. Like Harvey, Irma is tapping warmer than normal surface waters off Florida which is helping the storm to maintain a high intensity. And like Harvey we can confidently say that the record-breaking and long-lasting high intensity of Irma has been fueled by human-forced climate change — with some weather models indicating a risk that Irma could restrengthen on approach to Florida as it crosses over the 3.5 degree F warmer than normal waters of the Gulf Stream.

Unlike Harvey, Irma is expected to continue moving after making landfall. And this movement will prevent the kind of prolonged event that occurred during Harvey — with a tropical system raining out over the same region for days and days on end. That said, Irma’s extremely strong winds presently at 155 mph and what is likely to be a very powerful storm surge pose a threat to most locations along the Florida Peninsula — especially South Florida. As with other recent hurricanes like Sandy and Matthew, Irma presents an even greater threat from storm surge flooding due to higher overall ocean levels as a result of melting glaciers in places like Antarctica and Greenland. So Irma’s massive predicted surge is running in on a higher ramp than that of decades past.

(The NAM 3 kilometer model shows a very intense 896 mb storm off South Florida by 10 PM Saturday. This model forecast shows Irma strengthening to a very extreme Category 5 storm over the much warmer than normal waters of the Gulf Stream. Official forecasts from the National Hurricane Center still call for a weaker, but still strong and dangerous, Category 4 or 5 system threatening South Florida at about this time. Image source: Tropical Tidbits.)

According to the National Hurricane Center, preliminary expected storm surges range from 8-12 feet for SW Florida from Captiva to Cape Sable, 5-10 ft from Cape Sable to Boca Rato including the Florida Keys, 5-8 ft from Venice to Captiva, 3 to 6 ft from Boca Raton to the Velusia County line, and 3 to 5 ft from Anclote River to Tampa (note that both Florida coasts expect moderate to severe storm surges and that these totals are increased and expanded from the 2 PM NHC advisory).

To put these numbers in perspective, pretty much all of South Florida, including most of the city of Miami is below 10 feet above sea level. A 10 foot storm surge with breaking, wind-driven waves on top, would therefore have catastrophic impacts for this region (see graphic below). As Irma approaches, these already significant storm surge projections may rise further even as impacts from storm surge are likely to expand up the coast.

(A ten foot rise in base sea levels as could occur during Irma’s storm surge would put most of South Florida under water. Storm surge projections for this region are presently 8-12 feet and 5-10 feet. Note that storm surge impact can vary widely based on location and that changes in Irma’s projected path is likely to alter its storm surge related impacts. Image source: Climate Central.)

Though Irma has been compared with Andrew, we must note that Irma is a significantly larger storm — dwarfing the tiny but intense Andrew. As a result, Irma has the ability to deliver a lot more in the way of a powerful surge of water to both Florida coasts. And where Andrew’s damages were primarily due to extremely high winds, Irma’s damages are likely to come from both wind and water — with the potential for very severe storm surge and flood-based destruction.

In addition to the problem of Irma’s likely large and wide-ranging surge, a second issue is the fact that there’s some concern that an aging dike holding water back from communities near Lake Okeechobee might not withstand projected rainfall totals from Irma of 10-15 inches. Though not Harvey-level rainfall amounts, these rains would come in very intense bands over the course of perhaps one day. Such heavy rainfall could cause the lake to over-top the dike — resulting in severe flooding for downstream communities.

 

(Irma’s heaviest rains are expected to fall over Lake Okeechobee — adding to an already significant flood risk to South Florida. Image source: NOAA.)

The seventy year old dike is presently vulnerable not just due to its age, but also due to the fact that a construction project aimed as shoring up the dike is underway. This rebuild in progress makes the dike even more vulnerable to heavy rains and to large waves that would be stirred up on the lake by hurricane force winds. The Army Corps of Engineers has reassured the public that a dike breach is unlikely — as its most vulnerable section in the southeast has already been strengthened. Concern remains, however, that flooding from the dike could combine with a backing up of canals due to storm surge to swamp communities far inland from the coast.

(UPDATED — UPDATES TO FOLLOW)

RELATED STATEMENTS AND INFORMATION:

A Visibly Extreme Jet Stream in Advance of Irma

On Tuesday, I wrote this blog about how Jet Stream behavior and related severe weather during summer of 2017 jibed with the findings of recent climate science. About how human-forced polar warming appears to be impacting extreme summer weather patterns by altering the upper level winds — with a particular focus on impacts to North America.

Yesterday, I looked at the upper level wind patterns running over North America in advance of Irma’s approach and saw this:

(Classic ridge-trough pattern like that identified by Dr Jennifer Francis and Dr Michael Mann. One that, according to their related research, increases the likelihood of certain kinds of extreme weather patterns and events. One that these scientists associate with polar warming set off by human-caused climate change. Image capture from 1500 UTC on September 6. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

It’s a classic high amplitude wave form in the Jet Stream. One that shows an extremely deep trough digging all the way down to the Gulf Coast in the east and arching back up into a pointed ridge north of Alaska and into the Arctic Ocean in the west. This kind of high amplitude wave pattern is not typical. Or if such a pattern did appear in the past, it tended not to stick around for so long. But during this summer, such intense high amplitude ridges have been forming again and again over the west and such deep troughs have been forming again and again in the east.

New Precipitation and Temperature Extremes

The most apparent visible effect of this ridge-west — trough-east pattern has been to produce record heat, drought, and wildfires in the west and record rainfall in conjunction with an extremely stormy weather pattern in the south and east. You can plainly see this dipolar relationship in the precipitation and temperature anomaly maps provided by NOAA below:

These maps cover precipitation and temperature observations for the last 30 days compared to climatological averages. In the west we find that precipitation for large regions has been less than 10 percent of normal (less than 1/10th normal). Meanwhile temperatures in the west have ranged between 1 and 4 C above average. In the south and east, large regions have seen between 200 and 800 percent of typical precipitation amounts (2 to 8 times the norm). Temperatures, meanwhile have ranged between 1 and 3 C below average.

This is the very definition of heightened extremes. Looking at the prevalent upper level air pattern over the U.S. for the summer of 2017, it’s clear that south to north upper level winds pulling air up from the Equatorial zone toward the pole are facilitating one side of the extreme and that a countervailing upper level wind originating near the pole and running south toward the tropics is driving the opposite extreme.

Slowing Upper Level Winds in a North-South Orientation Weakens the Steering Currents

Unfortunately, prevalent and long lasting heat or heavy rainfall isn’t the only apparent impact of this new pattern. Another aspect of this extreme dipole is a weakening of the west to east steering currents that typically begin to pick up in a region between 25 and 30 degrees North Latitude and to intensify further beyond the 30 N line. This effect is due to the fact that upper level wind patterns are oriented more in a north-south (west) or south-north (east) direction and due to the fact that under such large Jet Stream meanders the upper level steering winds tend to slow down.

