Why a 15 Percent Slow-Down in North Atlantic Ocean Circulation is Seriously Bad News

“We know somewhere out there is a tipping point where this current system is likely to break down. We still don’t know how far away or close to this tipping point we might be. … This is uncharted territory.” — Stefan Rahmstorf


The North Atlantic ocean circulation (often called AMOC or the Great Ocean Conveyor) is now the weakest its been in sixteen centuries.

Increasing melt from Greenland due to human-forced warming of the atmosphere through the deep ocean is freshening the ocean surface of the far North Atlantic. To the south, higher ocean temperatures are increasing surface salt content through greater rates of evaporation. Fresh water prevents ocean water from sinking in the north and rising salt content generates increased sinking in the south. As a result, the rate at which waters move from the Equator toward the Pole is slowing down. Since the mid 20th Century, this critical ocean circulation has reduced in strength by 15 percent on decadal time-scales.

(Deep water formation in the North Atlantic is driven by the sinking of cold, salty water. Over recent years, this formation, which drives larger ocean circulation and atmospheric weather patterns, has been weakening due to increasing fresh water flows coming from a melting Greenland. Image source: Commons and the NASA Earth Observatory.)

Movement of warm Equatorial waters northward and their subsequent overturning and sinking in the North Atlantic drives a number of key weather and climate features. The first is that it tends to keep Europe warm during winter and to moderate European temperatures during summer. The second impact is that a fast moving current off the U.S. East Coast pulls water away from the shore keeping sea levels lower. The third is that warm water in the North Atlantic during winter time tends to keep the regional jet stream relatively flat. And the fourth is that a more rapid circulation keeps the ocean more highly oxygenated — allowing it to support more life.

A slowing down of ocean circulation in the North Atlantic therefore means that Europe will tend to cool during winter even as it heats up during summer. Sea level rise will accelerate faster for the U.S. East Coast relative to the rest of the world due to a slowing Gulf Stream combined with the effects of melting land glaciers and thermal ocean expansion. The North Atlantic jet stream will tend to become wavier — with deep troughs tending to form over Eastern North America and through parts of Europe. These trough zones will tend to generate far more intense fall and winter weather. Finally, a slowing ocean circulation will tend to increase the number of low-oxygen dead zones.

(Cool pool formation near Greenland juxtaposed by a warming and slowing of the Gulf Stream as it is forced southward is an early indication of ocean circulation slow-down. During recent years, this phenomena — which is related to larger human-forced climate change — has become a prevalent feature of North Atlantic Ocean climate and weather patterns. An indicator that climate change and ocean system changes for this region are already under way. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

A 15 percent slow down in ocean circulation is not yet a catastrophic event. It is, however, enough to produce odd weather and climate signals. We have tended to see higher rates of sea level rise off the U.S. East Coast, we have tended to see more extreme winter weather across the North Atlantic basin. The long term trend for increasing ocean dead zones is well established. And European weather has become more and more extreme — with hot summers and severe winters.

With rates of Greenland melt increasing, there is a risk that the historic observed North Atlantic circulation weakening will increase further and more radically — producing still more profound results than we see today. In the event of large melt outflows coming from Greenland during abnormally warm summers or due to warming deep water melting glaciers from below — a possibility that rises with each 0.1 C of global temperature increase — we could see a very rapid weakening of ocean circulation above and beyond that which has already been recorded.

(Like Antarctica, Greenland features a number of below sea level locations directly beneath its largest ice masses. This feature makes Greenland more vulnerable to rapid ice loss and large melt outflows. Image source: NASA JPL.)

If such a tipping point event is breached — and there is increased risk for it as global temperatures enter a range of 1.5 to 2.5 C above 1880s averages during the 2020s through the 2040s — then we can expect far more profound weather and climate disruptions than those we have already experienced.


Tesla Model 3 Production Keeps Ramping — Hitting Near 2,400 Per Week in Early April

Past behavior can often be predictive of future results. Sometimes, however, we are pleasantly surprised. Such is the case with Tesla’s Model 3 production ramp this week.

Tesla’s Big Surge Continues

According to reports from both Electrek and Bloomberg, Tesla appears to have sustained weekly rates of Model 3 production above 2,000 for more than 14 days. Indicators for this continued surge come in the form of record VIN number releases. For since late March, the number of Model 3 VINs ordered from the U.S. government has doubled from approximately 14,000 to around 28,000. Meanwhile, Bloomberg’s Model 3 production tracker has surged to 2,394 all-electric vehicles per week. A new record.

(Bloomberg’s Model 3 tracker has captured a big surge in Model 3 production translating through to early Q2. Image source: Bloomberg.)

The big jump in VINs comes along with Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s announcement that he planned to continue Model 3 production rates of over 2,000 vehicles per week into early April. This higher production rate is contrary to past production behavior by Tesla — which typically surges late in a financial quarter and then backs off at the start of a new quarter.

5,000 Per Week Model 3 Production Goal in Sight

And though it is still possible that we could see all-electric, zero-tailpipe emissions Model 3 production slackening a bit following this most recent, apparent much longer-running surge, there are indications that Tesla’s capability is rapidly expanding. First, it appears that two lines are now running for Tesla Model 3 and related battery production. Second, it appears that many of the Model 3 bottlenecks have been addressed. And, third, it looks like new Model 3 production infrastructure continues to spring up in the form of dedicated facilities at Tesla’s Fremont plant and Nevada Gigafactory.

(A drone fly-over of the Tesla Fremont factory shows new buildings that appear to be dedicated to Model 3 production efforts. Video source: Tesla Factory Flyover Drone.)

Tesla’s production legs are, therefore, growing longer. And, in light of this fact, it appears that our earlier estimate that Model 3 would produce between 17,000 and 27,000 during Q2 may fall a bit short. As a result, that estimate is now adjusted upward to 18,000-30,000. This steepening ramp is increasingly possible especially if Tesla is able to maintain production rates in excess of 2,000 Model 3s per week through April and May even as it attempts a surge to 5,000 Model 3s per week by June.

Diversification of Model Line Planned For July

Tesla presently still has around 470,000 reservation holders for the Model 3. However, it’s uncertain how many of these are waiting for the long-range, rear-wheel drive version that is now in production. Past indicators are that the number is around 100 to 120K. Most of the rest either appear to be holding out for the dual motor version or for the lower price version. A 5,000 vehicle per week production rate will quickly eat through remaining long range, rear wheel reservation holders. And it is likely for this reason that Elon Musk is planning to start looking at producing the dual motor Model 3 during July of 2018.

So not only is the pace of Model 3 production quickening, the advent of new Model 3 versions is on the horizon. All-in-all this is good news for Model 3 reservation holders and for renewable energy/climate change response backers in general. We’ll have to watch Tesla indicators closely. But it appears, more and more, that the company is able to put Model 3 production hell behind it. To step it out as an all clean energy mass producer.

The Increasingly Fragile Pine Island Glacier Just Calved Again

The point where the Pine Island and Thwaites glaciers meet the sea serve as a back-stop restraining most of the great ice flows of West Antarctica. If those backstops were to fail, ocean water would flood inland along a reverse slope and generate a massive and swift out-rush of ice that would ultimately raise the world’s oceans by about 3 meters. And, lately, the evidence is mounting that the backstops are failing.

At Thwaites, just south of the neighboring Pine Island Glacier (PIG), recent research found that the ocean was flooding inland beneath that enormous ice sheet at a rate of up to 400 meters per year. But to the north, there is indication of trouble at the ice surface.

Back to Back Calving Events

Just last September, a massive 100 square mile ice berg calved off the Pine Island Glacier. The event was significant in that it marked the first major retreat of the glacial front in the face of an advancing ocean. Pine Island had already sped up. But the calving face withdrawal inland appeared to mark a new phase for the large glacier.

(Sentinel 1 satellite observations show a rapidly moving Pine Island Glacier calving off another large ice berg. Meanwhile, considerable damage appears to have been done to the glacial front.)

Now, just 7 months later, PIG is calving again. A large, approximately 6 kilometer long, 1 kilometer wide, chunk appears to have broken off into the Southern Ocean and shattered. Meanwhile, to the north and south along the glacial front, rifts appear to have formed.

This recent calving event is significant for a number of reasons. The first is that it’s happening just months after a recent large break-off during 2017. Other recent calving events at Pine Island occurred during 2001, 2007, and 2013. The present 2017-2018 events are back-to-back. The second reason is that the splintering appears to indicate a more fragile ice face. An impression reinforced by the concordant formation of rifts spreading away from the calving zone. The third is that the satellite imagery suggests Pine Island Glacier is moving quite rapidly (Recently, this rate of motion has been 1-2 km per year. However, it’s reasonable to question whether the glacier is continuing to speed up).

Conditions in Context

Present global warming due to fossil fuel burning has now forced the world into a range of temperatures between 1.0 and 1.21 degrees Celsius above 1880s averages. This boundary is similar to that of the lower range of the Eemian 120,000 years ago when oceans where 10-20 feet higher than they are today.

(The tall ice cliffs composing the Pine Island Glacial front have become increasingly fragile and fast moving as they enter the warming Southern Ocean and as that warming water continues to invade inland. Image source: Commons, Pine Island Glacier Calving Front, NASA.)

Under present greenhouse gas forcing and planned emissions, additional warming is in store. Climate models produced by Dr. Michael E Mann indicate that we are likely to hit the 1.5 C global temperature boundary some time between 2027 and 2031 on the current emissions pathway. This predicted warming is significant because analysis of past climates appears to indicate a risk of more rapid rates of sea level rise when global temperatures rise to a range between 1.5 to 2.5 C above past base line averages (see meltwater pulse 1 A).

Since the 1990s, the global rate of sea level rise has proceeded at roughly 3.3 mm per year with an apparent acceleration to around 3.6 to 4.1 mm per year during the 2010 to present time period. Given observed ice sheet instability in West Antarctica, in East Antartica, and in Greenland, there is a serious risk that this rate of rise will continue to accelerate over the coming years and decades. The key question of concern is how much and how soon.

U.S. Electrical Vehicle Sales Rocket Higher — Breaking New Records in March

A proliferation of attractive electrical vehicle models produced by automakers combined with a surging Tesla to generate a significant new U.S. sales record in March.

The surge is indicative of a break-out ‘moment’ for EVs that will likely result in serious growth in this clean energy segment throughout 2018. The potential now exists that total U.S. EV sales will exceed 300,000 this year. As the global, regional and local impacts of continued high carbon emissions from fossil fuel industry worsens, this surge in clean energy technology couldn’t come on fast enough. However, as is true with all carbon emission reduction efforts, the pace needs to be quickened if we are to provide a navigable pathway through the rising crisis that is human-caused global warming.

44 Percent Growth YoY

In total, March saw 26,373 electrical vehicles sold in the U.S. This is about a 44 percent growth rate over March of 2017 at 18,542 EVs hitting the streets during that time. It was also a new all-time monthly record for the U.S.

(Due to better overall efficiency and zero tailpipe emissions, pure electrical vehicles presently cut annual carbon emissions by more than half. Plug-in hybrids also produce substantial emissions reductions. But the kicker is that when combined with an all renewable grid, pure EV production to roadways carbon emissions fall by 90 percent to up to 100 percent if materials and logistics are decoupled from carbon sources as well. Grids in the U.S. are becoming cleaner. As a result, EV emissions are making further progress over their dirty gas and diesel counterparts. Image source: Union of Concerned Scientists.)

Tesla Model 3, beginning a break out production surge, led the pack by hitting 3,820 sales. Tesla Model S trailed somewhat at 3,375. While Toyota Prius Prime’s plug in hybrid rounded out the top 3 at 2,922.

In the past, sales rates in excess of around 500 for individual models in any given month was seen as significant. And from the Chrysler Pacifica plug in hybrid (480) on upward to the Chevy Volt (1,782) and Tesla Model X (2,825), fully ten attractive models (outside of the top 3) fall within this range at present. These include both the Chevy Bolt (1,774) and the Nissan Leaf (1,500). Bolt, a long range all-electric vehicle rated at over 200 miles produced significant sales in the 2,000s to low 3,000s per month late last year. But as the Model 3 production ramp has increased, Bolt sales have lagged. A 151 mile range version of the Nissan Leaf (1,500) is one of the top selling EVs globally. However, the new Leaf’s production ramp in the U.S. has been a bit slower. That said, it’s expected that the Nissan sales effort for the Leaf in the U.S. will be substantial going forward.

Sales Surge Due to Multiple Factors

Meanwhile, the long tale of models selling between 100 and 400 is extending — with fully 16 models accounted for in that range.

(The U.S. saw a major surge in electrical vehicle sales during March. The start of a trend that will likely continue through the end of 2018. Image source: Inside EVs.)

The primary drivers of the major sales surge, therefore, are multiple. First, Tesla’s own production effort creates a lot of momentum for the surge — so far adding a net gain of around 3,000 vehicles all by itself. A second surge comes in the form of the advent of more attractive long range EV models like the Bolt and the Leaf — both of which are drawing intense interest from buyers. A proliferation of attractive plug in electric hybrid vehicles like the Toyota Prius Prime, The Chrysler Pacifica, The Honda Clarity (1070), and the Chevy Volt is leading a third wave in the surge. A final push comes simply due to model proliferation and increased general sales efforts.

Due to these combined trends, and due to the fact that additional attractive long range EV models are likely to become available during 2018, the 300,000 EV per year mark appears to be well within reach for the U.S. during 2018. Hitting so high would represent more than 50 percent growth over 2017. However, if major EV manufacturers like Tesla manage to step up their production game further, even the 300,000 mark could be substantially overcome.

Exciting if uncertain times.


Rapid Sea Level Rise Possible as Ocean Floods into Antarctica at up to 400 Meters Per Year

From west to east and in a growing number of places, a warming ocean is cutting its way deep into Antarctica. Grounding lines — the bases upon which mile-high glaciers come to rest as they meet the water — are in rapid retreat. And this ocean, heated by human fossil fuel burning, is beginning to flood chasms that tunnel for hundreds of miles beneath great mountains of ice.

Such an immense flood has the effect of speeding up glaciers as far away as 500 miles from the point of invasion. It does this by generating a kind of abyssal pit that the glacier more swiftly falls into. And as these watery pits widen, they risk pumping sea level rise to catastrophic levels of ten feet or more by the end of this Century.

(A new study in Nature is the first to survey the rate of grounding line movement around Antarctica’s entire perimeter. What it found was disturbing. A large number of major glaciers are seeing historically rapid rates of grounding line retreat [red arrows] as only a few glaciers show very slow rates of grounding line advance [blue arrows]. Image source: Hannes Konrad et al, Nature, University of Leeds.)

The great ocean invasion is clearly on the march. Not yet proceeding everywhere, the advance is happening in enough places to cause major worry. In West Antarctica, 22 percent of its glaciers are seeing their grounding lines move inland by more than 25 meters per year. In the Antarctic Peninsula, 10 percent of glaciers are experiencing this retreat. And in East Antarctica, where the ice is piled thickest, 3 percent of glaciers are affected by the swift invasion.

The most rapid retreat — at up to 400 meters per year — is presently happening at Thwaites Glacier in West Antarctica. Thwaites alone encompasses enough ice to lift the world’s oceans by 3 meters. And the rate of inland ocean water invasion at this single location is a very serious concern.

(Grounding line retreat is just one of many factors that increase the risk of rapid sea level rise. Ice cliff instability, increased rainfall over glaciers, large floods of water into glaciers from melt ponds that then refreeze and fracture the ice, and a number of other factors all compound as the Earth is heated up by fossil fuel burning. Video source: International Business Times.)

But the issue is not one of single glaciers. It’s one where many very large mounds of ice all around Antarctica are under threat. And in much the same way that a dike risks breaking apart when it is punched through by a growing number of holes, Antarctica’s own flood gates to rapid sea level rise are threatened by each grounding line in quickening retreat. Another such ‘hole’ has formed at the Totten Glacier where the grounding line is retreating at around 150 to 175 meters per year. And Totten could produce another 3.4 meters of sea level rise if it collapsed into the Southern Ocean.

Continuing the dike anology, Antarctica holds back enough water as ice, in total, to lift the world’s ocean levels by an average of 200 feet. By greater or lesser degrees, each retreating glacier contains a portion of the potentially massive flood. And the overall rate of loss in the form of new glaciers going into retreat together with the pace of inland ocean invasion is speeding up.

This new set of research provides a more complete if fearsome picture of Antarctic melt. And though models aren’t yet able to pinpoint how fast sea level rise will be, a growing body of evidence points to greater than previously expected risk for rapid sea level rise this Century. So for the sake of our coastlines and of so many cities around the world, the time to act as swiftly as possible to reduce carbon emissions and their terrible related impacts is now.

Top Global EV Automaker? Telsa Electrical Vehicle Production Surges During Early 2018

The Tesla bears have all sorts of reasons to cry today.

Not only did Tesla manage to produce four times the number of revolutionary Model 3 vehicles it made during the fourth quarter of 2017, it also hit multiple additional milestones even as CEO Elon Musk derided unfounded rumors that the company was in need of an immediate cash infusion.

Model 3 Surge

Tesla bet its future on the Model 3. And after a nine month period of production chaos and uncertainty, it appears that the bet is starting to pay off.

Late in December of 2017, after struggling through a hellish maze of bottle-necks, Model 3 production rates briefly hit above 1,000 vehicles per week. At year start, this rate slackened somewhat only to reassert by early February. During late February, the Model 3 line was shut down briefly for improvements. Meanwhile, the battery-mass-producing Gigafactory in Nevada (at 11 GWh per year and growing) had opened up a second line for Model 3 batteries after new equipment was shipped in from another Tesla factory in Germany.

With a number of bottle-necks addressed, by mid-March Model 3 production was again surging — hitting around 1,400 per week. A final big late push by the end of the month resulted in weekly production in the range of 2020.

This impressive effort by Tesla generated nearly 10,000 Model 3s for Q1 of 2018. Of this number, about 8,200 are thought to have been sold.

Record First Quarter

With Model 3 selling at nearly as high a rate as Model S and Model X, Tesla appears to have rounded out the first quarter of 2018 with a record 29,980 vehicles delivered. A number that is likely to top 30,000 once all sales are counted. Tesla produced far more — hitting 40 percent growth and 34,494 all-electric vehicles made.

The clean energy company also announced that Model S and X orders were at an all time record high. A slight lag in S and X production during Q4 of 2017, therefore, was the likely cause of slightly lower S/X sales during Q1 of 2018. However, it appears that Tesla is rapidly catching up as it reports that 4060 of these cars were in transit to customers at the start of Q2 even as another 2040 Model 3s were also en route.

Top Selling EV Automaker Globally

Given approximately 30,000 cars sold and 34,500 produced in Q1 of 2018, it appears that Tesla is again in the running for the best-selling maker of electrical vehicles the world over. For it looks like other top contenders — BYD (China) and BMW (Germany) — will sell in the mid 20,000s during the first three months of this year. At the very least, current tracking indicates that Tesla will likely be in the top 3 with BAIC and Nissan trailing behind.

(Top global EV sellers list for January and February from InsideEVs puts Tesla at 5th globally. But a surge in sales during March likely pushed Tesla into the top spot for Q1. Image source: InsideEVs.)

Tesla Model 3 is also likely to hit within the top 6 EVs sold the world over for Q1. Nissan Leaf and the BAIC EC series will likely claim the top two spots. However, the story going into Q 2 is likely to be considerably changed as Tesla tests new limits.

Model 3 Production Likely to Hit 17,000 to 27,000 During Q2

In the U.S., the Model 3 is the uncontested top selling EV already. And its lead is likely to continue to widen.

Tesla notes that it will continue 2,000 Model 3 per week production during the first week of April. If past trends are any reliable indicator, this rate is likely to slacken somewhat as Tesla pauses for breath by mid-April. It doesn’t look like the 3’s production will drop significantly lower than the 1,200 per week mark going forward into April and May, however.

And as the quarter continues, Tesla will also likely attempt another period of surge production aimed at hitting the 5,000 vehicle per week mark. Such a surge will likely occur in June. But we might be treated to a mini surge or two by early to mid May as Tesla tests the 2,000 to 2,500 vehicle per week (or higher) mark again within the next five to six weeks. We expect weekly production during Q2 to average between slightly more than 1,400 per week to 2,250 per week with the number of Model 3s produced approximately doubling to tripling when compared to Q1.

The result is that Tesla appears to be on track to sell between 39,000 and 49,000 EVs (including Model S and Model X) during the second quarter. A surge in sales that will almost certainly propel it to the world’s top EV manufacturer even as Model 3 begins to hit breakout production velocity.

Traditional Automakers Shoot Their Future in the Foot by Attacking CAFE Standards

“Rolling back strong national fuel economy and emissions standards will undermine the global competitiveness of the U.S. auto industry. In the absence of federal leadership, states need to continue to lead on clean car standards.” — New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer.


Notable news on the climate and clean energy fronts over the past couple of days. On one side, we have Tesla surging ahead with clean energy vehicle production (more later). Meanwhile, a legacy industry clinging to old, dirty, climate wrecking, fossil fuel driven combustion engines and a perception that such machines mean easy profits, is actively fighting to undermine its own future.

(Polluted skies, more respiratory illness, higher energy costs, less energy independence, ramping climate destruction, the loss of auto industry leadership. Reduce CAFE standards and that’s what you end up with.)

A Crooked Old Business Philosophy

The mainstream U.S. auto industry represented by legacy fossil fuel vehicle manufacturers continued in their decades-long campaign to roll back vehicle fuel efficiency standards (CAFE) this week. The campaign, which was born at about the same time the Environmental Protection Agency first attempted to cut back harmful vehicle based air pollution and related high fuel consumption at the same time, is a creature of purest short-sighted profit motive gone wrong.

Auto industry executives myopically looking at quarterly reports and not at the need for more desirable vehicles in the form of less polluting and non-polluting, more efficient cars have long seen these government standards not as enablers of innovation, but as an onerous constraint. In the 80s, 90s, and 2000s, automakers achieved numerous legislative and executive victories that allowed them to produce slightly modified versions of the same vehicle designs exhibiting only slow, marginal improvements. But these improvements, when achieved, were often used to increase vehicle size and acceleration — not to improve overall efficiency.

A Stated Commitment to Advance Clean Energy

(Increasing fuel economy standards produce massive benefits to the United States. Families save money on fuel, carbon dioxide pollution is greatly reduced, the U.S. becomes more energy independent, and the harmful impacts of climate change are blunted. What is not communicated in the above graphic, however, is the fact that fuel efficiency standards spur American business leadership by encouraging continuous innovation in the form of more attractive, cleaner, more advanced products. Image source: Obama Whitehouse Archives.)

This trend changed with the oil shocks of the middle 2000s and the related establishment of new, more aggressive fuel efficiency standards during the Obama Administration. These stronger CAFE standards followed a massive public bailout of the U.S. auto industry after the Great Recession. A bailout that was predicated on the notion that automakers would improve. That they would innovate in order to become competitive. That they would be more forward-looking.

Promises along these lines were made by auto industry leaders at the time. The Obama Administration subsequently joined with clean energy promoters across the country like California in establishing an aggressive plan to reduce harmful carbon and particulate emissions by rapidly increasing vehicle fuel efficiency. In 2010, these new standards were set. The ultimate goal was to achieve an average fleet fuel efficiency of around 55 miles per gallon by the middle 2020s.

(Obama Administration fuel efficiency increases and targets. Image source: Obama Whitehouse Archives.)

Implied in this goal was a great deal of U.S. auto industry innovation and leadership. Such strong goals would enable automakers to produce world-leading vehicles by pushing them to rapidly improve their designs. In other words, they would develop vehicles that were outside of traditional internal combustion engine (ICE) based platforms. Since electrical vehicles were the lowest cost, easiest to mass produce, and easiest to support non-ICE technology, the 55 mpg standard implied that U.S. automakers would ultimately become electrical vehicle leaders. A new market would be produced. And because of responsible public policy, the U.S. auto industry would have a critical competitive advantage on a global level.

Backsliding and Backwards Thinking

But the old industry didn’t want to innovate. And it often resisted the production of electrical vehicles which were so foreign to its business models and more conservative, traditionally lazy way of thinking. For years, they resisted the increase in CAFE standards by every means imaginable. Instead of asking the government for added incentive and reward for progress achieved, the industry returned to its old tradition of flogging progress through lobbying. Mileage standards were watered down — reduced to 51 mpg by 2025. But the ultimate goal appeared to be to plateau fuel efficiency averages near 36 miles per gallon. A number of mainstream electrical vehicles were produced by these automakers. But many either appeared as token efforts or as reactionary responses to real EV innovators like Tesla.

By the time a backward-looking, corrupt, and autocratic Trump Administration wrested executive political power from the hands of the majority of the American people, these old industry players were ready for a change back to harmful business as usual. So through their ties and lobbying groups, they again pushed for reduced mileage standards.

As of yesterday, Trump’s EPA, hollowed out and corrupted by fossil fuel cheer leader Scott Pruitt, was aiming to roll back Obama’s clean vehicle standards and the potential for broader U.S. clean energy leadership along with it. In other words, a great leap backward — but one that will put Trump’s dirty-fuel-promoting executive branch directly in conflict with both EPA’s stated and lawful mission as well as make foes of state clean energy leaders spear-headed by California. From this against-the-future decision-making a battle will almost certainly ensue. One which will ultimately be fought in the courts.

Shooting Themselves in the Foot

If big auto wins this most recent push to pollute, will it really be winning? To be clear, none of the rest of us will. We’ll be treated to worse climate change and worse health-harming pollution combined. Higher gas prices, higher cost of living, less efficiency and ease in our daily lives. And much more risk and danger.

But what does big auto get out of it? Public ire? Less advanced vehicles that are less competitive in a world that is rapidly moving toward electrification? Lower competitiveness with emerging industries in China? And the inability to compete with the likes of Tesla at home? Taking these variables into account, the auto industry’s push to reduce CAFE standards looks a lot like a pathway to another set of bankruptcies five to ten years down the road. Are a few quarters of extra profits really worth all that?

Seven Inches of Snow Dumped on Northeast as Another Major Arctic Warm-Up is Underway

As an April snowstorm strikes the U.S. Northeast, major global weather stories related to climate change are unfolding in real time. For today, we again find that none of the key climate zones feature below average temperatures even as a ten-day-long Arctic warm spell appears to be on tap.

Very Warm Arctic in Early April

(Another big Arctic warm-up drives cold air southward. The result is snow over the U.S. Northeast even as parts of the Arctic Ocean are experiencing an early thaw. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)

Warm winds driving northward over eastern Siberia, on the back side of a high pressure ridge, are delivering yet one more big dose of near or above freezing temperatures to this Arctic region. From the Chukchi Sea through the Bering Strait and on into East Siberia, temperatures range from 10 to 22 degrees Celsius above average. The Bering itself has been mostly swept clean of sea ice — with severe record low ice extent readings for this zone during early April.

Throughout winter, the Bering and Chukchi have received wave after wave of much warmer than normal air from the ocean zone to the south. This tendency for warm air propagating northward through the Pacific is one that is often triggered by La Nina — a periodic pattern of Pacific Equatorial surface water cooling that became a dominant feature of 2018 winter weather. However, globally warmer than normal ocean waters and, in particular, much warmer than normal sea surface temperatures in the Northeastern Pacific appear to have greatly enhanced the heat influx.

(Much warmer than normal sea surface temperatures in the Northeastern Pacific this year have provided a pathway for warm air to invade the Arctic. Meanwhile, La Nina and Polar Amplification generate a combined influence that weakens the Jet Stream and facilitates atmospheric ridges in this zone. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

These warm waters at the middle to northern latitudes have developed a pathway that enhances the northward flow of tropical air masses over the Pacific Ocean. Meanwhile La Nina’s Equatorial cooling combines with climate change’s amplified polar warming to slow down the Jet Stream — further enabling this south-to-north heat transfer. As we have seen time and time again, human-forced global warming generated chiefly by fossil fuel burning is developing an atmospheric and oceanic handshake with past understood synoptic trends to produce an out-sized Arctic warming.

Bering Sea Almost Completely Cleared of Ice

This severe warming is plainly visible as open water is driven by outlandish temperatures well north and through the Bering Strait during early April. A time when ocean ice typically extends more than 150 miles south of Ninivak — bridging the water zone from Bristol Bay to the Kamchatka Peninsula.

(The Bering Sea is typically ice-choked during April. And during a normal year all the water zones in the above image would be covered with ice. But this spring, sea ice extent there is at never-before-seen record low levels. Image source: NASA Worldview.)

The impact is quite dramatic. During February, Bering Sea Ice hit 100,000 square kilometers below previous record lows for the Month. These record low extents continued throughout March and into early April when, today, we find that Bering sea ice extent is between 150,000 to 200,000 square kilometers below the previous record lows for the day and about half a million square kilometers below the seasonal average.

Putting this loss into context, half a million square kilometers is a region that splits the difference in size between the land mass area of California and Texas.

According to GFS model runs, the present Bering-East Siberia warm spell should last for another 2-3 days even as larger Arctic warming in the range of 2.4 to 3.2 degrees Celsius above average for the entire 66 North Latitude zone and on poleward is expected to continue through the ten day horizon. These warmer than normal temperatures should retard typical seasonal sea ice thickening in the far northern regions even as edge ice zones like those in the Bering, Baffin Bay, and the Sea of Okhotsk experience early spring melt and erosion.

New England Spring Snow

As warm air invades the Arctic — a feature that has become more and more prevalent as the globe itself has heated up — it tends to drive cold air southward over the North American, Asian, and European Continents. In this case, the warm air invasion coming from the Siberian side is displacing Arctic air over North America. As a result, and much to the delight of myth-enraptured climate change deniers everywhere, we have been treated to a rare, if not unheard of, spring April snowstorm in New England.

(Increasingly, there have been indications that polar warming related to global warming is influencing storm tracks and ridge and trough patterns in the Northern Hemisphere Jet Stream. The result is a stronger influence on Mid-Latitude Northern Hemisphere weather. Image source: Arctic Change and Possible Influence on Mid-Latitude Climate and Weather.)

According to local weather reports, as much as 7 inches of snow were dumped in intense 2-inch-per-hour bursts over parts of New England last night as a brief but intense storm roared through the region. The cold air, driven south by the recent warm polar air invasion, encountered high atmospheric moisture levels bleeding off a much warmer than normal Gulf Stream lurking just off-shore. The result, as has been the case during recent intense rain and snowstorms, was enhanced convection. This greater atmospheric uplift, in turn, produced an out-sized spring precipitation event. With below freezing temperatures driven far to the south by warm air entering the Arctic, the Northeast saw its first significant April snow event since 1982.

An April 6th to 7th Snowstorm for the U.S. South on the Way?

Further fodder for the climate change denial community supported by the anti-information campaigns of Fox News and others, may emerge by next weekend as another big push of cold air could help to develop a snow and ice storm stretching from Oklahoma through the Carolinas. Cold air driven out of the Arctic and southward over the Eastern and Central U.S. could result in 10 to 18 degree Celsius below average temperatures in that region. Moisture bleeding off the much warmer than normal Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean could be injected into this cold trough as a related storm develops. The result is a potentially unusual snow and ice storm. And an intense event off this kind, should it develop, would be a very odd weather event during U.S. spring-time.

(Another odd spring U.S. Snowstorm may be on the way for April 6th and 7th according to GFS model forecasts. Image source: Tropical Tidbits.)

Meanwhile, the U.S. tendency in the model forecasts is for warmer than normal temperatures in the West, cooler than normal temperatures in the East through the middle of April. It’s worth noting that the forecast also shows highly variable temperatures with strong swings between warm and cold throughout this period for most U.S. regions. As a result, as the Arctic remains much warmer than normal over the next ten days, the U.S. is likely to experience periods of both extreme warmth and extreme cold relative to climatological averages for this time of year.

Final Points — Intense U.S. Spring Snowfall Events a Likely Upshot of Polar Warming

Putting all these dynamics into context, we can sum up by making the following statements:

  1. April snow and even April blizzards are not unheard of for the U.S. East. That said, the recent events are odd and outside the context of regular U.S. weather patterns — particularly when it comes to precipitation intensity.
  2. Arctic warming and loss of regional sea ice, such as that seen in the Bering, is historically unprecedented during 2018. This is a continuation of an observed trend of polar amplification and severe warming seen during recent years.
  3. No major global climate zones show below normal temperatures on April 2, 2018. That said, a high variance in middle latitude northern hemisphere temperatures presently exists — with regions of intense cool and intense warmth interspersed.
  4. Snowstorms in the U.S. Northeast during April do not disprove global warming or a related shift to increasing climate extremes. In fact, they appear to be an aspect of it.

Fossil-Fuel Spear-Headed Fake News Attacks on Electrical Vehicles Intensify as Sales Ramp

In China, the world’s largest automobile market, something amazing is starting to happen. A swarm of electrical vehicles is hitting the streets. The smoggy, smoke-choked air is starting to clear. And oil demand is slowly starting to slacken.

Ramping electrical vehicle production in China takes a bit out of oil demand. Image source: Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

Fossil fuel profit-addicted investors are starting to panic as oil’s very real carbon-spewing death-grip ’round the neck of what is now the world’s largest economy is slowly being pried off.

But big oil is nothing if not a tricky and resourceful beast. So as electrical transportation leaders are marching the world away from dirty energy sources, the fossil-fueled monstrosity is fighting back tooth and nail with its primary weapon of choice…

Fake News 

It’s one of those blanket terms that has been dramatically mis-used by those like Trump to generate a million false impressions of late. To attack credible, public-serving media sources and to generate an assault on freedom of the press in total. But the term has its origins in a very real problem that each of us have to deal with every day. That problem being that some news sources can and often do, intentionally or unintentionally, get the story wrong.


Well, it can happen for a hundred different reasons not the least of which is social and individual bias. But a key issue for the present day is news generated by special-interest related media aimed at creating an impression that serves that particular interest’s goals. In other words — media that sells to or pushes from a particular political, ideological, or business-related frame of reference.

Public relations campaigns aimed at misinforming the public about harmful products or to tamp down competition by more benevolent industries have long been funded by fossil fuel interests. Image source: Smoke and Fumes.

If, for example, you’re a Fox News viewer, then your information comes with such a heavy conservative and pro-established industry bias that you tend to believe fallacies like ‘climate change isn’t real or dangerous,’ ‘Hillary Clinton sold Uranium to the Russians,’ ‘giving more money to rich people by cutting taxes pays off the national debt,’ ‘Russian interference didn’t alter the outcome of the 2016 election,’ ‘social security is an entitlement and not a government run savings program that you pay into so you have a cushion for retirement,’ and ‘all real energy comes from fossil fuels.’

These media objects and impressions could well be considered fake news.

Fossil Fuel Special Interest Fake News

In the climate and clean energy sphere, we are confronted with these kinds of targeted messages every day. More specifically, what we see is a proliferation of messages aimed at delaying a transition to clean energy and enabling the continued dominance of fossil fuel based energy sources on and on into the future.

The primary messaging issues that we deal with here are smears, doubt promotion, distractions, and myth propagation.

Lately, for anyone that’s been paying attention, we’ve seen an amazing amount of smear-based hyperbole aimed at clean energy leaders like Tesla. Not a single day goes by when we don’t have some ‘journalist’ who holds a short position in Tesla as a company beating the old hackneyed drum over which terrible demise Tesla is ‘destined’ to suffer this day or that. And this short interest is not focused on predicting so much as it is on manufacturing reality.

‘Short EV Interest’

If we’re honest with ourselves, we realize that short interest in clean industry leaders like Tesla is primarily propagated by pro-fossil fuel sources. Most of the short ‘journalists’ have some association with the fossil fuel industry. And practically all take a negative view of the prominent and most widely available clean energy sources of the day.

Some will even promote a prospective clean energy source, like hydrogen, as a distraction from the larger mega-trend represented by wind, solar and batteries. But this is more as a shiny object in the form of systems that are 5-15 years or longer from actual realization. A kind of vapor-ware competition in impression vs the real trends.

Taking this week’s penchant to proffer the hydrogen economy distraction as an example, we find that during 2017 more than 1.2 million electrical vehicles sold worldwide. Hydrogen based vehicles sold far less well — at approximately 3,500 units in 2017 or about 1 hydrogen fueled vehicle to every 350 EVs hitting the roads. Moreover, global EV sales could hit as high as 2 million in 2018 and 4-5 million by 2020. Though hydrogen might get off its laurels and start to show real gains by the early 2020s or later, electrified transport is taking flight now.

Moreover, hydrogen presents its own emissions problems as it is presently 90 percent produced from reformed natural gas in a high-carbon emitting process. The promise of mass-electrolysis based hydrogen from renewables and other low carbon processes are, you guessed it, 5-15 years off. And, even more concerning, major oil companies like Shell are heavily invested in hydrogen — which increases the likelihood that it will serve as a spoiler and not as an enabler of the clean energy transition.

Just as electrical vehicles reach their moment of realization, major media attacks against the clean energy trend emerge. Image source: EV Volumes.

This week the flavor is hydrogen. Next week it will be nuclear. Next it will be something else that can be slow-walked. Anything to distract from the actual electrical, solar, wind revolution that is now in progress and achieving rapid advancements.

It’s at these critical times when the pro fossil fuel and anti renewable energy messaging tends to proliferate on a mass scale. And today is just such a time. For right now, global EV sales are surging. Spear-headed by industry leaders like Tesla and countries like China, the electrification revolution is on. And the oil companies know it. In rather short order, as occurred recently with coal, global oil demand could drop. And those magical, marginal profits that fossil fuel investors have been addicted to for so many years and decades could go up in one final puff of CO2 laden smoke.

Will Tesla Survive The Assault?

So it is at this crucial time that all of the major media guns associated with the fossil fuel industry are now unleashing a furious, focus-fire barrage on Tesla. We’ve hinted at some of the reasons above. But looking deeper we find that Tesla’s all-clean-industry business model is the exact antithesis to that produced by traditional industry.

From its lock to its stock to its barrel, Tesla is clean tech through and through. It builds battery plants, it builds solar panels, it builds battery storage for homes, it builds all clean energy vehicles, it builds EV charging networks. And it works to integrate them all. Not one dollar of Tesla capital is wasted on fossil fuel extraction or machinery that burns fossil fuels. Not one iota. Not one cent.

The Tesla model is the model of a pure path away from carbon emissions and if it gets duplicated in one subset or another by companies the world over, then big fossil fuel is finished. If Tesla generates competition by example, as it is doing, then the clean energy revolution takes flight and there’s nothing that the oil, coal, or gas industry can do to stop it.

So from the fossil fuel point of view, Tesla must die. And that is the primary reason why we are seeing so many negative news stories lately about Tesla. Not because of Tesla’s intrinsic weaknesses. Not due to some puffed up accident investigation. These are the facts — the negative bias against Tesla comes from fossil fuel industry based sources. Fin.

Facing such a massive wall of media, political, and industry opposition isn’t easy. In all honesty, it’s amazing that Tesla has made it as far as it has. And under the present barrage, Tesla’s survival is again somewhat in doubt. I think it will pull through this relatively difficult period to emerge as both a major automaker and a global clean industry leader. But if the shorts win and Tesla goes down it will be due to direct sabotage by fossil fuel special interests — not due to some other failure. And that’s not fake news.

Big Oil Says You’re to Blame For Climate Change, Not Them

“Global increases in CO2 concentrations are due primarily to fossil fuel use…” — IPCC.

“Over the last century the burning of fossil fuels like coal and oil has increased the concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2).”NASA.

“The IPCC does not say it’s the extraction and production of oil that is driving these emissions. It’s economic activity that creates the demand for energy, and that leads to emissions.”Chevron’s attorney in an ongoing California climate change liability suit.


After years of encountering this argument in the chat forum below, we could well have seen it going mainstream from a mile away.

To bring everyone up to speed, Big Oil and other fossil fuel giants are being put on trial for their role in producing climate harming carbon emissions. Low lying coastal cities like San Francisco are claiming that impacts like sea level rise caused by those carbon emissions are going to be costly to deal with. They’ll have to build coastal defenses with price tags at least in the tens of millions (and probably more) to protect valuable neighborhoods and industries in the very near future.

(Big oil says they just sell the products that cause climate change. The fact that people in captive energy markets have little choice but to use them is not their fault, they say.Image source: Inside Climate News.)

But Big Oil which for years denied that climate change was happening (after they did the science that proved it was), and for still more years denied that it would be damaging, has now added a new deflection to their arsenal of distraction. They’ve come up with a perfect scape goat for the problem they’ve contributed so much to over the years. Who’s that? Well it’s you. Yes — YOU.

The argument goes something like this — climate change is happening, the IPCC proves it, it’s caused by human economic activity and energy use, so it’s not our fault.

We could well call this climate change denial argument # 5,000 — deny responsibility for harms done by blaming the victim which is humankind and related human civilization itself. Never mind the fact that fossil fuel companies have lobbied for decades to prevent government policy that would actually reduce climate harms by cutting carbon emissions. Never mind the fact that monopolistic fossil fuel companies did everything they could since their inception to corner the energy market and keep humans like you and me captive to fossil fuel use. Never mind that these corporations have fought alternative, clean, non-carbon emitting energy sources like wind and solar tooth and nail — going so far as to produce public relations campaigns that demonize these non-carbon energy sources.

(An expose on just one of many fossil fuel based industry attacks on non-carbon emitting sources during recent years. Video source: The Young Turks.)

Now they want to blame you for the damage they fought so long to ensure.

We’ll see how that argument flies in court. Because it’s likely that a growing list of oil, coal, and gas companies are going to be asked to pay for the damage they’ve caused. The damage that they’ve fought and lobbied for over the course of years and decades in the political sphere. They were both the author of the damage and the authors of denial. And I think there will be many more legal and social bills for their various wrongs and excesses that start coming due.

Unusually Warm Early Arctic Spring Predicted Following Second Lowest Sea Ice Maximum on Record

After a brief Arctic cool-down late during a much warmer than usual freeze season, sea ice extents tortuously rose out of record low daily ranges during mid-March. This feeble climb was enough to barely hit above 2017’s record low maximum extent. It did not, however, push the Arctic out of its present trend of long term declines. Moreover, we are again set on a very low platform for sea ice as we enter what is predicted to be a warmer than normal start to melt season.

(Arctic sea ice losses are a long term trend that has been in place since the early to mid 20th Century. The recent satellite record captures this ongoing loss due to polar warming and triggered primarily by fossil fuel burning. In keeping with this trend, 2018 saw the second lowest sea ice extent maximum on record. Image source: Zack Labe. Data Source: JAXA.)

Arctic sea ice extent measured by JAXA and depicted above by Arctic observer Zack Labe, hit 13.89 million square kilometers on March 17th. Given the fact that warmer Arctic temperatures are now on the way, this is likely the furthest sea ice will extend in the northern polar region during 2018. By comparison, 2017 sea ice extent maxed out at 13.88 million square kilometers on March 6th of that year. As a result, 2017 just barely beat out 2018 as the lowest maximum extent in the satellite record according to JAXA.

A brief spate of cooler than average temperatures contributed to a short period of expanding sea ice late during freeze season. This cool snap in a much warmer than normal winter overall, has now ended. And the forecast shows that warmer to much warmer weather for late March may well be on tap.

Over the next week and a half, Arctic temperatures are expected to range between 0.2 to 0.8 C above average. This may not sound like much compared to the past winter which experienced long periods of 3-5 C above normal temperatures. However, the transition to spring and summer typically shows a regression toward baseline averages. In other words, since winter is where we are seeing most of the climate change related warming at present, even slightly warmer than normal temperatures during spring and summer can have an outsized impact. Especially following a very warm winter like the one we have just seen.

(The ten day forecast is presently predicting a very substantial Arctic warm-up. If this forecast is correct, it could result in a fast start to melt season. With sea ice extents already near record low levels, this potential is rather concerning. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)

Keeping this thought in mind, we are more likely to see slowly mounting sea ice losses over the coming days in various regions. Especially on the Pacific side of the Arctic — which is presently seeing above freezing temperatures running up through the Bering and well into the Chukchi seas. Given such a strong warm wind invasion over a key region of ice, we are very unlikely to see sea ice expansion beyond the present maximum.

Looking at the long term forecast, we find that the Arctic is expected to experience substantial warming — especially for spring. And this warming may serve to accelerate melt beyond typical rates for this time of year. The tendency for Pacific emerging warm winds appears to be in place. And by April 1st, a large plume of abnormal warmth is expected to run up from the Pacific and Eastern Siberian side of the Arctic. This plume is forecast to spread deep into the High Arctic — driving overall temperatures for the zone to 4.1 C above average with local temperatures between 20 and 25 C above average. If the present forecast holds, this unseasonal flow will also result in large regions of the East Siberian Sea experiencing above freezing temperatures for brief periods.

Taken in the greater context, if the predicted warm pattern of the next ten days becomes more of a trend for spring of 2018, then the near record low maximum of 2018 could well be followed by significant losses during melt season. Definitely a trend to keep an eye on.

Big Auto Freaks Out as Tesla Model 3 Deliveries for Q1 Track Toward 8,000 to 10,000

The major automakers are increasingly in a bind. They’re faced with a choice — keep investing in dirty energy vehicles that pollute the air, the water and wreck the climate, jump feet first into the EV revolution, or play both sides. And it’s this dichotomy that’s producing some rather freaky behavior.

(GM has often talked big about its EVs like the Volt and the Bolt. But its policy positions are contradictory to a rapid clean energy vehicle ramp.)

We’ve heard a lot of talk from some major automakers about how many electrical vehicles they’ll be producing in one year, two years, three years or more. And even as these companies have been beating the drum about ‘Tesla killers,’ how they have enough capital to own the EV revolution, some of them keep lobbying for dirty energy vehicles by attacking U.S. fuel efficiency standards.

It’s an inherent contradiction between communication and dedicated action. One that has generated a degree of legitimate distrust in the notion that some big auto manufacturers will follow up on their clean energy promises. Whether the talk is little more than a PR campaign aimed at tamping down public loyalty to those like Tesla who operate under a 100 percent clean energy business model. At the very least, it shows that auto industry focus is starting to fragment between traditionals (which include many backward-looking CEOs) who still support harmful legacy combustion engine production while hiding behind token ‘compliance cars,’ and the progressive-minded within the industry who want to rapidly jump into the EV market and compete.

(Not a compliance car. Nissan and a handful of like-minded major auto manufacturers produce and market seriously competitive EVs. Others appear to be dithering and dissembling.)

As uncertainty over auto industry intent expands due to various contradictory behaviors, here in the U.S., Tesla has been consistently ramping its production of 100 percent clean energy vehicles. And this has generated an equally predictable gnashing of teeth from the usual suspects in the financial media.

During the fourth quarter of 2017, Tesla’s factories pumped out a record number of electrical vehicles. In total, it delivered 29,870 zero tailpipe emissions cars. These included 15,200 Model S, 13,120 Model X, and 1,550 of the new Model 3s. This was the highest production quarter for Tesla and it was enough to propel its total sales for the year to over 101,000.

(Tesla Model 3 is one of the major spear-heads of a clean energy revolution. And it’s helping to goad other western automakers into a larger and expanding EV market. Image source: Tesla.)

Q1 of 2018, however, is likely to see even more. Present delivery estimates for Model S and X alone range from 22,000 to 30,000. Meanwhile the Model 3 is likely to have expanded deliveries more than fivefold to between 8,000 and 10,000. So a total of 30,000 to 40,000 Teslas will likely have hit the road by the time March elapses.

This is particularly significant when one considers that the first quarter is typically a lower selling point for most automakers even as sales have tended to peak for Tesla during Q4. During Q1 of 2017, Tesla sold 25,418 EVs. A number that will likely grow by 20 to 60 percent during 2018.

Moreover, recent reports indicate that Model 3 production is surging.

On March 19th, it was found that Tesla had ordered a large new batch of VINS. As a result, the total Tesla Model 3 VIN count had jumped to nearly 16,000. An indicator that Tesla Model 3 production — which has ranged between 700 and 900 per week since January is also likely expanding.

So it seems that the Tesla production bottle necks are starting to clear and that its ramp is jumping yet again. What this represents is a major call on the traditional auto-manufacturers. The time has come to ante up the EVs, or get out of the way for new clean energy leaders. Bluff time is over.

Atmospheric River Pummels West Coast as East is Slammed by Yet Another Nor’Easter

Today the alerts were sounding in California. Areas recently denuded by extreme wildfires such as Santa Barbara are threatened by debris flows as rainfall amounts of 1-6 inches (up to ten inches locally) are predicted. Meanwhile, the U.S. East Coast braces for the fourth strong nor’easter in three weeks.

Welcome to your weather screwed up by human-caused climate change.

Atmospheric River Brings Landslide Risk to California

Warmer than normal ocean surfaces in the range of 0.5 to 2.5 C hotter than average are bleeding off an excessive volume of moisture across the Northeastern Pacific today. These elevated moisture levels are, in turn, forming into a train of rain-bearing systems aimed fire-hose like at California. This atmospheric river is expected to produce storm after storm after storm. Systems that are predicted to dump between 1 and locally 10 inches of rain over sections of Southwestern California and parts of the Sierra Nevada Range over the next few days.

(An atmospheric river takes aim at California. Image source: MIMIC-TWP.)

These heavier than normal rains are expected to fall over regions hard hit by last summer’s unusually intense wildfires. These fires were both larger and burned hotter than is typical. And, as a result, they have denuded entire regions of trees that previously anchored the soil. Now, with such heavy rains approaching, California is again facing a serious risk of landslides and debris flows.

Fourth Nor’Easter in Three Weeks

As flood and debris flow alerts pop across California, the fourth strong nor’easter to form in three weeks is gathering off the U.S. East Coast. Like the atmospheric river presently taking aim at the West Coast, the nor’easter is gathering over waters that are much warmer than normal — ranging as warm as 9 C above climatological averages in parts of the Gulf Stream off Maine. And it’s also gathering energy from an upper level pattern that has been in place since a major polar warming event rocked the Arctic during February.

(Extremely warm sea surfaces off the U.S. East Coast and in the Gulf of Mexico are providing an extra intensity boost to nor’easters forming across the region. Storms that according to recent science were made two to four times more likely by climate change associated polar warming events. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

Yesterday, the building storm sparked severe weather across Alabama, Missippi and Georgia — producing large hail, tornadoes and heavy rains. Today, the system is flinging frozen precipitation across the I 95 corridor even as it prepares the batter the East Coast with yet one more bout of gale force winds and heavy seas.

Conditions in Context — The Increasing influence of Climate Change on U.S. Severe Weather

High sea surface temperatures, high atmospheric moisture levels, and a polar-warming linked procession of nor’easters striking the U.S. East Coast are signature influences of human-caused climate change. And each is playing a role, to one degree or another, in the pair of major weather events that are presently developing or underway across the U.S. To wit, the increasingly frequent large fires across the Western U.S. have deforested many hillsides in California and led to the increased risk of debris flows following heavy precipitation events in parts of the state.



The Great Totten Glacier is Floating on More Warming Water Than We Thought

It’s well known now that massive glaciers in Greenland and Antarctica are contributing to an accelerating global sea level rise. And while we first thought Greenland was primarily at risk of producing ocean-lifting melt this Century, we have now learned that both West and East Antarctica are becoming involved.

(A massive glacier the size of France is floating on more of a warming ocean than previously thought. Taking into account past reports of thinning along the glacier’s underside, and this is a rather concerning finding. Image source: Australian Antarctic Division.)

How much and how soon and under how much warming pressure is still a matter of some debate in the sciences. But the situation is now looking a bit worse for the Totten Glacier — an enormous sea-fronting slab of ice as big as France that if it melted in total would, by itself, raise sea levels by about 10-13 feet globally.

Previously thought to be more resilient to melt as a result of human-caused climate change and related fossil fuel burning, the Totten was once considered to be stable. However, over recent years, concerns were raised first when plumes of warm water were identified approaching the glacier’s base and later when it was confirmed that Totten was melting from below. Concerns that were heightened by new research identifying how winds associated with climate change were driving warmer waters closer and closer to the huge ice slab.

(Winds heated by climate change drove warmer waters toward Totten and accelerated the glacier during recent years. Video source: Science News.)

After follow-on expeditions to Totten, scientists (over the past two years) discovered that the glacier’s floating underside was losing about 10 meters of thickness annually even as its seaward motion was speeding up. Now, new research has found that more of the Totten Glacier is floating upon this warming flood of ocean water than previously thought. According to Professor Paul Winberry, from Central Washington University, who spent the austral summer of 2018 with a Tasmania-funded team of scientists taking measurements of Totten:

“A hammer-generated seismic wave was used to ‘see’ through a couple of kilometres of ice. In some locations we thought were grounded, we detected the ocean below indicating that the glacier is in fact floating (emphasis added).”

Beneath Totten lies a large ridge upon which most of the glacier is grounded as it flows toward the sea. But penetrating this ridge are numerous gateways that, if melted through, provide sea water access to the glacier’s interior. And recent studies have found that a number of these gateways have been thawed open, allowing warming ocean waters access to sections of the glacier that are hundreds of miles inland.

(Warm water invasion pathways have opened along Totten’s previous grounding line. These openings have allowed water to flood far inland beneath the glacier. The result is a less stable, more rapidly moving ice sheet. Image source: Jamin Greenbaum/University of Texas-Austin.)

This warm water breakthrough has contributed to Totten’s seaward movement. And the new study was aimed at discovering the extent of the inland water melt flood. According to lead researcher Dr Galton-Fenzi:

“These precise measurements of Totten Glacier are vital to monitoring changes and understanding them in the context of natural variations and the research is an important step in assessing the potential impact on sea-level under various future scenarios.”

The fact that the extent of inland flooding along Totten’s underside runs further than previously thought is a concern in light of recent findings that the glacier is losing a considerable amount of underbelly ice each year. In addition, the fact that we haven’t yet pinpointed the grounding line should add another note of worry. How much we should worry is unclear at this time. But the fact is that the scientific signs coming in from Totten continue to indicate that the glacier is suffering warming impacts that pose risks to its historic stability.

The New Silk Road is Paved With Clean Energy — What America Can Learn From China’s Solar Panel Diplomacy

Have solar panel, will travel.

That appears to be the motto of the insurgent globe-spanning renewable energy economy which China is now investing hundreds of billions to develop. For what we’re now beholden to is an economic powerhouse using both its massive capital and its ability to produce inexpensive clean energy systems to spread influence across the world.

(Solar boat diplomacy. China is using its massive financial power base along with its forward-looking clean tech clout to spread its influence across the globe. Meanwhile, the U.S. under Trump remains mired in the dirty energy systems and harmful related politics of the past. Image source:

As the U.S. under Trump and Republicans withdraws from the world, as it enters a form of  jingoistic protectionism, and as it alienates allies, abandons business opportunities, as it turns a cold shoulder to territories like Puerto Rico — China is making global in-roads through engagement. This engagement comes in the form of foreign aid and clean tech exports. Spear-headed by its 1.2 trillion dollar foreign aid investment called ‘One Belt, One Road,’ China is aiming low cost loans at both developing and developed economies — providing assistance for economic and infrastructure expansion across Europe, Asia and Africa.

For reference, 1.2 trillion dollars is ten times more money than the amount loaned to Europe following the destruction of World War II through the Marshall Plan. And much of this money is focused not only on enabling China to develop a sprawling trade network worth 2.5 trillion dollars, it’s also intended to seed a sustainable energy revolution where much of the needed hardware is manufactured by China.

According to Adnan Z. Amin, the Director-General of the International Renewable Energy Agency:

“As the energy transition progresses, power grid infrastructure interconnections will be key to facilitate larger and flexible electricity markets that can integrate higher shares of variable renewable energy. As much as 2,000 GW of interconnection capacity will be required by 2050 in order for enough renewables to be deployed to meet the objectives of the Paris Agreement.

“The Belt-and-Road Initiative can provide a promising platform to help meet the need for infrastructural interconnections between countries, particularly if it has greater focus on low-carbon growth and sustainable energy.”

In other words, where myopic right-wing politicians attack trade alliances and risky foreign ‘giveaways,’ China woos partners in developing a massive transcontinental clean energy trading network. For, China, this kind of investment is a major win-win. If the countries connected by China’s Belt and Road initiative succeed, develop and pay off the loans, China profits through both loan payments and by interconnecting trade partners to its renewable pipeline. But if a default occurs, China is increasingly stepping in and asking for collateral in the form of port leases. For example, when Sri Lanka recently defaulted on a large loan payment, China took a port lease in exchange. Meanwhile, in Africa, China holds the leases for over twenty port facilities.

(China’s Belt and Road program aims to connect far-flung developing and developed economies. Image source: Commons.)

Ports are valuable centers for the flow of goods and capital. So adding port leases to far-flung locales which China is investing in and developing could well be seen as a means of expanding its strategic and economic might along with its political influence. It’s the kind of program that the U.S. used to engage in with enthusiasm, but on a much grander scale. Moreover China’s nascent foreign investment campaign comes with a uniquely Chinese clean energy authority twist. They’re not only using it to both open doors for their clean energy products, they’re leveraging this moral capital to criticize Trump’s climate change denial based policies. Note this recent statement from Xinhua:

“Trump abandoned the Paris climate agreement… [which resulted in] diminished benefits for American workers and less U.S. economic production. Ignoring climate change and global efforts, Trump’s America only focuses on its own short-term interest, while recklessly shirking its responsibility, and even damaging other countries’ benefits and global sustainable development.”

This criticism coming from China drips with terms honed to point out the U.S. lack responsibility and the degradation of its leadership position under Trump. A leadership position China appears to be poised to take. Clean energy leadership is, thus, a strategic goal.

While China is presenting a united front in support of clean energy, in the U.S., renewables’ foes are given a megaphone. This month, as the U.S. financial media took another hit off the petroleum industry bong of Goldman Sachs analyst David Tamberrino, and subsequently did everything it could to publicly attack the progress of domestic clean energy leader Tesla, China’s own electrical vehicle sales hit another record high. Monthly EV sales in China during February, according to this CleanTechnica report, topped 34,000 or roughly twice U.S. EV sales volume for the same month.

Despite best efforts by Trump-supported fossil fuel special interests, the U.S. still has a major quality advantage over China’s mainland EVs due primarily to Tesla — which is goading western auto manufacturers into the EV race even as those same harmful interests turn the company into a media whipping boy. If the U.S. EV industry is not to go the way of solar, whose global manufacturing is now undeniably led by China, then the home-grown fossil fuel special interest based media and political attacks are going to have to fail. And if the U.S. overall, is going to be a successful member of the climate-change confronting economies of the 21st Century, it’s going to have to take a note or two from China’s laser focus on the matter.

For right now China is poised to leverage a massive global trade network enabled by foreign aid to export shiploads of solar panels (and probably EVs) down the modern version of the silk road to Asia, Europe and Africa. To many of the 1.2 billion people on Earth who don’t currently have access to electricity or the grids that supply it to the rest of us. If China succeeds, it will build new clean economies, strategic partnerships, and the clout of global moral leadership. The U.S., by contrast, under Trump is heading toward a nasty fossil fuel backwater that will ultimately be confined to the dustbin of history.

From Rimac’s Electric Hypercars to Volkswagen’s Big EV Spend, Everyone’s Racing to Catch up with Tesla

In a world where human-caused climate change is increasingly damaging and harmful, a global race to produce electric, zero tailpipe emissions vehicles is a positive development. And just such a global race appears to be in the offing.


We’ve heard a lot recently about how traditional automakers are spending boatloads of cash on electrical vehicles. Every week, we see new concept cars and planned production vehicles floated to the public in an apparent effort to show competitiveness in a key emerging industry. And the vaunted term that appears to be the sought-after standard is ‘better than Tesla.’ Ironically, this is a tacit admission that Tesla is presently the first horse in what appears to be a ramping race in mass electrical vehicle production.

Rimac’s Concept Two vs the Tesla Roadster 2.0

A recent example of this trend came in the form of the electric start-up Rimac’s Concept Two. Fresh off a 30 million euro fundraising round, Rimac is planning to produce a clean electric hypercar that’s capable of edging out Tesla’s Roadster 2.0 in a number of performance parameters. To be clear, the Roadster 2.0 is a revolution in automotive engineering — leaving former ICE hypercars in the dust in practically every performance specification that matters. But typical to the presently irresistable lure to compete with (or to appear to compete with) Tesla, Rimac attempts a one-up.

(Rimac’s Concept Two is another all electric hypercar that leaves fossil fuel based vehicles in the dust. But can it outsell Tesla’s Roadster 2.0? Image source: Commons.)

Concept Two boasts a stupendous 1,914 horsepower. And its 1425 kWh battery pack can push the car from 0-60 in 1.85 seconds while achieving a top speed of 258 miles per hour. This acceleration and speed edges out Tesla’s Roadster 2.0. But only just.

Of course a big underlying question here — is how many will Rimac build and for how much of an asking price? Rimac produced another electric hyper car (with far less compelling capabilities) — the Concept One during 2013 to 2014. Eight were ultimately built. In contrast, the Roadster 2.0 is a hypercar that’s starting at around 200,000 dollars (which is rather inexpensive for a car that can blow the likes of Lamborghini out of the water) and will likely produce hundreds to thousands.

Can Legacy Diesel Volkswagen Catch Tesla by Spending Big?

Another automaker that’s trying to catch up to Tesla is Volkwagen. Globally, the world’s largest automaker, the company appears to be setting aside 50 percent of its slated investment capital in an effort to produce a massive line of electrical vehicles. Its stated goal is to have an electric version of every model and to sell 5 million EVs annually by 2025. And the company is apparently willing to spend 60 billion dollars to achieve it.

Volkswagen is also investing in not one but 16 battery production facilities. And it states that it will be producing one new hybrid, plug in hybrid, or all electrical vehicle per month by next year. These are major goals. One that is in stark contrast to the present reality in which Volkswagen currently produces just one all-electric mass market vehicle — the E-Golf. And that, admittedly capable, attractive and well-priced, EV is selling at rather lower rates than Nissan’s popular Leaf EV.

(Volkswagen’s E-Golf is presently its only all-electric model. But the company plans a big surge into the EV market over the next couple of years. Image source: Volkswagen.)

In other words, despite big investments and big stated plans, Volkswagen is presently just barely on the EV leader board, if that. This puts the company at a pole position in the EV race far behind Tesla in 2018. And major investments and innovations will be required for it to catch up.

We’ve heard big EV promises from other traditional automakers before. And those like Volvo and Ford appear to have struggled with legacy issues in their stated attempts to put EVs on a fast track. One such issue that could hamper Volkswagen is the fact that it invested heavy sums in diesel vehicle technology during the 70s and 80s. As a result, the carmaker will have to overcome a decent amount of institutional inertia to jump into an EV leadership position. Pollution and emissions scandals plaguing the company have helped to spur its EV drive. But a history of profit-making selling polluting cars may inject a degree of cynicism into the company’s leadership. So self-sabotage is something to look out for here.

If Volkswagen manages a major internal transformation and if its engineers are capable of producing market EVs with mass appeal, then it could take a huge share of the emerging EV market and surge to match Tesla sales during 2019-2021 while possibly surpassing it by 2022-2023. Perhaps. But there’s a lot of hurdles for Volkswagen to overcome before gets there, all promises and talking aside.

Polar Warming Spawns More Severe Winter Storms

So there’s a lot of groundbreaking work going on in the climate sciences right now. And a major focus is evidence that winter polar warming events are increasingly connected to blizzards and storms in places like Europe and North America. Storms that are both historically powerful and that occur with greater frequency.

(A historic nor’easter produces major flooding on the U.S. East Coast even as a blizzard pounds the UK in early March. Were these extreme storms linked to human-caused climate change and related rapid polar warming? A new scientific study says — yes. Image source: NASA Worldview.)

A new study led by pioneers in the emerging field of climate change attribution for extreme weather events (including the notable Dr. Jennifer Francis), finds:

Recent boreal winters have exhibited a large-scale seesaw temperature pattern characterized by an unusually warm Arctic and cold continents… Using a recently developed index of severe winter weather, we show that the occurrence of severe winter weather in the United States is significantly related to anomalies in pan-Arctic geopotential heights and temperatures.

In particular, the authors discovered thatwinter storms were two to four times more likely when the Arctic is abnormally warm, compared to when it was abnormally cold (emphasis added).”

Stronger, More Frequent Storms

This is a rather big deal for a number of reasons. First, it’s an observational confirmation of earlier scientific work predicting just these kinds of extreme weather instances due to polar warming and related climate change. Second, it’s another indicator that human-caused climate change is pushing us into a period of much stormier weather for the North Atlantic region during fall and winter.

(A new study in the journal Nature finds that winter storms in the U.S. are two to four times more likely when the Arctic is abnormally warm than when it is abnormally cold. Due to human-caused climate change, the Arctic is now warming up at a rate two times faster than the rest of the globe (emphasis added). Image source: Atmospheric and Environmental Research.)

With the new NASA global temperature data set out, I thought we’d take this opportunity to apply a bit of context to apparent stormy changes we see at present in winter weather patterns.

The first bit that I’d like to be crystal clear about is that the Arctic, overall, has become much, much warmer than usual during winter. That this warming spike occurs in the context overall global warming. And that this polar warming is increasingly associated with severe weather events in the middle latitudes and especially over the land and North Atlantic mid latitude zones.

The above graph shows polar temperature anomalies from the surface (1000 mb/2 meter) of the Earth to the top regions of the atmosphere (10 mb/25 kilometers). Along the bottom of the graph, we have a list of extreme weather events. Analyzing the graph we find that major polar warming associated with extreme temperature increases at the bottom of the atmosphere all the way through to the stratosphere correlate with recently more frequent historic blizzards and nor’easters in the regions mentioned.

Polar Warming Flushing Cooler Air into the Middle Latitudes

In previous posts, I used the ground-breaking scientific research of Dr. Jennifer Francis and others as a basis to analyze how energy transfer into the polar zone in the form of heat build-up has generated these extraordinary temperature extremes. How this ramping heat is associated with polar amplification — an aspect of human-caused climate change. And how these warming events can have upstream (Jet Stream) impacts that increase storminess in the middle latitudes.

(From January [top] to February [bottom] the pole heats up and extreme weather events ensue. Image source: NASA.)

But let’s take this analysis a step further to look at, as January progressed into February, where it got warmer, where it got colder, and where the big storms fired off.

The maps above show global temperature anomalies (NASA) for January (top) and February (bottom). And looking at those maps we find that the polar region heated up significantly from already warm ranges of 4 to 6.9 degrees Celsius above average during January to an amazing 4 to 12.3 C above average during February.

As this relative polar warming increased during February, the NASA maps show that colder than normal temperatures expanded over North America through Canada and parts of the Northern U.S. even as a cold spell began to blossom in Europe. Cold pools that were fed by Arctic air shunting southward as the Polar Vortex collapsed and remnant continental troughs emerged.

NASA’s zonal anomaly measures provide further evidence for this trend.

(Major northern polar warming from January [top] to February [bottom] is clearly visible in NASA’s zonal anomalies maps. Note that despite cold air excursions into North America and Europe, most zonal regions are warmer to much warmer than average.)

For here we find that as temperatures spiked from 4.5 degrees Celsius above average in the polar region of 80 to 90 degrees north latitude during January to an amazing 11 degrees above average during February, the region of 45 to 70 N dipped from 1 to 3 C warmer than average to 0.8 to 2.5 C warmer than average.

Note that the zonal middle latitude continental cooling is moderated by both the relatively warmer oceans and by very strong ridge zones running through these regions. But that the trough regions over both Europe and North America produced locally frigid temperatures and related instances of extreme weather.

Putting all these maps together from top to bottom we find that the polar warming events coincided both with mid latitude cooling even as we saw extreme snowfall in Canada and Montana, historic cold and snowfall in Europe and the UK, record flooding in the Central U.S., and record heat along the U.S. East Coast. We also find that the developing deep trough over Canada due to the expulsion of polar air southward in turn produced the succession of instabilities that would later spawn 3 very severe nor’easters off the U.S. East Coast during March.

Of course, all of these severe weather events are happening in the context of months that are around 1 degree Celsius warmer than 1880s averages globally. That January was the fifth hottest on record and that February was the sixth hottest on record during a La Nina that, all things being equal, should cause the world to be cooler than average.

But as we can see clearly here, all things are not equal — human-caused climate change is a big spoiler.

Getting Away With Murder — Arnold Schwarzenegger Sues Big Oil for Killing People

Earlier this week, in his typically bombastic and bold style, Arnold Schwarzenegger announced that he’ll be suing the oil giants. The reason? According to Arnold:

They are knowingly killing people all over the world. The oil companies knew from 1959 on, they did their own study that there would be global warming happening because of fossil fuels, and on top of it that it would be risky for people’s lives, that it would kill (emphasis added).”

Like tobacco, fossil fuel burning is certainly harmful to people’s health. According to the Lancet, 9 million premature deaths each year are attributed to air pollution. Oil, coal, and gas burning are the primary causes of this pollution and, in turn, of these mass deaths. A far, far greater impact on the rate of human loss of life than warfare. And a primary contributor to heart disease, lung disease, cancer, and strokes.

Fueling Climate Disruption and Lethality

However, with instances of extreme weather, sea level rise, impacts to crops, rising heat waves, and worsening fires due to global warming also on the rise, burning oil is now producing a growing tally of external disasters that surpass the scope of most toxins. Global warming by fossil fuel burning increases the scale and scope of hazards produced by the physical world encompassed by our globe. It is thus more likely now that an individual human being will lose their livelihood or even their life due to factors related to human-caused climate change.

(Increasing numbers of deadly heatwaves is just one of many life-threatening hazards produced by burning fossil fuels. Image source: The University of Hawaii.)

According to the World Health Organization, approximately 150,000 people die each year due to direct effects related to changes in climate. However, the number of deaths resulting from indirect effects such as displacement, loss of food and water security, or loss of government and social services like healthcare, and the heat-amplification of harmful related pollutants like ozone is probably much higher. For example, in Puerto Rico following the devastating strike of Hurricane Maria and related loss of infrastructure, the overall incident rate of death significantly increased. Without reliable access to electricity, shelter, clean water, food and health services, due to a climate change related disruption, Puerto Rico became a more unpleasant, deadlier place in which to live. And, as a result, hundreds of thousands of people have fled the island.

These climate change spurred increases to human mortality don’t occur in a vacuum. They are caused by rising levels of greenhouse gasses. These gasses are emitted by the products produced by the fossil fuel companies of the world. And they are wrecking cities, states, homes. They are taking lives.

Sued for Murder, Climate Change Denial, Public Nuisance

There are three parts to any given murder. One part is that murder is an action that kills a human being. Another is that this killing is unlawful. And the third part is that the killing is premeditated. As Arnold says:

“If you walk into a room and you know you’re going to kill someone, it’s first degree murder; I think it’s the same thing with the oil companies.”

The implication from Arnold’s civil suit being that the deaths caused by big oil due to climate change were both premeditated and unlawful. This is a higher charge than earlier claims against oil majors that they willfully misinformed the public about climate change or that their activities constitute a public nuisance.

(Arnold, like many moral leaders today is a promoter of the green energy revolution. But, increasingly, he and others are directly confronting the fossil fuel industry for the various and wide-ranging harms its products have caused. Image source: Twitter.)

Arnold’s push, however, is aimed at informing the public about the risks of fossil fuel use. He’s suing to have warning labels slapped on gas pumps and ICE cars that give people a clear understanding of the direct harm that comes from burning these substances:

“Because to me it’s absolutely irresponsible to know that your product is killing people and not have a warning label on it, like tobacco. Every gas station [should have a warning label], every car should have a warning label on it, every product that has fossil fuels should have a warning label on it.”

Why are So Many Powerful Nor’Easters Striking New England?

A major nor’easter is pummeling states from New York through Maine today with heavy snow, near hurricane force winds, and high surf. The storm is expected to dump 1-2 feet of snow over this region even as it pounds coastlines that have already been raked by two other major storms during the past two weeks.

It would be relatively unusual to see one storm of such intensity striking this region during any given March. But as the third in a two-week-long parade of extreme events, the presently intense storm pattern is starting to look more than a little outlandish.

So what the heck is going on? In a couple handfuls of words — influences related to human-caused climate change are spiking East Coast storm intensity while setting in place a general pattern that causes these storms to repeatedly fire.

(Over the past 11 days, three major nor’easters have struck the U.S. East Coast. Why have these storms been both so strong and such a persistent feature? Image source: RAMMB/CIRA. H/T to Chris Dolce.)

The Most Recent of Three Powerful Nor’Easters

Presently, the most recent strong storm has an intensity of 970 mb and features winds gusting to hurricane force just off-shore with gusts of up to 69 mph along the coast. Pressures are expected to drop into the upper 960s — making it about as powerful as the system that produced major flooding in parts of New England on March 2nd.

For reference, storm intensity measured by pressure in the range of 970 mb is about as strong as a category 2 hurricane. This is a rough comparison as hurricanes tend to be more intensely concentrated even as nor’easters tend to have broader if more diffuse impacts. But it’s a marker for the high level of atmospheric energy the system is now pumping out and how potentially damaging it could ultimately become.

The storm is thus strong enough to produce record and historic impacts. This is notable enough by itself. But the fact that we have had three systems of similar strength in just 11 days over what is practically the same region is concerning.

(Global warming fuels increased convection as lands waters pump out more heat and moisture. At times, this can result in some unexpected instances of atmospheric pyrotechnics.)

Specifically, on March 7 a 989 mb system raked the same region with gale force winds and instances of intense thundersnow (see above tweet by NOAA). And on March 2nd, a sprawling storm that dipped to around 975 mb generated massive waves and significant coastal flooding.

Atmospheric Train Wreck

Looking for causes, we need to go all the way back to February. At that time, a big polar warming event was taking place. In the upper levels of the atmosphere over the pole, the stratosphere was warming up. But at the same time, surface temperatures at the pole were rising to above freezing. In some locations near Northern Greenland, readings were pushing as high as 63 F above average.

High amplitude Jet Stream waves were eating away at the typically faster polar circulation patterns even as they were helping to inject much warmer than normal air into the Arctic and pull its resident cold air out. Eventually, all this heat running into the various layers of the Arctic atmosphere drove the polar vortex to collapse. This, in turn, resulted in cold Arctic air being ejected south and west into Europe. This massive jet stream dip, in eddy-like fashion produced a large, countervailing high pressure ridge over Greenland.

(A deep trough that has consistently lingered over the U.S. East Coast and helped to spawn storm after powerful storm, was initially generated by a very intense polar warming event linked to human-caused climate change. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

The rippling upper level jumble of winds backed all the way to the U.S. East Coast — forming a deep and persistent trough. The trough funneled numerous disturbances slowly through the region. And it was both the trough’s persistence and depth that enabled strong storms to form repeatedly even as they set off such long-lasting and intense impacts (see Dr Jennifer Francis’s related work on how polar amplification impacts the Jet Stream here).

Much Warmer than Normal Ocean Waters

Though polar amplification — which is another term for how global warming spurs the poles to heat up faster than the rest of the world — helped to generate the upper level features in the atmosphere that would consistently generate storms running across the U.S. East Coast, widespread warmer than normal ocean waters helped to give these storms more fuel.

In the Gulf of Mexico, sea surface temperatures have consistently ranged between 0.5 and 3 C above normal since February. These warm ocean waters contributed to severe floods over the Ohio River Valley at that time by pumping record levels of atmospheric moisture into the storms running south.

(Much warmer than normal sea surface temperatures dominate throughout the Gulf of Mexico and just off the U.S. East Coast. These warmer than normal waters — warmed by climate change — are providing fuel for the powerful nor’easters of recent weeks. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

As the Jet Stream dip became more oriented toward the East Coast during March, storms that would ultimately blow up over the Atlantic at first got a big plug of moisture from the extra evaporation flowing off that warmer than normal Gulf. But it was over the Atlantic Ocean that the storms would really start to fire. There, ocean temperatures were ranging between 0.5 and as high as 9 C above normal over parts of the Gulf Stream.

Such very warm sea surfaces provide a lot of fuel in the form of moisture and related convection. And, in particular, we saw some rather amazing instances of convective lift during the recent March 2nd and 7th storms as they tapped that incredible Atlantic Ocean heat and moisture.

Conditions in Context

So to sum up, an extreme polar warming event driven in large part by human-caused climate change set up conditions that generated a persistent trough over the U.S. East Coast. This trough was both deep and long-lasting. As low pressure systems moved into the trough zone, they were able to tap abnormal levels of heat and moisture rising off of the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean near the coast in order to bloom to abnormally powerful intensity. Both of these factors — Arctic warming and warmer than normal sea surface temperatures — would not have been as acute or intense without the extra push to the climate system that human forced warming provides. As a result, we are seeing a very strong climate change related signal in the present severe storm pattern.


Intensifying Drought Shifts Toward Central U.S.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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