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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Rimac’s Concept Two vs the Tesla Roadster 2.0

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

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

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

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

Can Legacy Diesel Volkswagen Catch Tesla by Spending Big?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Most Recent of Three Powerful Nor’Easters

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

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

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

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

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

Atmospheric Train Wreck

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

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

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

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

Much Warmer than Normal Ocean Waters

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

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

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

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

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

Conditions in Context

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


Polar Anomaly Flip in an Abnormally Warm World: Arctic to Cool as Antarctica Heats Up

Interesting and concerning climate-change influenced weather in the global forecast for the next ten days.

As the Arctic is projected to cool down, it will open a brief window for sea ice to grow above its present track toward a record low maximum. However, any new edge ice will likely be weak and thin relative to past years. Meanwhile, sections of western Antarctica are predicted to see above freezing temperatures over the next week. And all of these various swings are occurring in a world that is considerably warmer than normal.

Global Context

Today, as with practically every day since I began tracking global weather and climate back in 2012, the world’s temperature averages are warmer than normal. An odd and increasingly harmful warmth that is driven by atmospheric CO2 levels ranging above 405 ppm (490 ppm CO2e). High heat-trapping gas levels that are, in turn, primarily the result of human fossil fuel burning.

(Despite an building cool-down relative to typical temperatures in the Arctic, the globe remains much warmer than average. The most intense hot spots for today hover over Canada, Southern Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, India through China, and Parts of Antarctica. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)

The world, overall today, is about 0.7 C warmer than the 1979 to 2000 average. Compared to 1880s, that’s about 1.2 C warmer than a typical late 19th Century day. This warming is considerable. A long term average that is in a range comparable to the Eemian of about 120,000 years ago. In other words, the world we live in today is the hottest its been in more than a thousand centuries.

Looking at the various climate zones, we find that every major region except the Arctic is warmer than average. This is happening as Northern Hemisphere Winter transitions to Spring and as the polar jet stream appears to be reasserting itself a bit after a major polar vortex collapse event during February. A new integral cold air vortex is gathering over Northwest Siberia — which is allowing cooler conditions to again reassert in the Arctic.

Opportunity for Late Season Sea Ice Regrowth

Over the next week, temperatures in the High Arctic are expected to plummet. And for the first time since practically the start of Winter, readings over the Arctic Ocean zone are expected to range below average.

As noted above, the cold pole appears to be asserting in the region of Northwest Siberia. But cold air pushing out into the Barents, North Bering, North Baffin, and Irkutsk regions will afford some opportunity for a sea ice rebound.

This cold air retrenchment is expected to be juxtaposed by significant warming through Northern Canada, Alaska, the Southern Bering, Southern Baffin Bay, Southern Greenland and in a zone just north of Svalbard. This warm pole will likely help retard any sea ice bounce coming from cooler air asserting on the Siberian side — constraining ice growth in a number of edge zones and possibly asserting some counter-cooling melt. We may even see a polynya open up in the Beaufort as temperatures over Alberta rise to above freezing and warm winds drive northward.

As a result of this warm-cold dipole, and the related warmth in certain key ice edge zones, it remains uncertain whether sea ice will bounce enough to overcome an otherwise strongly asserted trend toward a record low Arctic sea ice maximum for 2018. But if such a bounce back were to happen, the opportunity for it to occur will be during this week or next.

Extreme Antarctic Warming

As the Arctic is predicted to cool down this week, the Antarctic is expected to heat up. By late this week through next weekend, a powerful plume of warm air is expected to drive above freezing temperatures across Marie Byrd Land and the Ross Ice Shelf in West Antarctica. As with recent Northern Hemisphere Events, a high amplitude wave in the Jet Stream will drive much warmer than typical temperatures far into what should be a frigid polar zone.

(A major warm-up predicted for sections of West Antarctica will likely produce surface melt as temperatures rise to above freezing. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)

This warming event is predicted to be rather intense and last for 2-3 days, with temperatures rising to 25-30 degrees Celsius above average in certain zones.

Such a warm-up would push surface temperatures in some locations to 2-4 C or warmer (up to 40 degrees F) and would likely produce periods of surface melt. These kinds of melt events have been a more frequent occurrence for Antarctica recently. They’re a part of the larger trend of ice mass loss both at the surface and on the underside of sea facing ice sheets as the local ocean has warmed. A primary driver of a noted acceleration in the rate of global sea level rise.

Looking on into next week, a subsequent warming in East Antarctica is expected to push temperatures for the whole Continent into a range approximately 3.5 C above average. This event, however, is not expected to drive significant above freezing temperatures inland, though some coastal areas may see brief departures into these ranges.

Sea Level Rise in the United States — From Nuisance to Trouble

As fossil fuel companies fight to keep cities and nations captive to harmful emissions, the effects of rising greenhouse gas concentrations are growing more and more pronounced.

A new study from NOAA finds that the incidence of flooding along U.S. coasts (primarily driven by fossil fuel burning) has increased considerably. This already-damaging situation, under present emissions scenarios, is expected to become much worse over the coming decades.

In the Southeast, high tide flooding days since 2000 have increased from an average of 1.5 per year to 3 per year. In the Northeast, similar flooding days have increased from about 3.5 per year to 6. Flooding is also becoming more common on the U.S. West Coast, though at a slower rate of growth. But hotspots for this region include San Francisco — which is seeing both land subsidence and rising oceans.

(New NOAA study reveals a staggering future for U.S. coastal flooding.)

For all coasts of the U.S. the future is looking increasingly grim. According to William Sweet, an oceanographer at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration:

“The numbers are staggering. Today’s storm will be tomorrow’s high tide.”

By mid-Century the Western Gulf of Mexico is expected to face between 80 to 185 days of flooding per year, the coastal Northeast expects 45 to 130 days, and the Southeast and Eastern Gulf of Mexico is likely to see between 25 and 85 flooding days per year. By 2100, under expected fossil fuel burning scenarios, many locations will see at least minor flooding on most days.

In other words, already widespread flooding is about to get much worse. And the increasingly powerful storms we now see roaring out of an ocean riled by climate change will push their more intense storm surges up over already higher seas. Eventually, there will be no U.S. coastal zone that is untouched by this combined impact.

U.S. Northeast Battered by Second ‘Once in a Generation’ Storm This Year

A major nor’easter is lashing the Eastern U.S. today. Reports of moderate to severe tidal flooding are racking up as hurricane force gusts are pushing mounds of water inland and raking the coastline with tremendously powerful waves.

This storm blew up to extreme intensity over the night-time and early morning hours on Friday as two low pressure cells converged off the U.S. coast. By afternoon, the storm had bombed out to 970 mb and was still intensifying.

A broad region across the northeast from D.C. to Maine are now experiencing wind gusts of 50 to 80 mph or more with local power outages and downed lines reported over a broad region. The gusts are so strong and widespread that diverse locations all throughout the Northeast are seeing instances of toppled trees, damage to structures and falling limbs. In Chambersburg, PA, the raging gusts tipped over a school bus.

On the coast, extremely strong winds for a nor’easter and conditions more akin to a hurricane are driving directly in to shore from Chatham and Nantucket northward. As a result, weather authorities are predicting a historic coastal flood event for metropolitan areas like Boston. There, record high tides may be exceeded as winds there are now blowing at a vicious 80 mph.

(A broadening storm is lashing most of the Northeastern U.S. with gale and hurricane force winds even as a places like Boston face massive waves and record storm surge flooding. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

But what is, perhaps, more concerning is the fact that this storm is still gathering strength. And due to a blocking high over Greenland, the storm — dubbed Riley — is likely to only slowly move off-shore. So its impacts will tend to persist for multiple high tide cycles even as its circulation broadens and it generates an east-to-west fetch of gale to hurricane force winds stretching over a 400 to 600 mile region of ocean and driving directly toward the Northeast and East Coasts.

This will enable a long-lasting storm surge that will generate serious flooding for hundreds of miles of coastline. And on top of that surge, towering waves will relentlessly batter the coast throughout Friday and Saturday. Already the flooding has become quite severe for a number of locations. But the situation is likely to get worse before it gets better. With the worst impacts expected at high tide late tonight.

Scenes like these bring back recollections of Sandy. And like Sandy, the present cyclone has been influenced in a number of ways by human-caused climate change.

The storm’s historic intensity was first fed by a large plume of moisture issuing off a much warmer than normal Gulf of Mexico. Instability, driven by a deep diving trough, formed a low sweeping over the north-central U.S. that then tapped this high volume of moisture. The latent heat in the moisture enabled stronger than normal convection which helped to spike the storm’s early intensity.

(Extremely warm sea surface temperatures both in the Gulf of Mexico and off the U.S. East Coast are helping to fuel the present storm’s record intensity. This is just one of the climate change associated factors contributing to the present storm. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

Off shore, the Gulf Stream waters are also far warmer than normal. Ranging as high as 9 degrees Celsius above average, this abnormal heat helped to fuel a second plume of moisture and instability. And as these two areas of storminess merged, they rapidly bombed out to high intensity even as their area of storm wind circulation broadened.

To the north, a recent (climate change driven) polar warming event has generated a kind of train wreck in the upper level winds that typically hurry storm systems along. As a result of this train wreck, a blocking high over Greenland is preventing this heat-amplified storm from tracking eastward. Over the next 48 hours, this block will allow a massive pile of water and towering waves to relentlessly hammer the Northeastern and Eastern Coasts of the U.S.

(Large waves and long fetch which is predicted to be generated by this storm on Saturday could produce serious and wide-ranging impacts all up and down the Eastern Seaboard from Hatteras to Portland and points northward. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

Presently, this storm is expected to produce the second 1 in 100 year flood event that the Boston area has seen in the past year. Under typical climate variability, the likelihood of seeing back-to-back events of this kind would be 1 in 10,000. However, due to the influences of human-caused climate change, the potential for extreme weather events like the one we are presently enduring are greatly enhanced.


Sudden Stratospheric Warming and Polar Amplification: How Climate Change Interacts With the Polar Vortex

Over the past few years, the term Polar Vortex has dominated the broadcast weather media — gaining recent notoriety due to increasingly extreme weather events associated with a number of disruptions to Arctic atmospheric circulation patterns. In short, this swirl of cold air over the furthest north regions is being intensely disrupted by warm air invasions — both at the surface and in the upper levels of the atmosphere. A subject that we’ll explore further as part of this analysis.

Take the recent extreme February warming at the North Pole in which temperatures there rose to above freezing even as a major cold snap slammed into Europe this week. We’ve seen such varied headlines as Yes the North Pole is Warmer than Europe Right Now and Arctic Warm Event Stuns Scientists.

When it’s warmer at the pole than in Europe, it’s a sign that the weather is clearly out of whack. Especially when temperatures in a region spanning tens of thousands of square miles over the Arctic rocket to between 40 and 63 degrees Fahrenheit above normal. Scientists are notably concerned. Dr. Michael Mann, one of the world’s foremost experts on climate change characterized the polar warming event as:

…an anomaly among anomalies. It is far enough outside the historical range that it is worrying — it is a suggestion that there are further surprises in store as we continue to poke the angry beast that is our climate.

But what’s driving all this? Dr. Mann gives us a bit of a hint by describing our climate as an angry beast that’s being poked.

(Polar Amplification writ large. The entire region of the Arctic above the 80 degree North Latitude line has been 8.64 degrees Celsius warmer than normal for all of 2018 thus far. This is an extraordinary departure for a region that plays a critical role in how the Earth’s climate system functions. Image source: DMI.)

Perhaps another way to say it is that it’s a warming atmosphere that’s prodding the Jet Stream to take a chunk out of the Polar Vortex.

How might this work?

First, surface warming in the Arctic caused by increased radiative forcing from rising greenhouse gas levels and by follow-on reductions of Arctic sea ice and snow result in less temperature difference between the Pole and the Equator. This surface warming translates into higher levels of the atmosphere through convection.

Temperature difference is what drives the upper level winds. So a lower difference in temperature causes these winds to slow. When the Jet Stream winds slow, they tend to meander — forming large ridges and deep troughs. The elongated ridges and troughs eventually break like waves — pushing against the circulation of the Polar Vortex.

(NOAA graphic shows how a weak jet stream results in changes in atmospheric circulation and increased disruption of the Polar Vortex.)

When this happens, the speed of the winds that make up the Polar Vortex slow down and sometimes reverse. This results in the collapse of the column of upper level air held aloft by the Vortex’s winds. When the air collapses, it compresses, causing the stratosphere to warm. This falling column of warm air then can end up acting like an atmospheric wedge — driving the Polar Vortex apart and causing it to split.

The split then tends to generate smaller funnels that capture polar air and pull it south. Beneath the funnels, it can be quite cold as Arctic air invades places like North America or the UK (as happened this week). But at the Pole, where the cold air should typically reside, it warms up enormously.

That’s how, under a regime of human-forced climate change, you can end up with periods where temperatures are warmer at the Pole than they are in Europe.

It’s worth noting that Polar Vortex collapse events did occur in the past. But not in such a way that generated the kinds of historically extreme Arctic temperatures we see today. The primary driver for the recently increased extremity of weather driven by Polar Vortex collapse events being human-caused climate change, Polar Amplification, and related influences on the Jet Stream.

North Pole Region Predicted to Experience Another Instance of Above Freezing Temperatures as the Bering Sea Ice is Blasted Away

Those previously rare instances of above freezing temperatures in the Arctic north during winter time are happening more and more often.

(February 20 NASA satellite imagery shows Bering Sea with mostly open water as highly atypical above freezing temperatures drive far north. Note that patches of open water extend well into the Chukchi Sea. Image source: NASA.)

Just Monday and Tuesday of this week, Cape Jessup, Greenland — a mere 400 miles away from the North Pole — experienced above freezing temperatures for two days in a row. This following a February 5 warm air invasion that drove above 32 F temperatures to within 150 miles of this furthest northerly point in our Hemisphere even as, by February 20th, a warm air invasion relentlessly melted the Bering Sea’s typically frozen surface (see image above).

Far Above Average Temperatures Over Our Pole

It’s not just a case of warming near the pole itself. It’s the entire Arctic region above the 66 degree North Latitude line. Over the past few days, Arctic temperature anomalies have exceeded 6 degrees Celsius above the 1981 to 2010 baseline. A period that was already showing a serious warming trend.

(Insane levels of warmth relentlessly invade the Arctic during February — hammering the sea ice and wrecking havoc on local environments. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)

For reference, 6 C warmer than normal daily readings for any large region of the Earth’s surface is a very serious temperature departure. And the Arctic is clearly feeling it as it suffers the lowest sea ice extent in our record keeping. The heat is meanwhile wreaking out of control harm on the Arctic environment — endangering key species like seals, walrus, puffins, and polar bears, setting off very rapid coastal erosion as storm waves grow taller, triggering far more extensive and powerful Arctic wildfires, and causing mass land subsidence and various harmful environmental feedbacks from permafrost thaw. It’s also causing Greenland’s massive glaciers to melt faster — contributing to an acceleration in the rate of global sea level rise.

The warm air has been invading primarily from the ocean zones in the Atlantic and the Pacific. Warm storms have frequently roared north through the Barents Sea and up the Greenland Strait near Svalbard. Massive blocking high pressure systems have shoved outlandishly warm temperatures through the Bering Sea on the Pacific side day after day, month after month.

Warm Air Invasions Clear Sea Ice During Winter

A recent warm air invasion has practically cleared the Bering Sea of ice. And the ice edge there is further withdrawn than it has ever been in its history. As we can see from the below animation, this crazy and rapid clearing of ice continues to drive further and further north — ushered in by a relentless invasion of warm air — during February. A time when Bering ice should be expanding, not contracting.

What’s causing such extreme polar weather? In two words — climate change. But drilling down, the details can actually get pretty complicated.

During recent winters, human-caused climate change has been driving temperatures into never-before-seen ranges over our northern pole. Increasingly, Sudden Stratospheric Warming events have been propelling warm air into the upper layers of the atmosphere. The Polar Vortex, which during winter relies on a column of sequestered cold air to maintain stability, is blown off-kilter as these upper level layers heat up. This, in turn, has generated extreme wave patterns in the winter Northern Hemisphere Jet Stream — enabling much warmer than usual temperatures to rocket northward.

An Ongoing Series of Warming Events

On December 30 of 2015, and enabled by a high amplitude Jet Stream wave, a powerful warm storm event pushed a strong wedge of warm, above freezing, air all the way across the 90 North Latitude line. Meanwhile, Jessup Greenland hit above freezing for what was likely the first time ever over the past two winters. Last year’s Arctic sea ice hit the lowest levels ever seen during March due to all the extra heat. And the warm temperature extremes appear to be deepening.

Now, as of mid February, a powerful Sudden Stratospheric Warming Event has again blown the Polar Vortex off kilter — weakening it and enabling warm air to flood into the Arctic even as colder air is displaced southward over Canada, the Western U.S. and Europe. Translating to the surface, this train wreck in the upper level winds has driven the extreme polar warming events of the past 8-10 days even as cold air invasions have overtaken Europe and the U.S. East experiences record-breaking heat.

The polar warming event is still ongoing. And it is expected to deliver another blow to an Arctic environment that typically experiences -30 degree Celsius temperatures this time of year. For another major warm wind invasion is forecast to drive above freezing temperatures over the North Pole by this weekend. Strong south to north winds along an extreme ridge in the Jet Stream are predicted to push 1-2 C temperatures (or approximately 55 F above average temps) over the North Pole on Saturday and Sunday.

(High amplitude Jet Stream wave predicted to drive North Pole temperatures to above freezing by Sunday. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

Though rare during December, above freezing temperatures at the North Pole during February are practically unheard of. The period of February through April should be a time of strengthening and thickening ice ahead of melt season. But during 2018 this appears not to be the case. The ice instead, in key regions, is being delivered with serious setbacks which is greatly retarding this year’s typical Arctic Ocean ice formation.

If this most recent polar warming event emerges as predicted, it will provide yet one more powerful blow to an already greatly weakened Arctic sea ice pack during a time of year when extents and areas should be reaching their peak. And that’s bad news for both the Arctic and global environments.

Coastlines in Danger: The Rate of Global Sea Level Rise is Accelerating

A new NASA study published just yesterday confirms long-held warnings about rising oceans from IPCC and other climate change watch dog bodies. What it found, looking back over the last 25 years, was not only that seas were rising, but that they were rising at an ever-increasing annual rate.

If we took a snap shot of the present day, we’d find that oceans are rising at a rate of around 3.3 mm per year. If that rate were to hold steady, it would translate to a 33 centimeter rise per century. Or about 1.1 feet. This is global average rise, of course. In more vulnerable places like Tidewater, VA, or New Orleans, or Miami, such a larger swelling of the world’s ocean could translate to 2-3 feet due to local conditions like subsidence or ocean current change.

That’s bad enough. But it’s not the whole story.

(NASA study shows that sea level rise rates are accelerating due to the melting of large glaciers in Greenland and Antarctica. The key driver of this melt is human fossil fuel burning and related accumulation of heat-trapping carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere. Carbon dioxide levels this year will hit near 412 ppm in April-May, a level not seen in 10-15 million years. Video Source: NASA.)

According to NASA, that annual rate of sea level rise is also rising. In other words, it’s accelerating like a car when you slowly but inexorably increase pressure on the peddle.

The present annual increase measured by NASA’s satellites shows a 0.08 mm rate of acceleration averaged over the past 25 years. What this means is that if the rate of increase remains steady, next year seas will rise by 3.38 mm, and the following year seas will rise by 3.46 mm. Extrapolate that to the end of this Century and you’d get an annual rate of rise of around 10 mm per year — or about 3.3 feet every 100 years.

This translates to roughly 26 inches of additional sea level rise from now to 2100 globally — or about 3-5 feet in more locally vulnerable places like Tidewater, New Orleans, and Miami.

(Over the past 25 years, the rate of sea level rise has been accelerating by 0.08 mm per year. A backwards extrapolation by NASA of satellite data is a broad confirmation of sea level observations and predictions by IPCC. However, increasing ice sheet instability in Greenland and Antarctica could further spike rates of acceleration, endangering coastal cities even more. This serious global risk is amplified by continued fossil fuel burning, and moderated by more rapid transitions to clean energy. Image source: AVISO.)

Of course, given the fact that we continue to burn fossil fuels, that the necessary renewable energy transition continues to be delayed by predatory industries and their proxy politicians (primarily republicans like Trump in the United States), there is no guarantee that the rate of annual increase in sea level won’t accelerate faster than it already is. So, for this reason, the new NASA, IPCC-confirming, report should be viewed under a caveat (Dr Eric Rignot points toward sea level rise of greater than 1 meter by 2100).

In other words, if we don’t respond soon, the glaciers in Greenland and Antarctica that are already speeding the rate of global sea level rise could start to really let loose and get us into even more trouble than we already are.


Arctic Sea Ice Extent at Record Lows as Winter Temperatures Soar

Five point five degrees Celsius above average.

That’s how much warmer than ‘normal’ the entire region of the Arctic above the 66 degree North Latitude Line was earlier today. Areas within this large warm pool saw temperatures spike to a range of 15 to 25 C warmer than the already warmer than normal 1981-2010 base period. And broad regions saw temperature between 10 and 20 C above that 30-year average.

(The entire Arctic is an incredible 5.5 C warmer than normal today. Meanwhile, Arctic sea ice extent has plunged, once-more, into record low ranges. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)

It’s just a snapshot. But day after day, week after week, month after month, the story has been much the same throughout Fall and Winter of 2017-2018.

And as during last year’s ridiculously warm Arctic winter, the sea ice has taken a considerable pounding. Yesterday dropping to a new record low extent of 13.774 million square kilometers. Beating out the previous record low for the day set just last year. And dipping more than 1.8 million square kilometers below the 1979-1990 average. A period that already featured greatly reduced Arctic sea ice cover when compared to extents seen in the early 20th Century.

(Arctic sea ice extent for 2018 [lower pink line above] dipped into new record low ranges during recent days. Note that the 1979 – 1990 extent average is indicated by the green line at top. Image source: NSIDC.)

The primary cause of these ice losses is warming both of the ocean and of the air. And, as we can see in the ongoing trend, the Arctic is getting more than its fair share of both. Such polar amplification is a direct upshot of the massive volume of harmful greenhouse gasses being injected into the atmosphere through fossil fuel burning. And we are seeing the dark fruits of that burning now in the massive and ongoing winter losses of sea ice, the harm to various Arctic life forms like puffins and polar bears, and the risk of increasing sea level rise, ocean circulation destabilization, and increasingly extreme weather events that all result from the heating-up of polar environments.

The Day the Water Ran Out — Climate Change Day Zero Swiftly Approaching for Cape Town

It’s the worst drought in at least 100 years. Possibly the worst in 300 years.

I’m not talking about Iran or Syria or California or Sao Paulo or the Caribbean or Somalia or Yemen or India or a hundred other places that have suffered severe drought and related water crisis during recent years. This time, I’m writing about Cape Town, South Africa.

For Cape Town, the dry time began two years ago. A strong El Nino initiated a warmer, drier than normal weather pattern. Accelerated by much warmer than normal global temperatures, what would have typically been a milder period of heat and drought bit deep into South Africa’s reservoirs. These hotter temperatures associated with human caused climate change enhanced evaporation causing both lands and lakes to give up their precious moisture at a much faster rate.

(From the video climate scientist Peter Johnston notes that increased heat from global warming means more evaporation which results in less water for Cape Town and other places around the globe. Video source: CBS This Morning.)

El Nino has since moved on and the La Nina months are here. But the blistering drought remains. Stuck in a self reinforcing cycle of heat and lack of rainfall. After such a long period of such abnormal punishment, the reservoirs that feed Cape Town are on the brink of running out.

With supplies dwindling, residents of this major city and tourist destination have been slapped with serious water restrictions. Each has been asked to use just 87 liters of water per day. That’s about 1/4 the average use for an American. One that provides precious little for washing dishes, taking showers, flushing the toilet, doing the laundry, preparing food, and drinking. But only about half of Cape Town’s residents are complying with the restriction.

(The long term precipitation trend for Cape Town reservoirs has been on a steady decline since the 1940s. A signal concurrent with a human-forced warming of the global climate system. Image source: Piotr Wolki and Andrew Freedman.)

In the Cape Town region, crushing drought continues unabated. And as a result of the combined lack of compliance with rationing and lack of rain, the reservoirs are swiftly falling. By February 1, Cape Town will ask residents to adhere to a draconian 50 liter water restriction. And if that doesn’t work, if the rains don’t somehow miraculously come, then Cape Town will effectively run out of enough water to fill pipes.

Under this very difficult scenario, water pipes to everything but essential services like hospitals would be cut off. Residents would be forced to make daily treks to one of 200 outlet pipes to fill up water bottles. If this happens, then Cape Town will be the first major city in the world to be forced to fully cut off its municipal water supply.

The day on which this historic and ominous presage of climate change related water difficulties is predicted to happen is a moving target. And lately the target has been moving closer. Ignominiously called Day Zero, the water cut-off date for Cape Town as of last week was April 21 of 2018. This week, due to failure to adhere to water restrictions and due to unrelenting drought, that date has jumped to April 12.

That’s 79 days left until Cape Town’s taps run dry for the first time since that city, or any other major city, possessed a municipal water system.

This event is happening in a hotter than normal world. It’s happened due to a drought that has been enhanced by that very heat. And it’s happening following an 80-year-long period of declining rainfall for the Cape Town region. Let us hope for the city’s sake that the rains return soon.

Let this serve as yet one more warning to us all. Climate change is generating a much more difficult water security situation for pretty much everyone. It’s just a simple fact that the more heat you have, the more evaporation that takes place. And it’s a more intense rate of evaporation that enables both worsening drought and increased risk of water shortages as we’re seeing so starkly now in Cape Town.

2018 to see Third Consecutive Mass Coral Bleaching Event for the Great Barrier Reef?

One point two degrees Celsius hotter than average (1.2 C). That’s the temperature threshold where 50 percent of the world’s corals are likely to die off according to a scientific study written in Nature during 2013.

The El Nino year 2016 was about 1.2 C hotter than 1880s averages. Meanwhile 2017 was about 1.1 C warmer than normal despite a shift toward La Nina.

We are thus entering a very harmful period for the world’s corals. One in which corals are bleaching and dying off at unprecedented rates. The global bleaching event of 2014 through 2017 was the longest lasting and most damaging in the historical record. Many reefs around the world suffered severe losses. Reefs that had never bleached before experienced bleaching and mortality. And this event included severe damage to the majestic Great Barrier Reef of Australia.

Bleached Staghorn corals on Keppel Island Reef during 2016 event that impacted 93 percent of the Great Barrier Reef. Image source: UNESCO.

Unfortunately, despite an official end to the 2014 to 2017 global bleaching event, ocean temperatures across widespread regions remain at thresholds that are likely to result in stress to corals. And it is arguable that if bleaching were so widespread as it is now in past decades, then the present 2018 period would still be considered a global bleaching event.

Regardless of how we parse official declarations, reef systems are obviously still under stress. Just this past week, reports were coming in that sections of the Great Barrier Reef were bleaching for the third year in a row. The bleaching was rather widespread for this time of year. It was occurring earlier than normal — generating concern that 2018 bleaching could be worse than expected come February and March. It was hoped that the large reef system would be given a bit of respite from the heat. But now that particular hope is in doubt.

Corals around the world are still under threat from extreme ocean heat despite the fact that the 2014-2017 global coral bleaching event was officially ended during summer of 2017. Image source: NOAA.

Corals are one of the many canaries in the climate change coal mine. These organisms are a vital aspect of global ocean health and the reefs they build are the present home for upwards of 2 million species. Humans depend on corals for the food chains they support and for the natural beauty they provide. And a global ocean with less corals provides both less food and support for human beings and for ocean life as a whole.

Because corals are so sensitive to temperature change, it is expected that about 90 percent of the world’s corals will be lost if the Earth warms by 1.5 C. Meanwhile, virtually all of the corals (more than 95 percent) could be gone if the world warms by 2 C. With global temperatures at around the 1.1 C threshold and rising, we are in the danger range for corals at this time. And the world stands at the brink of losing the majority of this vital species with the potential to see 90 percent or more of the world’s corals lost over the next 3 decades under various scenarios in which fossil fuel burning continues.

Warmer than normal sea surface temperatures are again threatening Australia’s Great Barrier Reef (GBR). Jan 15, 2018 sea surface temperature anomaly image provided by Earth Nullschool.

Danger to corals is, today, a very immediate issue. And we are in the period of risk and damage now. This reality is highlighted by the fact that what should be a relative respite period for corals is still seeing abnormally high levels of bleaching.

During 2018, La Nina in the Eastern Pacific has generated relatively cooler surface waters in a number of locations. And we would normally expect La Nina to beat back global coral bleaching severity. However, an anomalous hot blob of ocean water between Australia and New Zealand is causing an unusual spike in ocean temperatures for the zone east of Australia (see image above). The result is that the GBR is again at risk.

Early bleaching for the Great Barrier Reef in 2018 is definitely a bad sign. However, scientists aren’t yet stating that this year will see bleaching intensity hitting levels similar to 2016 and 2017. Let’s hope that remains the case. But so long as fossil fuel burning and related warming continues, the road ahead for corals is one of existential crisis.

Australia’s Hot Ocean Blob Fuels Record Heat, Extreme Weather, Risk to Coral Reefs

Between Australia and New Zealand there’s a kind of climate change fed thing on the prowl in the off-shore waters. It takes the form of an angry layer of far warmer than normal surface water. And it’s been lurking around since late November.

(A hot, angry blob of much warmer than normal ocean temperatures has erupted between Australia and New Zealand.)

We can see this disruptive beast pretty clearly in the sea surface temperature anomaly maps provided by Earth Nullschool. Today’s readings show temperatures in this new blob hitting between 3.5 and 4.2 degrees Celsius above average across a broad expanse of ocean.

That’s much, much warmer than normal for this region of water. A place where 2 degree above average sea surface readings would tend to be unusual. But with global temperatures now hitting between 1.1 and 1.2 C above 1880s averages, we’re starting to see the climate dice more loaded for these kinds of extreme events. To be clear, this is not the kind of extremity we’d experience in a world at 2 C warming, or 4 C warming, or 7 C warming. But we’ve moved up the scale and weather, temperature, and ocean environmental conditions are being harmfully impacted.

(The above graph shows how temperatures have shifted outside of 20th Century ranges. During 2014-2017, the world dramatically warmed — generating further rightward movement in the bell curve. Temperature has an impact on everything from drought, to the severity of thunderstorms, to the length and intensity of fire season, to the fuel available for the most powerful hurricanes, to algae blooms, to coral bleaching events. Image source: NASA GISS.)

Back on November 30th, the blob contributed to an extreme rainfall event impacting Southeast Australia. One that dumped upwards of 10 inches or more in a rather short period. Since that time, South Australia has been seeing continued instances of extreme weather. Over recent days, towering supercell storms rocked Victoria with lightning, flash floods, damaging winds, and golf-ball sized hail. In Melbourne, a flood washed away a 40 foot section of a foot path. Meanwhile western parts of Sydney Australia were sweltering under record-shattering heat — with temperatures hitting a never before seen high of 111 F (44 C) on Tuesday, December 19th. Other regions experienced over 113 F (45 C) temperatures.

(Hot ocean blob feeds record breaking heat across Australia on Tuesday. Image source: WindyTV.)

The off shore hot blob is laying its hot, moist tendrils of influence on these weather extremes in a number of ways. First the blob is belching an enormous amount of moisture into the atmosphere above the local ocean. This moisture is being cycled over SE Australia by the prevailing winds and is adding convective energy to thunderstorms. In addition, the blob is also contributing to a sprawling ridge of high pressure that sits squarely over top it. The ridge, in turn, is baking parts of Australia with record hot temperatures.

Hot ocean blobs like the thing off Australia are a feature of human-caused climate change in that ocean and atmospheric warming generates an environment in which these pools of excessive warmth are more likely to form. These are anomalous events that stretch or break the boundaries of past weather and climate patterns by adding unusual amounts of heat and moisture to local and region climate systems in the environments in which they form. A hot blob forming off the U.S. West Coast during 2014-2015 contributed to a number of climate change associated events like the severe California Drought, a ridiculously resilient ridge of high pressure, western wildfires, intense rains into Alaska and Canada and a number of mortality events among sea life that were triggered by heat, low oxygen content, or blooms of harmful microbes that thrive in warmer ocean environments.

Though short-lived in comparison to the Hot Blob that lurked off the U.S. West Coast for the better part of two years, the Australia-New Zealand blob is already having a variety of atmospheric and oceanic impacts. Notably, in addition to the wrenching influences on local and regional weather described above, the blob is also contributing to risks to Australia’s corals.

(NOAA’s Coral Reef Watch shows strong risk of coral stress continuing through March of 2018. The hot blob of ocean water off Australia is contributing to a situation where reefs like the GBR are again at risk. Image source: NOAA.)

Over the past two years, the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) experienced back to back bleaching events. These were the worst ever seen by the reef. And they were triggered by human-caused climate change. This year, in part due to the blob, risks to corals between Australia and New Zealand are again high. If the blob shifts north and west, then the GBR again falls under the gun. This time for a third year in a row. Notably coral reef stress warnings and alerts abound throughout the zone between Australia and New Zealand in NOAA’s Coral Reef Watch report at present.

Due to the potential to continue to contribute to various weather and ocean impacts, the present climate change influenced hot blob between Australia and New Zealand bears continued monitoring. It has, however, already generated a number of impacts. And it is likely that more will follow.


Hat tip to Carolyn Copeland

Hat tip to Guy Walton

The National Security Threat that Inflicted 400 Billion in Damages This Year

Back in the 1990s, the U.S. Navy asked Congress to address the issue of rising sea levels at the Norfolk Naval Base. The Navy wanted to raise the piers, which were becoming vulnerable to flooding due to rising waters. For various reasons, including climate change denial, Congress has delayed funding for elevating the base’s 12 piers beyond the present and near term projected reach of ongoing sea level rise. Only four so far have been lifted.

According to former Norfolk Naval Base Commander Joe Bouchard, “Washington went bonkers” when it failed to recognize and address an obvious problem — sea level rise.

Up and down the U.S. coastline, the story is much the same. But it’s not just a case of Navy Base piers. It’s a case that every coastal city in the U.S. now faces rising seas threatening homes, real estate, infrastructure. And at the same time that seas are rising, the strongest storms are growing stronger and fire seasons that once ran through a few months of the year in places like California are now a year-round affair.

(A ribbon-thin rise of land separates the Norfolk Naval Base from flooding due to climate change driven sea level rise. Flooded bases not a national security threat? See related article by Vox. Image source: Wikipedia.)

This is the very definition of climate change as a threat to the security, not just to the world’s largest naval base, but to most if not all of the United States.

So how bonkers is Donald Trump and the climate change denying GOP now? How nuts is it that Trump yesterday made the anti-factual determination, in bald defiance of a plethora of U.S. military leaders, that “climate change is not a national security threat?”

Increasingly Destructive Hurricanes are Putting a Growing Number of People and Structures at Risk

This year, the U.S. has experienced not one, not two, not three, not four, but at least five major weather disasters that were made much worse by human-caused climate change. Three of them — hurricanes Maria, Irma, and Harvey all roared out of a warming ocean. They all formed in a hotter atmosphere loaded up with a higher level of moisture. These factors gave them more fuel to feed on. They unarguably increased their peak potential intensity. Scientific studies have found that Harvey alone was three times more likely to form due to human-caused climate change. That its rainfall was considerably enhanced in a warmer atmosphere.

The storms ran in to land on a higher ramp. Seas, like those at the Naval Base and in so many other places, have risen by a foot or more from the Gulf Coast to New England and on into the Caribbean because the Earth has, indeed, warmed. And this made storm surge impacts worse.

You could go on and on with the list of climate change related factors that compounded this year’s disasters. About the climate zones moving north. About hot blobs in the ocean and bigger blocks in the atmosphere. About enhanced convection and ice cliff instability. About ridiculously resilient ridges and persistent troughs. But it’s just a simple fact that the storms were worse than they would have been. That climate change made them more likely (in some cases far more likely) to occur in the first place. In total, and in large part due to the nefarious influence of fossil fuel burning on the world’s weather, these three storms alone have inflicted 368 billion dollars in damages.

That’s billion with a capital B. A level of harm often attributed to warfare but one that can instead be put at the feet of weather indiscriminately weaponized by fossil fuel burning. For the Atlantic Hurricane season this year, at a time when global temperatures are 1.1 to 1.2 C hotter than 1880s averages, was the most destructive ever recorded. These climate change enhanced storms left whole island nations and entire regions in ruins. In many cases it will take months, years, or even a decade or more to fully recover.

Wildfires are Increasing and Wildfire Season is Getting Longer in the Western U.S.

But in the grim tally of climate change related damages during 2017, we don’t stop at just hurricanes. For California, during 2017 experienced its worst fire season on record. One in which 11,306 structures have so far been damaged or destroyed. We say so far because what is likely to become the largest fire in California history — the Thomas Fire — is still burning.

11,306 structures would be enough to make a decent sized city. All gone due to a fire season that is now year round. Due to western heating, drying and temperature extremes that are increasingly forced to well outside the normal range. Total damages this year for California are presently estimated at more than 13 billion dollars. That’s nothing to shake a stick at. But this damage total is likely to continue to climb as the tally of losses is counted.

(Abnormally above average temperatures and below average precipitation contributed to fire danger in California during December. This odd heat and drought was driven, in no small part, by climate change. Image source: NOAA.)

As with hurricanes, the presently more intense fires are linked in numerous ways to a warming climate. Warmer temperatures increase the rate of evaporation and the intensity of precipitation in the most extreme events. Such variance increases the rate at which vegetation grows during wet season and the rate at which it dries during times when the rains depart. This adds more ready fuels for fires. In addition, northward movement of the Arctic sea ice contributes to an overall warmer and drier pattern for the U.S. West. This pattern, helps to produce stronger high pressure systems that, in turn, strengthen the fire-fanning Santa Ana winds.

This year, December, which is typically a wet month for the U.S. West, especially during La Nina (which we are presently experiencing) has been incredibly dry. This dryness helped to fuel the Thomas Fire. But the dryness didn’t happen in a vacuum. It was associated with a major climate change related influx of heat into the Arctic linked to climate change driven polar amplification.

Failure to Recognize Climate Change Leaves U.S. Citizens Vulnerable to Harm

Anyone following the increasingly clear evidence of how Trump campaign officials coordinated with Russia to disrupt the 2016 elections and how ardently Trump is attempting to cover the whole thing up could draw the reasonable conclusion that Trump cares more about his own personal advancement than the safety and security of the American people. Trump’s, and by extension, the GOP’s climate change denial, can be seen through the same morally relativistic lens. Wealthy fossil fuel donors have for a long time now held an unreasonable influence over persons in higher office. The denial of climate change for both the Republican Congress and the Presidency is, in other words, well-funded.

(GOP funding by fossil fuel donors just keeps going up and up in lockstep with GOP climate change denial and anti-environmental policy. Image source: InsideClimate News.)

Such denial may line the pocketbooks of republican politicians and wealthy oil, gas, and ailing coal companies. But it places the American people, their homes, their livelihoods, beneath the blade of a falling ax. So when Trump says climate change is a hoax, forces government websites to shut down, scrubs words related to climate change from government communications, opposes alternative clean energy, and tells the Department of Defense not to treat climate change as a national security threat, he is culpable and a contributor to a very clear, present, and growing danger.

Gigantic Iceberg Disintegrates as Concern Grows Over Glacier Stability, Sea Level Rise

The stability of a key Antarctic glacier appears to have taken a turn for the worse as a large iceberg that broke off during September has swiftly shattered. Meanwhile, scientists are concerned that the rate of sea level rise could further accelerate in a world forced to rapidly warm by human fossil fuel burning.

(Iceberg drifting away from the Pine Island Glacier rapidly shatters. Image source: European Space Agency.)

This week, a large iceberg that recently calved from West Antarctica’s Pine Island Glacier rapidly and unexpectedly disintegrated as it drifted away from the frozen continent. The iceberg, which covers 103 square miles, was predicted to drift out into the Southern Ocean before breaking up. But just a little more than two months after calving in September, the massive chunk of ice is already falling apart.

The break-off and disintegration of this large berg has caused Pine Island Glacier’s ice front to significantly retreat. From 1947 up until about 2015, the glacier’s leading edge had remained relatively stable despite significant thinning as warmer water began to cut beneath it. But since 2015, this key West Antarctic glacier has begun to rapidly withdraw. And it now dumps 45 billion tons of ice into the world ocean each year.

(Glaciers like Pine Island balance on a geological razor’s edge. Because they sit on a reverse slope, it only takes a relatively moderate amount of ocean warming to precipitate a rapid collapse. These collapses have happened numerous times in the past when the Earth warmed. Now, human-forced climate change is driving a similar process that is threatening the world’s coastal cities. Image source: Antarctic Glaciers.)

The present rate of melt is enough to raise sea levels by around 1 millimeter per year. That’s not too alarming. But there’s concern that Pine Island Glacier will speed up, dump more ice into the ocean and lift seas by a faster and faster rate.

Pine Island Glacier and its sister glacier Thwaites together contain enough water to raise seas by around 3-7 feet. The glacier sits on a reverse slope that allows more water to flood inland, exposing higher and less stable ice cliffs as the glacier melts inland. If the glacier melts too far back and the ice cliffs grow too high, they could rapidly collapse — spilling a very large volume of ice into the ocean over a rather brief period of time. As a result, scientists are very concerned that Pine Island could swiftly destabilize and push the world’s oceans significantly higher during the coming years and decades.

No one is presently predicting an immediate catastrophe coming from the melt of glaciers like Pine Island. However, though seemingly stable and slow moving, glacial stability can change quite rapidly. Already, sea level rise due to melt from places like Greenland and Antarctica is threatening many low-lying communities and nations around the world. So the issue is one of present and growing crisis. And there is very real risk that the next few decades could see considerable further acceleration of Antarctica’s glaciers as a result of human-forced warming due to fossil fuel burning.

Dr Robert Larter, a marine geophysicist at British Antarctic Survey, who has researched Pine Island Glacier in his work with the Alfred Wegener Institute, recently noted to

“If the ice shelf continues to thin and the ice front continues to retreat, its buttressing effect on PIG will diminish, which is likely to lead to further dynamic thinning and retreat of the glacier. PIG already makes the largest contribution to  of any single Antarctic glacier and the fact that its bed increases in depth upstream for more than 200 km means there is the possibility of runway retreat that would result in an even bigger contribution to sea level.”


Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Hat tip to Erik Friedrickson

54 Fahrenheit Above Average: Extreme Warming Event For Greenland, Baffin Bay Underway

At the mouth of Baffin Bay just off the West Coast of Greenland today hurricane force wind gusts are blowing in from the south.

This roaring invasion of warm air originates from the Central Atlantic along a latitude line south of the Azores. It climbs hundreds of miles north to where it is intensified between a grinding 975 mb low off Labrador and a massive 1042 mb high squatting over Central Greenland. Temperatures in this warm air mass range from near 50 degrees (F) over Southwestern Greenland to around 40 degrees (F) over the mouth of Baffin Bay. Or between 9 and 36 degrees (F) above normal for this time of year.

(Hurricane force wind gusts are driving a wedge of above freezing air into Baffin Bay and over Western Greenland at a time when these regions should be seeing well below freezing conditions. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

This warm wind driven air mass is expected to move north over the next 24 to 48 hours. It will steadily blanket both glaciers and areas typically covered with sea ice. And as it does so, it will push temperatures above freezing for large sections of both Baffin Bay and Western Greenland with above 32 F readings progressing as far as the Petermann Glacier.

What this means is that temperatures will likely hit record ranges of up to 54 degrees Fahrenheit above average in some locations near the far northern extent of this expected warm air invasion. Overall, Greenland itself is expected to see 15 degree (F) above average readings for the entire island. This will generate brief surface melt conditions for parts of Greenland during late November.

(Large region of 20 to 30 C, or 36 to 54 F, above average temperatures is predicted to blanket Greenland and the Canadian Archipelago after moving north through Baffin Bay over the next two days. Image source: Global and Regional Climate Anomalies.)

Strong warm air invasions of the Arctic at this time of year are a signal coming from human-forced climate change. As the northern pole darkens with winter, a global warming related phenomena called polar amplification ramps up. In addition, during recent years, we’ve seen warm air slots tend to develop beneath strong ridging features in the upper level Jet Stream. This year, the warm air slots have tended to form over the Bering Sea along the Pacific side of the Arctic and progress northward into the Chukchi. This has resulted in a large zone of ice free waters for a typically frozen region between Alaska and Siberia as warm winds and storm force waves have continuously beat the ice back.

The present warm air invasion for Greenland may be a signal that a similar warm air slot is attempting to develop over Baffin Bay going forward. Or it may be a fluke in the overall pattern. Watch this space.

UPDATE 11/29/2017: As predicted, temperatures over the Petermann Glacier hit above freezing at around 2200 UTC yesterday. According to climate reanalysis, temperatures for the region are ranging between 50-54 F above average in present model estimates for 11/29. In other words, the warm air invasion progressed as expected and resulted in above freezing temperatures for brief periods across Western and Northern Greenland.

Overall temperatures for Greenland are presently 15.5 F (8.6 C) above average in the models while the Arctic as a whole is 9.9 F (5.5 C) above average.

Just One More Reason Why Fossil Fuels Suck Tailpipe — The Cost of Wind and Solar is Now Lower Than Pretty Much Everything Else

During October, in Australia, something rather strange and hopeful happened. Grid prices for electricity rose. Power customers, fed up with this, en masse decided to purchase 100 megawatts of rooftop solar in a single month.

How and why did this come to pass?

Conservative allies of fossil fuel based utilities are currently in control of the Australian federal government. And they have been working to provide captive grid-tied energy consumers for their political backers — polluting power system owners. Because these systems are more expensive than their renewable energy counterparts, the price of electricity went up.

The Australian public, who generally supports renewables and who likes to pay less for electricity, wouldn’t have any of it. They didn’t like being forced to purchase more expensive, polluting energy. So more than 15,000 of them decided to tell fossil fuel backers to go suck tailpipe and went on ahead and bought solar energy directly.

(Guess what? That green glass you see on the school in this image comes from hundreds of solar panels. Solar is versatile and increasingly inexpensive. You can put it on rooftops, building sides, car roofs, fuel station overheads, build it in traditional utility arrays, construct it on co-generating farms, or float it on reservoir surfaces. Image source: Inhabitat and EPFL.)

This choice, enabled by falling renewable energy prices, is one that people around the world will be more and more able to make as time moves forward. And it’s the case even in instances where national governments of western democracies are heavily influenced by fossil fuel special interests — as is presently the case in Australia. The primary reason is that when conservative governments support fossil fuels and nuclear over renewables, power prices to society rise.

The cost of both wind and solar energy are now less than every traditional power source even in more mature markets like the United States. In this major market, according to Lazard, the levelized price of nuclear is 14.8 cents per kWh, coal is 10.2 cents per kWh, gas is 6 cents per kWh, solar is 5 cents per kWh, and wind is 4.5 cents per kWh. That’s right. Renewables are about 1/3 the price of nuclear, half that of coal, and 10-20 percent less than gas in the U.S.


(The levelized cost of wind and solar energy keeps falling. This is making continued fossil fuel development an expensive and untenable prospect. Image source: Lazard.)

But in places like Australia and in the developing world, this price difference is even greater. In the developing world, there are less legacy fossil fuel power systems — which makes it a no-brainer just to go ahead and build less expensive renewables. And islands like Australia traditionally suffer from higher import costs for fossil fuels and clunky or inefficient fossil fuel energy system components.

Levelized cost is a way of measuring total life-cycle costs. It includes such costs as fuel, transmission and construction. Because renewables do not require fuel and because they are based on technologies that benefit from both advancement and economies of scale, they are able to continuously increase efficiency and reduce cost over time. Fossil fuel based power systems are mated to very inefficient combustion and to mining and extraction of fuels that grow more scarce over time. As such, the power systems they are based on tend to have difficulty reducing costs  and are subject to market shocks and scarcity of feedstocks.

These simple economic facts put the political backers of fossil fuels at a disadvantage on the issue of base economics. But these direct cost related factors don’t even begin to count in the terrible external costs of fossil fuels ranging from ramping damages due to climate change and direct health impacts by adding toxic particles to the air and water. As such, fossil fuels are both economically and morally untenable. But such simple and easy to understand facts haven’t stopped republicans like Trump in the U.S. and LNP members like Turnbull in Australia from trying to ram these harmful and expensive energy sources down the throat of an increasingly outraged public.

Sudden Severe Flood Leaves 14 Dead in Athens, Forecasts Show Up to 15+ Additional Inches on the Way for Greece

Extreme drought. Extreme floods.

Unfortunately, with human-caused climate change, these kinds of devastating events have become far more frequent. With the Earth warming by around 1.1 to 1.2 C above pre-industrial averages, there are now four times as many instances of extreme weather than there were as recently as the 1970s.

What this means is that anywhere around the world now, the hammer of severe weather and related damages is four times more likely to fall than in the past. That the tempo of such events is now greatly increased. All thanks to continued fossil fuel burning, atmospheric CO2 levels that will average around 407 ppm over the coming months, the heat that these greenhouse gasses are continuing to add to the Earth’s climate system, and a failure to transition swiftly enough to more sustainable practices and zero carbon energy sources to prevent ramping damages.

Major Rain Event Strikes Athens — With More Severe Weather in the Forecast

Today, the major blow appears to have fallen on Greece. To the west of this country, over the Mediterranean, a cut off low is creating instability throughout the region. An intense, thick, moist warm air flow is moving in from the south. This warm and very water dense air is then colliding with a colder air mass to the north. Upper level instability is feeding powerful convection erupting in the atmosphere above Greece. And this convection is producing some mountainous thunderheads.

Last night, torrential downpours dropped 2-15 inches of rain over the outskirts of Athens. A biblical flood of water ripped through the region — rocketing vehicles down roads, prompting more than 600 calls for water rescues, killing 14 people, and leaving streets flooded or buried in mud while depositing cars into trees or on the tops of dwellings.

The rains stretched over a broad area from Greece to the Turkish coast — spurring declarations of emergency throughout the area. As with many of the increasingly fierce new disasters, it will take weeks or more to get a final tally of the total damages. But this event is probably not over.

Unfortunately, the cut-off low is expected to continue to circulate near this already flooded region for the next 3-4 days. Forecasts call for additional rainfall totals of up to 15 inches as the low churns and continues to generate outsized convection over an already hard-hit area.



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