(It’s not just Harvey and Irma. Weak upper level steering currents are contributing to a long range potential that Jose might loop back to strike South Florida.)

For Hurricanes like Harvey and Irma, stronger west to east steering winds have had two protective effects for the United States. First, they have helped storms to keep moving — working to generally prevent the kind of long duration stall we saw that helped to produce such catastrophic flooding during Harvey. Second, they have tended to deflect storms away from the U.S. East Coast. And for Irma, what this means is that this storm is more likely to strike the U.S. East Coast if the upper level steering winds that would typically turn it to the east are weak.

This is a dynamic upstream aspect of human-forced polar warming. One that produces added extreme weather risks on top of those already generated by warming ocean waters — which increase peak potential storm intensity — and rising atmospheric water vapor — which helps to add latent heat, lift and related convective available potential energy that increases top limits for storm intensity and heavy rainfall.

And as we sit here hoping and praying that Irma will re-curve away from the U.S. east coast, we should consider how polar warming may be helping to make such a terrible strike more likely — increasing risks to so many people and to so much that we all hold dear.

RELATED STATEMENTS AND INFORMATION:

Links:

Dr Jennifer Francis

GFS Model Runs illustrated by Earth Nullschool

Extreme Weather Events Linked to Climate Change’s Impact on Jet Stream

This is the Pattern Climate Scientists Warned us About

NOAA

Hat tip to Scott

Hat tip to Wharf Rat

Models Show Irma Tracking Toward 88 Degree (F) Waters Before Setting Sights on Florida, Georgia and South Carolina

As of yesterday and today, Irma was the strongest storm ever to form in the Central Atlantic. Fueled by record atmospheric and ocean heat and related high atmospheric moisture content, the storm plowed into the Leeward Islands of Barbuda, St. Martin and Anguilla as a top-strength Category 5 monster hurricane.

(Alex Woolfall takes shelter in a concrete stairwell in St. Martin to avoid Irma’s catastrophic winds. It’s worth noting that hurricanes are heat engines. Tapping 87 F sea surface temperatures and producing 100 percent humidity would result in the very hot conditions Alex was experiencing 7 hours ago. We’re all pulling for Alex and those like him who were trapped in the belly of this massive beast. His last report was at 5:45 AM.)

As Irma’s eyewall began to pass over Barbuda, a reporting station recorded a wind gust of 155 mph before it was knocked out. That island of 1,800 people is now completely cut off from the outside world. Having just experienced winds in excess of those hosted by Andrew and Camille, it is likely that catastrophic damage was inflicted.

On St. Martin, which also passed through Irma’s eye and most intense wind bands, initial reports are also showing very considerable damage. Four of the strongest buildings on the island have been destroyed. And it is expected that most structures across this French/Dutch shared island which is home to 75,000 have seen moderate to catastrophic damage.

(Footage this morning, apparently taken from a camera near the airport at Simpson Bay in St. Martin shows debris, flooding, and very strong winds.)

Anguilla, which is north of St. Martin and is home to another 15,000 souls, passed through the northern eye wall. This is typically the most intense part of a hurricane. So far, reports from Anguila are spotty. But the damage there is likewise expected to be catastrophic.

As of the 5 PM advisory, according to the National Hurricane Center, Irma is still a devastatingly powerful Category 5 monster hurricane hosting maximum sustained winds of 185 mph. The storm had seen some weakening due to apparent eyewall replacement and mild wind sheer — which pushed pressures back up to 920 mb from a low of 914 mb last night earlier today. However, this weakening was not significant enough to impact Irma’s amazing wind intensity. Since that time, Irma’s central dense overcast has thickened while pressures have dropped back down to 914 mb as of the 5 PM advisory.

(Irma tracking just slightly north of the officially projected path from the NHC as of early afternoon on Wednesday. Image source: The National Hurricane Center.)

As the storm passes toward the Virgin Islands, roars by Puerto Rico, and howls into the Turks, Caicos and Bahamas, it is likely that some weakening will occur. Despite this fact, the storm is expected to maintain Category 5 intensity through at least the next 48 hours. After 72 hours, the official forecast calls for Irma to drop to strong Category 4 intensity and eventually a strong Category 3 by Monday. However, some models like the GFS show Irma again strengthening as it taps very warm waters off Florida.

(Very hot sea surface temperatures off Florida could provide fuel that allows Irma to strengthen a second time as predicted in forecast models like the GFS. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

Most models are now starting to settle on a consensus that brings Irma toward Florida and along a course that may threaten Georgia and South Carolina. The GFS model shows Irma tapping extremely hot sea surface temperatures in the range of 88 degrees Fahrenheit (about 3.5 F hotter than average) and pumping up again into very strong Category 5 intensity with an 895 mb minimum central pressure off Florida by Sunday. This would be a stronger intensity than the 914 mb reached last night by measure of pressure alone.

(The GFS, ECMWF and other major models are starting to agree on a consensus track which has Irma raking the Florida coast before threatening Georgia and the Carolinas. Image source: The National Hurricane Center.)

GFS shows the storm raking most of the Florida coast as it bounces from one landfall or near landfall to another across the eastern seaboard before making a final landfall as a 924 mb monster along the Georgia-South Carolina border. Meanwhile, another major model — the Euro (ECMWF) — has the storm following approximately the same path at a lower intensity.

Though the GFS modeled intensity does not jibe with the official forecast — which calls for weakening of Irma to strong Cat 4 and then strong Cat 3 status — we should not completely rule out the GFS prediction due to those very warm ocean surfaces mentioned above. If predicted wind shear does not emerge, then it would allow Irma to more effectively tap those very warm waters off Florida and hit a second peak intensity. And if such a forecast were realized, it would produce a seriously catastrophic disaster for the U.S. East Coast.

(Models are starting to come into consensus on Irma’s track — which is zeroing in on it raking the Florida coast and then slamming into Georgia or South Carolina — but forecast intensity varies widely. GFS shows Irma off Florida at an intensity stronger than her present extreme strength by Sunday. Image source: Tropical Tidbits.)

Of course, the official forecast track and intensity — in which a strong Category 4 storm rakes coastal Florida and then tracks up into Georgia or South Carolina to make final landfall as a strong Cat 3 is bad enough. So in this case, we are looking a present forecast scenarios in which models are starting to come into consensus on track that range from bad (official Cat 4 and then Cat 3 intensity storm impacting Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas) to worse (GFS potential for a very strong cat 5 storm threatening the U.S. Southeast Coast).

