Advertisements

Warmed, Wet and Blocked: Another Storm Taking Aim at the Flooded Central U.S. is Expected to Transition into a Stalled Nor’Easter

The Ohio River Valley is now reeling from the worst flooding event of the past 20 years. Yet one more major event fueled by disruptions to the Earth’s atmosphere facilitated by human-caused climate change. But with another serious plume of moisture issuing from the warmer than normal waters of the Gulf of Mexico, more heavy rains are heading toward a storm-battered Central U.S.

(One more big moisture plume arises from a warmer than normal Gulf of Mexico. It will help to fuel a major storm system that is expected to impact a large swath of the U.S. for most of this week. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

The set-up is similar to previous events of the past two weeks. A strong high pressure system over the Northeast is pulling a heavy load of moisture from a much warmer than normal Gulf of Mexico. Sea surface temperatures there, according to Earth Nullschool reanalysis, range from less than 1 C warmer than normal in the southern Gulf to as much as 5 C warmer than normal in the northern Gulf. Last week, these warmer than normal sea surfaces helped to fuel record atmospheric moisture levels along with historically heavy rains.

This week’s atmospheric moisture pulse will be picked up by a trough sweeping into the Central U.S. over the next couple of days. There, it will help to pump up a series of heavy storms that are predicted to dump another 3-7 inches of rain over the Mississippi River Valley this week. Note that this is on top of the 5-15 inches of rain that has already been dumped over the region during the last two weeks.

(NOAA composite radar imagery shows observed precipitation totals for the U.S. during the past 14 days. Note that another batch of heavy rains is headed directly for the region that has already been hit the hardest.)

Persistent extreme weather patterns of this kind are an aspect of human-forced climate change in that polar warming can result in Jet Stream blocking patterns that cause weather systems to stick around or repeat for long periods of time. This is particularly the case with the storm system now developing in the Central U.S. For as the storm strengthens and moves slowly eastward, it is expected to deepen into a powerful coastal low. This low is predicted to then rake the Northeast U.S. coast with 60 mph winds, heavy rain, high surf and coastal flooding.

As the storm’s eastward passage is blocked by the same weather system that so recently warmed the far north to such extreme winter temperatures, it is expected to linger off the U.S. East Coast even as it intensifies. Due to this predicted stall, the Northeast U.S. is facing the potential of multiple storm tides in which wind-driven water piles up — exacerbating coastal flooding.

(Very strong northeasterly winds are expected to rake the coasts of Maine and Massachusetts by March 2 according to GFS model forecasts. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

Though the shape of the present storm is still a bit unclear, it is likely to both further exacerbate already severe flooding over the Central U.S. even as it generates some serious coastal flooding potentials for the Northeast by the end of this week. What is also clear is that a warming polar environment is contributing to these upstream severe weather events by increasing their persistence even as warming ocean surfaces are helping to feed them with larger moisture loads which generates higher potential storm and rainfall intensity.

Advertisements

Human Hothouse Found to be California Drought Culprit as Ridiculously Resilient Ridge Reasserts

This is an event that is more extreme than any in the observed record, and our research suggests that global warming is playing a role right now. — Stanford Scientist Noah Diffenbaugh

****

Last week, a strong storm over-rode a powerful high pressure ridge that has been deflecting moisture-loaded weather systems northward and away from the US West Coast for the better part of two years. Though some precipitation did grace the northern and mountain stretches of the drought-stricken state of California, it is no-where near enough to alleviate an epic 21+ month long drought. A drought borne of a blocking pattern that began during the winter of 2012-2013 and now threatens to extend to the end of 2014 and, possibly, beyond.

In the wake of the storm, the powerful ridge reasserted — again delaying hopes that a parched California would at last begin to receive at least a normal allotment of rain.

Blocking Ridge Oct 6, 2014

(Euro Model forecast shows the ridiculously resilient ridge [RRR] strongly in place off the US and Pacific Northwest coasts in the October 6 run. Image source: ECMWF.)

It is a high pressure ridge based blocking pattern that has become so persistent that researchers at Stanford University have given it a new name — the ridiculously resilient ridge or Triple R. And the Triple R, according to those same researchers has climate change based origins.

For this week, Stanford scientists published a new study that found:

The atmospheric conditions associated with the unprecedented drought currently afflicting California are “very likely” linked to human-caused climate change.

Researchers used a combination of climate models and statistical techniques to determine that large, persistent high pressure systems of the kind that have been locking California into perpetual drought are more likely in the presence of high concentrations of greenhouse gasses. They found that the ridge, which has generated year-round wildfires in California and at its peak intensity during January of 2014 stretched from Hawaii all the way to coast of the Arctic Ocean north of Alaska, was a kind of new species of extreme weather far more likely to occur in a human-warmed world.

south-to-north-weather-pattern-alaska

(January 23 of 2014 weather pattern showing a moisture flow diverted from Hawaii to Alaska by the Triple R west coast blocking pattern. Image source: NASA.)

The anomalous strength of the ridge also likely played a role in the powerful polar vortex disruptions that were commonplace throughout the winter of 2014. As the ridge shoved more warm air into the polar zone north of Alaska the cold core of the polar vortex was displaced south and eastward over the Canadian Archipelago and Hudson Bay — driving extreme weather events over the central and eastern US as well as across the Atlantic and on to the UK.

The Researchers found that ridging was the overall and anomalous tendency of the pattern in this region of the northeast Pacific. They observed that the ridge remained strong throughout the winter of 2013, weakened during the summer of that year, then flared into an extreme intensity by January of 2014. Since that time, the ridge has swelled and spluttered, occasionally letting a storm or two pass but still serving as a kind of brutal sentinel to weather systems that would typically make their way to California.

The results of such a human-caused disruption of the climate are all too visible in the most recent US Drought Monitor.

September 23 drought monitor

(Despite tropical storms and the occasional weakness in the Triple R allowing a brief influx of moisture, 100% of California is still suffering from drought conditions with 58% percent of the state under the most extreme level of drought. Image source: US Drought Monitor)

A drought event that is the most extreme in the observed record and that is now linked to climate change by at least three major studies.

From the Stanford Study’s authors:

“We’ve demonstrated with high statistical confidence that the large-scale atmospheric conditions, similar to those associated with the Triple R, are far more likely to occur now than in the climate before we emitted large amounts of greenhouse gases,” Rajaratnam said.

“In using these advanced statistical techniques to combine climate observations with model simulations, we’ve been able to better understand the ongoing drought in California,” Diffenbaugh added. “This isn’t a projection of 100 years in the future. This is an event that is more extreme than any in the observed record, and our research suggests that global warming is playing a role right now.”

Links:

Stanford Scientists: Causes of California Drought Linked to Climate Change

ECMWF

NASA

US Drought Monitor

Heat, Wind Ahead of Pacific Storm Spikes King Fire Hazard; Potential Blocking Pattern Shift Underway

King Fire Sep 23

(King Fire Complex fanned by strong, hot southwesterly flow on September 23, 2014 — a rising fire danger through Thursday in advance of an approaching Pacific storm system. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

A powerful storm system off the US and Canadian Northwest Coasts may deliver much-needed rains to central and northern California by Thursday — but not before pulling warm, dry winds up from the south in advance of the storm’s approach. The heat and winds, expected to reach 15-25 mph later today, will heighten danger for the over 7,400 firefighters already battling the 90,000 acre King Fire.

As of earlier today, the fire was 35% contained after the army of firefighters, aided by a spate of mountain drizzle, tirelessly worked through the weekend to staunch the blaze. But the new in-rush of hot, dry winds today and tomorrow will fan the still energetic wildfire, increasing the threat to more than 21,000 structures ringing the fire’s edge.

Already, ten people have suffered injuries and 32 structures were destroyed even as 2,700 people are currently evacuated from areas most vulnerable to the still-raging fire. Given the influx of more dangerous conditions, fire fighting personnel will be hard pressed to prevent further damage from an already costly and harmful blaze.

Strong Storm Approaches the Western US

(Strong storm approaches the Western US as the ridge and associated blocking high shift eastward. Change in year and half long blocking pattern? Image source: NOAA-GOES.)

Fire Amidst Record Drought

The King Fire erupted in Central and Eastern California during mid September as century scale drought conditions continued to scorch the state. As of today, more than 50% of the state remains under the most extreme drought level with 100 percent of California suffering from some degree of drought.

This past weekend’s light rains did little to help. However, a strengthening storm track in the Pacific is likely to deliver at least some moisture to Northern and Central California by Thursday. A blocking high pressure ridge that has persisted off the US West Coast for more than a year and a half has also shifted — moving inland toward the Central and Western US. This shift appears to be slowly opening the door to some moisture for California.

Blocking Pattern Shift

(University of Maine Jet Stream modeling shows an eastward shift in the year and a half long blocking pattern and associated ridge over Western North America and the Northeastern Pacific. In today’s graphic, the ridge has shifted into the Central US with associated Rossby-Wave type troughs over both the Eastern US and Eastern Pacific. Notably both troughs now host powerful storm systems in the range of 975 mb and lower. Image source: University of Maine.)

An atmospheric pattern more favorable for El Nino development may also be favoring increased precipitation for California. However, it is still too early to determine whether a pattern favoring drought reduction is firmly in place.

Conditions in Context

Under the current rapid and powerfully enhancing regime of human-caused heating of the Earth’s oceans, ice, and atmosphere, we can expect the US West and Southwest to continue to dry as the storm track shifts northward and as rising temperatures bake more and more of the moisture out of the soil. A significant increase in the occurrence of drought in the US Southwest since the 1970s is likely a part of this larger trend, one that will almost certainly worsen as human-caused climate change intensifies.

In addition, an increasing eccentricity in the Jet Stream associated with Northern Hemisphere polar heat amplification has resulted in far more persistent weather patterns. Dome scientific studies have found that these patterns, associated with powerful Rossby-type wave patterns in the Jet Stream, have appeared with increasing frequency since the mid 2000s. As a result, cooler stormier patterns tend to persist in one region while dry, hot conditions have tended to persist in other regions. This new climate regime appears to be enhancing an already amplified drought pattern for the US West even as it has pumped up storm patterns for regions east and north. It is also worth noting that a number of studies have also found a link between major sea ice losses in the Arctic since 2007 and the intensity of the current California drought.

Links:

LANCE-MODIS

NOAA-GOES

University of Maine

King Fire Update: 2,000 Firefighters add Manpower to those Battling Massive Blaze

Human-Caused Climate Change and Desperately Drilling For Water: The Deepening Dust Bowlification of California

There is no relief for poor California.

To the west, a heat dome high pressure system sits its dry and desiccating watch, deflecting storm systems northward toward Canada, Alaska, and, recently, even the Arctic Ocean. It is a weather system that drinks deep of Northwestern Pacific waters heated to 2-4+ C above average by humankind’s extraordinary greenhouse gas overburden. A mountain of dense and far hotter than normal air that is shoving the storm-laden Jet Stream at a right angle away from the US west coast and on up into an Arctic Ocean unprepared for the delivery of such a high intensity heat and moisture flow.

image

(Not one, not two, but three high pressure centers stacking up on June 24, 2014 off the North American West Coast. The highs are indicated by the white, clockwise swirls on this GFS surface graphic. This triple barrel high pressure heat dome represents an impenetrable barrier to storms moving across the Pacific Ocean. You can see one of these storms, represented by the purple, counter-clockwise swirl approaching Alaska and the Aleutians. A second Pacific-originating storm is visible north of Barrow in the Beaufort Sea. Under a typical pattern, these storms would have funneled into the US west coast or skirted the Alaskan Coast before riding into Canada. Storms taking a sharp left turn through Alaska and the Bering Sea into the Arctic is an unprecedented and highly atypical weather pattern. Image source: Earth Nullschool. Data Source: NOAA/GFS.)

In the far north, today, at noon local time, in the Mackenzie Delta region of the extreme northwest section of Canada on the shores of the Arctic Ocean, temperatures rose to 80 degrees Fahrenheit, 2-3 degrees hotter than areas of South Dakota and Iowa hundreds of miles to the south. It is a temperature departure 20-25 degrees F above average for this time of year. Far to the south and east, yesterday saw a garden variety pop up thunderstorm turn into a record-shattering rain event for Savannah Georgia, one that dumped 4-10 inches of rain over the region, over-topped ponds, flooded streets, knocked out power and washed out rail lines. In some sections of the city, hourly rates of rainfall were on the order of 4-5 inches. One might expect such a rainfall rate from the most moisture dense and intense tropical storms or hurricanes. The Savannah event was a summer shower driven into a haywire extreme by a heat-facilitated over-loading of the atmosphere with moisture.

What do the west coast blocking pattern, the California Drought, the Mackenzie Delta Arctic heatwave and the Savannah summer shower turned monster storm have in common? Twelve words: hydrological cycle and jet stream patterns wrecked by human caused atmospheric warming.

Three Year Long Drought Intensifies

Californians, at this time, may well be hoping hard for a mutant summer shower like the one that hit Savannah yesterday. But they won’t be getting it anytime soon. The triple barrel high off the US west coast won’t move or let the rains in until something more powerful comes along to knock it out of the way. And the only hope for such an event might come in the form of a monster El Nino this winter. Then, Californians may beg for the rain to stop. But, for now, they’re digging in their heels to fight the most intense drought in at least a hundred years.

California Drought Map

(This week’s California Drought Map provided by the US Drought Monitor. Orange indicates severe drought, red indicates extreme drought, and that brick color spreading from the coast and into California’s Central Valley is what they call exceptional drought. Not a corner of the state is spared severe or higher drought levels, with fully 77% of the state suffering from extreme or exceptional drought.)

With no rain in sight, with the snows all gone from the Sierra Nevada mountains to the east, and with both federal and state reservoirs under increasingly more stringent water restrictions, what it means for Californians is incessant drilling. So far this year an estimated 450 million dollars has been spent statewide to plunge ever-deeper wells into the state’s rapidly-dwindling underground aquifers. In regions where a 200 foot well was once considered deep, 600, 800 or even 1000 foot wells are now common.

In total, about 75% of California’s lost water supply has been replaced by what essentially amounts to mining ground water. But the drought mitigating flow can only last for so long. And if the rains don’t come, those sources will first dwindle and then dry up. So California’s agriculture and a decent chunk of its other industry may well be living on borrowed time facilitated by unsustainable drilling for water.

Communities local to the Central Valley region are already facing imminent loss of water supplies. Tom Vanhoff a Chowchilla local noted to CBS in a recent interview:

“I’m in a community out there with about 20 homes. We’re on one deep well ourselves and we lost it two years ago. We were at 200 feet and now we are down to 400 but all these new guys are going down to six, 800 and 1000 feet; it’s going to suck us dry here again pretty soon.”

So for Central Valley residents it’s literally a race to the bottom in the form of who can dig the deepest well the fastest.

Above ground, a once lush landscape is now parched and brittle. Most natives, even the octogenarians, have never seen it this dry. More and more, the productive Central Valley is being described as a dust bowl. In this case, Dust-Bowlification, a term Joe Romm of Climate Progress coined to describe the likely desertification of many regions as a result of human-caused warming, is hitting a tragically high gear for California.

Sierra Nevada No Snow

(Sierra Nevada Mountains in right center frame shows near zero snow cover on June 24 of 2014. Typically, California relies on snow melt to stave off water shortages through dry summers. This year, with drought conditions extending into a third year, snow melt had dwindled to a trickle by mid June. Sattelite Imagery provided by NASA LANCE MODIS.)

Global Warming to Raise Food Prices

For years, scientific models had shown that the US Southwest was vulnerable to increased drought under human-caused warming. Scientists warned that increased community resiliency combined with rapid reductions in global carbon emissions would be necessary to preserve the productiveness of regions vital to the nation.

California is one such region. Its economy, even outside the greater US, is the 8th richest in the world. It is also the US’s largest producer of vegetables, most fruits, and nuts. Other major agricultural production for the state includes meat, fish, and dairy.

Though much of the current drought’s impacts have been mitigated through unsustainable drilling for ground water, US meat and produce prices are expected to rise by another 3-6% due to impacts from the ongoing and intensifying California drought. But so far, major impacts due to large-scale reductions in total acres planted have been avoided. Without the drilling, overall repercussions would have been devastating, as planted areas rapidly dwindled in size. But with wells running dry, time appears to be running out.

Links:

California Drought: Snowmelt’s Path Shows Impacts From Sierra to Pacific

California Drought Poised to Drive up Food Prices as It Worsens

California Drought Turning Central Valley into Dust Bowl

All-Time 24 Hour June Precipitation Record Broken in Savannah Georgia

NOAA/GFS

US Drought Monitor

NASA LANCE MODIS/

Earth Nullschool

Dust-Bowlification

Hat Tip to Colorado Bob

 

 

Winter of 2013-2014 Sees Most Extreme Dipole on Record: How a Strong Emerging El Nino Conspired With Climate Change to Ignite Record Drought in California and Collapse the Polar Vortex

Dipole. It’s a word often used among meteorologists and climate scientists. But what does it mean?

In weather terms we can simply think of it as this: one side hot, one side cold. So, as a basic principle, it’s pretty direct. But in a world where extremes between hot and cold are becoming more intense, in North America which has just experienced its most extreme dipole anomaly since record keeping began in 1960, it’s also something that’s important to understand as it relates to ongoing human-caused climate change.

For a recent blockbuster scientific paper by Dr. Simon Wang and associates and published in Geophysical Research Letters has now linked this extreme temperature differential, related polar vortex collapse events, and the California drought with both ongoing physical changes to the Earth System due to human caused climate change and to the first rumblings of a monster El Nino in the Pacific.

Envisioning a Dipole Pushed into An Extreme Form by Climate Change

But to understand how an excessively extreme dipole relates to the historic events of the winter of 2013-2014, it helps to open up one’s imagination. It helps to describe the ground-breaking information provided by Dr. Wang’s new paper in descriptive terms. It helps to, at first, envision a wave. Then to imagine the up-slope of the wave forming a hot, red shape. Now imagine the down-slope forming a cold, blue shape. Now think of this wave growing more intense, extending further in both its up-slope and in its down-slope. Growing hotter on the up-slope side and comparatively colder on the down-slope side.

Polar Vortex Collapse January 19

(GFS Model summary of Polar Vortex Collapse event on January 19, 2014 shows 850 mb temperatures over the Eastern US colder than the same temperatures over parts of Greenland and the Arctic Ocean. 850 mb temperatures over St. Augustine, FL are the same as 850 mb temperatures over central Greenland. Anomalies on the hot side of the dipole in the Arctic hit +40 degrees Fahrenheit in some places.  Anomalies on the cold side of the dipole hit more than -35 degrees F in some places. Note the twin, dense high pressure systems sitting sentinel just off the California Coast and deflecting storms north into Alaska. Image source: NOAA/GFS.)

Having established the wave form and related temperature extremes, lay the shape over North America and adjacent Pacific Ocean. The up-slope covers the Eastern Pacific, Alaska, a section of the Beaufort Sea in the Arctic, Western Canada and the Western US. The down-slope swings from the eastern side of the Beaufort, on in through Central and Eastern Canada and bisects the US diagonally from the Dakotas to the Gulf Coast east of Texas.

Now let’s envision this wave as a flow of upper level air called the Jet Stream and let’s think about the various atmospheric aspects that feed it. Looking west, we happen upon a very warm pool of water in the Western Pacific east of the Philippines. This warm pool is the source of an El Nino that will likely occur within one years time. A heat pocket given added intensity by both rising atmospheric temperatures and strong winds transferring that added energy into the vast Pacific Ocean. The heat waits, wanting to spread out across the Pacific surface in an energetic return to the air. But, for now, it simmers in its deep pool, providing energy for the powerful dipole we’ve just described.

The heat from this warm pool radiates into the atmosphere creating lift. Further north, a cold pocket is driven south by another strong atmospheric wave pattern over the Asian continent. The cold air pocket runs south over Japan. The hot and the cold difference generates a very strong upper level synoptic (horizontal form weather patterns stretching more than 1,000 kilometers) wind pattern that stretches all the way across the Pacific Ocean.

The winds run southwest to northeast until they encounter the hot bulge of our already described dipole over the Eastern Pacific near the US west coast and Canada. This warm current turned the already rapid winds due north where they rushed up over Alaska and into a sea ice pack far weaker than in decades past. A sea ice sheet gradually thinning, breaking up, and venting heat from a warming Arctic Ocean below. And so these, already strong, winds were not turned back by the now much weaker cold until they had driven far, far into the Arctic Ocean (and it is here that we must give a hat tip to Dr. Jennifer Francis, who finds her predictions regarding sea ice loss and high amplitude Jet Stream waves again validated).

Polar Vortex Ripped in Half

(Upper level wind pattern on January 23, 2014 shows a polar vortex that has essentially been ripped in half by the warm side of the west coast dipole and the high amplitude Jet Stream wave forming over top of it. Image source: University of Washington.)

Now imagine a strong dome of high pressure forming in the wake of this powerful and ongoing wind flow, sheltered and growing ever stronger on the hot side of the dipole. Imagine it blocking the path of storms, even as it concentrated heat and warmth. Imagine California receiving 1/4 or less of its typical winter rainfall as a result. A most recent and extreme insult to years of drought forcing authorities to ration water in many places.

Now return to that strong wind finally being turned south somewhere in the far, far north, in the Beaufort Sea just south of the North Pole. Then imagine these now cold-laden winds rushing south. Running over Hudson Bay and eastern Canada. Roaring over the Great Lakes and carrying with them a cyclone of cold Arctic air that should have remained in the far north. The polar vortex that should have stayed over places like Svalbard but instead collapsed under the warm wind flow and shifted far south to places like Toronto or Chicago or Detroit or Washington DC.

Now at last imagine another synoptic pattern as the Arctic air of the polar vortex encounters the warmth of the Gulf Stream. This pattern is laden with powerful storms that bomb out over the UK again and again, resulting in the stormiest winter for that island nation in over 200 years.

And here we have the dipole of the winter of 2013 and 2014. A west coast that was hot, hotter than usual all the way from California to the far north of Alaska and an East Coast that from Canada to the Gulf Coast became the repository for cold, cold Arctic air that was shoved south as the polar vortex collapsed down the steep face of the one of the largest and longest lasting Jet Stream waves on record.

(Dr. Francis explains how polar amplification results in higher amplitude Jet Stream wave patterns.)

Dipole. One side hot. One side cold. But, in this case, in the case of the winter of 2013-2014, it’s a historic and anomalous dipole. A freak born of the climate change we’ve caused mixing up with the Pacific Ocean heat of a rising El Nino. A record hot, dry winter for the US West that ignites wildfires in winter and forces the government to ration California water resources. A severe dry spell that closes farms and drives US food prices up by 15%. A record cold, stormy winter in the Eastern US and a series of super-intense storms screaming across the North Atlantic to submerge Somerset and rip massive chunks out of a rocky UK coastline.

This clear picture of a climate-change caused event was this week provided through the groundbreaking new research by Dr. Wang and fellows. These top scientists engaged climate models and analyzed past records to find the culprits of the weather extremes we witnessed during this past winter. And what they found was a very high correlation in the models with the extreme dipole over North America and the Arctic, an oncoming El Nino, and climate change driven impacts.

For not only was this year’s dipole the most extreme on record, it was also likely made far more extreme by an emerging Monster El Nino acting in concert with severe global-warming related reductions in Arctic sea ice cover, increases in Pacific Ocean heat and atmospheric moisture content, and related changes to the upper level air flows of the Northern Hemisphere polar Jet Stream.

Links:

Probable Causes of the Abnormal Ridge Accompanying the 2013-2014 California Drought, ENSO Precursor and Anthropogenic Warming Footprint

NOAA/GFS

University of Washington

Read Further Excellent Reporting on the Wang Report Here:

California Drought/Polar Vortex Jet Stream Pattern Linked to Global Warming

Bombshell Study Ties Epic California Drought ‘Frigid East’ To Manmade Climate Change

Large and Growing List of Scientific Studies Linking Human Climate Change to Current Weather Extremes (hat tip to Weather Underground)

Changing the Face of Mother Nature

The Seasonal Atmospheric Response to Projected Sea Ice Loss in the Late 21rst Century

Evidence Linking Arctic Amplification to Extreme Weather in the Mid Latitudes

Influence of Low Arctic Sea Ice Minima on Anomalously Cold Eurasian Winters

Impact of Sea Ice Cover Changes on the Northern Hemisphere Winter Circulation

Impact of Declining Arctic Sea Ice on Winter Snowfall

Large Scale Atmospheric Circulation Changes Associated with the Recent Loss of Arctic Sea Ice

A Link Between Reduced Kara-Barents Sea Ice and Cold Winter Extremes Over Northern Continents

Northern Hemisphere Winter Snow Anomalies

Impact of Projected Future Sea Ice Reduction on Extratropical Storminess and the NAO

Cold Winter Extremes in Northern Continents Linked to Arctic Sea Ice Loss

Precipitation Shifts Over Western North America as a Result of Declining Sea Ice Cover

Disappearing Arctic Sea Ice Reduces Available Water in the American West

Interdecadal Connection Between Arctic Temperature and Summer Precipitation Over the Yangtze River Valley in the CMIP5 Historical Simulations

Potential Impacts of the Arctic on Interannual and Interdecadal Summer Precipitation in China

Influence of Arctic Sea Ice on European Summer Precipitation

On the Relationship Between Winter Sea Ice and Summer Atmospheric Circulation over Eurasia

(Partial list, view the rest here)

 

 

Mangled Jet Stream Sparks Drought, Winter Wildfires in Southern California — Colby Fire Explodes to Nearly 2000 Acres in One Day

Colby Fire Jan 16

(The Colby Fire as seen from satellite. Image source: NASA)

Major wildfires in winter? It may sound odd, but that’s what’s happening in a California suffering under a climate-change spurred drought that is currently its 9th worst on record.

Yesterday, beneath a dry dome of high pressure and spurred by Santa Ana winds, the Colby fire sparked in a populated suburb of Los Angeles amid a deepening California drought. Today, the fires exploded into a nearly 2,000 acre monstrosity. The blaze, fueled by 30 to 50 mph winds was proving difficult to contain as over 500 firefighters rushed to the scene in an effort to keep it from leaping down into nearby population centers. Mandatory evacuations were in place for hundreds of residents as the fire aggressively advanced toward homes and places of work.

Colby fire photo

(Colby Fire threatens local businesses. Image credit: Julie Palagyi)

Red flag warnings are now in place for many LA counties, which are expected to experience continued strong winds, above average temperatures, and single-digit humidity over the next 24 hours. Such conditions are conducive for the further spread of the Colby fire as well as for the sparking of additional blazes throughout the LA region.

Abnormally Warm, Abnormally Dry

Wildfires are rare in California this time of year. During winter, the region typically experiences wetter, rainier  and cooler conditions as storms flow in off the Pacific Ocean. But this year, a powerful blocking pattern has forced warmer, drier air over the region. It is the other side of the same blocking pattern that is flooding the Arctic with above average temperatures while disrupting the polar vortex and resulting in episodes of extreme weather over the eastern and central US.

Jet Stream Pattern 16 Jan

(Jet Stream Pattern for Thursday and Friday. Image source: University of Washington.)

Note the very high amplitude ridge pushing up from California all the way into central Alaska and the corresponding trough digging down into the eastern US and pushing all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. This image is just a snap shot of the same blocking pattern that has persisted since late March of last year, resulting in wet, stormy conditions for the Eastern US and dry, hot, drought and fire conditions for the western US.

Blocking patterns of this kind have occurred in the past. But it is extraordinarily rare for such events to persist for ten months running. It is also the kind of event that climate experts such as Dr. Jennifer Francis warn is currently caused by a massive loss of sea ice cover in the Arctic and will become more common as sea ice continues its warming-induced retreat resulting in further Jet Stream weakening, meandering and retrenchment.

Weather Pattern Part of Trend Produced by Human-Caused Climate Change

This fixed weather pattern led to very severe conditions in California for December that, according to Dr. Jeff Masters at Weather Underground, resulted in a -4.67 reading on the Palmer drought severity index. This makes December of 2013 the 9th worst drought month on record for California (although anecdotal evidence coming in through January indicate that current conditions may be even worse). It is also worth noting that of the top ten worst drought months to occur since 1880 in California, five have now occurred since 1991 — a climate record that shows an increasing number of dry and record dry periods. Such increasingly extreme drying was predicted by numerous climate models for the US southwest as human warming continued to intensify and advance into the 21rst century.

Though such changes were anticipated by scientists, if not by politicians, business leaders, or the media, it was not clear that a strong fire hazard would emerge in even winter months. But this year has seen numerous intense west coast fires during winter time. Such new conditions are quite anomalous. And should the blocking pattern continue to persist, expect extreme heat, drought and fires to ramp up through spring and summer.

Links:

Plumes of Smoke Waft Through Colby Skies as Wildfire Rages

Historic Drought Intensifies in California

University of Washington

NASA

Heatwave Sends Temperatures in Alaska to 94 Degrees. Large Pulse of Warmth Envelopes Beaufort, Chukchi, and East Siberian Seas.

Yesterday, temperatures in Prince William Sound hit upwards of 93 degrees. Communities there, including Valdez and Cordova, both set new record highs. Talkeetna hit 94 degrees, also an all-time record high for the date. Meanwhile, Seward hit a new record of 88 degrees Fahrenheit. Temperatures in the interior rose to between the mid 80s and lower 90s.

This pulse of heat was driven by a persistent bulge in the Jet Stream over the Pacific Ocean, the Western United States, and the Pacific Northwest that has been present since mid winter. The bulge has resulted in warmer than normal temperatures and drier conditions for much of the Western US while keeping temperatures warm for western Canada and Alaska. It is a blocking pattern implicated in the ongoing drought conditions in places from Colorado to Nevada and California. A pattern which sees 44% of the US still locked in drought.

Sunday and Monday, this blocking pattern enabled warm air to flood north into Alaska, setting off a record heatwave there. You may not think of 50 and 60 degree temperatures in Barrow, Alaska as a heatwave. But when average highs for June there are about 38 degrees, 50 and 60 degree weather is quite hot for this time of year.

Last Thursday saw temperatures in Barrow above 60 degrees. Today, so far, temperatures have risen to 52 degrees, though the high will probably not be reached for a few hours yet.

All this warmth is doing a number on sea ice in the region. As I posted yesterday, large, dark melt ponds and holes in the ice are now visible off Barrow. You can see them in the most recent Barrow Ice Cam shot below:

Barrow sea ice June 18

(Image source: Barrow Ice Cam)

Note the near-shore melt  as well as the large, dark holes forming and widening off-shore.

The pulse of warm air riding up into Alaska is common to a warmer air mass now pervading much of this region of the Arctic. As a result, above freezing temperatures have now invaded large sections of the Beaufort, Chukchi, and East Siberian Seas. This warmer air is causing melt ponds to form over the region leaving their tell-tale bluish tint in the satellite pictures.

Melt Ponds Beaufort, Chukchi, East Siberia

(Image source: Lance-Modis)

In the above image you can see this bluish tint covering about half of the Arctic Ocean area represented in the picture. Also note the large and rapidly expanding area of open water north of the Bering Strait and the large and expanding cracks over the East Siberian Arctic Shelf.

Ice of this color indicates a speckling of melt ponds and hints at the ongoing impacts of solar insolation on the sea ice. Warm conditions in this region have favored insolation for at least the past week. And persistent warmer, clearer weather is beginning to enable the sun to do some serious work on the sea ice.

Warmth is expected to continue for this area until at least next week. The latest long-range forecast from ECMWF shows above-freezing and even 50 degree temperatures plunging deep into this region of the Arctic all the way through late June.

Beaufort Warmth Late June

(Image source: ECMWF)

By June 28th we have 40 degree average temperatures extending far off-shore with above freezing temperatures covering much of this section of the Arctic. Melt in this region, therefore, is likely to be greatly enhanced as the sun is provided with an extended period during which to do its work.

Links:

Heatwave Sets Records Across Alaska

Barrow Ice Cam

Lance-Modis

ECMWF

Athena Brings High Winds, Snow, Rain, Storm Surge Week After Sandy

(Image credit: here.)

Athena, a nor’easter spawned of a powerful blocking pattern established over the Eastern US, is raking the Northeast today. A storm surge of 2-3 feet, as much as five inches of snow, winds gusting as high as 60 mph, and 1-2 inches of rain is starting to make its impact in a region still reeling from the effects of Sandy.

Over 600,000 people remain without power in the region (down from 8.5 million last week) and Athena is expected to black out another 50,000 over the next 24 hours.

Across coastal New Jersey, New York and on other beaches ravaged by Sandy, State and Federal work crews are piling up sand in an attempt to prevent tidal incursion. Most of these regions have been completely stripped of their dune lines, sea walls and other defenses which normally repel the sea in a storm. Seven foot water rises and 20 foot waves are expected to bring light to moderate tidal flooding. However, complicating the issue is the loss of sea barriers in vulnerable regions which may result in greater levels of flooding that would usually occur for this kind of storm.

Athena was named under a new National System established for strong nor’easters. With human-caused Arctic Sea Ice losses contributing to a strong Arctic Oscillation this winter, it is likely that numerous named nor’easters, packing snows, rains, storm surges and gale force winds, will harry the Northeast coast this winter. So communities and States should prepare for a rather rough winter in the wake of the worst storm ever to strike the US East Coast.

Links:

http://www.wunderground.com/blog/JeffMasters/show.html

Blocking Pattern Serves up Nor’Easter One Week After Sandy as More and More Scientists Affirm Climate Change Made Superstorm Worse

 

A Nor’Easter that could  trouble the New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts coasts with 50 mph wind gusts is in the process of forming today. A deep trough produced by a powerful blocking pattern and worsened by eroding Arctic Sea Ice is channeling a low pressure system that is likely to deepen off Cape Hatteras later tonight.

Models show the potential for a 990 mb low pressure forming off the Northeast coast come Wednesday. The result is that tropical storm force winds may bring 7-8 foot water rises (2-3 foot storm surges on top of high tides) to areas already devastated by Hurricane Sandy. Normally, a water rise of this level would result in light to moderate tidal flooding. However, in areas where dunes have been wiped out, sea walls and board walks beaten to bits, this rather moderate storm surge may re-flood some communities still reeling from last week’s disaster.

Tropical storm force winds may again knock out power in some areas still struggling to repair damage from Sandy. 1.3 million homes and businesses remain without power following the storm, down from 8.5 million a week ago. In addition, 1-2 inches of rain along the coast and snowfall in a region from Pennsylvania to Maine may cause further difficulty — especially for those still without power.

Though this storm is likely to be nothing like Sandy, it is a reminder of a new and ominous weather pattern taking shape this winter. According to numerous Arctic researchers, this year’s record sea ice melt is contributing to a powerful negative Arctic Oscillation. This weather condition has produced a strong trough swooping down from the Arctic and through the Eastern United States. The trough is producing numerous storms — one which combined with Hurricane Sandy to form a powerful superstorm. This week, the trough is bringing an early-season Nor’Easter. An odd second-week appearance of a storm that usually forms during winter.

These weather events may well be harbingers for very stormy conditions throughout the winter of 2012 for the US East Coast and Northeast. Jennifer Francis, an Arctic researcher at Rutgers University warned only just a few weeks ago that human climate change and sea ice loss was resulting in a situation that would likely produce a succession of powerful storms this fall and winter.

As the new storm forms off the East Coast, more scientists are affirming climate change’s role in both making Sandy worse and in producing a general climate of increasingly extreme weather. An article written by Dr. Jeff Masters, Dr. Bob Corell, and Dr. Kevin Trenberth entitled Did climate change contribute to Sandy? Yes published in Politico and Reuters yesterday. The article clearly stated that climate change made Sandy worse and warned that unless human carbon emissions are dramatically reduced more and more severe weather is to follow.

Climate scientists broadly agree that the extreme weather we’ve seen over the past few years is exactly what we’d expect to see in a changing climate. And it’s not just Sandy; we’re on track to have the hottest year in more than a century of record-keeping in the continental United States, the country has suffered one of the most crippling droughts in history, as well as one of the worst wildfire years in history. Last year, when Hurricane Irene hit the United States, meteorologists called it “unprecedented,” yet Sandy has already outpaced the damage from Irene.

We’ll probably never know the exact point when the weather stopped being entirely natural. But we should consider Sandy—and other recent extreme weather events – an early taste of a climate-changed world, and a grim preview of the even worse to come, particularly if we continue to pump more carbon pollution from smokestacks and tailpipes up into the atmosphere.

Jeff Masters is a meteorologist and former Hurricane Hunter, he now directs the climate blog WeatherUnderground. Bob Corell is an American climate scientist. Kevin Trenberth is the head of the US National Center for Atmospheric Research. Together, they represent over 150 years of climate science and meteorological experience.

Links:

http://www.politico.com/news/stories/1112/83335.html

http://www.wunderground.com/blog/JeffMasters/show.html

The Greenland High, Blocking Patterns and Sandy’s Arctic Arm: How Climate Scientists, Journalists and Bloggers Warned Of New Potential For Extreme Storms Before Sandy

Over the coming weeks, you will hear any number of people trying to ‘normalize’ the unprecedented weather event that was Sandy. You will hear people trying to over-emphasize Sandy’s link to ‘natural climate variability.’ You will hear people claiming that extreme events like Sandy could have never been predicted. And you will hear people trying to take Sandy out of a context in which the US has just experienced its hottest year on record, is still experiencing one of its worst droughts on record, has just experienced its most extreme climate year ever, and during a year in which Arctic Sea Ice has melted to extreme record lows.

And you should be assured — people taking Sandy out of a context of an ongoing string of extreme climate impacts as well as making these other assertions are entirely and completely wrong. Further, it is important to note that we were warned about the increased possibility of extreme storms like Sandy in the weeks and months before Sandy formed.

(Looking at this GOES satellite picture, you can see the swirl of clouds that is Sandy just off the South Carolina coast. See that long arm of clouds stretching down from the Arctic and then feeding into Sandy? That’s Sandy’s Arctic Arm.)

A key ingredient that made Sandy so intense was not just the 5 degree Fahrenheit above average temperatures in the Atlantic Ocean off the East Coast. This five degree warming was fed by an increase of 1  degrees of average Ocean temperature warming over the past century, pushing the potential for extreme years higher. An overall warming directly fueled by human carbon emissions. These increased temperatures and related increases in water vapor fueled Sandy, making her larger and stronger. These were clear global warming impacts that enhanced Sandy’s size and strength. But the kicker, the added boost that made Sandy a monster storm, the influence that pulled Sandy into the East Coast at such a destructive angle. That influence came from the Arctic.

In the GOES image above, we can clearly see a long white arm of cloud stretching all the way down from the Arctic and into Sandy. This arm both greatly increased Sandy’s size and fed her strength through a mechanism called baroclinity. This mechanism fed Sandy’s strength not directly through heat energy alone, but through extreme differences in pressure and temperature. A hot core hurricane met up with a cold core Arctic front tapping the extreme cold air over Greenland. It was this combination of extremes that made Sandy far, far worse. It was this Arctic Arm that pulled Sandy into the East Coast at the most destructive angle possible.

Though scientists didn’t specifically call for the merging of a hybrid system like Sandy, what they did warn us about was how receding Arctic Sea Ice was making severe weather events far more likely. One researcher, Charles Green noted:

“What’s happening now is that we are changing the climate system, especially in the Arctic, and that’s increasing the odds for the negative AO conditions that favor cold air invasions and severe … weather outbreaks.”

Another scientist, Dr. Jennifer Francis also highlighted how Arctic Sea Ice decline would likely result in the kind of blocking patterns that had caused severe weather events in the past. “It’s probably going to be a very interesting winter,” climate scientist Jennifer Francis said in early September in a teleconference with reporters. Francis, a researcher at the Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences at Rutgers University, has argued that shrinking Arctic ice can be tied to such recent weather events as prolonged cold spells in Europe, heavy snows in the Northeastern U.S. and Alaska, and heat waves in Russia. Francis also noted:

“What we’re seeing is stark evidence that the gradual temperature increase is not the important story related to climate change; it’s the rapid regional changes and increased frequency of extreme weather that global warming is causing. As the Arctic warms at twice the global rate, we expect an increased probability of extreme weather events across the temperate latitudes of the northern hemisphere, where billions of people live.”

In fact, it was Francis’s research that resulted in headlines like this one in the Los Angeles Times on September 13th: “Record loss of Arctic ice may trigger extreme weather” and this one in Climate Progress“How the Arctic Death Spiral Fuels a Wicked Backlash on Our Weather.” On this blog, I posted an article entitled “NOAA’s Global Warning: Arctic Tipping Point Reached, Extreme Weather, Rapid Melt, Ecological Damage to Follow.”

Unfortunately, like so many other global warming Cassandras, these warnings went unheeded. A Presidential campaign in which Mitt Romney bragged about denying climate change and de-funding FEMA made mockery of the science and the altogether salient warnings. Such blindness during a year of record drought and Arctic Sea Ice loss is as inexcusable as it is criminal. Such inexcusable piggishness culminated in a Presidential debate in which Romney goaded Obama into arguing over who could increase drilling and, thus, fossil fuel emissions, the most.

Then came Sandy and now all with eyes to see are able to bear witness to both the new potential for extreme weather and its Arctic Sea Ice melt enabler.

(A graphic of the Arctic blocking pattern that resulted in the Greenland High and Arctic air trough that both added strength to Sandy and helped pull her to shore. Image credit here.)

At issue is the way receding Arctic Sea Ice erodes the circumpolar Jet Stream. This happens as warm air is drawn up from the south, slowing that air current down. The result is that huge wave patterns begin to appear in the Jet Stream. These waves draw warmer air up from the tropics in the south and pull cold air down from the Arctic. The blocking pattern also results in a more frequent negative Arctic Oscillation during the fall and winter months. This negative Arctic Oscillation is associated with extreme winter storms in both the US and in Europe and has been implicated in a number of extreme weather disasters over the past decade and a half.

What happened this year is that withdrawing Arctic Sea Ice likely contributed to a very strong negative Arctic Oscillation occurring this fall. The result was a powerful blocking high pressure system over Greenland and an equally strong cold front pushing down from the Arctic. The fact that this happened at the same time Sandy was making her charge north is not simple coincidence. It is, in part, due to the loading of climate dice that resulted from these factors.

First, we had abnormal late-season heat in the Atlantic fueling a powerful late-season hurricane. Second, we had an abnormally strong blocking pattern establishing early during fall rather than winter. The conditions were set for two powerful storms, should they arise, to come together in a dramatic way. The hot Atlantic Ocean was bound to brew up at least a few more hurricanes. Chances were some of these storms would track close to the troughs pushed south by the blocking Greenland high pressure. The receding Arctic Sea Ice was causing more and more strong cold fronts to charge south. Chances were that one of these might intersect with one of the northward-bound tropical systems.

The deep dig of the charging cold fronts and the blocking high closing off any storm’s egress to the northeast made it increasingly likely that any merged hybrid would come ashore somewhere on the US East Coat. The chances for this set of conditions occurring without climate change eroding sea ice and heating the Atlantic are vanishingly small. But now, with the new conditions established, these events become more and more likely.

At issue here is the fact that these conditions are established now. So we can expect an increasing chance for powerful hybrid storms like Sandy resulting from Arctic and tropical storm mergers as time continues, as Arctic Sea Ice melt intensifies, and as the Atlantic Ocean continues to heat up.

Links:

http://articles.latimes.com/2012/sep/13/science/la-sci-sn-arctic-ice-melt-20120912

http://www.news.cornell.edu/stories/June12/arcticWildcard.html

http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2012/09/25/904311/how-the-arctic-death-spiral-fuels-a-wicked-backlash-on-our-weather/?mobile=nc

https://robertscribbler.wordpress.com/2012/10/11/noaas-global-warning-arctic-tipping-point-reached-extreme-weather-rapid-melt-ecological-damage-to-follow/

Don’t Believe in Global Warming? Businessweek has a Word for You: STUPID

In its bold cover story, Businessweek directly and correctly links the devastation caused by climate change to Sandy and, mockingly, called out climate change deniers to refute their arguments, calling them stupid.

Yes, yes, it’s unsophisticated to blame any given storm on climate change. Men and women in white lab coats tell us—and they’re right—that many factors contribute to each severe weather episode. Climate deniers exploit scientific complexity to avoid any discussion at all.

Clarity, however, is not beyond reach. Hurricane Sandy demands it: At least 40 U.S. deaths. Economic losses expected to climb as high as $50 billion. Eight million homes without power. Hundreds of thousands of people evacuated. More than 15,000 flights grounded. Factories, stores, and hospitals shut. Lower Manhattan dark, silent, and underwater.

Businessweek then sifted through the experts who are calling Sandy anything from feeding on ‘global warming fuel’ to a megastorm amped up on ‘climate change steroids.’ Businessweek also seemed to corroborate an analysis posted here and supported by an increasing number of climate scientists:

Sandy featured a scary extra twist implicating climate change. An Atlantic hurricane moving up the East Coast crashed into cold air dipping south from Canada. The collision supercharged the storm’s energy level and extended its geographical reach. Pushing that cold air south was an atmospheric pattern, known as a blocking high, above the Arctic Ocean. Climate scientists Charles Greene and Bruce Monger of Cornell University, writing earlier this year in Oceanography, provided evidence that Arctic icemelts linked to global warming contribute to the very atmospheric pattern that sent the frigid burst down across Canada and the eastern U.S.

Businessweek then shifted its analysis to insurance providers who have been increasingly vocal about the current ongoing impacts of climate change and about their concerns for the situation continuing to worsen. According to the Munich Re, the world’s largest re-insurer, damages caused by extreme weather disasters from 1980 to 2011 (not including this year’s record damage) have reached 1.06 trillion dollars. This level is five times that of the previous 30 year period. Damage also quadrupled in Asia and doubled in the rest of the world. Munich Re’s Peter Hoppe, the company’s geo-risks research chief noted:

“If the first effects of climate change are already perceptible, all alerts and measures against it have become even more pressing.”

Businessweek laments the wretched political climate, fueled by climate change denial and fossil fuel special interest money, that has managed to take climate change off the table as a topic of political and policy discussion in Washington. The article also links fossil fuels to economic growth. Though, in our view, given the damage fossil fuels cause and the ever-increasing costs to extract more and more remote resources, this is a dubious proposition. If the thing powering your growth makes your climate too dangerous and damaging for you to keep cities at the coast, for example, then the overall economic pay-off is only short-term and ephemeral. And that doesn’t even begin to get into the rising costs of fossil fuel extraction.

Businessweek did, however, saliently illustrate the increasingly unrealistic and callous position of republican leaders on the issue of climate change:

Mitt Romney has gone from being a supporter years ago of clean energy and emission caps to, more recently, a climate agnostic. On Aug. 30, he belittled his opponent’s vow to arrest climate change, made during the 2008 presidential campaign. “President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans and heal the planet,” Romney told the Republican National Convention in storm-tossed Tampa. “My promise is to help you and your family.” Two months later, in the wake of Sandy, submerged families in New Jersey and New York urgently needed some help dealing with that rising-ocean stuff.

Romney had also pledged to eliminate FEMA as an agency of the Federal Government, the same FEMA that is now helping so many families in New Jersey. The Romney campaign has since backed off its pledge to get rid of FEMA funding. However, the predilection of republicans to remove necessary government services and to cut programs that help people, communities and states during the current period of growing climate crisis is plainly apparent.

During one Republican primary debate last year, [Romney] was asked point-blank whether the functions of the Federal Emergency Management Agency ought to be turned back to the states. “Absolutely,” he replied. Let the states fend for themselves or, better yet, put the private sector in charge. Pay-as-you-go rooftop rescue service may appeal to plutocrats; when the flood waters are rising, ordinary folks welcome the National Guard.

Businessweek also lamented the death of the market-based cap and trade legislation the Tea Party defeated in Congress in 2009:

In 2009 the House of Representatives passed cap-and-trade legislation that would have rewarded more nimble industrial players that figure out how to use cleaner energy. The bill died in the Senate in 2010, a victim of Tea Party-inspired Republican obstructionism…Despite Republican fanaticism about all forms of government intervention in the economy, the idea of pricing carbon must remain a part of the national debate. One politically plausible way to tax carbon emissions is to transfer the revenue to individuals. Alaska, which pays dividends to its citizens from royalties imposed on oil companies, could provide inspiration.

In this, Businessweek brings up an excellent point. Tax and transfer is an incentive plan pushed by none other than NASA scientist James Hansen. It would increase the cost of carbon intensive energy sources and incentivize non-carbon or low-carbon energy sources. The tax would create an economic advantage for those who used less energy, were more efficient, or who were more active in transferring to non-fossil fuel based energy sources like wind, solar and electric vehicles. Such a program would work within the framework of current markets and cause far less disruption even as it speeds transitions to newer energy programs. Incentive and choice still allow for competition and innovation while pushing for better outcomes.

Of related importance was Businessweek’s clarion call for American leadership in climate change. It suggested that the US provide incentive for China and India to shift away from the worst CO2 emitter — coal. But the article saliently noted that, for any such framework to be effective, it must involve real penalties for noncompliance, something many nations have been unable to agree upon thus far.

Businessweek notes that Sandy should serve as a wake-up call. It should also serve as a signal that we are all in this together. Those in danger aren’t just the ones living on islands about to be overwhelmed by the Pacific Ocean. They include those who dwell in all our coastal cities, which are now at ever increasing risk of flooding and dangerous storms. They include the American farmers faced with the prospect of growing decadal droughts. And they include all of us who rely on a stable climate for both our food sources and our economic prosperity.

As for action, or the reason for lack of action, Businessweek provides to most salient argument I’ve seen thus far on the issue:

In truth, what’s lacking in America’s approach to climate change is not the resources to act but the political will to do so. A Pew Research Center poll conducted in October found that two-thirds of Americans say there is “solid evidence” the earth is getting warmer. That’s down 10 points since 2006. Among Republicans, more than half say it’s either not a serious problem or not a problem at all.

Such numbers reflect the success of climate deniers in framing action on global warming as inimical to economic growth. This is both shortsighted and dangerous. The U.S. can’t afford regular Sandy-size disruptions in economic activity. To limit the costs of climate-related disasters, both politicians and the public need to accept how much they’re helping to cause them.

In other words, if you’re still denying climate change at this late hour, you’re stupid. It’s time to wake up. It’s time to act NOW.

Links:

http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2012-11-01/its-global-warming-stupid#p1

Hurricane Sandy, The Storm that Climate Change Wrought; How Global Warming Made Sandy Far, Far Worse

(Earth. See that massive swirl of clouds with arms stretching up into the Arctic and back across the Atlantic Ocean? Yes, that’s Sandy.)

This year was already the worst extreme weather year ever recorded. Fires, heatwaves, a monster Derecho and a devastating drought together would have made 2012 one for the record books. The one saving grace, it seemed, was that hurricane season hadn’t significantly added to an already severe problem. That was before Hurricane Sandy slammed into the US Northeast causing what many think will be in the range of 10-20 billion dollars in damage. If total damage estimates exceed 20 billion, Sandy will be one of the five most costly hurricanes in US history.

Sandy was nothing if not unprecedented. Never has the Northeast seen this kind of storm so late in the season. Never has New York and New Jersey been subject to such a high level of ocean flooding over such a broad area. According to CNN’s chief meteorologist: “There’s no one that’s not 300 years old that has seen anything like this.” That’s just a finer way of saying that there is no record for a storm like Sandy ever occurring in this region of the country. And, in many cases, there’s no record for a storm like Sandy occurring period.

What made Sandy so unique? In two words: climate change. We’ve seen northeastern Atlantic Ocean storms where powerful troughs combine with hurricanes in ways that create a much stronger storm. The last time such a thing happened was during the 1991 ‘Perfect Storm.’ But that storm formed over the open waters of the Atlantic and only caused damage as it brushed New England with the powerful squall lines and heavy surf it cast off. In the case of Sandy, the Perfect Storm came ashore far further south and west than is usually possible.

Sandy’s Global Warming Ingredients

Since 1991, atmospheric changes and alterations to the Earth’s physical characteristics have been taking place that make storms like Sandy more and more possible. These ‘ingredients’ include increasing ocean temperatures, changes in the jet stream, and the receding boundary of Arctic Sea Ice.

To understand how these changes made it possible for a storm like Sandy to have such a devastating effect on the US Northeast and Mid-Atlantic so late in the season, it helps to follow the life of the storm that became Sandy…

Like so many other hurricanes, Sandy was born of the tropical Atlantic. She started as a pulse of thunderous rain storms swirling off the coast of Africa. This tropical wave slowly gathered energy from the hot tropical Atlantic as she moved west, gradually twisting into the classic coma shape as she entered the central Caribbean.

(GOES weather satellite Image of Sandy from October 22. Sandy is already large for a tropical system. But Sandy will soon grow even larger by combining with other storms to the north.)

Ocean heat content for the South Atlantic and Caribbean was abnormally high this year. Most of this added heat content came from human caused global warming. In many regions, temperatures were 2-3 degrees above average. This meant that, for a storm like Sandy, these waters were about as warm as they would have been two to three weeks earlier during a typical season of the 20th century. This added energy increased the likelihood that the storm would form in the first place. It also gave the storm more capacity to strengthen even in an environment of increased wind shear.

As Sandy tracked northward, she plowed through Jamaica and hopped over the eastern tip of Cuba. Maintaining significant strength as a category two storm, Sandy grew to a large size, boasting a tropical storm wind field in excess of five hundred miles in diameter. Hovering off the coast of Florida, Sandy was about to enter the second stage of her development.

Two systems to the north would play key roles in Sandy’s growth and path. Both were products of new ‘blocking patterns’ that have emerged as regular weather events during the past decade. ‘Blocking patterns’ occur when the jet stream makes deep swoops down from the Arctic and into the mid and lower latitudes. These swoops make giant wave-like patterns in the jet stream. They also create a huge amount of atmospheric inertia. The result is that weather patterns tend to be more persistent. In the under-belly of a blocking pattern, one can expect abnormally hot and dry conditions to persist over long periods of time. In the frontal down-slope of the blocking pattern, one can expect abnormally cool, wet, and stormy conditions. The peaks of these blocking patterns tap the tropics and the troughs tap the Arctic.

According to Dr. Jennifer Francis, these blocking patterns have emerged as a result of sea ice loss in the Arctic. The receding edge of the sea ice pulls air northward changing the shape of the jet stream from that of a rippling halo to that of a circle of sine waves.

The new blocking pattern that had established itself over the central US allowed a powerful cold front to sweep southward, both lending energy to Sandy via strong temperature and pressure gradients and steering Sandy first northward, then pulling her in toward the Mid-Atlantic coast. A second aspect of the blocking pattern emerged in the form of a new high pressure system that has tended to form recently over Greenland. This particular high pressure system blocked the path of Sandy northeastward, shoving Sandy back up against the frontal trough that ended up lending her so much strength.

(A visible satellite shot of Sandy beginning to combine with a powerful Arctic cold front. The massive trough of cold air is outlined in blue. Sandy is in the red circle. To the northeast is a blocking high backing in over Newfoundland. Note the extraordinary size of the combined trough and Sandy.)

As Sandy began to touch the trough’s strong, cooler winds, her tropical storm wind field spread out, eventually reaching 900 miles in diameter. In addition, Sandy found herself cloaked in the trough’s rain shield. This shield helped to prevent the worst effects of wind shear which, at times, was powerful enough to rip a normal storm apart.

Sandy’s encounter with the Arctic-born cold-air trough caused her to explode in size and as she moved north, she pummeled the Outer Banks of North Carolina and Coastal Virginia from 300 miles off shore. What strength she lost at her core was multiplied manifold in the expanding reach of her effect. North Carolina and Virginia coasts experienced impacts usually reserved for those in the direct path of a Hurricane — powerful winds, heavy rains, and storm surge flooding. Roads were washed out, dunes were breached, homes were flooded. Water rises exceeded seven feet in some places.

(Sandy taps hotter than normal Atlantic Ocean water in final rush to the coast. At this point, Sandy is the largest tropical cyclone ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean.)

Yet Sandy was still hundreds of miles away, biding her time for the final rush to shore. And in this critical time period, global warming again played its hand. Sandy was now moving parallel to the Virginia coast. In normal years, water temperatures would begin to drop off here, sucking energy from the storm. This year, though, water temperatures had heated to 5 degrees Fahrenheit above normal through, the year after year, heat trapping effects of human emitted greenhouse gasses. Sandy drank deep from this added heat and, as the Arctic-born trough began to pull Sandy in to shore, she intensified.

Maximum sustained winds reached 90 mph, tropical storm force wind diameter reached 1000 miles, hurricane force wind diameter reached 200 miles, and the pressure fell to an unprecedented 940 millibars. Sandy was now a storm for the record books. A storm that was the largest tropical cyclone ever to form in the Atlantic. A storm never seen before in this region of the world. A storm powerful enough to push ocean water nearly a mile inland up and down the Jersey coast. A storm mighty enough to create a nearly 14 foot water rise in New York City.

Without climate change, the storm may not have formed in the first place, the storm probably wouldn’t have reached category 2 strength or grown to such a large size, the storm would have not combined with such a powerful trough sweeping so far south, the storm would have not been blocked from going out to sea by the new Greenland/Newfoundland high pressure, the storm would not have strengthened so far north over abnormally hot waters, and the storm would have not been pulled into the coastline by the powerful blocking pattern caused by melting sea ice.

Sandy was, in all ways, the storm that climate change wrought. And since the pattern is now established for this kind of storm to happen now, it is likely that this kind of ‘300 year storm’ will happen again. Almost certainly with growing force and almost certainly within the next decade or two.

I’ll leave you with the following quote from Time Magazine:

“Perhaps, if you are in your 60s or 70s or 80s, Sandy’s destructive forces are a once in your lifetime event. But younger generations—those of us in our fifties, and our children—will likely be looking at flooded coastal cities, devastated infrastructure, blownout power, and storm surges for the rest of our lives.”

(Graffiti scrawled on the side of a house flooded by Sandy. Image credit: here.)

Links:

http://science.time.com/2012/10/30/climate-change-and-sandy-why-we-need-to-prepare-for-a-warmer-world/

http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/newsdesk/2012/10/watching-hurricane-sandy-ignoring-climate-change.html

http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/2012/10/30/did-climate-change-cause-hurricane-sandy/

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sunita-narain/sandy-climate-change_b_2044339.html

Historic Hurricane Sandy Brings Fury, Flood and Fire to New York City, Breezy Point, Long Island

(Breezy Point, NY. Image credit here.)

A deadly and devastating storm, one that set records not seen in 300 years, dealt a terrible blow to New York’s coastal regions Monday.

The 940 millibar storm, the most intense for this region on record, pulled a 14 foot storm surge up Long Island Sound and into Naragansett Bay Monday evening. This intense pulse of water overwhelmed New York’s flood defenses, filling the great city’s subways, overwhelming the Battery area, and soaking New York City neighborhoods. Construction at the new World Trade Center site was inundated, underground subways; parking lots and shopping centers were flooded out.

Massive surges of water assaulted the US’s largest city from all sides. Naragansett, to the north spilled water into the city’s back side. Long Island Sound, to the south, funneled an amplifying pulse of water directly into the city’s heart. The massive storm surge rushed in through storm drains, sending water gushing up through sewers, fountaining out of man hole covers, until neighborhood after neighborhood looked out over flooded streets.

Above the city, the storm left the twisted wreckage of a crane dangling from a high rise apartment complex built for the affluent. Billionaires, who occupied the top four floors of the complex, were treated to a front row view of the wreckage — twisting and swaying in Sandy’s 90 mph winds. Transformer fires and electrical equipment explosions whelmed the night before leaving much of the city dark late Monday. Large sections of the city remained without power as first responders began to pick over the damage this morning.

(East Village, NY. Image credit here.)

Though New York City was assaulted by a host of troubles, much of Long Island and coastal New York also fell under the heavy blow of this monster storm. Storm surges left section after section of the coast assaulted by battering waves. In places, the dune lines or sea walls were breached, leaving communities vulnerable to the ravages of an angry sea.

Sandy’s fury inundated Breezy Point. The force of the storm was enough to flood first floors and foundations, ripping off debris and sloshing it together in a twisted, shambling mound of wreckage at the mercy of an angry tide. But the worst came in the form of an unexpected fire that leapt from house to house even as the flood waters swirled about. Fire fighters dragged hoses through the heaving water or piled into inflatable boats in a desperate attempt to combat the spreading inferno. NYPD personnel took to the water in scuba equipment to reach victims trapped in flooded, burning homes. As the water began to trickle out, homes burned to their foundations. In all, the fire claimed about a hundred structures. By sunrise, all that remained of a large swath of town was a pile of wet and smoldering debris. A scene that might remind one of last year’s Japan Tsunami or of Dante’s Inferno, depending on predilection.

Is The ENSO Signal Being Over-Ridden by Global Warming?

The periodic switch between warm and cool surface ocean temperatures over the eastern equatorial Pacific has long been a powerful driver of global weather. The reason is that such a large body of water can do major work moving weather patterns depending on its relative cool or warm state. This area of the Pacific is very large — about 9 million square kilometers and it sits directly below the equatorial wind flows. So warming and cooling in this region pushes weather governing winds, changing the direction of storms and the location of droughts, serving as a powerful governor of world weather and climate.

But human caused global warming may be shifting the role of ENSO into a secondary governor of climate. The reason? Large areas of open water in the Arctic and northern oceans are now subject to excess heating.

Take  a look at the map above and you will notice a large region of much warmer than average water located in the polar, Arctic, and high temperate zones. Almost the entire Arctic Ocean, the region of Hudson Bay, the Canadian Archipelago, the sea directly west of Greenland and the North Atlantic are all experiencing sea surface temperatures far exceeding the average range. A large area of the northern Pacific is also experiencing abnormally hot conditions. The abnormally high temperatures in these regions cover ocean areas as much as twice as large as the region typically affected by El Nino.

The change in heat distribution of these waters alters the circumpolar jet stream. It changes the path, location, duration and intensity of storms. It can make cool and wet periods last longer. It can make dry and hot periods also last longer. It is the main element influencing the blocking patterns that have been so prominent in weather events over the past decade and a half. Finally, it may eventually alter the turn of the northern hemisphere seasons. For as it intensifies, it has the ability to change winter into something that may be well unrecognizable from the seasons as they’ve existed over the 20th century.

This heating of the northern hemisphere land and water becomes a periodic event intensifying toward the end of summer. But it is the ability of this latent heat to melt ice, move air masses, cause huge swoops in the jet stream, alter the seasons, and extend the duration of weather events that may result in its over-shadowing the signal coming from El Nino and La Nina.

It is particularly worth noting that, despite La Nina being very strong over the end of 2010 and throughout 2011, 2010 was the hottest year on record and 2011 was the 9th hottest year on record and the hottest La Nina year on record. Usually, a powerful La Nina like the one occurring in 2011 would have pushed world temperatures dramatically down. But we still experienced a record year. Also, strong El Nino years have typically resulted in the world reaching new record high temperatures under global warming. Not so with 2010. That year was a year that transitioned from weak El Nino to strong La Nina. Yet temperatures were still high enough to break a new record.

What appears to be happening is that the global warming signal is becoming large enough to over-ride the signal coming from El Nino and La Nina. If we think of these two forces as wave patterns, the size of the human caused global warming wave is now large enough to confuse and dilute the, now smaller, El Nino, La Nina wave signal. This seems to be true, again, for 2012 where a strong La Nina is transitioning into a very weak El Nino. Yet all the recent months have been much hotter than the climatological average with June and July both being the 4th hottest on record.

And though it is likely that the strong La Nina influenced the Texas drought of 2011 and the 50 year drought of 2012, the fact that La Nina has faded while drought conditions have persisted should be a clear indicator that La Nina is no longer sitting in the driver’s seat.

The fact that human caused global warming is now the primary driver of extreme weather events has now been validated by many scientists. The IPCC, NOAA, and NASA have now all linked extreme weather to human caused global warming. In addition, Jennifer Francis and colleagues have also produced a report showing how loss of sea ice is driving the powerful blocking patterns we’ve seen linked to extreme weather events over the past two decades. So, moving forward, it will be important for weather forecasters to identify atmospheric changes due to human global warming if they are to accurately predict weather over extended periods in the future.

Links:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/climate-change-is-here–and-worse-than-we-thought/2012/08/03/6ae604c2-dd90-11e1-8e43-4a3c4375504a_story.html

http://www1.ncdc.noaa.gov/pub/data/cmb/bams-sotc/2011-peterson-et-al.pdf

 

Advertisements
%d bloggers like this: