A Song of Flood and Fire: One Million Square Kilometers of Burning Siberia Doused by Immense Deluge

About a week and a half ago, I reported on a great burning event in which a massive region of Russian Siberia erupted in hundreds of wildfires blanketing it in a sea of smoke clearly visible in the NASA Aqua Satellite record. Today, reports from Interfax/Radio Russia describe an immense flood emergency in which over 1 million square kilometers of Russia’s Yakutia region have been submerged by a catastrophic rain event.

From the Interfax report:

“It is a unique situation in the sense that it has spread over more than 2,000 kilometers if one looks from west to east, while its depth or width is more than 500 kilometers,” Vladimir Stepanov, head of the National Crisis Management Center of the Emergency Ministry, told a news conference in Moscow.

According to the report, hundreds of villages in this, thankfully, sparsely populated region have been inundated by water putting hundreds of thousands of people in amongst a swirling flood. According to reports from Russian government, the region is now the site of a massive and major rescue operation. As of August 11, the operation composed an army of 20,000 personnel — a force that is likely to have greatly swelled as this major climate disaster expanded through today.

Floods turn Amur Region of Russia into a Sea on August 14.

Floods turn Amur Region of Russia into a Sea on August 14.

(Image source: Radio Free Europe)

A Song of Flood and Fire

As of late July, heavy rainfall had emerged in a dense band along eastern Russia and bordering north China. This band of dense and heavy moisture rose north over an ocean heat dome that was setting off very dangerous high temperatures over the region of Southeast China even as it was baking a large region of ocean, heating a vast expanse of the surface waters to above 30 degrees Celsius. The added moisture and heat content provided fuel for low pressure systems skirting the high.

By early August, major flooding had begun to occur in this eastern region as very heavy storms sprang up over this large area.

We can see the development of this massive storm system starting on August 4th in the image below:

Russia August 4 -- Heavy Rains to the East, Massive Fires to the West

Russia August 4 — Heavy Rains to the East, Massive Fires to the West

(Image source: NASA/Lance-Modis)

In the above image, we are looking down on the Earth from a shot taken above the North Pole. The region we are looking at is Siberian Russia and Yakutia which dominates the central section of the image. Toward the lower left are the Laptev and East Siberian sections of the Arctic Ocean. Toward the central and upper left is Eastern Russia (Kamchatka), Mongolia, and extreme north China. In the upper right corner is central Asia.

Note the very dense region of clouds and rain pulsing up from the Pacific Ocean and overlaying Kamchatka and southern Yakutia. The storm at this point is vast and its cloud coverage immense. But it is just getting started.

Russia August 7 -- Low Pressure Emerges From Central Asia

Russia August 7 — Low Pressure Emerges From Central Asia

(Image source: NASA/Lance-Modis)

By August 7, the storms had sagged toward the south, drifting slowly eastward along the monsoonal flow. Occasional pulses of moisture rose northward from the Pacific to refresh and intensify this storm and cloud flux. This action brought the Pacific and monsoonal storms in direct contact with a hungry low pressure system rising up out of Central Asia and moving from the southwest toward the northeast. By August 7 we can begin to see this storm system entraining the massive volume of moisture associated with the Pacific storm pulse and monsoonal flows.

The storm was emerging over a region of Yakutia that had experienced a massive and terrifying explosion of very energetic wildfires. The air was heavily laden with particles of dense smoke from a great burning that had intensified since late July. There the moisture erupted into a powerful deluge that by August 11th had broken flood records set as far back as 1896. By that time, more than 20,000 personnel had been mobilized to help deal with the floods as hundreds of homes and scores of roadways were inundated.

Russia August 11 -- Deluge Fully Formed Over Yakutia

Russia August 11 — Deluge Fully Formed Over Yakutia

(Image source: NASA/Lance-Modis)

As of August 11, we see a massive and fully formed storm complex directly over Yakutia. The storm has now fully entrained the dense smoke cover belched out by the hundreds of fires, some of which were still burning throughout the region. It was also still drawing in moisture from the Pacific storms and monsoonal flow over south Russia, Mongolia and northern China. A second arm of the storm stretched northward linking the storm with the Arctic. With a strong south and north linkage, the storm had accessed energy to maintain strength and intensity for an extended period.

The large storm system continued to churn through Yakutia and by today, August 14th, a massive region covering 1 million square kilometers was inundated by floodwater. What we see in the satellite shot for today are not one, not two, not three, but four rivers of moisture linking the major storm system that has inundated Yakutia.

Russia August 14 -- Rivers of Moisture Collide

Russia August 14 — Rivers of Moisture Collide

(Image source: NASA/Lance-Modis)

The first river of moisture is a continuation of the Pacific flow rising up along the southeast Russian coast, the second is the monsoonal flow moving from west to east to combine with this Pacific flow. A third flow feeds into the storm from Europe as it rides along parallel and to the north of the more southerly monsoonal flow. A final river of moisture rides up the from the storm, linking it to the Arctic and likely sharing energy and instability with that cold and dynamic region.

With a second low developing to the west of the first and moving along in its shadow and with moisture continuing to feed into these storm systems from the monsoonal flow to the south, it appears that rainy conditions will persist for the already inundated Yakutia region over the next few days at least. And if this pattern continues as predicted, it may well come to rival the great Pakistani floods of 2010.

Fires Still Burn Near the Flooded Lands

One, rather odd, feature of this major flood and fire event is that large areas of wildfires are shown to still be burning throughout Russia. Though the onrushing deluge clearly put out some of the major fires burning in north and central Yakutia, still other major fire complexes continue to burn — some of which remain very near to flooded regions.

In the below MODIS shot a major fire complex is still visible in a region of Russia to the west and south of areas most heavily affected by flooding:

Fires Burn in One Part of Russia as Another Part Floods.

Fires Burn in One Part of Russia as Another Part Floods.

(Image source: NASA/Lance-Modis)

These fires are burning directly in the shadow of the second storm system with their smoke trails feeding into the storm along its southerly inflow.

Conditions in Context

Earlier this year, drought and heatwaves blanketed Siberia and Yakutia. But late July, this region had begun to erupt in a series of extraordinary wildfires that blanketed almost all of northern and eastern Russia in very dense smoke. By early August what is perhaps the worst rainstorm in the history of this area of Russia had begun to form. As of the writing of this article, on August 14, major storms and flooding continued with no immediate end in sight.

Major heatwaves and droughts in extreme northerly regions of Siberia are an anomalous event linked to human caused climate change. Rapid sea ice and snow cover retreat combine with temperatures that are warming at a rate of .5 degrees C each decade over this region to increase the likelihood of such extreme events. Methane and organic carbon stores in the thawing tundra steadily release under this heat forcing and likely provide an amplifying feedback to summer heating events by locally providing more greenhouse gas emission and also providing another fuel store that is available to wildfires. In some of these wildfires, there are reports coming in that fires burn as far as 3 feet into the ground, taking out root systems and stumps along with the trees that burn above ground. Reports of burning ground have also been trickling in (Hat tip to Colorado Bob)

Such burn events are anomalous enough. But for a flood that covers a 1 million square kilometer area to immediately follow in the wake of such amazingly large and widespread fires is anything but normal. Atmospheric patterns that link major weather systems and increase their intensity can be attributed to the formation of powerful heat dome high pressure systems along with weakened and meandering Jet Stream waves. Rising atmospheric heat caused by human warming adds to the density and strength of heat domes (identified as becoming more intense by meteorologist Stu Ostro). Meanwhile erosion of the Jet Stream caused by reduced snow and sea ice cover (identified by Dr. Jennifer Francis) is implicated in a host of problems including more intense and persistent droughts and storm events along with the increased likelihood that weather systems will link up as north to south weather patterns deepen, back up, slow down, and elongate.

A massive ocean heat dome to the south over the Pacific adjacent to China and sea ice and snow cover remaining near record lows must be taken into account when looking at features that likely contributed to the extreme swings from drought, heatwave and fire to massive deluge and flood in Russia.

One last point to consider as a likely contributor is the fact that for each degree (Celsius) of human-caused temperature change, the hydrological cycle amplifies by about 8 percent. This means that rates of evaporation and rainfall are now about 6 percent more intense than they would be in the world of the 1880s. When combined with powerful new weather features like a mangled Jet Stream and immense heat dome high pressure systems, an amped up hydrological cycle further inflates an already extreme environmental condition.

UPDATE: LARGEST FLOOD IN RUSSIAN HISTORY

Reports from the Russian government indicate the region hardest hit stretches from lake Baikal to the Pacific Ocean with some towns in far eastern Russia along the Amur River under as much as 20 feet (6 meters) of water. Reports as recent as yesterday indicated that a total of 113 towns were experiencing major flooding and that an additional 100,000 residents may need to be evacuated.

As of today monsoonal flows and a large moisture pulse rising off of the Pacific Ocean along the back side of a powerful heat dome high pressure system continue to dump copious rains over the region.

Russian officials have stated that this event represents the largest flood in Russia’s history.

I’ve provided a MODIS shot of the hardest hit area under dense cloud cover on August 17:

Flooding Lake Baikal to Pacific Ocean

Russia and China Flooding: Lake Baikal to Pacific Ocean

(Image source: NASA/MODIS)

Lake Baikal is on the left border of the image, the Pacific Ocean on the far right.

Links and Credits:

Interfax

RIA Novosti

NASA/Lance-Modis

Hat Tip to Commenter Steve

Hat Tip to Colorado Bob

Russia Experiences Great Burning

Ocean Heat Dome Bakes China

How Global Warming Amps Up the Hydrological Cycle and Wrecks the Jet Stream to Cause Dangerous Weather

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2012 Third Worst Year on Record for US Wildfires; Rate, Size of Wildfires Increasing With Global Warming

Tamino Wildfires

2012 was the third worst year on record for US wildfires, a year that punctuates a growing trend of increasingly large and destructive fires. Preliminary totals from the National Interagency Fire Center show that during 2012 9.21 million acres burned. This compares to 2006 when 9.87 million acres burned and to 2007 when 9.32 million acres burned. Increasing heat and dryness caused by climate change has created a situation where the total area burned by wildfires annually in the US has doubled since the 1980s. Average acres burned each year since 2001 is now nearly 8 million acres. (The above image was produced by Tamino using data from The National Fire Center to rebuff disinformation being put out by George Will on the Washington Post Editorial Page)

Increasingly widespread and severe wildfires is just one example of the ratcheting effects of global warming.  But in the US, the danger posed by wildfires has become a substantial issue for most US states, especially states in the US southwest. The situation is one of increasing heat and dryness, one that is likely to result in increased risk of more dangerous fires as time goes forward.

This rising risk has resulted in serious effort by many states and the federal government to attempt to prevent wildfires. Large numbers of seasonal firefighters are hired each year, underbrush is cleared, controlled burns are initiated, and other measures are taken to reduce the risk of fires. The rising incidence of wildfires is especially ominous given this ongoing and growing effort to adapt to ever-more-challenging conditions.

During the massive fire outbreaks of 2012, states and the federal government received criticism for failing to prepare. Quite to the contrary, preparedness and mitigation efforts have never been so strong. The issue is not a failure to adapt, prepare, and mitigate. It is instead that conditions spurring wildfires — heat, drought, rising temperatures — all continue to worsen, threatening the nation’s forests, wilderness, farmlands and, increasingly, homes and businesses.

These already challenging conditions are now in place at a .86 degree Celsius increase in global average temperatures since 1880. If that temperature increase pushes through the barrier of 2 degrees Celsius and on to 6 or more (as is likely under business as usual by the end of this century), one can well imagine that the situation will rapidly grow into something that is increasingly unmanageable.

Links:

http://www.nifc.gov/fireInfo/fireInfo_stats_YTD2012.html

http://tamino.wordpress.com/2013/01/26/where-theres-a-will-theres-a-way-to-distort-the-truth/

http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2013/01/27/1499991/washington-post-once-again-publishes-george-wills-shameless-flaming-anti-scientific-nonsense/

In Worst US Fire Season On Record, US Runs Out of Money to Fight Fires, Diverts Money From Fire Prevention Fund

It’s official, this year’s forest fire season was the worst on record for the United States. It was the longest duration, it resulted in the largest fires, and it resulted in the most acres burned.

So it shouldn’t be a surprise to know that the budget used to fund fire fighting has been exhausted. But in a perfect metaphor for robbing the future to pay for the present the Forest Service has decided to divert funds used to prevent fires in order to fight the fires still cropping up in the west.

From the Washington Post:

In the worst wildfire season on record, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service ran out of money to pay for firefighters, fire trucks and aircraft that dump retardant on monstrous flames. So officials did about the only thing they could: take money from other forest management programs.

But many of the programs were aimed at preventing giant fires in the first place, and raiding their budgets meant putting off the removal of dried brush and dead wood over vast stretches of land — the things that fuel eye-popping blazes, threatening property and lives.

The problem with diverting funds now is that there’s no guarantee next year won’t be as bad or worse. In fact, a growing global warming crisis is resulting in a long-term drying out of the US west and heartland. Reports show that the years since 2000 and leading up to the present have been the 5th driest for the US west in 500 years. In addition, climate models show that as global warming advances, the US continues to dry out.

One would think that prevention would be the best course in fighting this battle. Reducing carbon emissions would go a long way toward preventing a rapid rise in fires across the west and even worse damages to come. The risk becomes that, as costs mount, the US is no longer able to pay to prevent, fight or repair all the damage from wildfires, droughts, sea level rise, or other extreme weather emergencies. This exhaustion of public resources is a primary first threat posed by climate change and the impacts, as we can see in the running out of fire money, and in the 75 billion dollar and growing US drought, are happening now.

Links:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/us-runs-out-of-funds-to-battle-wildfires/2012/10/07/d632df5c-0c0c-11e2-bd1a-b868e65d57eb_story.html?tid=wp_ipad

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