(UPDATED — UPDATES TO FOLLOW)

STATEMENTS AND RELATED INFORMATION:

Links:

The National Hurricane Center

Earth Nullschool

Tropical Tidbits

Strongest Central Atlantic Hurricane on Record — Dangerous 185 MPH Irma Defies Intensity Projections

As of the 8 PM advisory from the National Hurricane Center (NHC), Hurricane Irma was located 85 miles east of Antigua moving west at 15 mph. The storm hosted maximum sustained winds of 185 mph and a minimum central pressure of 916 mb.

This is an intensity considerably stronger than that previously projected or even expected as an outlier possibility for today. One that has heightened concern over an already powerful storm. A storm that is drawing extra energy from an atmosphere and ocean warmed by climate change.

Though moving west at this time, Irma is expected to turn toward the west-northwest. On its present and predicted path, the NHC expects severe hurricane conditions including hurricane force winds, very tall and destructive breaking waves, and life-threatening 7-11 foot storm surges to start impacting the extreme northern Leeward Islands by late Tuesday afternoon and early evening.

A Worrisome Set of Forecasts 

The storm is expected to continue on a west and then west-northwest track bringing it close to Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic and over the Turks and Caicos and southeastern Bahamas by Thursday. After which time, the storm is expected to skirt the northern coast of Cuba before turning toward the Florida Keys on Saturday.

(National Hurricane Center’s official path brings Irma to the Florida Keys by Sunday. Image source: NHC.)

The current official National Hurricane Center forecast has the storm maintaining major hurricane status all along its projected path. Category 5 intensity is expected to be maintained for much of the next three days after which time the NHC projects Irma to weaken a bit — remaining in the very dangerous, strong category 4, range.

Meanwhile, various models, including GFS and SHIPS produce a very severe Category 5 storm featuring intensities from 895 to 910 mb in the vicinity of U.S. southeast by Saturday through Monday. This storm is, therefore, very dangerous and is likely to stay that way for some time — barring a close interaction with the mountains of Puerto Rico or Hispaniola or a prolonged landfall over Cuba.

(The present GFS model run shows a nightmare scenario for the Carolinas with an 890 mb hurricane on approach by Monday. It’s worth noting that the official NHC projected track is more to the south with a weaker — but still very dangerous — category 4 storm in the region of Florida by late Saturday. Image source: Tropical Tidbits.)

Strongest Central Atlantic Storm on Record

The storm’s present intensity is now among the strongest storms ever to form in the Atlantic, Gulf or Caribbean. An earlier report from Weather Underground found that Irma, at 180 mph maximum sustained winds, was already the 5th strongest Atlantic storm as measured by wind speed. Irma has since strengthened to 185 mph —  tying it with Wilma, Gilbert and the Labor Day Hurricane as second strongest Atlantic storm as measured by maximum winds. The strongest was Allen at 190 mph.

It’s worth noting that the Carribean and Gulf of Mexico are included in Atlantic hurricane listings. However, most of the top intensity storms have formed in these typically warmer seas. Irma, on the other hand, has reached such extreme strength over the typically cooler waters of the Central Tropical Atlantic. Though these waters, as with everything else that has been altered by human-caused climate change, are today warmer than they were in the past. As a result, the storm is now the strongest hurricane ever to form in that open water region.

NHC official forecast projections keep the storm quite strong as it moves into the warmer Carribean, though eventually weakening to CAT 4, as it moves west. Meanwhile, some models (GFS and SHIPS) show potential for an even more intense storm as Irma approaches Florida, the Gulf or the SE U.S. (strong CAT 5 that may dip into the 890 mb range).

Evacuation Orders Posted as Storm Defies Intensity Models

Officials appear to be very worried. Already evacuation orders and closings have been listed for Florida as interests across the Southeast take notice. This caution is wise. Irma has the potential to produce worse impacts than Harvey. So all interests should remain vigilant.

Irma is presently exceeding both its predicted and its top predicted storm intensities — defying traditional storm prediction models like SHIPS. This is another concerning development for a powerful storm in a warming climate. That said, if the storm tracks further west (and some models show the storm tilting in this direction), interaction with large Caribbean islands will tend to reduce the storm’s intensity as it approaches the U.S.

This storm appears to be very efficiently tapping warmer than normal sea surfaces and a moister than normal atmosphere in order to spike its peak intensity. Two conditions set in play by human-caused climate change that are now helping to make storms like Irma both more intense and more dangerous. And it’s a condition that we need to take into account as we follow the track of Irma toward U.S. shores.

(UPDATED — UPDATES TO FOLLOW)

RELATED STATEMENTS AND INFORMATION:

Links:

National Hurricane Center

Tropical Tidbits

Irma — 5th Strongest Atlantic Hurricane on Record

Hat tip to eleggua

Hat tip to wili

U.S. Electrical Vehicle Sales Growth Continues Ahead of Model 3 Tsunami

During August of 2017, U.S. electrical vehicle sales continued to increase at a respectable pace year-on-year.

According to Inside EVs, total sales for electric-powered cars in the U.S. totaled 16,624 during August. This represents another record — growing by 2,032 or 12.2 percent above 2016’s previous record August total of 14,592.

The Tesla Model S and Chevy Bolt EV held the first and second rank among individual model sales by sending 2150 and 2107 vehicles out to new owners respectively. The 238 mile range Bolt priced at $36,000 before incentives continued to show strong sales growth as Chevy accelerated expanding offerings to new states across the U.S. Model S sales, while holding top position, were down year-on-year — likely in part due to anticipation of the Model 3 ramp-up.

(Elon Musk recently reassured investors that the Model 3 will achieve its 10,000 per week production target in 2018. Image source: EV Network.)

Inside EVs estimates that 75 of the game-changing Model 3 — with best in class features, a 220 to 310 mile range, and a 126 MPGe fuel efficiency rating — were produced and sent to customers during August. If this number is correct, it would signify a somewhat slower ramp than the expected 100 sales for the month. However, this report is preliminary and may be subject to revision. And there have been more than one or two hints circulating around the web that Tesla is actually ahead of its production goals — hitting 200 vehicles by end August (see tweet below).

Presently ranked 30th on the EV sales chart for all of 2017, the Model 3 (with its approximate half-million reservations) is likely to climb into the top 20 by end September. At that point, Tesla expects about 1,500 Model 3s to be produced monthly. By October, monthly sales of the Model 3 may eclipse all other U.S. EVs as production exceeds 5,000.

At this point, the Model 3 will likely start having a noticeable influence on overall U.S. EV sales — with that impact further dilating during November and December. And if Tesla meets its December sales goal of 20,000 units for the Model 3, then the U.S. overall may see December 2017 total EV sales from all models nearly double December 2016 numbers (of nearly 25,000 units).  Meanwhile, through 2018, the Model 3 could help to drive total U.S. EV sales to around half a million or more.

