Smoke Blankets Western North America, 106 F Temps in Portland, Flash Northern Plains Drought Threatens U.S. Wheat Crop

The climate change related impacts from continued fossil fuel burning just keep on ramping up.

Last Thursday, the mercury struck 106 degrees Fahrenheit in Portland, Oregon. The reading, just one degree shy of the hottest temperature ever recorded for the city, came after the thermometer soared to the 103 F mark on Wednesday. The extreme heat prompted some locals to re-name the typically wet and cool city — ‘Hotlandia’ — even as a broader severe heatwave blanketed most of the U.S. West.

(Smoke covers large portions of the U.S. West following record heat in many locales. Image source: NASA Worldview.)

During the weekend, the heat shifted north and east — thrusting 90+ degree (F) temperatures into British Columbia where severe wildfires have been raging throughout the summer. As a result, fire intensity spiked once again and great plumes of smoke today blanketed hundreds of miles of western sky.

In total, more than 575,000 hectares have burned in British Columbia so far this year. This is about 6 six times the average rate of wildfire burning for a typically wet and cool region. An intensification of the fire regime that came on as temperatures warmed, climates changed, and indigenous plants found themselves thrust into conditions outside those they’re adapted to.

The extreme heat was brought on by the kind of combined Pacific Ocean warming and upper level high pressure ridge amplification that some researchers have linked to human-caused climate change. And the overall impacts of the system have been as outlandish as they are notable.

(Extreme heat blankets the U.S. on Thursday, August 3rd. Image source: The National Weather Service.)

Further east, the high plains have suffered from extraordinarily dry conditions throughout spring and summer. Since April, rainfall totals have been reduced by 50 percent or more. The drying began with the start of growing season and has continued on through early August. After a rapid intensification during recent weeks, 62 percent of North Dakota and 38 percent of Montana are now blanketed by severe drought conditions or worse.

The drought’s center mass is near the Missouri River Basin — a primary water shed for the northern plains states. Since April, these key regions have seen as little as one quarter the usual precipitation amount. This equals the driest growing season ever recorded for some locations. And overall conditions are about as bad as they have been at any time in the past 100 years.

The result has been the emergence of a very intense flash drought. One of a type that has become more common as atmospheric temperatures have increased and as evaporation from waters and soils has intensified. At Lodgepole Montana, the heat and drought were enough to ignite a 422 square mile wildfire. Covering an area 1/3 the size of Rhode Island, the fire is Montana’s largest blaze since 1910. The fire is now, thankfully, 98 percent contained. More worrisome, the massive blaze is now accompanied by 9 smaller sister fires throughout the state. And all before the peak of fire season.

(Flash drought — a new phenomenon brought on by human-forced climate change — emerges in Montana. Image source: The US Drought Monitor and Grist.)

But perhaps the worst of the drought-related damage has impacted the region’s wheat crops. And reports now indicate that fully half of the Northern Plains wheat crop is presently under threat. Overall current damage estimates for the Northern Plains drought alone are spiking above 1 billion dollars and states are now seeking emergency funding from a relief pool that the Trump Administration recently cut.

But regardless of Trump’s views on climate change or his related lack of preparedness, the damages and risks just continue mounting. Montana resident Sarah Swanson recently noted in Grist:

“The damage and the destruction is just unimaginable. It’s unlike anything we’ve seen in decades.”

Sadly, with atmospheric carbon levels in the range of 407 ppm CO2 and 492 ppm CO2e, and with fossil fuel burning still continuing, these kinds of devastating droughts, heatwaves, and fires will just keep on getting worse.

Links:

NASA Worldview

The US Drought Monitor

The National Weather Service

The National Interagency Fire Center

Portland Heatwave

Flash Drought Could Devastate Half the U.S. Wheat Harvest

Drought Spreads Across U.S. Plains

Western Heatwave Breaks Records Across Oregon and Washington

Canada’s Interagency Fire Center

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A Halo of Storms and Heatwaves — New Study Confirms that Global Warming is Wrecking the Northern Hemisphere Jet Stream

“We came as close as one can to demonstrating a direct link between climate change and a large family of extreme recent weather events.”Michael Mann

*****

The Earth is warming, the weather is growing more extreme, and from the observational perspective, it appears that the Northern Hemisphere Jet Stream has undergone some seriously disturbing changes. Over the past five years, this subject has been one that’s spurred heated debate among scientists, meteorologists, and global climate and weather watchers. Now, a new model study finds that it’s likely that the Jet Stream is being significantly altered by human-forced climate change and that this alteration is helping to drive extreme weather events like the 2003 European heat wave, the 2010 Pakistan flood and Russian heat wave, the 2011 Texas heat wave and recent floods in Europe.

(More extreme variation in upper level wind speeds is an upshot of polar warming during boreal summer. The result is that risks of severe heatwaves, droughts, wildfires and floods increases as the Earth warms. Image source: Michael Mann, Penn State.)

From the study:

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

What this means is that the new study provides still more evidence that the Jet Stream’s north to south variance is increasing during summer. As a result, it is enabling powerful heat domes to form in regions where winds run from south to north. In regions where the upper level winds run from north to south, it creates cooler zones in which powerful storms can flood large swaths of countryside. In other words, increasingly juxtapposed zones of extreme temperature anomalies and higher atmospheric instability and moisture loading tend to form more and more often. And this results in weather patterns that we have never really seen before.

(An Inconvenient Sequel is a call for action on climate change like we’ve never seen before. And the imperative to act on climate is now stronger than it ever was.)

The fact that the Mann study uses observational and model assessments to find that such changes are likely to very likely now being caused by human-forced warming and related polar amplification is a highly significant scientific finding. It adds one more attribution tie to the extreme weather events that we’ve been seeing with increasing frequency. A tie directly to global warming. And it does so through model studies that identify the underlying physical mechanisms at work. It’s a pivotal moment in the atmospheric sciences. And everyone needs to sit up and pay attention.

Credits: 

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Hat tip to Cate

Scientific hat tip to Dr Michael Mann

(Please support publicly-funded, non-special interest based science that is now under assault by the climate change denying Trump Administration)

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