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Thomas Fire Likely to Become Largest in California History

Fanned by Santa Ana winds gusting up to 65 mph, the Thomas Fire swiftly expanded toward the Santa Barbara community of Monticeto on Saturday. The blaze rapidly grew by 8,500 acres forcing numerous evacuations and road closures, including the emptying of a zoo.

Tonight, winds are still fanning burning embers and lighting spot fires in the Monticeto area. This video shows a palm tree burning as sparks fly down a local street.

Montecito is one of Santa Barbara’s more affluent communities. But as of this report, all homes have so far been kept safe due to valiant firefighting efforts by the more than 8,000 personnel battling what has aptly been called a monster blaze. That said, night-time flare ups and spot fires continue to make this defensive effort extraordinarily difficult.

Totaling 267,500 acres by late Saturday, the fire was at the time the third largest in California history. That’s just 12,500 acres smaller than the Cedar Fire which burned through the San Diego area in 2003. Winds presently fanning the fire near Santa Barbara are expected to die down tonight through Sunday. However, Santa Ana gusts of up to 55 mph are expected to return to the Ventura side of the fire on Sunday — risking rapid expansion there.

The blaze is still just 40 percent contained. Its sprawling extent and predicted continued dry and windy weather conditions make it likely that the fire will ultimately exceed the size of the Cedar Fire over the coming days. Firefighters had hoped to get the fire under control by January 1, 2018. But conditions, which include the longest running red-flag warning on record, have made the fire very unruly and difficult to manage despite the amazing efforts of the largest fire fighting force ever assembled by California.

Conditions associated with human-forced climate change are clearly a compounding issue. Various climate studies indicated that persistent ridging, above average temperatures, rising drought prevalence in winter, and unusually strong Santa Ana winds would increase fire danger for California as the Earth warmed. And this is the general state of affairs we now witness.

It’s a trend we see now. Large fires have become more prevalent in California. Fire officials now note that the fire season has grown in lock-step with warming to become a year-round affair. And thirteen of the twenty largest fires on record for California have occurred since the year 2000.

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Investors are Fleeing Fossil Fuels in Droves

When Bill McKibben and 350.org spear-headed a campaign to divest from fossil fuels and go 100 percent renewables as part of a multi-pronged strategy to confront ramping harms from global climate change in 2012, the big push-back was “divestment doesn’t work, it’s just feel-good, someone else will just buy the stocks when prices drop.”

The Green Mouse That Roared

As if where individuals, banks, investment firms and governments put their money doesn’t matter. As if monetary policy at all levels isn’t an enabler of energy and climate policy. As if the world were awash in an infinite flood of money. As if capital just magically grows on trees.

The detractors clearly didn’t get it. They’d already lost the argument. But the ultimate realization would take years to materialize.

The divestment movement wasn’t so much about the short-term, day to day, flux of money on the financial markets. It was instead aimed at triggering a long term mega-trend. The movement did this by shining a light on the intrinsic immorality of fossil fuel burning. By changing the terms of the environmental debate to include such objects as financial risk and stranded assets. By meeting investors on their own intellectual turf on a daily basis. And by revealing to them the very serious and real risk of loss they were exposed to by pumping money into an energy source that produces widespread, ramping and systemic harm.

A long game that is presently gaining some very significant traction. For it appears that Bill McKibben and the various proponents of the divestment movement have managed to outflank the fossil fuel industry on what was, hitherto, intellectual and financial ground under their unquestioned control. They became, all of us involved became, the green mouse that roared.

(The divestment movement helped to shine a light on the various glaring financial risks involved in continued fossil fuel burning. A primary issue being that due to damage caused by climate change, losses to the whole financial system would eventually greatly outweigh gains. At which point, sunk fossil fuel assets would become stranded due to investor flight. Image source: Carbon Tracker.)

From EcoWatch:

We used text analytics software to sift through 42,000 news articles about climate change between 2011 and 2015 and map the influence of the radical flank. In this analysis, we found that the divestment campaign expanded rapidly as a topic in worldwide media. In the process, it disrupted what had become a polarized debate and reframed the conflict by redrawing moral lines around acceptable behavior.

Our evidence suggests this shift enabled previously marginal policy ideas such as a carbon tax and carbon budget to gain greater traction in the debate. It also helped translate McKibben’s radical position into new issues like “stranded assets” and “unburnable carbon,” the idea that existing fossil fuel resources should remain in the ground.

Although these latter concepts are still radical in implication, they adopt the language of financial analysis and appeared in business journals like The EconomistFortune and Bloomberg, which makes them more legitimate within business circles.

Thus, the battle cry of divestment became a call for prudent attention to financial risk. By being addressed in these financial publications, the carriers of the message shifted from grassroots activists to investorsinsurance companies and even the Governor of the Bank of England.

Mass Divestment Underway as Climate Change Impacts Worsen

Today the world is starting to wake up, bleary eyed and hung over from tar sands smog, to the reality that climate change is poised to eat everyone’s lunch. The U.S. has been hammered by not one, not two, but three $100 billion dollar plus hurricanes. All of those storms were made worse by climate change and one — Harvey — was found to be three times more likely due to the heat trapping gasses fossil fuel based industry has collectively pumped into the world’s atmosphere. With the Thomas Fire threatening to burn down Santa Barbara in December, California is reeling from its worst fire season on record. And glaciers from Greenland to Antarctica are teetering at the brink — ready to inundate the world’s cities at rates far faster than previously expected with only just a bit more added fossil fuel trapped heat.

(How investments in fossil fuel based industry generate carbon emissions. Image source: Carbon Tracker.)

That’s with global temperatures at only 1.1 to 1.2 C above 1880s averages. Keep burning fossil fuels and we’ll hit 3 to 7 C or more by 2100. And folks already feeling the pain of lost financial stability, lost homes, or forced displacement are starting to cry uncle.

Some of the investors holding the fossil fuel industry’s purse strings appear to have had enough. AXA Equitable CEO Thomas Buberl this week stated: “A 4 C world is not insurable.” The major financial and insurance firm has pledged to invest 10.6 billion in environmentally friendly projects and to move 4 billion in funds out of fossil fuels by 2020.

But AXA isn’t the only one by far. Other banks, firms, and share holders are realizing in droves that investing in that 4 C world by throwing more money at fossil fuels isn’t worth a darn either. The World Bank just announced it will stop investing in upstream oil and gas projects by 2019. This after resisting appeals to divest for years. The 23 large regional investors of the International Development Finance Club, who hold 4 trillion in assets, have agreed to align their procurement with the goals of the Paris Climate Summit. Dutch ING bank has announced that it won’t fund any utility that relies on coal for more than 5 percent of its energy.

Meanwhile, an umbrella group managing 26.3 trillion dollars in assets is directly targeting the world’s top 100 carbon emitters. The group — called Climate Action 100 — comprises 225 pension funds and other investors. And it aims to get the world’s worst carbon emitters to curb their greenhouse gas pollution and to disclose their climate change related risks to share holders. Oil, gas, coal, cement, mining and major transportation players are all in Climate Action 100’s sights.

(Renewables possess superior economics in a number of key facets. 1. They have a positive learning curve — the more you build the less they cost. 2. They reduce healthcare costs to society and increase productivity. 3. They reduce ramping systemic harms from climate change by replacing fossil fuel burning. Image source: Union of Concerned Scientists.)

The shareholders from Climate Action 100 have effectively drawn a line in the sand. If these top emitters fail to act to reduce their carbon pollution, then the investors from the group will move their money elsewhere. Effectively, this action is directly from the divestment playbook. But it is now one that lives entirely in the realm of global finance. In other words, divestment is no longer just an environmentalist thing. Global finance, to a rising degree, is being infused with rational environmental thought to the point that it owns it.

Mindy Lubber, President and CEO of Ceres notes in an interview to Motherboard:

“These investors are the largest owners of companies and they see climate change as a serious threat to their investments and the global economy. They believe it is imperative these companies move away from high-carbon emitting activities. Such companies [top 100 emitters] are unlikely to have economic success [if they don’t adjust to the reality of climate change].

Strong Renewable Energy Economics Mean Investors are No Longer Captive to Dirty Energy

This push for divestment from fossil fuels and holding fossil fuel industry accountable by many of the world’s wealthiest banks and firms comes as renewable energy is making major gains. Solar and wind energy are now less expensive than coal or even gas in many markets. The price of electrical vehicles is falling even as these non-emitting forms of transportation are becoming more capable than traditional ICE vehicles. And the price of related battery storage is also plummeting. So it’s not as if there is no viable alternative to dirty and dangerous fossil fuels. In fact, the alternatives are much more attractive on their own merits. Investors have options at hand to confront climate change. So do the rest of us. And that whole divestment thing that was nonsensically poo-pooed by naysayers — it’s becoming as ubiquitous as oxygen.

CREDITS:

Hat tip to Bill McKibben

Hat tip to EcoWatch

Hat tip to Miles H

Worsening Weather to Feed Monstrous Thomas Fire Through Sunday

It shouldn’t be happening in typically wetter, cooler December. But, due to human-forced climate change, it is.

The Thomas Fire, at 242,000 acres, is now the fourth largest fire in California history. Alone, it has destroyed 900 structures — a decent town’s worth gone up in smoke. And today it threatens pretty much all of Santa Barbara’s 62,000 buildings. For future days promise conditions that could expand the monstrous blaze into the largest fire ever seen for the state.

(Persistent western ridge formation is an expected upshot of sea ice retreat in the Arctic. A feature that will result in a drier, warmer, more fire prone California if the trend toward sea ice melt and global warming continues.)

Firefighters battling the blaze have faced insane odds to manage a herculean feat — achieving 35 percent containment as blowtorch like Santa Ana winds consistently billowed through the region over the past two weeks. These winds have been both abnormally strong and persistent. And they’re run over dry lands through a season that is typically known for its more prevalent rainfall — not the expanding drought we see today.

Given these presently very abnormal conditions, fire officials don’t expect to achieve full 100 percent containment for three more weeks. And that’s with over 8,144 firefighters on the ground assisted by 1,004 fire engines and 27 helicopters.

(The 2012 to 2017 California drought was slaked by rains last winter. However, it appears to have returned in force with southern portions of the state again facing an extended dry period.)

Present weather conditions for California are extraordinary. A persistent ridge of high pressure has hovered over the region. And this high has helped to spike local temperatures, speed a re-emergence of drought, and drive very powerful Santa Ana winds through the region. The high formed as sea ice advance in the Chukchi and Bering Seas far to the north lagged. Open water that is usually ice covered at this time of year radiated more heat into the local atmosphere — providing a slot of warmer air that assisted this drought, heat, and wind-promoting high pressure ridge in forming.

The intensity of these highs, influenced by climate change, out west has consistently risen into the 1040+ hPa range. Highs that have been juxtapposed by a strong low further south near Mexico. And a steep pressure gradient between these two persistent weather systems has helped to drive the very strong, fire-fanning, Santa Ana winds through the region. As the Thomas Fire blossomed last week, fire conditions achieved extremes never before seen in state history as those hot, dry winds roared over hills and through valleys.

(GFS model runs show the fire fanning Santa Ana winds strengthening through Sunday. Hat tip to Dan Leonard.)

Unfortunately, weather models for the next few days show this Santa Ana wind producing pressure gradient either persisting or strengthening. Today, this gradient is producing winds with gusts of up to 55 mph. By Sunday, the high over the Pacific is predicted to face off against a low over Northwestern Mexico. And the gradient between these two systems may further intensify these fire fanning winds. Wind speed and fire hazard are not expected to be as extreme as last week. But the re-intensifying winds will do firefighters no favors.

In addition, and perhaps more importantly to the long range picture, there is not even a hint of rain in the forecast through at least the next week. Dry, warmer than normal weather is expected to remain in place at least through that period. And hope for wetter, cooler weather has only begun to emerge in the longer range, less certain forecast.

New Science Confirms that Harvey’s Record Rains Were Made Much Worse by Climate Change

Hurricane Harvey barreled into Texas on August 25th of 2017. Over the next six days, it dumped 52 inches of rain across parts of the state, resulted in 800,000 emergency calls for help, caused 80 souls to be lost, and inflicted over 190 billion dollars in damages.

Harvey was the most damaging storm ever to strike the U.S. It was more costly than Katrina and Sandy combined. And recent studies now show that this damage, in large part, was due to climate change’s influence over the storm.

(Harvey just prior to making landfall on the Southeast coast of Texas. Image source: NASA.)

According to base climatology, we can expect this kind of event to occur once every 9,000 years. But living in base climatology we are not. Due to fossil fuel burning, atmospheric CO2 levels are above 405 parts per million — levels not seen in at least the past 2.5 million years. Meanwhile, total greenhouse gas forcing (after you add in methane and other heat trapping gasses) is at levels not seen in around 15 million years. So we’re now in a world that’s pretty different from what we are used to. A more dangerous world.

How different and how much more dangerous is a measure of some debate. More to the point, the question of how much the presently serious alteration to the world’s climate impacts the world’s weather is a pretty hot topic. What we already know is that the weather is becoming more extreme, more damaging, and that the most intense storms and droughts are growing worse.

(Incidence of record breaking daily rainfall events are increasing as the Earth warms. New science is starting to attribute aspects of individual extreme events to human caused climate change. Image source: Increased Record Breaking Daily Rainfall Events Under Global Warming.)

But boiling it all down to a single storm like Harvey, how much can you blame on climate change? Well, that’s starting to become clearer thanks to a pair of new scientific studies.

According to a recent study in the Geophysical Research Letters, human-caused climate change increased Harvey’s devastating rainfall intensity by at least 19 percent and likely by around 38 percent. Enough of a human caused influence to tip the scales between a relatively rough event and an epic deluge for the history books. Meanwhile, another study led by World Weather Attribution, found that Harvey was also three times more likely to have formed in the present human-altered climate.

If these peer-reviewed studies are correct, their findings point toward a rather stunning conclusion — the storm was much more likely to form due to climate change and the storm was made much more intense after it formed due to climate change.

In essence, the new science finds that climate change’s finger prints are all over Harvey’s devastating impact. Folks around the world take note. Your severe weather has been hyper-charged.

CREDITS:

Hat tip to Eleggua

NOAA’s 2017 Arctic Report Card Shows Transition Toward Not-Normal Polar Environment Continues

The Arctic shows no sign of returning to the reliably frozen region of recent past decades. — NOAA

Reading this [Arctic Report Card], I feel physically sick. I feel so anxious. I’m not sure how many more years or months I’m going to be able to work daily on climate change. — Eric Holthaus

*****

During 2017, the Arctic experienced much warmer than normal winter and fall temperatures. Meanwhile, according to NOAA’s 2017 Arctic Report Card, somewhat cool late spring and early summer temperatures did little to abate a larger ongoing warming trend.

NOAA notes:

The average surface air temperature for the year ending September 2017 is the 2nd warmest since 1900; however, cooler spring and summer temperatures contributed to a rebound in snow cover in the Eurasian Arctic, slower summer sea ice loss, and below-average melt extent for the Greenland ice sheet.

(NOAA’s Arctic Report Card shows a Polar environment experiencing serious and harmful changes.)

This warming trend was evidenced by continued systemic long term sea ice losses with NOAA stating that sea ice cover has continued to thin even as older, thicker ice comprised only 21 percent of Arctic Ocean coverage compared to 45 percent during 1985.  NOAA noted very slow Chukchi and Barents sea ice re-freeze during fall of 2017 — which was a feature of much warmer than typical sea surface temperatures during late August. Temperatures which ranged up to 4 C above average for this time of year and that created a kind of heat barrier to typical fall ice cover expansion.

Sea ice is a primary indicator of Arctic health. But losses over recent decades have been quite precipitious as indicated by the graph below:

Sea Ice Coverage Loss

(Arctic sea ice loss since 1978 during September [red] and March [black]. Image source: NOAA.)

NOAA also found evidence of ongoing increases in ocean productivity in the far north — which tends to be triggered by increasing temperature and rising ocean carbon uptake (also a driver of acidification).

Other observations of systemic warming came as permafrost temperatures hit record levels during 2016.  Decadal rates of permafrost warming as measured at Dead Horse along the North Slope of Alaska proceeded at a rate of 0.21 to 0.66 degrees Celsius every ten years.

(Changes in Arctic ground temperature [20 meter depth] at varying locations shows widespread movement toward permafrost thaw. Image source: NOAA.)

Tundra greening trends also continued over broad regions:

Long-term trends (1982-2016) show greening on the North Slope of Alaska, the southern Canadian tundra, and in the central Siberian tundra; tundra browning is found in western Alaska (Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta), the higher-Arctic Canadian Archipelago, and western Siberian tundra.

Rapid warming of the Arctic, loss of sea ice, permafrost thaw, greening tundra, changes in ocean productivity and other factors are all starting to seriously impact the people of the Arctic. Coastal towns have been forced to move inland due to erosion and sea level rise. And a number of communities have lost access to key food sources due to sea ice loss or migration of local species away from warming regions. Subsidence has generated harmful impacts to infrastructure. Meanwhile, the increased incidence of Arctic wildfires presents a rising hazard to Northern Communities:

High latitude fire regimes appear to be responding rapidly to environmental changes associated with a warming climate; although highly variable, area burned has increased over the past several decades in much of Boreal North America. Most acreage burned in high latitude systems occurs during sporadic periods when lightning ignitions coincide with warm and dry weather that cures vegetation and elevates fire danger. Under a range of climate change scenarios, analyses using multiple approaches project significant increases (up to four-fold) in area burned in high latitude ecosystems by the end of the 21st century.

Taken together this is tough news — a technical report written in the lingo of science but that, in broad brush, describes evidence of a world fundamentally changed. For those of us with sensitive hearts, it’s a rough thing to write about:

Overall, NOAA calls for increased efforts to adapt to climate change in the far north. In addition, the need for mitigating harms from climate change by speeding a transfer to renewable energy could help to preserve cryosystems and ecosystems that are now under increasingly severe threat.

Record Warmth Blankets Alberta

Extreme warmth associated with a powerful western high pressure ridge and conditions related to climate change has broken temperature records across Western Canada during recent days.

On December 9, the southern Alberta cities of Lethbridge and Grand Prairie saw temperatures rising to record highs of 14 C or 57 degrees Fahrenheit. Meanwhile, Calgary experienced 15.4 C temperatures (60 degrees F) — which shattered the previous record of 14.4 C that had stood for 127 years. Four other cities in southern Alberta also saw record warm temperatures on Saturday.

For context, temperatures for this region typically range between -1 to -13 C this time of year.

(The first 11 days of December show far above average temperatures for most of Western North America and the Arctic. Image source: Global and Regional Climate Anomalies.)

The primary feature driving such extreme temperatures is a power high pressure ridge that has been anchored in place during November and December. The ridge has been drawing warm air north and generating unusually warm weather for regions from the U.S. West through central and western Canada and on up into the Northwest Territories and Alaska.

Very slow reformation of sea ice in the Chukchi and Bering Seas is a likely contributing factor to the ridge. A physical feature associated with human-caused climate change. La Nina is likely also enabling the synoptic transfer of heat into both the Arctic and the North American West through a very pronounced Rossby type wave pattern in the Jet Stream. But present Arctic warmth in the range of 3-5 C above climatological averages is well beyond 20th Century norms during La Nina years. It is instead primarily an upshot of polar amplification — where human-forced warming due to greenhouse gas emissions generates more warming at the poles than in the lower latitudes. So climate change related factors are also influencing this overall warmer than normal pattern.

(Above freezing temperatures aren’t typical for Alberta this time of year. But the region was blanketed by 40-60 degree [F] highs on Saturday. That’s 9 to 27 degrees [F] above average. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

As a result, places like Calgary haven’t received any snowfall so far this year during December. A situation that is likely to continue for at least the next five days as warmer than normal conditions are expected to persist.

December is typically a rather snowy month for Calgary — receiving 8 days of snow during a normal year. But this year isn’t really that normal and the climate, with global temperatures exceeding 1 C above 1880s averages, isn’t normal anymore either.

CREDITS:

Hat tip to Dobby

After a Brief Respite, Climate Change Enhanced Drought is Returning to the U.S.

Unseasonable warmth across the American West and overall dry conditions across the South is causing drought to expand throughout many parts of the United States.

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, most of the southern half of the United States is presently experiencing abnormally dry or drought conditions. Meanwhile, an intense drought that has remained in place over the Dakotas and Montana for multiple months continues to persist.

Severe drought conditions are now present in the south-central U.S. with exceptional and extreme drought expanding through Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana and Missouri. Deepening drought in California and Texas are notable due to the fact that Southeast Texas recently experienced record rainfall due to Hurricane Harvey and California experienced a very wet winter and spring period from 2016 to 2017. Somewhat milder drought is also spreading through the Southeast.

Re-expanding Southern California drought is also enhancing record wildfire activity in that state.

Much Warmer than Normal Temperatures

A strengthening La Nina in the Equatorial Pacific is helping to generate a drought tendency for the Southern U.S. However, various climate change related features including above normal temperatures and a persistent high pressure ridge in the West are lending intensity to the rising drought regime.

(U.S. 30 day average shows much warmer than normal conditions for the lower 48 with extreme warmth prevalent over the American West. Image source: Global and Regional Climate Anomalies.)

Over the past 30 days, temperatures for the U.S. as a whole have been 1.52 C above average (see image above). Much of this excess heat has been concentrated over the West, with mountain and Pacific regions seeing between 4 and 5 C above average temperatures.

Excess heat of this kind helps to speed the drying of soils and vegetation by increasing the rate of evaporation. A condition that can lead to flash drought — whose incidence has been expanding in lock-step with the human-forced warming of the globe.

A Ridiculous Ridge

Linked to the western heat and drought is a strong and persistent high pressure ridge. One that has hit a very intense 1041 hPa pressure as of Monday afternoon over the U.S. Mountain West.

(Very intense high pressure ridge over the U.S. west is presently locking in both warmer than normal and drier than normal conditions. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

Persistent ridging of this kind was a key feature of the recent 2012 through 2017 California drought. Some climate studies have identified a tendency of these kinds of strong western ridges to form as Arctic sea ice recedes. And during the past decade, strong high pressure ridges have been a rather consistent and significant climate feature for the U.S. West. It is also notable that formation of more powerful ridging features during the fall and winter help to strengthen the Santa Ana winds — which fan California wildfires.

Present drought is nowhere near as intense as it has been during recent years. Especially in California which during 2017 has experienced a bit of a respite. However, with La Nina gaining traction in the Pacific, with global temperatures now in a range between 1.1 and 1.2 C above 1880s averages, and with persistent ridging again taking hold over the U.S. West, the risk of a return to intense drought — especially for the Southwest — is increasing.

Southern California Fires Expand to Over 255,000 Acres as Conditions Worsen

On Sunday, driven by above normal temperatures and fanned by warm winds, the Thomas Fire in Ventura County, California rapidly expanded. This resulted in a loss of containment as the blaze jumped fire breaks — placing parts of Santa Barbara under seige.

(Smoke plumes from the Thomas fire as seen by a webcam located atop Santa Ynez Peak, a 4300′ mountain 17 miles northwest of downtown Santa Barbara.)

This single fire, as of Monday morning, covered 230,000 acres. At that time, it was the fifth largest fire in California history. It was burning in December. And, at the time, the fire was continuing to swiftly grow.

Five other fires burning in Southern California together cover an additional 25,000+ acres. As a result, approximately 255,000 acres are now burning in this region of the state.

The 6,000 firefighters now engaged in battling these blazes had hoped that predicted milder Santa Ana winds would afford them a chance to gain an advantage over these fires this weekend. But this didn’t happen. The western high pressure ridge strengthened. Local temperatures increased to well above the seasonal average. And though winds subsided somewhat, very dry conditions dominated.

Due to the worsening situation, 25,000 structures are now threatened by the fires — up from 20,000 earlier this week. More than 790 structures have been burned or destroyed. More than 95,000 people remain under evacuation orders. And more than 85,000 people are without power. Tragically, the fires have now claimed their first human life as well.

Unfortunately, warmer than normal, dry and windy conditions are expected to continue through at least Friday, December 15th. Resulting in a long running period of heightened fire danger. These climate change related features are driven by a very persistent high pressure ridge over the North American west. A feature that has been linked to loss of sea ice and a warming Arctic in some climate studies.

Overall, climate change is worsening fire danger out west. During summer, hotter and drier conditions are intensifying the California fire season. And during fall through winter, the climate change associated warming, drying and strengthening of the Santa Ana winds is enabling the eruption of very large city-threatening fires during the winter months.

(UPDATED)

CREDITS:

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Hat tip to Eric Holthaus

Hat tip to Wili

Hat tip to Titania Baildon

As Climate Emergencies Rise — A Call For Action

With climate change enhanced wildfires raging across California during December, now is exactly the time to redouble our resolve to fight against the causes of such widespread destruction. To enact policies aimed at reducing the force of a rising crisis that continues to impact so many of our people with increasing intensity.

In California today, there is a move afoot to set a deadline for banning the very fossil fuel based vehicles that have fanned the fires of climate change across the state. To resolve, by 2040, to take gas powered cars off the road.

Phil Ting, a San Francisco Democrat and sponsor of this legislative drive, notes that for the State to meet its greenhouse gas reduction targets, it’s going to have to transition away from fossil fuel based vehicles. Such vehicles represent more than 1/3 of all state carbon emissions. And the state can’t effectively address the carbon dioxide emissions that drive climate change disasters without also directly targeting the number of fossil fuel based vehicles in operation.

(According to California’s Air Resources Board, nearly 38 percent of the state’s carbon emissions are due to transportation.)

New electrical vehicle (EV) technology is enabling just such a move. According to Ting:

“The market is moving this way. The entire world is moving this way. At some point you need to set a goal and put a line in the sand.”

If California sets a policy to ban fossil fuel based vehicles by 2040, it will join a growing number of cities and states that have already set similar goals. These include France, the United Kingdom, India, Germany, and Norway. Meanwhile, China is pursuing very aggressive incentives to increase the number of EVs as a means of combating terrible local air pollution and climate change.

Movement by cities and states to ban fossil fuel vehicles and incentivize EVs has an out-sized impact. It signals automakers that EV preference by government is becoming widespread. And because manufacturers have limited capital to spend on new vehicles, this drives a manufacturing preference as well.

(In this National Renewable Energy Laboratory study, the most rapid carbon emissions reductions were achieved in scenarios where large-scale EV deployment was combined with wholesale replacement of coal, oil, and gas fired electricity generation with renewable sources like wind and solar.)

Since EVs are more efficient that internal combustion engine based vehicles, they greatly reduce carbon emissions when tied to even traditional grids. But when linked to renewable power sources like wind and solar, EVs produce zero emissions in operation. This combination enables a far more rapid rate of carbon emission reduction.

In addition, the manufacturing base for EV batteries can also be used to build storage systems for intermittent wind and solar energy. This enables the removal of fossil fuel emitting coal and gas fired generators held in reserve for times when the wind doesn’t blow or the sun doesn’t shine even as the EVs themselves remove the need for oil based transporation. Such a manufacturing chain also opens up a new market for auto manufacturers — a fact that both Tesla and Hyundai have learned to their benefit.

Because EVs are based on electronic technology that is closely tied to the information age, they can benefit both from synergistic related economies of scale and from various innovations and breakthroughs. This means that EVs already outperform fossil fuel based vehicles in a number of areas. A performance advantage that is increasing and will likely overcome most traditional vehicles by the early 2020s. Because of this advantage, EVs would probably ultimately win out over time. However, the present climate crisis lends urgency to speeding their rate of adoption and in accelerating the rate of harmful fossil fuel based vehicle replacement.

Rise of the Fimbul Fires: Climate Change Enhanced Jets of Flame Rage Across Southern California

Some say the world will end in fire. Some say in ice. From what I’ve tasted of desire. I hold with those who favor fire… — Robert Frost

I am Lorn Sparkfell, guardian of First Frost, without which the world will burn. — Luthiel’s Song, The Death of Winter

*****

Fimbul is an old icelandic word for mighty, giant, great. It is an archaic word that has fallen out of modern use. But considering the fact that the fires now ripping through Southern California are both out of the context of recent milder climates and have explosively expanded to gigantic proportion, it is perhaps time that we should re-introduce the term.

(Photograph of Southern California Fires taken from the International Space Station on December 7 of 2017.)

Sections of Southern California are now experiencing never-before-seen levels of fire hazard as winds gusting to near 80 mph across the region are fanning five out of control blazes. The fires are burning during what should be the cooler month of December. But cool conditions have eluded that part of the state. And the blow-torch like Santa Ana winds that are fanning the flames are being enhanced by conditions consistent with human-caused climate change.

Today, the fire index for Southern California is 296. The threshold for an extreme fire index is 165. And 296 is the highest fire index So Cal has ever experienced according to local firefighters. Fire index is a measure of fire risk. So, if these reports are correct, this region has never seen fire danger hit such an extreme intensity.

(Hurricane Force Winds Fuel Massive Wildfires in Southern California from ClimateState.)

Five fires now burning across Southern California have consumed upwards of 120,000 acres — or a region larger than Atlanta. The Thomas Fire in Ventura County is the largest at approximately 96,000 acres. The Rye Fire, Creek Fire, and Skirball fire all continue to burn. And a new fire — the Horizon Fire in Malibu — has recently ignited. None of these fires are more than 15 percent contained. So all are effectively still out of control.

In total, approximately 20,000 buildings are threatened by fire with more than 300 homes and businesses burned already. 200,000 people are under evacuation orders — enough to fill a relatively large city. Thankfully, there have been no reports of loss of human life so far. But animals, including these horses, haven’t been so lucky.

(Average temperatures across the U.S. West were around 4 C above normal for the entire past 30 day period. This is not at all typical. Image source: Global and Regional Climate Anomalies.)

Climate change skeptics and deniers will try to say that such events are normal for California. That fires always happen. That weather is variable. And tell you five or six or seven other kinds of hogwash.

But the fact is that these conditions are not normal. That California has just experienced its worst fire year on record. That the incidence of large fires in the West has risen fourfold since the mid 1980s. And that report after report after report are linking presently worsening fire conditions in the region to climate change.

Other politically motivated individuals will tell you that now is not the time to discuss climate change — by stating that responding to the disaster itself is more important that examining causes. This is also a red herring — as any effective disaster response will include a responsible review of causes.

To this point, if we are to be effective in both responding to this disaster and in reducing future harm, we should look seriously at the underlying causes that are making fires in places like California worse. And if we are exploring why these Fimbul Fires are happening now, then the big issue is climate change — writ large.

CREDITS:

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Hat tip to Andy in San Diego

Hat tip to ClimateState

Winter is Supposedly Coming; So Why is California Burning?

As forecasters expect a warming climate will make Santa Ana winds more frequent and faster, that Santa Ana blowtorch is likely to do a lot more damage to the developed parts of the state. — One of the conclusions of a recent climate study.

You can only imagine the impact this weather is having. — Los Angeles Fire Chief.

*****

The popular refrain these days is that ‘winter is coming.’ But for California and the North American West, this is clearly not the case.

(Four large wildfires burn across Los Angeles in this December 5 satellite shot. Image source: NASA Worldview.)

Conditions across the West have been drier lately. Hotter lately. A lot less winter-like during the winter season lately. Add in the fact that climate change is expected to increase the strength of the wildfire-sparking Santa Ana winds and this trend of ebbing winter is a rather serious factor.

The very reason why we use the words — fire season — is due to the fact that fire is more prevalent when it is hotter, when it is drier, and when the dry winds blow more strongly. For California, fire season happens twice a year — once in early summer and again in autumn as the dry Santa Ana winds begin to howl.

(Consistent unseasonal heat and the development of powerful high pressure ridges over the North American West amplify the Santa Ana winds and set the stage for more severe wildfires. This week, a strong ridge and related abnormal warmth and drought helped to fan a historic Los Angeles outbreak. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)

The Santa Ana season lasts from October through April. It notable due to the fact that it tends to threaten more heavily populated areas. Its primary mitigating factor — cooler winter weather — is receding. And, according to this research, the same factors that are warming the U.S. West are also making the Santa Ana winds blow stronger. So we have good reason to believe that the effects of human-caused climate change are making California’s fall and winter fire season considerably worse.

Today is December 6, just a little more than two weeks before the Winter Solstice. Seasonally, we are at the gates of winter. Winter should be coming. But, instead, we have drought in Southern California. Instead we have had consistently warmer than normal weather over the past 30 days. Instead we have 70 mile per hour Santa Ana winds raging over withering peaks and through the drying valleys. These are conditions consistent with a fire season amplified by climate change. Not with normal winter.

And today, in Los Angeles alone, we have four fires raging simultaneously.

The largest fire, the Ventura Fire, has now burned more than 65,000 acres. It threatens 12,000 buildings. And it is already estimated to have consumed at least 150 of these structures. The fire has cut off power to upwards of 250,000 people and has forced numerous closures and evacuations.

The Creek Fire, Rye Fire, and Skirball Fire have reportedly burned an additional 15,000 acres and forced more than 150,000 people to evacuate. The Skirball fire is threatening the Getty Museum even as it has forced the closure of a section of highway 405. This 150 acre fire is also encroaching upon a 28 million dollar home owned by right wing media mogul — Rupert Murdoch. Notably, Rupert has used his media empire to support the views of climate change deniers and has called rational concern over climate change related risks ‘nonsense.’ Today, one of his many homes may burn as a result of such ‘nonsense.’

(Present location and extent of Los Angeles wildfires. Image source: Google Maps.)

In total, more than 1,000 firefighters are presently battling these four fires around the Los Angeles region. And the risks to the city are now as high as they have ever been. For on Wednesday, weather forecasters are calling for Santa Ana winds to continue to gust as high as 70 miles per hour. With the strength of these powerful fire-inducing winds peaking on Thursday as gusts are predicted to hit as high as 80 miles per hour. The winds will loft sparks and burning material from the fires and drop it over the city — creating nightmare conditions for firefighters trying to contain the four blazes. Red flag warnings — indicating that conditions are ideal for fire combustion — are expected to remain in place over Southern California through Friday.

U.S. Electrical Vehicle Sales Rose by 30 Percent in November, Likely to Hit Near 200,000 by Year End

Good news continues in the U.S. on the renewable energy front where electrical vehicle sales increased by about 30 percent in November of 2017 vs November of 2016.

In all, 17,178 electrical vehicles sold on the U.S. market in November. This number compares to 13,327 sold during November of 2016. Top selling brands for the month were the Chevy Bolt EV, The Tesla Model X, the Chevy Volt, the Toyota Prius Prime, and the Tesla Model S. The Chevy Bolt topped the list of monthly best sellers with nearly 3,000 vehicles going to owners during the month. The top annual seller remains the Model S (at 22,085 estimated sales so far) — which the lower-priced Bolt is unlikely to surpass this year.

(Over the past few years, the performance of electrical vehicles has been steadily catching up to or outpacing that of conventional fossil fuel vehicles. The Tesla Roadster by 2019-2020 will have a 620 mile range, hyperfast charging, a top speed of 250 mph, and be able to go from 0-60 in 1.9 seconds. A combined set of specs that no gas guzzler could hope to match. By 2022, most EVs will cost less and perform better than their comparable fossil fuel counterparts. Image source: Tesla.)

Total electrical vehicle sales for the year so far has hit nearly 174,000 through November. This compares to 158,614 for all of 2016. Given that December is often a top sales month and that Model 3 production is continuing to ramp, it’s likely that final sales for 2017 will hit close to or exceed the 200,000 mark for the year in the U.S.

Model 3 Production Ramp Rate Still a Mystery

Model 3 sales will likely continue to ramp through December as Tesla works through scaling production. Considering the fact that there are more than 500,000 Model 3s on order, the big question is — how fast? For even if Tesla were able to produce 10,000 Model 3s per week, it would take more than a year to fill all the orders.

Production is presently considerably lower. But it more than doubled in November to an estimated 345. A similar rate of increase would result in 800 of the vehicles being sold in December. Meanwhile, the company plans to be making 5,000 Model 3s per week by Q1 of 2018.

There are some indications that Tesla is preparing for a start of mass market releases. It is filling an LA Model 3 distribution site even as it has opened up ordering to customers outside of employees. Meanwhile, Panasonic recently announced that battery production issues will soon clear. Which raises the possibility of a faster ramp going forward.

Updated Nissan Leaf Begins Mass Production

New developments also include the start to mass production of the 2018 Nissan Leaf in the U.S during December. The 2018 Leaf features longer range (150 miles), lower cost (700 dollars less) and higher performance (more horsepower) than the previous Leaf. And it will be followed on by a (higher-priced) 225 mile range version in 2019 which will put it in a distance capability class similar to that of the Bolt and the base line Model 3.

Electrical Vehicles — Key Aspect of the Renewable Energy Transition

In context, solar energy, wind, and battery storage are the triad of new renewable energy systems that have the serious potential to really start cutting down global carbon emissions as they replace fossil fuels.

All these energy systems are getting less expensive. All have what they call a positive learning curve. And all can work together in a synergistic fashion while leveraging technological advances. Economic advantages that fossil fuel based systems lack.

In addition, renewable energy sources help to drive efficiency, even as they clean up transportation, power generation, and manufacturing chains they are linked to by producing zero carbon emissions in use.

(By transitioning to renewable energy as the basis for economic systems, we can dramatically reduce global carbon emissions. In order to stave off very harmful impacts from climate change, this transition will have to be very rapid. In the best case, more rapid than the scenario depicted above. Video source: IRENA.)

On the battery storage side, electrical vehicles are a crucial link in the battery development chain. As electrical vehicles are mass produced, this process drives down the cost of batteries which can then be used to store electricity and to replace base-load fossil fuel power generators like coal and gas plants. Meanwhile, battery electrical vehicles are considerably more efficient than gas or diesel powered vehicles and those linked to wind and solar or other renewable energy sources emit zero carbon in use.

Both electrical vehicles and other renewable energy systems have a long way to grow before they provide the same level of energy produced by dirty fossil fuels today. This large gap represents a great opportunity to cut back on the volume of harmful gasses hitting our atmosphere in the near future.

Deadly California Wildfire Erupts in December, Forcing Thousands to Flee

Last night a 500 acre fire exploded to massive size — raging over the hills of Ventura County in Los Angeles. Fanned by strong Santa Anna winds, the fire ballooned to over 45,000 acres by Tuesday morning forcing the evacuation of several thousand homes.

Already there are reports of homes and structures destroyed as the fire rages in or near a number of populated areas. Late last night, power was cut off to upwards of 200,000 people as the fire crossed utility lines. And as of early this morning, the fire was reportedly advancing toward Ventura with 500 firefighters on the scene trying to beat the blaze back. Thankfully, as of yet, there are no reports of injury or loss of life.

Climate conditions on the ground have been very conducive to out-of-season wildfires. During the past month, temperatures across the region have trended between 2 and 4 degrees Celsius above average. Southern California is settling into drought. And over the past day, a strong high pressure system gathering to the north helped to send 40-60 mph Santa Ana winds rocketing over the hills and valleys around Los Angeles.

(Powerful high pressure ridge north of California sent strong Santa Ana winds over a region of California experiencing a warmer than normal fall and falling into drought. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

Due to human-forced climate change and a related warming of the U.S. Southwest, the fire season for California now never really ends. Global temperatures have increased by 1.1 to 1.2 degrees Celsius since pre-industrial times, and climate zones are moving north. Both warmer temperatures and more extreme ranges of precipitation due to climate change aid wildfires in the west — first by allowing for rapid growth of vegetation during more intense wet periods and second by drying out these growths more swiftly as the climate regime switches to dry.

Since the 1980s, the number of large wildfires out west has quadrupled. But if fossil fuel burning continues, warming will also continue and the already difficult conditions we see will further worsen.

We are entering a time when a region of the west from California all the way north to Alaska and Alberta are starting to see wildfires capable of threatening cities with increasing frequency. If we are to dampen this trend, we need a change to less harmful energy sources and fast.

CREDITS:

Hat tip to Andy in San Diego

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 Phys.org:

“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.”

CREDITS:

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Hat tip to Erik Friedrickson

From Record Floods to Drought in Three Months: Unusually Hot, Dry Conditions Blanket South

Back during late August of 2017, Hurricane Harvey dumped as much as 60.48 inches of rain over southeast Texas. Harvey was the wettest tropical cyclone on record ever to strike the U.S. — burying Houston and the surrounding region under multiple feet of water, resulting in the loss of 91 souls, and inflicting more than 198 billion dollars in damages.

Harvey was the costliest natural disaster ever to strike the U.S. Its tropical rains were the heaviest ever seen since we started keeping a record. But strangely, almost inexplicably, just a little more than three months later, the region of southeast Texas is now facing moderate drought conditions.

(Just three months after Harvey’s record rains, Southeast Texas is experiencing drought. No, this is not quite normal despite a mild La Nina exerting a drying influence. Image source: U.S. Drought Monitor. Hat tip to Eric Holthaus.)

How did this happen? How did so much water disappear so soon? How could an instance of one of the most severe floods due to rainfall the U.S. has ever experienced turn so hard back to drought in so short a time?

In a sentence — climate change appears to be amplifying a natural switch to warmer, drier weather conditions associated with La Nina.

Climate change, by adding heat to the Earth’s atmosphere and oceans fundamentally changes the flow of moisture between the air, the ocean and the land. It increases the intensity of both evaporation and precipitation. But this increase isn’t even. It is more likely to come about in extreme events. In other words, climate change increases the likelihood of both more extreme drought and more extreme rainfall.

Of course, climate change does not exist in a vacuum. Base weather and climate conditions influence climate change’s impact. At present, with La Nina emerging in the Pacific, the tendency for the southern U.S. would be to experience warmer and drier conditions. But in a normal climate, these conditions would tend to be milder. In the present climate — warmed up by fossil fuel burning — the tendency is, moreso, to turn toward an extreme. In this case, an extreme on the hot and dry end of the climate spectrum.

For the region of Southeast Texas flooded so recently by Harvey’s record rains, it means that a turn from far too wet to rather too dry took just a little more than 3 months.

(Both temperature and moisture took a very hard turn over the past 30 days. Such extremely warm and dry conditions increase the likelihood of flash drought. A climate feature that has become far more frequent as the Earth has warmed. Image source: NOAA.)

South Texas, however, is just one pin in the map of a larger trend toward drought that is now blanketing the South. Over the past month, precipitation levels were less than 50 percent of normal amounts in most locations with a broad region over the south and west experiencing less than 10 percent of the normal allotment of moisture. Meanwhile, 90-day precipitation averages are also much lower than normal across the South.

Precipitation is a primary factor determining drought. But temperature can mitigate or worsen drought conditions. Higher temperatures cause swifter evaporation — driving moisture out of soils at a faster rate. And average temperatures across the south have been quite warm recently. With one month averages ranging from 1 C above normal over most of the south to a whopping 8 C above normal over parts of New Mexico. As with lower than normal precipitation, higher than normal temperatures have also extended into the past 90 day period across most of the South.

 

(Moderate drought conditions are widespread as severe to extreme drought is starting to crop up in the South-Central U.S. With La Nina likely to continue through winter and with global temperatures in the range of 1.1 to 1.2 C above pre-industrial averages, there is risk that conditions will intensify. Image source: U.S. Drought Monitor.)

The upshot is that moderate drought is taking hold, not just in southeast Texas, but across the southwest, the southeast, and south-central U.S. Severe to extreme drought has also already blossomed from northern Texas and Louisiana through Oklahoma, Arkansas and Missouri. This is relatively early to see such a sharp turn, especially considering the fact that La Nina conditions have only lasted for a short while and have, so far, been rather mild on the scale of that particular climate event.

Furthermore, like Texas, many of these drying regions experienced extreme rainfall events during spring and summer. Such events, however, were not enough to stave off a hard shift to drought in a world in which human-caused climate change is now driving both droughts and more extreme rainfall events to rising intensity.

(Predicted temperature and precipitation variance from normal over next three months. Climate change is likely to enhance this variability related feature. Image source: NOAA.)

With La Nina likely to remain in place throughout winter, the typical climate tendency would be for continued above average temperatures across the south and continued below average rainfall for the same region. Present human-caused global warming through fossil fuel burning in the range of 1.1 to 1.2 C above pre-industrial averages will tend to continue to amplify this warm, dry end of the natural variability cycle (for the southern U.S.).

In other words, there is not insignificant risk that the hard turn away from record wet conditions in the South will continue and that severe to very severe drought conditions will tend to spring up and expand.

RELATED STATEMENTS:

Hot Blob off Southeast Australia Fuels Life-Threatening Rain Bomb Event

Hot Blobs. These pools of severe warmth at the ocean surface have, during recent years, fueled all kinds of climate change related extreme weather ranging from droughts to floods to record hurricanes.

(Hot blob southeast of Australia features ocean temperatures as high as 8 F [4.5 C] above average. This is an extreme climate and severe weather-triggering feature related to climate change. One that has also been associated with strong, persistent atmospheric ridges and related high pressure systems. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

The blobs themselves often form under persistent and strong high pressure systems which lock-in both heat and high rates of evaporation. These highs, sometimes called resilient ridges, are thought by a number of experts to be an upshot of changes to both atmospheric circulation and energy balance as a result of the Earth warming. They are an example of the kinds of extreme climate and related severe weather triggering outliers you would tend to expect in a warming world. A new kind of weather phenomena producing new effects.

Today, sea surface temperatures between Australia and New Zealand are ranging as high as 8 F (4.5 C) above average. A very significant warm temperature departure for this area of ocean. One that well meets the qualification for the term ‘hot blob.’ The large blocking high associated with the blob has, for some time now, been circulating very high volumes of moisture evaporating off these much warmer than normal waters over Eastern Australia. This moisture loading provides fuel for powerful storms in the form of both more explosive atmospheric lift and higher rainfall potential.

(Ridge-tough dipole triggers extreme weather in region prepped by moisture venting off an ocean hot blob. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

All that heat and moisture bleeding off the hot blob just needed a catalyst to produce the kind of climate change related event I’ve been calling a ‘rain bomb.’ And, unfortunately for Southeast Australia, just this kind of catalyst in the form of a sharp facing trough in the Jet Stream and related upper level low forming over South Australia is on the way.

From today through late Friday, this low will generate added atmospheric energy that will produce very severe thunderstorms over Southeast Australia. Ones capable of generating extreme rainfall amounts in excess of 2 inches per hour over certain locations. With total rainfall amounts hitting between 4 inches (100 mm) and 12 inches (300 mm) between now and late Friday.

(Predicted extreme rainfall event is being fueled by very warm sea surface temperatures to the east.)

The storm system will also generate strong winds, lightning, and tidal flooding for some locales.

This is a dangerous event risking loss of property and life with a number of climate change related factors involved. Those in the areas affected should stay tuned to local weather (BOM) and government emergency management for storm and response information.

CREDITS:

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Hat tip to Vic

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.

From Ice Apocalypse to Mega-Thunderstorms, Continuing to Burn Fossil Fuels Makes the World Scary as all Hell

So I’ve got to say I feel for Eric Holthaus.

Here’s a smart guy. Probably a few years younger than me. A meteorologist by degree and a climate journalist by trade. A guy with two kids that, as is clear from his twitter comments, mean all the world to him. And he’s finally gotten to that point in his study of climate change where he’s thrown his hands up and said — this stuff scares the crap out of me, can we please all just do something about it?

(The calving front of the Pine Island Glacier as seen by a NASA DC-8 aircraft. Image source: Commons.)

For him, as with any of us, the point of existential realization can come through overexposure to a wide range of worsening climate problems. Declining ocean health, rising extreme weather, how much faster we are warming the world up than during the worst hothouse extinction, can all weigh heavily on the heart and mind of any compassionate, feeling person who takes these subjects seriously enough to actually read the science. For Eric, the big deal, and it is a very, very big deal, was sea level rise.

Ice Apocalypse

Yesterday, Eric penned this seminal article on the issue of ice cliff stability as explored by glacier scientist Robert DeConto entitled Ice Apocalypse.

Ice cliff stability is a pretty technical term. One that may make the eyes of your typical reader gloss over. But when we consider that the glaciers of Greenland and Antarctica can be upwards of two miles high, then the question of whether or not the cliffs of those great ice mountains are stable may start to generate a flicker of warning. May conjure up a phantom of the titanic roar set off when such ice giants tumble away into the sea as has happened throughout the deep history of Earth whenever the world warmed up by a certain amount.

When I think of the words ice cliff stability, my mind’s eye pictures a vast wall of numbing white-blue stretching hundreds of feet high. It expands both left and right as far as I can see. And it looms over an endless warming ocean. Waiting for a colossal fall if just that right amount of extra heat is applied.

Ice is fragile. It’s not like stone. It doesn’t flex much. It doesn’t give much. And even minor stresses are enough to make it shatter. We see this with ice cubes in a cup of water at home. Put an ice cube into relatively warmer water, and that little 1×2 inch block will snap and crack. Now just compound that fragility. Set it on the massive scale of a mile-high glacier. Not too hard to image what can happen.

(2012 filming of massive calving event at Jakobshavn Glacier.)

It’s happened already at Jakobshavn Glacier in Greenland. The ocean warmed. The ice shelf protecting the glacier dissolved. And the front of the gigantic glacier fell like great, enormous, white dominoes. We’ve seen it happening in films like Chasing Ice. And we’ve struggled to grasp the enormous scale of it.

Our burning of fossil fuels did this.

Jakobshavn is, even now, contributing to a more rapid rate of global sea level rise. But the amount of ice held back by Jakobshavn is small when compared to the vast volumes kept in check by the Pine Island and Thwaites Glaciers of West Antarctica. What Robert DeConto did, and what has apparently scared Eric Holthaus so much, was apply a computer model based on observations of Jakobshavn ice sheet collapse to these larger Antarctic ice masses.

The DeConto study unearthed results that, indeed, looked apocalyptic. From Grist:

A wholesale collapse of Pine Island and Thwaites would set off a catastrophe. Giant icebergs would stream away from Antarctica like a parade of frozen soldiers. All over the world, high tides would creep higher, slowly burying every shoreline on the planet, flooding coastal cities and creating hundreds of millions of climate refugees.

All this could play out in a mere 20 to 50 years — much too quickly for humanity to adapt…

Instead of a three-foot increase in ocean levels by the end of the century, six feet was more likely, according to DeConto and Pollard’s findings. But if carbon emissions continue to track on something resembling a worst-case scenario, the full 11 feet of ice locked in West Antarctica might be freed up, their study showed.

The DeConto study is just one scientific exploration of what could happen in West Antarctica this Century. And, already, reassurances to a worried Eric Holthaus are forthcoming.

But the problem with the DeConto study, as with any other form of serious climate risk, is that there are plausible scenarios in which terrible catastrophic events are possible even if their degree of likelihood is still somewhat debatable. And reasonable precaution would dictate that even if there were just a 10-20 percent chance of DeConto like events coming to pass, we would do everything we could to avoid them. The risk of this scenario emerging, however, is probably a bit higher. As numerous studies have identified the potential for 6, 8, or even 12 feet of sea level rise by as early as 2100.

The Future of Mega-Thunderstorms Looks Grim if We Continue to Burn Fossil Fuels

Eric’s appeals to his Twitter friends related to his article were touching to me in that I feel like I go through similar shocks with each passing week. And what should be a time of national thanksgiving even as more than half of Puerto Rico’s population is still in the dark 63 days after the climate change amplified blow of Hurricane Maria is no exception.

For a model study recently produced by Nature Climate Change and explored by Bob Henson at Weather Underground has found that the rate of rainfall in large thunderstorm clusters could increase by 80 percent this Century if fossil fuel burning proceeds along a business as usual pathway.

To put this in context, an 80 percent increase in the amount of rain that fell in the Ellicott City Flood in Maryland last year would have produced nearly ten inches of rain in an hour and a half.

(The rainfall intensity in large thunderstorm clusters was found to be greatly enhanced under worst case fossil fuel burning scenarios [RCP 8.5] according to a recent Nature Study. Image source: NCAR, Nature, and Weather Underground.)

As with ice cliff instability, we find ourselves faced with another scientific term in the new study — mesoscale convective systems (MCS). And to translate this term we can simply say that MCSs are gigantic clusters of thunderstorms. The study found that rainfall amounts in the largest of thunderstorm complexes were greatly enhanced as warming proceeded along a business as usual track.

From the Study author’s statement to Weather Underground:

“These new simulations of future MCS rainfall are concerning, because they show very large increases in the amount of rain that a given MCS is likely to produce. The MCSs that we would today consider to be ‘extreme’ in terms of precipitation would become more commonplace in the future. There are also some regions that currently don’t see a lot of MCS activity that might start seeing some of these heavily raining MCSs in the future.”

These increases are on top of already elevated rates of rainfall intensity we presently see today in destructive events that our infrastructure and disaster planning is clearly not prepared for (as seen during Harvey). So as we take the time to give thanks for the great bounty that many of us still have, perhaps we should also take the time to think of the things we can do to keep safe what we have worked so hard for and care so much about and to do our best to help those who are less fortunate. Who have already fallen casualty to a time of troubles.

The Equatorial Pacific is Going Through its Variable Cool Phase, But 2017 is 94 Percent Likely to be the Second Hottest Year Ever Recorded

During late 2016, the Pacific Ocean started to cool off along its Equatorial region after experiencing one of the strongest warming events for that zone ever recorded. But despite this late cooling phase, the year ended up being the hottest ever recorded in the 137 year climate record — topping out at around 1.22 degrees Celsius above preindustrial temperatures. A longer term warming trend that has been directly driven by human burning of fossil fuels and related greenhouse gas emissions.

This year, the periodic Equatorial cooling known as La Nina is again taking place in the Pacific during fall following a very mild warming during winter and spring. But despite the appearance of a second such periodic cooling event, according to NASA 2017 is 94 percent likely to be the second warmest year ever recorded (see above).

October readings have come in and at 0.9 C above NASA  baseline (1.12 C above 1880s averages), temperatures are disturbingly high. The month is now the second hottest ever seen by modern humans. With only October of 2015 coming in warmer at 1.08 C above the 20th Century baseline (1.3 above 1880s).

(Heat transfer into the polar zones is increased during La Nina periods. This effect is enhanced by polar amplification related to human caused climate change. This week, very high relative temperature departures are expected for the Arctic. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)

Over the past two years, La Ninas (cooling Pacific) appear to have been at least partly off-set by very strong warming in the Arctic and Antarctic. Atmospheric circulation tends to transport more heat into the polar zones as the Pacific cools. This is due to the fact that temperature differential between Equator and poles during La Nina is less and the lower temperature differential causes the upper level winds to slow and meander. Coupled with polar amplification due to human-caused climate change, the result can be some pretty extreme temperature departures. This week is no exception as Arctic temperatures by Thursday through Saturday are expected to be between 4 and 5 degrees Celsius above average for the entire region above the 66 North parallel.

Such record warm temperatures do not occur in isolation. They help to drive extreme weather events such as severe droughts, rainfall, and powerful hurricanes. They are also accelerating sea level rise by melting glaciers even as both warming temperatures and related increasing ocean acidification contribute to dead zones, coral reef deaths and declining ocean health. Global temperature rise coupled with rising CO2 is therefore producing a major systemic crisis the world over.

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