In other words, the U.S. EV market is about to be hit by a tidal wave of very high quality and relatively low cost Model 3s — with profound and long-lasting results. This is good news for renewable energy and climate change response advocates. For such a large wave of electrical vehicles coming to market provides considerable opportunity for reduced carbon emissions from both vehicle based fossil fuel burning and from the ancillary electrical power market where batteries used for EVs can also replace base load coal and gas fired power stations with energy storage linked to wind and solar.

Links:

Monthly Plug-in Sales Scorecard

Plug In Electric Car Sales for August

Tesla Model 3 Production

Tesla Model 3 Information

This is the Climate Pattern Scientists Warned Us About — Wildfires Approach 8 Million Acres in U.S. During Summer of Extreme Western Heat, Severe Eastern Storms

“If the same weather persists for weeks on end in one region, then sunny days can turn into a serious heat wave and drought, and lasting rains can lead to flooding.” — Dr. Stefan Rahmstorf.

“The warming of the Arctic, the polar amplification of warming, plays a key role here. The surface and lower atmosphere are warming more in the Arctic than anywhere else on the globe. That pattern projects onto the very temperature gradient profile that we identify as supporting atmospheric waveguide conditions.”Dr. Michael Mann.

******

To say that, for the U.S., it’s been hot out west and stormy in the east this summer is a bit of an understatement. For while the east has seen numerous storms producing local-to-national record rainfall amounts, the west has been baking under heatwaves that appear to have set off one of the worst years for wildfires nationally on record. This is an extreme summer weather pattern that recent scientific studies have linked to human-caused climate change.

(Severe western wildfires blanket northern U.S. under a massive plume of smoke. Image source: NASA Worldview.)

Last week, extreme heat baked the U.S. west coast. On Friday, San Francisco hit a record high of 106 degrees (F), striking up to 102 (F) on Saturday. Regions further inland near Eureka hit a Death Valley-like 115 F.  36 million Californians fell under a heat advisory as excessive heat warnings ranged on up the west coast through Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia.

The heat wave — which was just the most recent of many for the region this year — baked hills and valleys covered with new vegetation springing up after unusually heavy winter rains. Setting off a spree of wildfires that has seen very severe burn rates throughout summer.

Los Angeles County in Burbank experienced its largest fire on record Saturday as a massive blaze swept through the hills — igniting 7,000 acres before being tamped down by the oddly northward tracking remnants of a tropical storm drifting through the region on Sunday.

The fire spurred the response of 1,000 firefighters, forced 700 people to evacuate, closed route 210 for a time and consumed three homes. Assisted by the rains and moisture flowing off the remnants of Lidia, firefighters have now managed to contain 30 percent of this particular blaze. But with many more fires continuing to burn throughout the west, the region is far from out of the proverbial woods.

According to the National Interagency Fire Center, 70 large fires continue to burn in the western states of Montana, California, Oregon, and Washington. The vast majority of these fires remain uncontained. And at least two exceed 100,000 acres in size. Smoke from these fires has been cycling into the upper level winds for some time now — with most of the northern U.S. falling under a high altitude smoke plume (see top image above).

In total, more than 7,800,000 acres have burned so far in the U.S. this year. This represents the second worst fire year on record so far compared to the last ten years and may ultimately beat out 2006 as the second worst fire year ever recorded. By end 2006, 9 million total acres had burned. During the worst fire year for the U.S. — 2015 — 11 million acres burned in total. By this time during 2015, nearly 9 million acres had been consumed compared to 2017’s present total near 8 million acres.

These fires are occurring primarily in the west where a persistent high amplitude ridge in the Jet Stream has formed. This ridge keeps enabling heatwaves to bake the region and spike fire dangers. And it’s a weather feature that some scientists are saying is linked to human-caused climate change — which is causing the Arctic to warm, while pulling meridional south-to-north upper level winds into the polar zone and producing a wavier jet stream during extreme weather patterns.

(A study produced by a team of scientists including Dr. Michael Mann in March linked extreme summer weather patterns to polar warming and a wavier jet stream.)

The net effect is to create a kind of Halo of Storms and Heatwaves over the middle and upper latitude regions of the world. Earlier this year, The Scientific American noted:

What we think happens is that when there is a ridge forming in a location where Arctic warming can intensify it, that makes the ridge strong and builds it even farther northward. It creates an even bigger wave in the jet stream. You get a stronger ridge over western North America and a stronger southward dip that is farther toward eastern North America.

A subsequent scientific study lead by Dr. Michael Mann and presented in March of this year found that:

… analysis of both historical model simulations and observational surface temperature data, strongly suggests that anthropogenic warming is impacting the zonal mean temperature profile in a manner conducive to wave resonance and a consequent increase in persistent weather extremes in the boreal summer.

And this is exactly what we’ve seen over the U.S. this summer. A stronger than normal ridge in the west fueling record heatwaves and wildfires and a stronger than normal trough in the east fueling more extreme storms. This is a pattern of juxtapposed extremes. One that appears to be fueled by climate change related factors.

Links:

NASA Worldview

National Interagency Fire Center

Largest Wildfire in Los Angeles History Burns Amid Record-Setting Heat

The Arctic is Getting Crazy

Extreme Weather Events Linked to Climate Change’s Influence on the Jet Stream

A Halo of Storms and Heatwaves

878 mb Storm Off North Florida — The Model Forecast for Irma that no one Wants to See Happen

As the United States struggles to recover from severe damage inflicted by one hurricane made far worse by climate change, another powerful storm is brewing over the hotter than normal waters of the tropical North Atlantic.

As of the 5 PM Atlantic Standard Time statement from the National Hurricane Center, Irma was positioned about 1,100 miles east of the Leeward Islands in the central tropical Atlantic. The storm hosted a small circulation, packing 110 mph winds and a minimum central pressure of 973 mb. Over the next few days, according to the Hurricane Center, Irma is presently expected to reach major hurricane status with 130 mph maximum sustained winds.

(Category 2 Irma in the Central Atlantic seems relatively innocuous. But NHC guidance indicates the potential for Irma to develop into a major hurricane over the next five days. Some of the longer range models, however, are producing some rather worrying forecasts. Image source: National Hurricane Center.)

The Hurricane Center is clear to note that it uncertain at this time if Irma will ultimately threaten the Bahamas or the mainland U.S. But the Center cautions that all interests remain watchful and prepared as the storm could pose a risk over the coming days:

It is much too early to determine what direct impacts Irma will have on the Bahamas and the continental United States. Regardless, everyone in hurricane-prone areas should ensure that they have their hurricane plan in place, as we are now near the peak of the season.

Looking beyond the official forecast, some of the our best long range model runs are putting together some seriously scary predictions for Irma. By next week, the Global Forecast System (GFS) model shows Irma as a 878 mb monster hurricane looming about 300 miles off Florida. 878 mb would represent the lowest pressures ever recorded in a hurricane in the Atlantic (The present strongest Atlantic storm was Wilma at 882 mb. The devastating Labor Day Hurricane hit 892 mb.). And it would almost certainly represent the strongest storm in our records ever to venture so far North. 878 mb roughly corresponds with maximum sustained winds in excess of 170 mph and possibly as high as 200 mph or more. And we’ve never seen something like that threatening the Central Atlantic U.S. East Coast in all of the modern era.

(A storm stronger than Wilma and approaching Tip’s record 870 mb intensity off North Florida and not in the Caribbean? GFS says it’s possible. Let’s hope for the sake of much that is precious and dear to us that this model forecast does not emerge. Image source: Tropical Tidbits.)

The model then slams the storm into Cape Hatteras just after midnight on Monday, September 11 as only a slightly weaker Category 5 range storm at 910 mb. The storm proceeds north into the Hampton Roads area early Monday morning retaining approximate Cat 5 status at 919 mb. After roaring over this highly populated low-lying region, the storm enters the Chesapeake Bay at 934 mb by noon on Monday — in the Category 4 range and still stronger than Hurricane Sandy — before crossing up the Bay and over the D.C. region by evening the same day at 958 mb (approx Cat 3).

To say this would be an absolute worst case disaster scenario for the Mid-Atlantic is an understatement. A storm of this intensity would produce 10-20 foot or higher storm surges, devastating winds, and catastrophic rainfall throughout the Outer Banks, Hampton Roads and on up the Chesapeake Bay. But unlike Harvey, it would be a fast-moving event. More like a freight train than a persistently worsening deluge.

This long range model scenario is not, however, an official forecast. It’s just what the GFS atmospheric computer models are presently spitting out. And such long range predictions from a single model, no matter how reliable, should be taken with at least a pinch of salt. That said, we should certainly, as the NHC recommends, keep our eyes on Irma and keep our response plans ready.

(Sea surface temperatures in the North Atlantic off the Southeast Coast are between 1 and 1.8 C above average. Atmospheric moisture levels are quite high as is instability. So as with Harvey, we have quite a lot more fuel than normal available for a hurricane to feed on. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

We should also note the context in which this present extreme potential emerges. Ocean surfaces in the North Atlantic off Florida are very warm with temperatures around 30.5 degrees Celsius (87 F) near the Bahamas. This is about 1.8 degrees Celsius above the already warmer than normal climatological average. Atmospheric moisture and instability in this region of the North Atlantic are also quite high. These two conditions provide fuel for hurricanes that do enter this region. They are conditions that are linked, at least in part, to human-caused climate change. And they are similar to the conditions that amplified Harvey’s intensity just prior to landfall.

So though the GFS forecast described above is far from certain, we should absolutely listen to the NHC’s urging for us to pay attention to what could be another dangerous developing storm. One that appears to at least be physically capable of defying previous weather and climate expectations. Let’s just hope it doesn’t.

Links:

The National Hurricane Center

Earth Nullschool

Tropical Tidbits

List of Most Intense Tropical Cyclones

Major Environmental Groups Aim for 100 Percent Renewable Energy; Nature Study Shows Solar Alone is on Track Toward 50 Percent

Here we explore how models have consistently underestimated PV deployment and identify the reasons for underlying bias in models… We propose that with coordinated advances in multiple components of the energy system, PV could supply 30–50% of electricity in competitive markets.Nature

It’s the call for the rapid conversion of energy systems around the country to 100% renewable power — a call for running the United States (and the world) on sun, wind and water. What Medicare for All is to the healthcare debate, or Fight for $15 is to the battle against inequality, 100% Renewable is to the struggle for the planet’s future. — Bill McKibben

*****

Let’s be very clear. The big first step in saving cities like Houston and regions like South Asia from this global warming nightmare we’re creating is to replace the chief cause of the problem with something else. And when the central driver of global warming is fossil fuel burning, then you can’t solve that problem by continuing to dig up fossil carbon and combust it. Full stop.

(The world is heating up, primarily due to fossil fuel burning. Rapidly replacing those fuels with renewables is crucial going forward. Image source: NASA.)

That’s why visionaries like Bill McKibben and agencies like 350.org and the Sierra Club are now engaged in a campaign to promote 100 percent renewable energy policies at every level of government. Under such policies, an increasing number of these governments and institutions commit to using only renewable energy. And they do so within a prescribed timeframe.

It’s a policy aimed at solving the climate crisis while saving the stakeholders themselves. At not continuing along a path toward worse disasters than Harvey and ultimately lethal climates like those of the Permian. At not putting stakeholder cities, states and industries at ever increasing risk. Ultimately, it’s aimed at combating the central cause of global warming — fossil fuels — by leveraging the superior economics of wind and solar to crowd them out. A goal that’s enabled by the fundamental economic superiority of renewables. And the timing couldn’t be better.

For renewable energy, in the form of wind and solar, is now less expensive in most applications than gas and coal. And the price is continuing to drop. This means that the economic argument for fossil fuels has fewer and fewer legs to stand on. Arguments attacking renewables increasingly rely on either baseless and false inflations of environmental damage, or on a downplaying of renewable energy’s economic strength and potential future capacity — attempting to divide and conquer environmentalists by creating inaccurate impressions or to tamp down enthusiasm among renewable energy supporters. Such anti-factual messaging, however, reveals the present economic, political and social vulnerabilities of fossil fuel interests as they are forced more and more to rely on outright deception.

Now, as with climate change, the fossil fuel special interests are facing off against a rising tide of scientific evidence. This time, the science isn’t just revealing the causes of environmental harm in the form of fossil fuel burning — it is showing why renewable energy’s growth rate will be faster and more transformative than expected.

(Environmental organizations like Greenpeace have provided the most optimistic and accurate assessments of solar growth rates — flummoxing most energy industry experts. Image source: Nature.)

A new study in Nature this week found that solar energy alone would represent up to 50 percent of global electricity generation capacity by 2050 on the basis of its economic strength alone. Solar benefits from a simplicity of design, use of common materials, easy scalability, a proven track record of increasing efficiency over time, and the ability to easily loop in technological design breakthroughs. These advantages have allowed solar to reduce its price by 22 percent for each doubling of installed capacity.

Wind benefits from similar economies of scale. And a new study out from the National Renewable Energy Lab found that the price of wind would fall by another 50 percent through 2030. Estimates that are up from 30 percent even earlier this year. A pretty amazing ability considering the fact that wind is already the lowest cost energy source in many applications.

This economic strength really gives environmental advocacy groups an effective tool for achieving goals going forward. Now, a zero emitting technology that produces orders of magnitude less harm than present energy systems is within reach. Now cities, states and nations can change the world for the better. And now they can do it on the cheap. But not only does this thrust jibe with traditional environmental goals — it appeals to the 72 percent of republicans who support renewable energy, regardless of their views on climate change. In this way, the 100 percent renewable campaign is one that appeals to all Americans and can therefore gain ground in pretty much every state and region.

RELATED STATEMENTS AND INFORMATION:

Links:

The Underestimated Potential of Solar Energy to Mitigate Climate Change

Wind Power Costs Could Drop 50 Percent. Solar PV Could Provide up to 50 Percent Global Power. Damn.

Innovation Can Reduce Wind Energy Costs by Another 50 Percent Through 2030

Bill McKibben Kicks Off Keep it 100 Campaign

 

Half a World Away From Harvey, Global Warming Fueled Deluges Now Impact 42 Million People

Rising sea surface temperatures in South Asia led to more moisture in the atmosphere, providing this year’s monsoon with its ammunition for torrential rainfall. — The Pacific Standard

While flooding is common in the region, climate change has spurred dramatic weather patterns, greatly exacerbating the damage. As sea temperatures warm, moisture increases, a dynamic also at play in the record-setting rainfall in Texas. — Think Progress

******

With Harvey delivering its own hammer blow of worst-ever-seen rainfall to Texas, 42 million people are now impacted by record flooding half a world away. The one thing that links these two disparate disasters? Climate Change.

A Worsening Flood Disaster in South Asia

As Harvey was setting its sights on the Texas Coast this time last week, another major rainfall disaster was already ongoing. Thousands of miles away, South Asia was experiencing historic flooding that seven days ago had impacted 24 million people.

At the time, two tropical weather systems were developing over a very warm Pacific. They were angling in toward a considerably pumped up monsoonal moisture flow. And they appeared bound and determined to unleash yet more misery on an already suffering region.

As of Monday, the remnants of tropical cyclone Hato had entered the monsoonal flow and was unleashing its heavy rains upon Nepal. The most recent in a long chain of systems that just keeps looping more storms in over the region to disgorge they water loads on submerged lands.

By Wednesday, the number of people suffering from flooding in India, Bangladesh and Nepal had jumped by 18 million in just one week to more than 42 million. With 32 million impacted in India, 8.6 million in Bangladesh, and 1.7 million in Nepal. More tragically, 1,200 people have perished due to both landslides and floods as thousands of square miles have been submerged and whole regions have been crippled with roads, bridges, and airports washing out. Adding to this harsh toll are an estimated 3.5 million homes that have been damaged or destroyed in Bangladesh alone.

Worst impacts are likely to focus on Bangladesh which is down-stream of flooded regions in Nepal and India. As of last week, 1/3 of this low-lying country had been submerged by rising water. With intense rains persisting during recent days, this coverage is likely to have expanded.

Hundreds of thousands of people have now funneled into the country’s growing disaster shelters. A massive international aid effort is underway as food and water supplies are cut off and fears of disease are growing. The international Red Cross and Red Crescent and other relief agencies have deployed over 2,000 medical teams to the region. Meanwhile, calls for increased assistance are growing.

Warmer Oceans Fuel Tropical Climate Extremes

As with Harvey, this year’s South Asia floods have been fueled by much warmer than normal ocean surface temperatures. These warmer than normal ocean surfaces are evaporating copious amounts of moisture into the tropical atmosphere. This moisture, in turn, is intensifying the monsoonal rains.

(Very warm ocean surface temperatures related to global warming are contributing to catastrophic South Asian flooding in which 42 million people are now impacted. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

In the Bay of Bengal, ocean surfaces have recently hit about 3 C above the three decade average. But ocean waters have been warming now for more than a Century following the initiation of widespread fossil fuel burning. So even the present baseline is above 20th Century temperature norms. At this point, such high levels of ocean heat are clearly having an impact on tropical weather.

In an interview with CNN, Reaz Ahmed, the director-general of Bangladesh’s Department of Disaster Management noted last week that:

“This is not normal. Floods this year were bigger and more intense than the previous years.”

Further exacerbating the situation is that fact that glaciers are melting and temperatures are rising in the Himalayas. This increases water flow into rivers during monsoon season even as glacial melt flow into rivers is reduced during the dry season. It’s kind of a flood-drought whammy in which the dry season is growing hotter and drier for places like India, but the wet season is conversely getting pushed toward worsening flood extremes.

Links:

The Pacific Standard

Think Progress

Earth Nullschool

Nepal, India, Bangladesh Floods Impact Millions

NASA Worldview

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

So Let’s Talk About the Science of How Climate Change Kicked Harvey into Higher Gear

Harvey is finally on the move.

After making a second landfall early Wednesday, the storm is passing slowly out of the East Texas region that has suffered so much first from Harvey’s initial lashing as a rapidly intensifying category 4 storm, and second from its long-lasting and unprecedented rainfall.

(Harvey rapidly intensifies into a category 4 monster just prior to landfall. This rapid intensification and other climate change related factors helped to make Harvey a more dangerous storm. Image source: NASA.)

At this point we can take a bit of a step back to look at the larger situation. Sure, impacts will probably continue and even worsen for some areas. And due to a historic pulse of water heading downstream, the hammered city of Houston is far from out of the woods.

But as with Sandy and so many other freakish strong storms in a present climate that has warmed by around 1.2 C above pre-industrial values, we would be remiss if we didn’t discuss the climate change related factors that gave Harvey more fuel, that helped it to rapidly intensify, that worsened its flooding — both from rains and from storm surge, and that may have helped to produce a still pocket in the upper level winds that allowed it to stick around for so long.

Warmer Ocean Surfaces Mean More Rapidly Intensifying Storms, Higher Peak Intensity of Worst Storms

Hurricanes like Harvey cannot readily form in cool waters below a range between 70 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Ideally, the storms require ocean surface temperatures warmer than 80 degrees (F). And the more heat that’s available at the ocean surface, the more energy that’s available for a storm when it does form.

This energy comes in the form of atmospheric lift. In other words, air rises off the water more vigorously as water temperature rises. This lifting energy is called convection. And the more that’s available, the more powerful storms can ultimately become.

(Sea surface temperatures were between 1 and 2 degrees Celsius above average as Harvey approached Texas. Human-forced climate change is causing the oceans to warm. This, in turn, provides more fuel for hurricanes like Harvey — helping them to rapidly intensify and pushing their peak strength higher. Image source: NOAA.)

According to Dr Michael Mann, Ocean surfaces in the Gulf of Mexico are fully 1 to 1.5 degrees Celsius warmer, on average, than they were just 30 years ago. This warming provides more energy for storms that do form. And this, in turn, raises the top potential intensity of storms.

Some scientists, like Dr. James Hansen, refer to this prevalence of worsening extremity as loading the climate dice. If, in the past, we were rolling with a die six with a 1 representing the lowest storm intensity and a 6 representing the highest, we’re now rolling with something like a die six +1. The result is that the strongest storms are stronger and the absolutely strongest storms have an ability to achieve previously unattainable strengths due to the fact that there’s a lot more energy there to kick them into a higher state.

Increased potential peak storm intensity as a climate change factor does not necessarily result in more tropical storms forming overall. That part of the science on hurricanes is highly uncertain. But that heat engine in the form of warmer surface waters is available for the storms that do form to tap. And that can make them a lot stronger and more damaging than they otherwise would have been.

(Loading the climate dice — changes in frequency of cold and warm temperatures also has an impact on heatwaves, droughts, wildfires, storm intensity, and heavy precipitation events. Image source: NASA.)

As Harvey approached land, it tapped the energy of this much warmer than normal ocean surface. And that energy caused the storm to rapidly strengthen — first from a minimal tropical storm to a Hurricane, and then from a minimal hurricane to a Category 4 monster. Meteorologists tend to call such periods of rapid intensification — bombification. This term comes from minimum pressures that rapidly drop in swiftly strengthening storms — seeming to bomb out. And due to warming, the science indicates that rapid strengthening is also more likely. With some models pointing toward a 10-20 fold increase in the frequency of rapidly intensifying storms by the end of this Century if human forced warming of ocean surfaces continues.

Warmer Atmosphere Means Heavier Rainfall

Related to a warming of the ocean surface (and land surfaces as well) is the basic scientific fact that such warming causes the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere to increase. In total, with each 1 degree Celsius of warming near the Earth’s surface, the atmosphere ends up holding about 6-7 percent more moisture. The properties of this warming-driven increase in atmospheric moisture are described by the scientifically proven Clausius–Clapeyron relation which defines, in meteorology, how atmospheric water vapor content is driven by various factors, including temperature.

If we dig just a little bit further into our understanding of how this scientific driver impacts the atmosphere in a warmer world, we find that not only does the moisture content of a warmer atmosphere increase, but both the rates of evaporation and precipitation increase.

 

(Global warming has brought with it a sharp increase in the number of record-breaking daily rainfall events. This is due to the fact that a warmer world holds more storm-fueling moisture in its atmosphere. This warmer, wetter atmosphere increased the peak potential rainfall from Harvey enabling it to smash records for rainfall rates and precipitation totals. Image source: Increased Record-Breaking Precipitation Events Under Global Warming.)

It is here that we return to the loaded climate dice mentioned above. If, as we find today, the Earth is about 1.2 degrees Celsius warmer than in the past, then the atmosphere holds more moisture. About 7-8 percent more. And since there’s more heat, evaporation is more intense where it does happen. This loads the climate dice for more intense droughts. But since what goes up in the form of evaporation results in a heavier load of moisture in the higher clouds and in the storms that do form, the rains that follow will also tend to be more intense. This loads the dice for more severe rainfall events. And we have a very clear scientific observation that the most extreme rainstorms are becoming much more intense overall (see above graphic).

For Harvey, this meant that more moisture was available to provide the record-setting rainfall amounts coming from that system. Peak rainfall totals from the storm are now at nearly 52 inches. This is the most rainfall ever to occur in Texas from a tropical system in our records. A measure that may also break the all-time U.S. record for rainfall from a tropical storm. And Harvey was enabled to produce such high rainfall amounts by a warmer atmosphere.

Harvey a Brown Ocean Cyclone?

Increasing rates of evaporation and precipitation had one obvious effect in Harvey — they increased the potential severity of rains coming from this kind of storm. But they also increase the ability of storms like Harvey to maintain strength or even intensify over land. If, for example, a storm like Harvey dumps a very heavy load of rainfall over land and if the evaporation from these recent rains has increased in a warming world, then storms like Harvey can tend to draw strength back from what amounts to a small ocean on land.

A recent NASA scientific paper on this issue describes a Brown Ocean effect. The 2013 NASA paper noted:

Before making landfall, tropical storms gather power from the warm waters of the ocean. Storms in the newly defined category derive their energy instead from the evaporation of abundant soil moisture – a phenomenon that Andersen and Shepherd call the “brown ocean.”

…The research also points to possible implications for storms’ response to climate change. “As dry areas get drier and wet areas get wetter, are you priming the soil to get more frequent inland tropical cyclone intensification?” asked Shepherd.

In essence, cyclones are better able to maintain strength or even re-intensify over wet areas of land in a warmer world due to increasing levels of evaporation and it was Harvey’s ability to maintain tropical storm strength over land for up to three days that helped to enable it to keep dropping such heavy volumes of rain.

Higher Seas Mean Worse Storm Surge Flooding

A warmer climate also brings with it the melt of continental glaciers and the thermal expansion of ocean waters. As glaciers flood into the world’s oceans, they rise. And since fossil fuel burning began at the start of the industrial age this related warming of the Earth and melting of glaciers has caused the oceans around the world to rise by more than 20 centimeters globally.

(Global warming increases the base ocean level which, in turn, worsens storm surge flooding. Harvey’s storm surge came in on this higher ramp. Image source: Sea Level Rise Science.)

Such higher seas alone are causing some coastal settlements to flood even on sunny days. But when storms like Harvey come roaring ashore, they do so on a higher overall launching pad. And this produces a multiplier effect for storm surge damages. A multiplier that would not have been there if the world hadn’t warmed.

Polar Warming Contributes to Blocking Patterns That Make Weather Stick Around in One Place Longer

Another climate change related factor that contributed to Harvey’s danger was its persist hovering over the same region. Harvey would not have been as damaging for Texas and the Gulf if it hadn’t hung over East Texas for more than five days. But here, again, we find that climate change related factors appear to be contributing to the increased lingering of various extreme weather producing systems.

To understand how, we need to look at the upper level atmospheric circulation pattern that moves weather systems from place-to-place. In other words — the Jet Stream. Climate change influences the Jet Stream by generating more warming at the poles than near the Equator. This in turn, according to the research of scientists like Dr Jennifer Francis, changes atmospheric slope. Warmer poles, in other words, create a taller atmosphere at the poles relative to the Equator.

(A high amplitude ridge-trough pattern helped to create a stagnant upper air slot in which Harvey stalled. This voiding of upper level steering currents enabled Harvey’s persistence. Some scientists are pointing toward increasing prevalence of these kinds of high amplitude ridges and troughs related to polar warming warming which is an upshot of global warming. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

Since atmospheric slope and temperature differences between the poles and Equator drive the speed of the Jet Stream, warmer poles cause the Jet Stream to slow down and meander. This generates big ridges and deep troughs. It also appears to assist the generation of large blocking high pressure systems. And all of these features can tend to cause weather patterns to get stuck.

This year, a persistent trough in the Eastern U.S. has generated a consistent stormy pattern and aided in the firing of powerful thunderstorms that produced record rains over places like Kansas City, Missouri. In the West, a persistent ridge has produced record heat and very extreme wildfires while aiding the formation of a very intense flash drought in Montana and the Dakotas. Harvey got stuck in a stagnant pocket between these two relatively fixed weather patterns. A climate change related feature that may have increased the duration of Harvey and facilitated its record rains falling over such a long period.

Other Factors — Interaction With The Eastern Trough

Finally, we can state that Harvey’s interaction with the very deep eastern trough also helped to fuel it. The trough provided a moisture and instability kick to Harvey as it moved over Texas — helping to wring out tropical moisture over the Lone Star State. And if we accept the fact that polar warming contributed to the depth of this eastern trough by slowing down the Jet Stream, then its interaction with Harvey was also a climate change related factor.

Qualifying This Discussion

What can be said with certainty is that climate change did not cause the hurricane. That hurricanes do happen in a normal climate. But this is the same same thing as saying that home runs happen in both middle school and major league baseball. It’s all baseball, but the factors from one to the other have qualitatively changed in an obvious fashion. The same thing happens to weather in a warming world. And it is due to the changes in these underlying factors that we can say without a doubt that climate change made Harvey worse.

What we can also say is that our certainty of all these various climate change related factors involved varies. For example, we can say with very high certainty that global warming is worsening rainfall extremes and that sea level rise is worsening storm surges. We can say with a good level of confidence that the peak intensity of the worst storms is also increasing and that bombification is more likely. And we can say with moderate confidence that climate change is altering atmospheric circulation patterns (an issue that is still under considerable debate).

But the varying degrees of certainty with regards to these aspects do not change basic facts. Your climate is your weather averaged over 30 years. And if the world warms, both your climate and your weather change.

Harvey Intensifies Slightly Just Prior to Second Landfall

Tropical Storm Harvey, which has dumped more than 51 inches of rain over parts of Texas and flooded hundreds of thousands of homes, intensified this afternoon over the Gulf of Mexico as it continued to move to the North-Northeast.

(Visible satellite imagery of Tropical Storm Harvey late afternoon on August 29th shows the storm slightly re-intensifying before a second landfall with strong rain bands again threatening Houston. Image source: The National Hurricane Center.)

As of the 4 PM CDT advisory from the National Hurricane Center, Harvey’s minimum central pressure had dropped to 994 mb even as its maximum sustained winds increased to 50 mph. This made Harvey a still rather weak tropical storm is it continued to lash sections of Eastern Texas and Louisiana with winds and rains.

Now a 5-day long event since threatening the Texas Coast as a category 4 storm on Thursday, Harvey has produced the worst flooding in Texas state history. In Houston, dams designed to contain a 1,000 year flood are overflowing — increasing already catastrophic flooding throughout the beleaguered city.

(After a brief respite, Houston’s eastern suburbs are again seeing heavy rain from Harvey. Image source: National Weather Service.)

Very heavy rains have fallen over Houston since Saturday. But during the early afternoon hours rains had lightened over the city as the heaviest squalls shifted further east over Beaumont. Recent weather radar imagery from the National Weather Service, however, has shown more intense rain bands again back-filling over Eastern Houston in coordination with Harvey’s recent re-intensification.

Tonight, Harvey is expected to track inland before being pulled northward by a trough and finally leaving Southeastern Texas behind. But not before giving the region one last lashing over the next 12-24 hours or so while dumping another 6-12 inches of rain.

RELATED STATEMENTS AND INFORMATION:

Links:

The National Hurricane Center

National Weather Service

Worst Tropical Rainfall Event in Texas History

Worst Tropical Rainfall Event in Texas History Made More Deadly by Climate Change: Harvey Totals Now Top 49 Inches

We can’t say that Hurricane Harvey was caused by climate change. But it was certainly worsened by it. — Dr. Michael Mann

Harvey is already the worst rainstorm in U.S. history and it’s still raining.Meteorologist Eric Holthaus

******

It’s the fifth day of an unprecedented rain event that one of the world’s top scientists is saying was made worse by climate change. Flood totals as of earlier this morning topped a record-smashing 49 inches. Emergency management officials are saying that this is a 1,000 year flood event (and it could get worse). And the rains are still falling as levees in and around the city of Houston over-top or fail.

If peak rainfall was the whole of this story, then things wouldn’t be quite so bad for Houston and other Texas cities. But with this particularly severe storm it’s a combination of size, severity and duration that has produced such terrible floods. Harvey’s persistent stall has brought very severe rains to a large swath running all the way from southeast Texas in an arc through Mississippi. And a huge flood basin from Victoria to Austin to Lufkin to Lake Charles has now received between 8 and nearly 50 inches of rain as of early Tuesday.

Such a large swath has resulted in a more significant pulse of waters flooding into streams, lakes, and reservoirs. This depth of zonal flooding generates more water pile ups as flows move downstream. Resulting in higher peaks at rivers in places like Houston and putting more stress on water management infrastructure. An infrastructure that was designed to handle the 100 to 1,000 year floods of a gentler climate but not the so-called 1,000 year or worse floods of an atmosphere loaded up with a much greater portion of storm-fueling heat and moisture.

That this will be the worst flood in Texas history by a number of measures goes without question. That the flood was made worse by climate change is a scientific fact. That Texas is still getting pummeled by a tragic blow that is costing both lives and tens of billions of dollars in damages is a foregone conclusion.

At this point, the question we need to be asking ourselves is how can we prepare for more of these kinds of extreme rainfall events — which are surely coming. And how can we honestly work together to reduce both their future intensity and damage? How can we ultimately protect lives and property in a world we have made more dangerous by burning fossil fuels and dumping carbon into the atmosphere? And how quickly can we resolve ourselves to stop making the problem worse?

UPDATED (1)

RELATED STATEMENTS AND INFORMATION:

Links:

Hurricane Harvey Made More Deadly by Climate Change

National Weather Service Houston

The Capital Weather Gang

Harvey is Already the Worst Rainstorm in U.S. History and it’s Still Raining

Houston Levee Failures

 

%d bloggers like this: