This is What the Anthropocene Looks Like — Tropical Storms Are Now Forming During Winter

Tropical Storms in both the Atlantic and Pacific during January. It could happen this week. And it’s all due to this new Anthropocene weather we’re now experiencing.


The Holocene ended more than half a century ago. That’s when human impacts from the production of plastics, to the use of nuclear materials, to the forcing of species extinction, became what scientists now believe to be the dominant influence on this era of Earth history. It was also the time when human beings were in the process of plotting a course to radically alter the Earth’s climate. Pumping greenhouse gasses into the global environment at the fastest pace ever recorded in the geological record. Setting the stage for a warming event not seen in millions of years and, perhaps, in all of time on this world. One that would fundamentally alter the geophysical nature of the Earth system from the bottom of the oceans to the top of the atmosphere.

And it sure does feel like it — with the North Pole now experiencing above-freezing temperatures during Winter and with both the Atlantic and the Pacific retaining enough heat and instability to brew up tropical cyclones during January.

Unprecedented Tropical Cyclone Development in Both the Pacific and the Atlantic During January

It’s really a bit of an understatement to say that January is not a month where we usually see tropical cyclone formation in the Northern Hemisphere. Back in the 1870s it happened in the Atlantic. Once. In the Pacific, which tends to host sea surface temperatures that are hotter than those in the Atlantic, the various basins can sometimes see these beasts blow up early on in the year. Sometimes meaning that two have only ever been recorded during January — Winona on January 9 of 1985 and Ekeka on January 26 of 1992.

Since climatology is the understanding of trends in average weather over long periods, we can probably say that the off-season tropical cyclone climatology has already changed for the Pacific. During the 148 years since record keeping began in 1832 for the Pacific through to 1980 only seven tropical cyclones were recorded to have formed during the period of December through May. During just the 35 years since 1980, we’ve seen nearly twice that many — 12. In other words, the rate of recorded off-season storm formation septupled or increased a factor of 7. And both the earliest and the latest named stormed have now formed during back-to-back years — Nine C on New Years Eve less than two weeks ago and now Pali on January 7th.

What we are seeing now is unprecedented by any measure of tropical weather system climatology. We have never seen a tropical storm form so early in the Central Pacific at the same time during which a similar, very rare, tropical system was threatening to form in the Atlantic. In other words, it’s not just both events in isolation that’s quite odd. It’s the fact they are both happening side-by-side.

Pali — Earliest Tropical Cyclone to have Ever Formed in Central Pacific

Pali, in particular, is an unusual beast. According to Weather Underground, as of early this morning Pali was whipping up 65 mile per hour winds and rough surf along a broad region of water some 1350 miles southeast of Hawaii. Pali spun up out of a westerly wind burst and storm pattern associated with the monster El Nino now going off in the Pacific. But even during past super El Ninos, related odd tropical systems have tended to form mainly during late November through to mid December. The formation of Pali is then possibly associated with both this late peaking El Nino and with sea surface temperatures in the Pacific that are now among the hottest ever seen in human reckoning.

Pali projected path

(According to today’s National Hurricane Center forecast, Pali could stick around for quite some time. This record earliest Pacific cyclone could last into the middle of January — spinning out westerly winds that aid in the maintenance and possible re-intensification of the current super El Nino. Image source: NOAA’s Central Pacific Hurricane Center.)

Pali is expected to meander along the Central Pacific equatorial region in which it formed over the next six days. It is predicted to maintain tropical storm intensity throughout this period — making it a rather long-lasting weather system. Expected to re-curve back toward the Equator near the 175 West Longitude line, the strong westerlies associated with Pali could also aid in maintaining or even increasing the strength of our current super El Nino — driving warm water up-welling in the Eastern Pacific to reinvigorate. Sea surface temperatures in the range of 27 to 28 degrees Celsius are more than enough to maintain tropical storm intensity. Meanwhile, sea surfaces in the range of 3-4 degrees Celsius hotter than normal just to the southeast of Pali will continue to provide considerable moisture for the storm to feed upon. Wind shear, therefore, is the only major limiter for Pali. And though shear appears to be strong enough to preclude Pali’s development into a typhoon, it is not at this time predicted to become intense enough to disperse Pali. So, if the forecast is correct, we’re looking at this storm sticking around for at least another week.

30 Percent Chance of Tropical Cyclone Development in the Atlantic During January

As if Pali and this ramping trend of off-season tropical cyclone formation in the Pacific weren’t enough to put an exclamation point after the sentence — tropical storms are forming earlier than they used to — we have a concordant potential tropical cyclone development happening at the same time in the Atlantic. A weird storm is taking on extra-tropical characteristics off the US East Coast. Already packing gale-force winds in the range of 60-65 miles per hour, this odd system now has the potential to become a warm-core, tropical low as it moves eastward toward the Azores.

The storm now sits over sea surface temperatures in the range of 23-26 degrees Celsius. That’s much, much hotter than normal (2 to 8 degrees Celsius above average) for that region of the North Atlantic for this time of year. It’s also in the range that’s generally considered just about enough to support tropical storm and even possibly hurricane formation. Subsequently, the National Hurricane Center sees the potential for a warm core formation in this system and has given it a 10 percent chance of becoming a tropical storm over the next 48 hours.

Odd North Atlantic System Potential Tropical Storm

(Very odd North Atlantic Gale rages over record warm waters in the North Atlantic. This system now has a 10 percent chance to develop into a tropical cyclone over the next 48 hours. Over the next five days, the chance of tropical cyclone development jumps to 30 percent. Image source: The National Hurricane Center.)

This freakish system is then expected to skirt the southern edge of a powerful low between the UK and Greenland. Tracking eastward toward Africa, its winds are predicted to further intensify as it heads toward somewhat warmer waters. Over the next five days, the National Hurricane Center gives a moderate chance (30 percent) that this system will form into a tropical cyclone.

As noted above, such weather patterns are not at all normal for the North Atlantic. And if a hurricane or tropical storm did form during January in the North Atlantic it would be the first time since 1872. Again it’s a case of we’ve never seen weather like this before. We’ve never seen hurricanes so early in the Central Pacific. We’ve never seen sea surface temperatures so warm during Winter off the US East Coast. And we’ve never seen the potential development of a January Atlantic tropical system at the same time such systems are riling the waters of the Equatorial Pacific.

The scientists were absolutely right. The Holocene is over. We’re living on a different planet.


Human Impact Pushed Earth Into the Anthropocene

Warm Storm Unfreezes North Pole During Winter

Atlantic Tropical Cyclone Climatology

Pacific Tropical Cyclone Climatology

Pali Weather Underground Report

NOAA’s Central Pacific Hurricane Center

The National Hurricane Center

Hat Tip to Colorado Bob

Hat Tip to Caroline

Hat Tip to DT Lange

Ominous Arctic Methane Spikes Continue — 2666 Parts Per Billion on October 26th

Imagine, for a moment, the darkened and newly liberated ocean surface waters of the Kara, Laptev, and East Siberian Seas of the early 21st Century Anthropocene Summer.

Where white, reflective ice existed before, now only dark blue heat-absorbing ocean water remains. During summer time, these newly ice-free waters absorb a far greater portion of the sun’s energy as it contacts the ocean surface. This higher heat absorption rate is enough to push local sea surface temperature anomalies into the range of 4-7 C above average.

Remnant Arctic sea surface heat

(Remnant extreme heat at Arctic Ocean surface on October 8, 2014. Extraordinary warmth in the range 0f 4-7 C above average is due to recent loss of summer sea ice in the Kara, Laptev, East Siberian and Beaufort Seas. Newly exposed dark surface waters absorb more of the sun’s rays which results in a highly visible temperature anomaly. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer. Image archived by: Arctic News.)

Some of the excess heat penetrates deep into the water column — telegraphing abnormal warmth to as far as 50 meters below the surface. The extra heat is enough to contact near-shore and shallow water deposits of frozen methane on the sea-bed. These deposits — weakened during the long warmth of the Holocene — are now delivered a dose of heat they haven’t experienced in hundreds of thousands or perhaps millions of years. Some of these deposits weaken, releasing a portion of their methane stores into the surrounding oceans which, in turn, disgorges a fraction of this load into the atmosphere.

The rate of release intensifies throughout summer. But during the Arctic Fall, it reaches a peak. Then, as sea ice begins to re-form over the surface waters, a kind of temperature inversion wedge develops. The surface cools and the ice solidifies — forming an insulating blanket, trapping heat. The insulating layer, in turn, pushes the anomalously hot mid level waters toward the bottom. This process delivers a final and powerful dose of heat to the Arctic Ocean bottom water and sea bed.

Methane release rates spike as the methane flooding up from the sea bed squeezes out through cracks in the newly forming ice or bubbles up through open waters just beyond the ice edge.

Observed Arctic Methane Over-Burden

During recent years, a troubling methane over-burden has been observed in the atmosphere above these regions during the months of September through November. Dr. Leonid Yurganov — a researcher at the University of Maryland — has been using the IASI sensor to record these events. Last year, he developed this map of September through November methane readings for the 2009-2012 period:

Arctic methane concentrations Sep-Nov 2009-2012

(Highest lower troposphere global atmospheric methane readings were found in the region of the East Siberian, Laptev and Kara seas during September through November of 2009 through 2012. Data provided by IASI. Image source: Dr. Leonid Yerganov via Arctic News.)

The readings above show near-surface averages over a three month period in the regions of highest release. Note that highest methane levels occur over coastal Siberia and in the above ocean zones of near-Russia Arctic Ocean waters.

These measurements have been ramping higher in recent years with near-surface readings in the range of 1950 to 2000 ppb now common for the months of September through November in the areas affected (for comparison, global surface averages are now in the range of 1840 ppm).

By themselves, these measurements are evidence of a substantial Arctic methane release. But further up in the troposphere — at the mid cloud level — even higher levels of methane have been recorded.

For as methane releases from the sea and land surface, it becomes trapped in the mid-cloud layer. There, a sandwich of cloud and moisture form a cap beneath which methane tends to concentrate. In this layer, readings can be quite a bit higher than surface measurements. Recent years have shown numerous instances where methane readings in the mid-cloud layer spiked above 2300 parts per billion.

Last year during September, the now annual plume of methane emitting from the Arctic Ocean pushed readings as high as 2571 parts per billion at this level of the atmosphere. It was a reading more than 700 parts per billion above the global surface average. A spike fueled by the anomalously high rates of methane emission from the Arctic surface waters and Siberian tundra during the Fall of 2013.

This year, despite extraordinarily spotty coverage due to cloud interference, the METOP sensor found Arctic methane concentrations in the range of 2666 parts per billion in the mid cloud layer. The spike occurred just this past Sunday and exceeds the September 2013 spike by 95 parts per billion — a level more than 800 parts per billion above current global surface averages.

Arctic methane spike 2666

(Arctic methane spikes to 2666 parts per billion in the mid-cloud layer on Sunday October 26. Image source: OSPO/METOP.)

In combination, observations of a rapidly warming Arctic Ocean and observations of Arctic methane readings between 6 and 60 percent above the global average in near surface regions and in the mid cloud layer are a clear signal that human-caused Arctic warming is forcing an ever-greater methane release. To a greater and greater extent, large carbon stores are being weakened and tapped by the various mechanisms that are an up-shot of human warming. The location of these large-scale releases, as observed in the satellite record, is confirmation of ground and ocean based observations conducted by Arctic researchers such as Dr. Semiletov and Shakhova. And the releases themselves may well be some validation of our more dire concerns.

This new spike is yet more evidence of a sizeable, anthropogenic-spurred, release that is impacting not only regional methane levels, but global levels as well. Whether this newly observed release is part of a slow global response to the initial human heat forcing — one that will take centuries to fully emerge — or is part of a much more rapid and dangerous response to an also very rapid human heat forcing is now unclear.

What is clear is that feedbacks to the human heat forcing are now starting to become plainly visible. That they are providing evidence of a stronger release from some sources on a yearly basis. A troubling amplifying feedback to the already dangerous and extraordinary human emission. One that should serve both as a warning and as a spur to reduce and eliminate human greenhouse gas emissions from all sources and to switch energy systems away from fossil fuels as swiftly as possible.



Climate Reanalyzer

NOAA’s Office of Satellite Operations

Arctic News

Dr. Leonid Yurganov

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