Another Historic Storm: Surreal Ophelia Strikes Ireland with Hurricane Force

“Ophelia is breaking new ground for a major hurricane. Typically those waters [are] much too cool for anything this strong. I really can’t believe I’m seeing a major just south of the Azores.” — National Hurricane Center scientist Eric Blake on Twitter.

*****

Warmer than normal ocean temperatures due to human-forced climate change are now enabling major hurricanes to threaten Northern Europe. A region that was traditionally considered primarily out of the range of past powerful Atlantic Ocean hurricanes under 20th Century climatology. One that, in a warmer world, is increasingly under the gun.

(Ophelia roars over Ireland. Image source: NASA Worldview.)

On October 14, Ophelia hit major hurricane status as it moved swiftly toward Europe. Packing 115 mph maximum sustained winds over a region of ocean where we’ve never recorded this kind of powerful storm before, Ophelia set its sights on Ireland. Crossing over warmer than normal North Atlantic Ocean waters, the storm maintained hurricane status up to 12 hours before barreling into Ireland. At that time, cooler waters caused the storm to transition to extra-tropical. But this transition was not enough to prevent Ireland from being struck by hurricane-force gusts up to 119 mph, storm surge flooding, and seeing structural damage reminiscent to a category one storm.

360,000 power outages and two deaths were attributed to a storm that should have not maintained such high intensity so far north and east. Yet another historic storm that forced the National Hurricane Center to shift its tracking map east of the 0 degree longitude line (Greenwich) since they had not planned for a hurricane or its tropical remnants to move so far out of the typical zone for North Atlantic hurricanes (see image at bottom of page).

(Human-caused climate change produces angrier seas off Ireland as amped-up Ophelia rages.)

As with many of the recently powerful storms, 1 to 2 degree Celsius above average sea surface temperatures were a prime enabler allowing Ophelia to maintain such high intensity so far north. And under the present trend, it appears that the Atlantic coasts of Spain, Portugal, France, Ireland and England are now all more likely to see tropical storm and hurricane impacts in the future as sea surface temperatures continue to rise. In the past, strikes by tropical cyclones to places like Ireland were considered to be rare — with the last Hurricane to impact Ireland being Debbie in 1961. But recent climate science studies indicate that global warming is likely to increase the frequency of hurricane and tropical storm impacts to Northern Europe:

In a paper published in April 2013, the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute predicted that by the year 2100, global warming would greatly increase the threat of hurricane-force winds to western Europe from former tropical cyclones and hybrid storms, the latter similar to Hurricane Sandy in 2012. One model predicted an increase from 2 to 13 in the number of cyclones with hurricane-force winds in the waters offshore western Europe. The study suggested that conditions favorable for tropical cyclones would expand 1,100 km (700 mi) to the east. A separate study based out of University of Castile-La Mancha predicted that hurricanes would develop in the Mediterranean Sea in Septembers by the year 2100, which would threaten countries in southern Europe.

The present Atlantic hurricane season can now only be described as a surreal caricature of what we feared climate change could produce. Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and a dozen or more Caribbean islands are now devastated disaster areas. Some locations may feel the effects of the off-the-charts powerful storms enabled by a warmer than normal ocean for decades to come. Puerto Rico, unless it receives far more significant aid from the mainland than the Trump Administration appears to be willing to provide, may never fully recover.  And now Ophelia has maintained hurricane status until just twelve hours before striking Europe’s Ireland as a powerful extra-tropical storm.

2017 has also been an extraordinary year basin-wide by measure of storm energy. Total accumulated cyclone energy (ACE) for the North Atlantic as of October 15 was 222.5. So far, according to this measure, 2017 is the 7th strongest hurricane season ever recorded since records began in 1851. The most intense season, 1933, may see its own record of 259 ACE exceeded over the coming days and weeks. For storms still appear to be forming over record warm waters. According to the National Hurricane Center, a disturbance off the East Coast of the United States now has a 40 percent chance of developing into the season’s 16th named storm over the next 48 hours. Meanwhile, during recent years, powerful late October storms like Matthew and Sandy have tended to crop up over warmer than normal ocean waters even as late season storms ranging into November and December appear to be more common. In other words, we’re not out of the woods yet and 2017 may be a year to exceed all other years for total measured storm intensity as well as overall damage.

(UPDATED)

Links:

Ex-Hurricane Ophelia Batters Ireland Under Orange Skies

The National Hurricane Center

Colorado State: Accumulated Cyclone Energy

NASA Worldview

Tropical Cyclone Effects in Europe

Hat tip to Eleggua

Hat tip to Jeremy in Wales

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Significant Monsters: Climate Change Enhanced Wildfires Tear Widening Swath Through California

“We are facing some pretty significant monsters,” — Cal Fire incident commander Bret Couvea to a room of about 200 firefighters and law enforcement officials at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds on Wednesday morning.

“Think of the climate change issue as a closet, and behind the door are lurking all kinds of monsters — and there’s a long list of them,” — Steve Pacala.

*****

As of Wednesday, the massive fires blazing across California and concentrated in the north had consumed over 141,000 acres, resulted in the loss of 17 lives, and destroyed more than 2,000 structures. Approximately 50,000 people are now evacuated from the fire zones. And about 500 individuals are reported missing. A grim tally that is unfortunately likely to worsen as the hours and days progress.

This outbreak is now one of the worst fire disasters ever to strike California. One which may break all previous records for tragic loss of life and property when this terrible event finally winds down many days from now and all losses are counted.

Significant Monsters…

In total, eight major fires are still burning across the state. As all but one fire remains uncontained, the area consumed continues to expand. The seven large out of control fires presently range in size from 7,500 to 37,000 acres each and have burned approximately 40,000 additional acres in just the past 24 hours alone. Lighter winds and cooler weather have aided firefighting efforts. But the sudden large scale of the fires erupting Sunday through Tuesday and very dry and occasionally gusty conditions with no rain in sight have produced serious challenges for firefighters.

(The skies of northern California blanketed by smoke from massive blazes streaming like ‘liquid fire’ across Northern California on Tuesday, October 10. Image source: NASA Worldview.)

As of yet, no direct initial cause for the fires has been identified. But the co-location of some fires with downed power lines due to wind gusts up to hurricane force late Sunday night have provided one potential ignition source. Human error or malicious activity have not yet been ruled out.

… Fed by Climate Change …

Regardless of direct cause of ignition, the fires lit in vegetative growth that sprang up after an abnormally wet winter and spring. This growth has flash-dried over summer in a region that received 10-20 percent of its typical moisture allotment over that period. Northern California over recent years has experienced severe drought, extreme rains, and during summer of 2017 flash drying of new vegetative growth. This is a cycle of extremes consistent with human caused climate change. So as with the major hurricanes blowing up over the ocean this year we can definitely say that climate change has played a role in setting conditions that enabled this event to hit a much more fierce than usual intensity.

… Caused by Bad Energy and Environmental Policy Choices

Bad choices — primarily involved with continued policies promoting fossil fuel burning (#1), harmful agricultural practices (#2), and deforestation (#3) have brought us to this pass. Failure to rapidly enable a renewable energy transition and to produce policies that promote less harmful consumption and more sustainable land use will result in an ever-increasing tempo of extreme events.

We see this high tempo now in events that bear the names Harvey, Irma, Maria, California fires and so, so many more over the past few years. Let us hope and pray that it relents enough to give us the space to make the right choices for ourselves, the life supports of our planet, and our children.

RELATED STATEMENTS AND INFORMATION:

A recent climate study found that warming oceans have weakened the southwestern monsoon generating a prevalence for droughts and wildfires in the region. This is a direct result of human-caused climate change:

Links:

The National Interagency Fire Center

NASA Worldview

Some Pretty Significant Monsters

Pure Devastation

California Fires: Before and After Photos

How Did the California Fires Become so Devastating?

Hat tip to Eleggua

Hat tip to Genomik

 

Wounded Tropical Forests Now Emit 425 Million Tons of Carbon Each Year — Restoration, Fossil Fuel Emissions Cuts Now Urgent

In his seminal piece — Collapse — Jared Diamond documented how a number of civilizations who failed to protect their forests ultimately also experienced severe systemic decline.

Forests provide innumerable ecosystem services. They filter the air and water, provide a habitat for helpful plants and animals, prevent erosion, sequester moisture that enables healthy rainfall patterns. To keep forests safe and to nourish them is to keep the land itself safe. To keep life safe. To, ultimately, keep human civilizations safe.

In other words, a city or nation cannot healthily exist without healthy forests to support it.

Mistreated Tropical Forests become Carbon Source

From the point of view of confronting climate change, maintaining healthy forests is also essential. Healthy forests sequester more carbon — keeping that carbon locked in plants and soils. Unhealthy forests do the opposite — they release carbon stored over years and decades.

Since time immemorial, short-sighted forms of human civilization have harmed forests by cutting down too many trees, by killing off the creatures that support healthy forests, or worse, by burning the forests down. Ultimately, most of those civilizations also cut their own life-spans short. In the present day, we see this kind of harmful activity throughout the tropics. And, as a result, the tropical forests which have done us such an amazing service by drawing down a substantial portion of the fossil-fuel based carbon emission are ailing.

(In this image from Earth Nullschool, we can see high present carbon dioxide concentrations at the Earth’s surface. High CO2 concentrations show up in light colors. Low CO2 concentrations show up in dark colors. As you can see in the above image, the rainforest regions of the Amazon and Equatorial Africa are presently drawing down a considerable amount of atmospheric CO2 — which is generating a lower local concentration. That said, these forests do not draw down as much carbon as they used to. They have been disrupted by harmful human activity such as clear cutting and hunting of key species. As a result, through decay, fire, and drought, these forests are now emitting more carbon than they take in on net.)

According to a recent report out of the journal Science, about 425 million tons of carbon are being released, on net, from tropical forests around the world each year. This is equivalent to about 4 percent of global human emissions (primarily from fossil fuel burning) of around 11 billion tons of carbon each year. In other words, poor forest management is already amplifying the impact of fossil fuel based climate change.

The tropical forest carbon release occurred between 2003 and 2014. Study authors noted in The Guardian:

“This shows that we can’t just sit back. The forest is not doing what we thought it was doing. As always, trees are removing carbon from the atmosphere, but the volume of the forest is no longer enough to compensate for the losses. The region is not a sink any more.”

These same authors attributed this turning of a net carbon sink into a net carbon source primarily to poor land management practices. Primary sources of harm and loss involved the “thinning of tree density and the culling of biodiversity below an apparently protected canopy – usually as a result of selective logging, fire, drought and hunting.” More of the forested land has been turned over to developers and hunters when the land should have been set aside for protected parks and for the use of indigenous peoples whose ways of living help to support forest ecosystems.

An Urgent Need to Rapidly Cut Carbon Emissions While Restoring Healthy Forests

While human-caused climate change is now adding pressure to tropical forests, poor land management is presently a greater source of harm. In the past, sustainability-minded scientists had assumed that tropical forests would remain mostly functional as a carbon sink until warming approached 3-4 C above late 19th Century averages. At that point, heat alone will be enough to wring carbon out of these forests on net. But harmful human activity has pushed that time forward to the first decade of the 2000s.

Ultimately, the early failure of forests as a tropical carbon sink means that there’s less of a so-called carbon budget available. At this blog, we have long asserted that the effective carbon budget for a safe Earth at this time is basically zero. What this means is that some bad climate outcomes such as worsening weather, reduction of habitability in the Equatorial and near-Equatorial region, possible disruptions to growing seasons, declining ocean health for at least the next century, and sea level rise forcing mass abandonment of coastal settlements are already possible, likely, or happening now. Any addition of carbon thus makes an already troubling situation worse. That said, rapid cuts to fossil fuel emissions can still prevent worse outcomes such as more rapid sea level rise, much worse weather, very extreme heat rendering large regions practically uninhabitable for present societies, and a potentially worst-in-class global mass extinction associated with a hothouse ocean anoxic event.

(How removal of large animals through hunting and poaching can harm a forest’s ability to sequester carbon. Image source: Carbon Brief.)

Present science pointing toward loss of Tropical forests as a carbon sink means that our window is, again, rather smaller than past scientific oracles previously identified. The urgency for rapid carbon emissions cuts, therefore, could not be greater. But we also need to protect and restore forest vitality — which will be necessary to help the natural world bounce back from the insult we’ve already produced.

From study author Wayne Walker:

“We need to be positive. Let’s turn tropical forests back into a sink. We need to restore degraded areas. As far as technology for reducing carbon is concerned, this is low-hanging fruit. We know how to protect and sustain forests. It’s relatively cost effective.”

To be very clear, without emissions cuts to zero and subsequent atmospheric carbon drawdown substantial enough to prevent 3-4 C warming, these forests will eventually be in trouble due to the very harmful impacts of rising heat alone. So we need to do both. And we need to do it now.

Links:

Tropical Forests are Now a Net Carbon Source

Alarm as Study Reveals Tropical Forests are a Huge Carbon Source

Earth Nullschool

Carbon Brief

Collapse

Hat tip to Umbrios

With Indicators Pointing Toward Back-to-Back La Ninas, NASA Shows August 2017 was Second Hottest on Record

The Earth really hasn’t backed off that much from the record heat of 2016. And since we’re experiencing what NOAA states is more and more likely to be back-to-back La Nina periods, the world should really sit up and take notice.

El Nino and La Nina Variability as Part of the Larger Warming Trend

As a measure of natural variability, La Ninas bring cooler conditions to a large portion of the Equatorial Pacific Ocean. Since the influence of this ocean on the larger climate system is so strong, La Ninas tend to generate periodic cooling in surface temperatures across the globe. El Nino, by contrast, generates periodic warming. The cycling between these two states can be imagined as a wave form.

(1998 and 2016 were both strong El Nino years — producing new record hot global temperatures when they occurred. Follow-on La Nina years resulted in counter-trend cooling that was not great enough to disturb the much larger overall global warming based trend. Image source: NASA.)

This cycle, however, should not be confused with the overall larger climate trend — which has been for considerable and rapid warming over the course of more than a century. That said, and despite the larger and obvious warming trend, La Nina years have tended to be cooler than El Nino years. This prevalence has resulted in years in which global surface temperatures temporarily, but slightly compared to the larger trend, back off from recent records. Meanwhile, El Nino years have tended to bring on new record hot temperatures due to their peaking influence on the greater trend of fossil fuel and carbon emissions based warming.

August 2017 Second Hottest on Record; 2017 Also Tracking Toward Second Hottest Year

According to NASA, August of 2017 came in as the second hottest August in the 137 year climate record. Overall August temperatures were 1.09 C warmer than 1880s averages. A measure that came in 0.14 C cooler than the record hot August of 2016 and 0.05 C warmer than the third hottest August — 2014. This added heat to the Earth System continued a larger record trend that has been in place at least since 2014 in which temperatures near the Earth’s surface spiked to far higher than previous levels (see image above).

Present NASA tracking shows that the first 9 months of climate year 2017 (Dec-Aug) were 1.14 C hotter than 1880s averages. By comparison, climate year of 2016 (Dec-Nov) hit 1.24 C above 1880s averages with January through December hitting 1.22 C above 1880s averages. The third warmest year on record, 2015, came in at around 1.09 C hotter than 1880s. Given this larger trend, NASA scientists presently provide an 83 percent probability that 2017 will come in as the second hottest year on record.

Back to Back La Ninas Probably on the Way, But no Significant Cool-Off So Far

It appears that 2017 is likely to hit around 1.11 C above 1880s averages. This is a 0.11 C dip below the record hot year of 2016. And it’s a dip enabled by the formation of a La Nina during fall of 2016 and a likely back to back formation of La Nina during the same season of 2017. In contrast, the strong La Nina following the 1997-1998 El Nino produced a much greater relative global temperature drop of around 0.2 C. An approximate 0.1 C return from the very strong 2016 spike is not much of a variability-based fall back and could point toward a stronger relative warming and a possible near term challenge to the 2016 global record in a likely El Nino during 2018-2020.

(One of the sole cooler than 30-year climatology regions in the Pacific is the Equatorial zone stretching from the Central Pacific to the West Coast of South America. Periodic cool water upwelling is driving this cooling which is a signal for La Nina. NOAA presently identifies a 55 to 60 percent chance of La Nina developing during fall of 2017. If this happens, late 2016 and late 2017 will feature back to back La Ninas. Despite this development, global temperatures are still hanging near record hot ranges. Image source: NOAA.)

Wild cards for this fall will hinge, in part, on how strong Northern Hemisphere polar amplification ramps up as Arctic cooling lags. Arctic sea ice extent appears to be tracking toward 5th to 6th lowest on record at end of the summer melt season. While sea ice volume has hit near second to fourth lowest on record. Both re-radiated heat from warmer than normal Arctic Ocean sea surfaces and larger energy transfer from the middle latitudes should drive a strong polar amplification signal similar to those seen during recent years. And, already, it appears the upper latitude Northern Hemisphere cooling is lagging typical 30-year climatology. However, it remains to be seen whether fall of 2017 will rival fall of 2016’s record observed heat transfer over the Pacific and north into the Beaufort region.

Such a signal would likely firmly solidify 2017 as second hottest on record. However, stronger than expected variable La Nina based cooling could upset this trend and bring 2017 closer to 2015 values. With so many months already passed, we’re looking at a possible swing of 0.02 to 0.04 C on the lower end if La Nina is stronger and a strong polar amplification signal does not emerge — which would still result in less of a variable dip than we saw post 1998.

(High amplitude Jet Stream waves to again transfer prodigious volumes of heat into the Arctic during fall of 2017? Watch this space. Earth Nullschool GFS model based image from September 28, 2017 shows another larger ridge forming over the Pacific Northwest and extending up into the Arctic.)

The end result is that the world is now firmly in a 1 to 1.2 C above 1880s temperature zone. Such a zone is one that is well outside of typical recent human experience. One that will tend to continue to produce unsettling and harmful weather and climate extremes. Furthermore, increasingly harmful climate change related events are likely to more swiftly ramp up with each additional 0.1 C in global temperature increase and as the world approaches the 1.5 C to 2 C threshold.

Links:

NASA

Dr. Gavin Schmidt

NOAA

Earth Nullschool

JAXA

PIOMAS

DMI

Climate Change Related Extreme Weather Rocks World, Weird Major Hurricane Forms East of Bermuda, Cyclone Energy Closing in on Records

Around the world, the litany of climate change related extreme weather events reached an extraordinary tempo over the past week. And it is becoming difficult for even climate change deniers to ignore what is increasingly obvious. The weather on planet Earth is getting worse. And human-caused global warming is, in vast majority, to blame…

Climate Change Related Extreme Weather Spans Globe

(Climate and Extreme Weather Events for September 17 through 24.)

Puerto Rico is still knocked out a week after Maria roared through. With Trump basically ignoring this worst in class blow by a hurricane ramped up by human-caused climate change, it will be a wonder if this territory of 3.4 million U.S. citizens ever fully recovers.

In other and far-flung parts, Brazil is experiencing an abnormally extreme dry season. Australia just experienced its hottest winter on record. In Teruel, Spain, thunderstorms forming in a much warmer than normal atmosphere dumped half a meter of hail. Antarctic sea ice is hitting record lows after being buffeted by warm winds on at least two sides. And in Guatemala, Mexico, Poland, the Congo, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, India and Oklahoma, there have been extreme or record floods.

Weird Major Hurricane in Central Atlantic

More locally to the U.S., in the North Atlantic warmer than normal surface waters have fueled the odd development of hurricane Lee into a category 3 storm. It’s not really that strange for a major hurricane to develop in the Atlantic during September. It’s just that we’d tend to expect a storm of this kind to hit such high intensity in the Gulf of Mexico, or over the Gulf Stream, or in the Caribbean. Not at 30.6 N, 56.8 W in the Central North Atlantic south and east of Bermuda and strengthening from a weaker storm that was torn apart in the Inter-Tropical-Convergence-Zone, before drifting considerably to the north over what would typically be a less favorable environment.

But typical this present hurricane season is not. Maria, which is still a hurricane after ten days, is presently lashing coastal North Carolina with tropical storm force gusts as it moves ever so slowly to the north and east. With Irma lasting for 14 days, Jose lasting for 17, and Lee lasting for 13 so far, 2017 may well be the year of years for long duration, intense storms. Meanwhile, a disturbance to the south of Cuba shows a potential for developing into yet another tropical cyclone.

Closing in on Record Accumulated Cyclone Energy

(2017 Accumulated Cyclone Energy for the North Atlantic. Image source: Colorado State University.)

Storms lasting for so long and hitting such high intensity produce a lot of energy. And the primary measure we have for that expended energy is ACE or Accumulated Cyclone Energy. 2017 is bound to achieve one of the highest ACE measures for any Atlantic Hurricane Season. Since 1851, only 8 years have seen an ACE value hit above 200. Present 2017 ACE is at 194 and climbing. Highest ever ACE values were recorded in 2005, at 250, and 1933 at 259.

Individual storm ACE values are also impressive with 2017 presently showing 3 storms with an individual ACE higher than 40. Only 27 storms with a 40+ ACE value are ever recorded to have formed in the Atlantic. Irma, so far, is the highest ACE for 2017 at 66.6 — which is the second highest individual storm ACE ever for the Atlantic. Jose produced an ACE of 42.2 (24th) and Maria an ACE of 41.4 (26th).

If 2017 continues to produce strong, long-lasting storms over a record hot Atlantic, it is easily within striking distance of a record ACE year. The restrengthening of Lee to major hurricane status so far north and out in the Atlantic was yet one more surprise that shows how much energy the Atlantic is bleeding off this year. Such a tendency will likely continue through October but with storms probably not forming quite so frequently as during September and originating in regions closer to the Caribbean and U.S.

Links:

Puerto Ricans Waiting For Aid a Week After Maria’s Devastation

When Does it Rain Again in Brasil?

Hail Storm Causes Chaos in Teruel

Antarctic Sea Ice Hits Another Record Low

Colorado State University

The National Hurricane Center

2017 Atlantic Hurricane Season

Accumulated Cyclone Energy

Hat tip to Suzanne

Hat tip to Vic

Hat tip to Umbrios

Half-way to Catastrophe — Global Hothouse Extinction to be Triggered by or Before 2100 Without Rapid Emissions Cuts

Over recent years, concern about a coming hothouse mass extinction set off by human carbon emissions has been on the rise. Studies of Earth’s deep history reveal that at least 4 out of the 5 major mass extinctions occurred during both hothouse periods and during times when atmospheric and oceanic carbon spiked to much higher than normal ranges. Now a new scientific study reveals that we have already emitted 50 percent of the carbon needed to set off such a major global catastrophe.

Fossil Fuel Burning = Race Toward a 6th Mass Extinction

The primary driver of these events is rising atmospheric CO2 levels — often caused in the past by the emergence of masses of volcanoes or large flood basalt provinces (LIP in image below). In the case of the worst mass extinction — the Permian — the Siberian flood basalts were thought to have injected magma into peat and coal formations which then injected a very large amount of carbon dioxide into the Earth’s atmosphere and oceans.

(In the Earth’s deep past, the worst global mass extinctions were driven by large igneous provinces like the eruptions across Siberia during the Permian. The initial killing mechanism during these extinctions was a result of the upshot ocean anoxia, acidification, and biochemistry change. During the Permian, effects eventually spilled over to land and possibly the upper atmosphere. Today’s human carbon emissions will ultimately produce worse impacts over shorter time scales than the Permian. Image source: Skeptical Science and The History of Seawater Carbonate Chemistry, Atmospheric CO2, and Ocean Acidification.)

Higher atmospheric and ocean carbon drove both environmental and geochemical changes — ultimately setting off hyperthermal temperature spikes and ocean anoxic events that were possibly assisted by methane hydrate releases and other climate and geophysical feedbacks. The net result of these events was major species die-offs in the ocean and, during the worst events, on land.

Considering the fact that present human activities, primarily through fossil fuel burning, are releasing vast quantities of carbon into the Earth’s atmosphere and oceans at a rate never before seen in the geological past, it appears that the world is racing toward another major mass extinction. In the past, the location of this dangerous precipice was a bit murky. But a recent study in Science Advances attempts to better define the threshold at which the worst of the worst mass extinction events — set off by rising ocean and atmospheric carbon — occur.

310 Billion Tons Carbon Entering Ocean = Mass Extinction Threshold

The study used a relatively easy to identify marker — ocean carbon uptake — in an attempt to identify a boundary limit at which such mass extinctions tend to occur. And the study found that when about 310 billion tons of carbon gets taken in by the oceans, a critical boundary is crossed and a global mass extinction event is likely to occur.

Presently, human beings are dumping carbon into the atmosphere at an extremely high rate of around 11 billion tons per year. Today, about 2.6 billion tons per year of this carbon ends up in the ocean. In total, since 1850, humans have added about 155 billion tons of carbon to the Earth’s oceans — leaving us with about another 155 billion tons before Rothman’s (the study author) extinction threshold is crossed.

(Thresholds of Catastrophe in the Earth System finds that present carbon emissions bring us about halfway to the global mass extinction boundary limit. That carbon emissions cuts need to be more aggressive than the most aggressive present international policy scenario to reliably avoid risk of setting off a global mass extinction event.)

At the presently high rate of fossil fuel burning and greenhouse gas emissions from humans, that gives us about 60 years. This is true even if emissions levels remain steady and do not increase. If emissions increase along a business as usual pathway, we could cross that threshold by or before the 2050s. And under all present emissions scenarios identified by international climate policy, the 310 billion ton threshold is either closely approached or greatly exceeded by 2100.

This should set off warning bells for global governments and climate policy advocates alike. What it means is that halting fossil fuel burning and transitioning to renewable energy needs to occur at rather swift rates — with annual global carbon emissions peaking within the next 1-10 years and then rapidly diminishing to zero — if we are to avoid a high risk of setting off another major global mass extinction. Of course, this does not mean that such a response will avoid harmful climate impacts — a number of which have already been locked in. Just that such a major response would be needed to avoid a high risk of setting off a catastrophic global mass extinction event equal to some of the worst in all of Earth’s deep history.

Rapid Movement Toward Terrible Long-Term Global Consequences

The study notes that past major extinctions like the Permian occurred on 10,000 to 100,000 year time-scales. And that during these events the changes inflicted upon the global environment by major carbon additions to the ocean and atmosphere occurred too swiftly for organisms to adapt. The pace of human carbon addition is presently faster than even during the Permian — the worst mass extinction event. So if this very large carbon spike were to continue it has the potential to set off impacts as bad, or worse than the Permian and over much shorter time horizons.

The study also notes that it takes about 10,000 years for the worst impacts of a mass extinction carbon spike to be fully realized. So hitting the 310 billion ton threshold by or before 2100 runs a high risk of consigning the world to many, many centuries of increasingly worsening climate impacts.

Links:

Thresholds of Catastrophe in the Earth System

History of Seawater Carbonate Chemistry, Atmospheric CO2, and Ocean Acidification

Today’s Climate Change is More Comparable to Earth’s Worst Mass Extinction

Heading Toward a Permian Future

Hat tip to Abel

Dark and Flooded — Puerto Rico Devastated by Maria’s Unprecedented Rains, Terrible Winds

“Once we’re able to go outside, we’re going to find our island destroyed.” — Puerto Rico Emergency Management Director Abner Gómez Cortés.

“There is no hurricane stronger than the people of Puerto Rico. And immediately after this is done, we will stand back up.” — Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló.

“The rain gauge near Caguas, PR also measured 14.31″ in one hour. That’s a candidate for the most ever, worldwide.” — Eric Holthaus.

*****

At present, it is difficult to take account of the scale of the devastation that has been visited upon Puerto Rico. Electrical power has been knocked out for the entire U.S. island of 3.4 million people. Meanwhile, as of this morning, the whole island had been placed under a flash flood warning due to historic rainfall hitting as high as 14+ inches per hour in some places. As a result, communications are spotty at best. Furthermore, the hardest hit areas are still mostly inaccessible due to debris-choked roads, loss of electronic communication, and flooding.

That said, we are starting to get a hint of the vast and often unprecedented damages that have been inflicted.

Power Outages Could Last for 4-6 Months

After suffering a glancing blow from Irma, Puerto Rico’s ailing and under-funded grid was already ill-prepared to face down the strongest storm to make landfall on the island in more than a Century. Fragile hanging lines, ancient substations, and centralized fossil fuel based generation that resulted in flickering lights even during the best conditions were ill-prepared to deal with the might of Maria.

At present, the entire island is without grid-based power generation. And the damage is so severe that officials are saying that it could take up to 4-6 months to completely restore electricity. Since electricity is essential to both communications and a swath of basic disaster relief services, such a severe and extended loss could greatly hamper recovery efforts for this island commonwealth.

Winds Remove Roofs, Collapse Buildings, Knock Holes in Concrete Structures, and Threaten Wildlife

Maria’s winds, which at landfall were as strong as 155 miles per hour (sustained), not only knocked out the entire Puerto Rican grid, they inflicted major structural damage on buildings and littered roads with debris. Across the island, roofs were peeled off even as holes were knocked in some of the strongest concrete structures. Metal gates to affluent homes and communities were torn down even as electrical power poles were snapped like twigs.

In San Juan, reports were coming in that the concrete walls of some condominiums were blasted away, that metal traffic lights had been torn down, zinc roofed structures were destroyed, and windows and doors were knocked out. Some stadiums used for disaster shelters lost their roofs, windows and doors — forcing those inside to huddle under archways.

There is no word, as yet, of the fate of the hundreds of wild horses exposed to the worst winds of Maria as they raked the island of Vieques just south and east. A potential tragedy of innocents to add to all the woes inflicted upon the people of Puerto Rico.

World Record Rainfall

As Maria circulated over the hilly terrain of Puerto Rico, clouds more heavily laden with moisture in a warming atmosphere unburdened their historically extreme loads upon the countryside. More than 20 inches of rain fell in one day or less over most of Puerto Rico — with totals in rainfall hot-spots hitting close to 40 inches in one 24 hour period. Across the island, rivers rose to historically high levels as towns were turned into lakes and roads into churning rivers.

At Caguas, the rain gauge recorded an unprecedented 14.31 inches in just one hour. According to records provided by Christopher C. Burt at Weather Underground and statements by meteorologist-reporter Eric Holthaus, this total, if confirmed, is in the running for the highest hourly rainfall rate in the world on record. After this very extreme rainfall pulse, Caguas saw continued severe rains from Maria totaling 39.67 inches in one 24 hour period. This is more than the typically rainy city of Seattle gets in an entire year.

As a result of this incredibly unprecedented rainfall, rivers were exceeding record flood stages by leaps and bounds. With one river gauge on the Rio Grande de Manati hitting 42.9 feet or 17.7 feet higher than the previous record flood level ever recorded at that location. At another river — the Rio Grande de Loiza — river water volumes increased 200-fold to hit a record flow six times the previous record at that location.

The Climate Change Context

The combined extreme winds, record rains, and storm surge flooding of Maria have produced an unfolding human and natural tragedy that will reverberate across Puerto Rico for months and years to come. This extreme damage adds to Harvey’s record floods, Maria’s earlier devastation of Dominica and the Virgin Islands, and Irma’s own swath of destruction that ran from the Northern Leeward Islands to Florida and the Southeast U.S. Total damages in dollar estimates for the present hurricane season now exceed 160 billion — a number expected to climb and one that may top 300 billion before all is said and done. And nothing can replace the 210 souls lost or the homes, memories, and livelihoods that have been wrecked.

It’s a tough fact that we need to reiterate time and time again under the present cloud of politically-motivated climate change denial — the weather is getting worse and human-based fossil fuel burning is causing it. The peak potential intensity of the most extreme storms has been increased by a warming world. More atmospheric water vapor increases the highest potential record rainfall amounts even as all that added heat and moisture push the weather toward greater drought and downpour extremes. We can see this in the increasingly prevalent heavy rainfall events, wildfires and droughts across the globe. We see it in the larger, heavier and longer-lasting storms.

(During late 2016, billionaire Richard Branson — who has advocated for responses to climate change — appeared willing to give climate change denying Donald Trump a bit of a window to pivot away from his nonsensical and unethical positions. After having his Carribbean home wrecked by a climate-change-fueled Irma, Branson has since gone after Trump and climate change deniers with a vengeance.)

For the Atlantic, the long term trend has been for more category five hurricanes to form. Back during the late 19th Century no Category 5 storms were recorded for the North Atlantic in the entire 50 year period from 1851 to 1900. In the 27 year period from 1991 to 2017 we’ve had 13 — with some years featuring as many as 2 or more Category 5s in a single season. 2017 was the only year other than 2007 in all of the last 167 years to see two category 5 storms making landfall. So we can clearly state that the long term trend for the Atlantic is for more Category 5 storms and for more of these storms impacting land.

2017 was also the only year to see 3 category 4 hurricanes make landfall in the U.S. (Continental U.S. + Puerto Rico. 1915 saw 2). And according to the Weather Channel only 24 category 4 storms and 3 category 5 storms have made U.S. landfall in the entire 167 year period since 1851.

(Warm ocean surface waters are the primary fuel driving hurricane peak intensity and ability to form. The Atlantic Ocean surface is now warmer than at any time in the past 10,000 years [at least]. Sea surface temperature anomaly map shows variance outside the already warmer than normal 30 year average. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

Recent out-of-season tropical cyclone formation appears to have also grown more frequent and intense. For example, 2016’s Hurricane Alex was only the second hurricane to ever form during January. Moreover, 2017 saw the April formation of Arlene — which was only the second named storm to ever form in that particular month.

Stepping back from these figures, we should be very clear that warmer ocean waters and moister atmospheres both provide more fuel for the tropical cyclones that do form and increase the ability of such storms to form in typically cooler months. The warmer ocean surface has loaded the climate dice for both out of season storm formation and higher peak intensity even as a hotter atmosphere more heavily laden with moisture provides a similar effect by enhancing atmospheric lift. So if we keep dumping prodigious volumes of carbon into the atmosphere, we can expect worse and worse storms to come as the world keeps heating up.

Links:

Maria Strikes and Puerto Rico Goes Dark

Maria Rips Caribbean

2017 Atlantic Hurricane Season

Earth Nullschool

NOAA Hurricane Data

List of U.S. Landfalling Hurricanes

Hat tip to Greg

Hat tip to Eleggua

Hat tip to Wili

As the Worst Storms Grow More Frequent, San Francisco and Oakland Sue Fossil Fuel Companies over Rising Sea Levels

Faced with ramping damages and increased infrastructure costs from rising seas, both San Francisco and Oakland are suing major fossil fuel companies for their considerable contributions to the problem.

According to a report from SF Gate today, the claim is asking coal, oil and gas companies like Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, Shell and BP to pay billions of dollars in damages for not only producing the heat-trapping gases that drove sea-level rise but for knowingly doing so.

Fossil Fuel Companies Sued For Role in Rising Seas, Attempts at Cover-up

The suits join those already filed by San Mateo and Marin counties as well as the community of Imperial Beach. San Francisco and Oakland, however, are the first large cities to engage in the suit –with these two cities combined representing a total population of 1.3 million people.

(Melt in the vulnerable regions of West Antarctica produces proportionately high rates of sea level rise for the U.S. West Coast. Sea levels could rise by as much as ten feet, according to recent scientific reports, resulting in tens of billions of dollars in damages and mass displacement of west coast populations. Video Source: California Sea Levels Could Rise 10 Feet by 2100.)

San Francisco notes that seas may rise by as much as 10 feet by the end of this Century. Consequently, the city expects to invest 5 billion dollars or more in improved flood defenses over the long haul. The suit argues that fossil fuel burning is the primary contributor to this problem and that fossil fuel companies have known since at least the 1980s that burning their products would result in these risks and damages. The suit also notes that these corporations falsely attempted to convince the public that they weren’t the primary cause — standing in defiance of basic scientific facts and public safety alike.

The text of the suit reads:

“Defendants stole a page from the Big Tobacco playbook and sponsored public relations campaigns, either directly or through the American Petroleum Institute or other groups, to deny and discredit the mainstream scientific consensus on global warming, downplay the risks of global warming and even to launch unfounded attacks on the integrity of leading climate scientists.

“This case is, fundamentally, about shifting the costs of abating sea level rise harm — one of global warming’s gravest harms — back onto the companies. After all, it is defendants who have profited and will continue to profit by knowingly contributing to global warming.”

San Francisco and Oakland are just two of thousands of coastal communities that now face rising sea levels and worsening ocean storms that were in great majority caused or worsened by fossil fuel burning.

Rising Seas, Worsening Storms Due to Fossil Fuel Burning

While it is less easy to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a single storm was caused by climate change, it is obvious that they are overall growing worse in a warming world.

As an example, the number of the absolute worst cyclones in the Atlantic basin has considerably risen since the 19th Century — from zero Category 5 storms during the 50 year period from 1851 to 1900 to 13 during the 27 year period of 1991 to today. Where two such most powerful storms formed in the 30 year period from 1901 to 1930, the same number have formed during just the single year that is 2017. The climate dice, in this instance, have, indeed, been terribly loaded. And as we have seen throughout the Atlantic, Caribbean, and along the U.S. East and Gulf Coasts, these more frequent, more intense, most powerful, storms represent a dire threat to those inhabiting the cities, states, and island nations in their path.

Moreover, the link between human-caused climate change through fossil fuel burning and sea level rise is irrefutable. As sea level rise through glacial melt and thermal expansion is a direct and obvious result of the warming that comes from rising global temperatures due to increased levels of heat trapping gasses in the atmosphere.

Links:

San Francisco and Oakland Sue Major Oil Companies Over Rising Seas

California Sea Levels Could Rise 10 Feet by 2100

Energy World Rocked as China Cuts Coal Imports, Aims for Fossil Fuel Car Ban

The global energy posture is changing almost as rapidly as a climate increasingly choked with greenhouse gas emissions. And few parts of the world show this emerging trend more clearly than China. In short, China is adding restrictions to both domestic coal production and coal imports even as it is rapidly building new solar generation capacity and moving to ban domestic fossil fuel based vehicle sales.

Cutting Coal as Solar Grows

Recently, China made two major policy moves that have rocked the global energy markets. The first was its recent closing of terminals to coal imports — which may result in a net reduction of imported coal by 10 percent during 2017. Since July, China has closed approximately 150 smaller facilities to coal imports. These ports, which China has designated as tier two, are less able to test coal for compliance with China’s new emissions standards. As a result, coal imports have re-routed to larger (tier 1) facilities. A move that has created a backlog of coal off-loading ships.

In early September, China then closed the major port of Guangzhou to coal imports ahead of a cyclone. Guangzhou is one of China’s largest ports — capable of handling 60 million tons of coal per year. The closure sent shivers through coal exporters like Australia as the line of ships waiting to off-load coal lengthened. This port has since re-opened but larger constraints to China’s coal import market remain.

(China is defying all expectations with regards to the rate at which it is adding new solar electrical generation capacity. Such a strong renewable energy addition is coming in conjunction with far more restrictive domestic and import policies aimed at reducing coal burning and improving air quality. Image source: Renew Economy.)

Recently, China imposed caps on domestic coal production and aimed to reduce total coal generating capacity. These caps and cuts led some coal exporters to believe that China’s large fleet of coal plants would require more imports to fill a perceived demand gap. But China’s new, more restrictive import policies are belying those earlier notions.

In the larger context, China is engaged in a major shift toward renewable energy production. Through July, China had added approximately 35 gigawatts of new solar electrical generation capacity — with 24 gigawatts of that capacity being added in June and July alone. By early August, China’s total solar electrical generating capacity had exceeded 112 gigawatts. Strong adds that have to be putting more than just a little bit of pressure on traditional and dirty generating sources like coal. Add in China’s more restrictive policies and the picture for coal in the country during 2017 doesn’t look very rosy.

Fossil Fuel Vehicle Ban

After imposing tougher restrictions on coal imports, China’s second major policy move involves a recent statement that it will declare a ban date for all fossil fuel based vehicles. During the weekend of September 10th, Xin Guobin, China’s industry and information technology vice minister, announced that China would set a deadline for car makers to stop selling vehicles that run exclusively on diesel and gasoline.

Though no deadline has presently been announced, the move has resulted in a big freak-out by majority fossil fuel vehicle producers like General Motors.

(National polices are aiding a rapid transition away from fossil fuel based vehicles. These actions are enabling the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement and providing hope for reducing the terrible impacts of human-forced climate change. See interactive graphic of above image here: Bloomberg.)

China’s announcement comes alongside similar moves by Britain, France, Norway, the Netherlands, and India. France and Britain both plan to ban fossil fuel based vehicle sales by 2040. Meanwhile, the Netherlands and India have announced their own plans to phase out carbon-emitting cars. And, according to Bloomberg, countries accounting for 80 percent of the global vehicle market are now undertaking polices pushing toward the phase out of petroleum vehicles and the adoption of electrical vehicles.

China’s 28 million per year automobile sales, however, is a huge addition. And if the country imposes a deadline, it will force major automakers to further accelerate electrical vehicle production plans or become basically irrelevant as the fossil fuel vehicle market disappears.

(Rapid transition away from fossil fuel vehicles means declining prospects for oil just as a rapid transition to wind, solar, and battery based storage means declining prospects for coal and gas. Do we really want to be putting economic eggs into shrinking fossil fuel baskets? Image source: IEA, Bloomberg.)

Ironically, China’s move appears to be mirroring similar policies already put in place by U.S. states like California and U.S. technology leaders like Tesla. Sophie Lu, a Beijing-based China researcher for Bloomberg New Energy finance recently noted that: “Chinese regulators see the success of Tesla and other Californian companies, and want to promote the same success amongst Chinese car manufacturers.”

The fact that the world is following in the footsteps of both California and Tesla should set off a loud ringing in the otherwise deaf to new energy ears of the present administration in Washington. More to the point, valid analysis shows that China is setting itself up to dominate the newer, cleaner, less harmful to climates, and more appealing energy and technology markets of the future. And a failure to successfully engage in what is an emerging global competition at the federal level sets the U.S. up for a serious future failure and ultimate energy market irrelevance.

Links:

China is Banning Traditional Auto Engines: It’s Aim — Electric Car Domination

China Port Halts Coal Imports

China Announces Intention to Ban Fossil Fuel Vehicles

Fears Raised as China Cuts Coal Imports

Electric Cars Reach Tipping Point

 

Major Hurricane Maria Could Hit 150 Mph+ Intensity as it Barrels Toward Puerto Rico

As of early afternoon on September 18, Hurricane Maria had reached major hurricane intensity of 125 mph maximum sustained winds and a 956 mb minimum central pressure. Moving west-northwest at 10 mph, the storm is tracking through already the hurricane-weary eastern Caribbean islands on a path toward a Puerto Rico still recovering from its close brush with Category 5 Hurricane Irma.

(National Hurricane Center’s [NHC] projected path and intensity for Maria shows a major hurricane threatening Puerto Rico over the next two days. Image source: NHC.)

Maria is expected to track over very warm Caribbean waters in the range of 84 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit (29+ C) as it enters a favorable atmospheric environment. And forecasters now call for Maria to rapidly intensify. Hurricane watches have already been issued for the American territory of Puerto Rico. And the present official Hurricane Center track and forecast intensity for Maria (see above image) shows a severe blow by a powerful category 4 storm striking somewhere along southeastern Puerto Rico early Wednesday with maximum sustained winds of 150 mph.

2017 Already a Season for the Record Books

It’s worth noting that some models presently show Maria tracking north of Puerto Rico. So the island could still avoid a direct hit. But the current official consensus is a rather grim forecast.

(IR satellite imagery of Maria shows an increasingly organized storm. Forecast points and sea surface temperatures included for reference. Image source: National Hurricane Center.)

Maria is the fourth major hurricane to form in the Atlantic during 2017 — which has been an exceptional season in many respects. This year saw the early formation of Arlene in April — only the second named storm recorded to have formed during that month. It saw the strongest hurricane ever to form outside of the Carribbean or Gulf of Mexico — Irma — which was also tied as the strongest land falling hurricane in the Atlantic. Both Category 4 Harvey and Irma struck the continental U.S. — the first time two Cat 4 storms have struck the states in a single month. And Harvey produced the heaviest recorded rainfall total from a tropical system at 51.88 inches. Overall damage estimates from the 2017 Atlantic hurricane season presently stand at 132 billion dollars — which makes this season the second costliest so far (behind 2005).

How Climate Change and Other Global Factors Contributed

With damages from Harvey and Irma still uncounted, with Maria barreling in, and with a week and a half left to September and all of October remaining, it’s likely that 2017 will see more to come. Though Irma and Jose have churned up cooler waters in their wakes, large sections of the Gulf, Caribbean, and North Atlantic remain considerably warmer than normal.

(Sea surface temperature anomaly map shows that much of the North Atlantic and Carribbean are between 0.5 and 2 C warmer than the already warmer than normal 30-year average. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

Meanwhile, a very vigorous Inter-Tropical-Convergence-Zone (ITCZ) is still producing powerful thunderstorms over Africa. And cool water upwelling in the Pacific has generated La Nina-like conditions that tend to cut down on Atlantic wind shear — allowing more storms to fully develop and tap those warmer than normal waters to reach higher maximum intensities. Some of these factors — particularly the warmer than normal surface waters and possibly the increased intensity of ITCZ thunderstorms are climate change related. So yes, statements from those like Dr. Michael Mann claiming that this season’s hurricanes were made worse by climate change are absolutely valid.

(UPDATES TO FOLLOW)

RELATED STATEMENTS AND INFORMATION:

Links:

National Hurricane Center

Earth Nullschool

Longest Global Coral Bleaching Event Officially at an End; But Severe Worldwide Risk to Corals Remains

In the Equatorial Pacific, the chances for an ocean-surface-cooling La Nina are on the rise (more on this later). But even with a cool pool of water upwelling in this key climate region, the risk to corals in a record-warm world remains high.

This risk comes despite the fact that by June of 2017, NOAA had officially declared an end to the longest global coral bleaching event on record. The event lasted from 2014 to 2017 and impacted multiple major coral reefs for 2-3 years in a row. According to NOAA, the event affected more reefs than any other previous global coral bleaching event. Meanwhile, some reefs that had never before seen significant bleaching — like northern sections of the Great Barrier Reef — saw severe damage.

(A portrait of the world’s worst global coral bleaching event shows that 70 percent of the world’s corals took a major hit. Image source: NOAA.)

In total, more than 70 percent of the worlds reefs experienced heat stress capable of producing bleaching. An extent never before attained. One that is difficult to imagine. The NOAA graphic above provides some context of the terrible expansiveness — with dark red areas representing widespread bleaching and significant coral mortality and light red regions representing significant coral bleaching over the totality of the 2014 to 2017 event.

To be very clear, the primary driver of this very widespread event was a human-forced warming of the world through fossil fuel burning. This driver has resulted in sea surfaces that are, in many regions, more than 1 degree Celsius above 19th Century temperature averages. Temperatures that are now enabled to spike to 3, 4, or even 5 C above average during variable warming events like the recent strong 2015-2016 El Nino. Temperatures that now never really back off to previous lows. A regime that provides little respite for corals.

For these heat-sensitive creatures, such systemically warming ocean temperatures represent a rising risk of mass mortality in the coming years. And over the next decade alone, global temperatures are expected to continue to increase by between 0.15 and 0.3 C above already harmful ranges.

(4-Month NOAA forecast shows that widespread risk for major coral mortality remains despite an end to El Nino conditions, increasingly likely La Nina conditions, and an official end to the 2014-2017 global coral bleaching event. Image source: NOAA.)

Even with the longest global coral bleaching event officially over and with a potential La Nina on the way, risk of widespread heat stress to corals remains. NOAA’s 4-month heat stress forecast shows a 60 percent that large areas of the Pacific, the Caribbean, and the tropical Atlantic will experience significant bleaching, widespread bleaching, and mass coral mortality (light and dark red areas).

These are severe impacts. Ones that should not be occurring as the Equatorial Pacific is going through a variable cool phase. Ones that have been set off by continued fossil fuel burning and the mass dumping of carbon into the atmosphere at the rate of around 11 billion tons per year annually which has pushed the world into an entirely new and already harmful temperature range.

Links:

NOAA Coral Reef Watch

NOAA ENSO

Major Greenhouse Gas Reductions Needed

878 mb Storm Off North Florida — The Model Forecast for Irma that no one Wants to See Happen

As the United States struggles to recover from severe damage inflicted by one hurricane made far worse by climate change, another powerful storm is brewing over the hotter than normal waters of the tropical North Atlantic.

As of the 5 PM Atlantic Standard Time statement from the National Hurricane Center, Irma was positioned about 1,100 miles east of the Leeward Islands in the central tropical Atlantic. The storm hosted a small circulation, packing 110 mph winds and a minimum central pressure of 973 mb. Over the next few days, according to the Hurricane Center, Irma is presently expected to reach major hurricane status with 130 mph maximum sustained winds.

(Category 2 Irma in the Central Atlantic seems relatively innocuous. But NHC guidance indicates the potential for Irma to develop into a major hurricane over the next five days. Some of the longer range models, however, are producing some rather worrying forecasts. Image source: National Hurricane Center.)

The Hurricane Center is clear to note that it uncertain at this time if Irma will ultimately threaten the Bahamas or the mainland U.S. But the Center cautions that all interests remain watchful and prepared as the storm could pose a risk over the coming days:

It is much too early to determine what direct impacts Irma will have on the Bahamas and the continental United States. Regardless, everyone in hurricane-prone areas should ensure that they have their hurricane plan in place, as we are now near the peak of the season.

Looking beyond the official forecast, some of the our best long range model runs are putting together some seriously scary predictions for Irma. By next week, the Global Forecast System (GFS) model shows Irma as a 878 mb monster hurricane looming about 300 miles off Florida. 878 mb would represent the lowest pressures ever recorded in a hurricane in the Atlantic (The present strongest Atlantic storm was Wilma at 882 mb. The devastating Labor Day Hurricane hit 892 mb.). And it would almost certainly represent the strongest storm in our records ever to venture so far North. 878 mb roughly corresponds with maximum sustained winds in excess of 170 mph and possibly as high as 200 mph or more. And we’ve never seen something like that threatening the Central Atlantic U.S. East Coast in all of the modern era.

(A storm stronger than Wilma and approaching Tip’s record 870 mb intensity off North Florida and not in the Caribbean? GFS says it’s possible. Let’s hope for the sake of much that is precious and dear to us that this model forecast does not emerge. Image source: Tropical Tidbits.)

The model then slams the storm into Cape Hatteras just after midnight on Monday, September 11 as only a slightly weaker Category 5 range storm at 910 mb. The storm proceeds north into the Hampton Roads area early Monday morning retaining approximate Cat 5 status at 919 mb. After roaring over this highly populated low-lying region, the storm enters the Chesapeake Bay at 934 mb by noon on Monday — in the Category 4 range and still stronger than Hurricane Sandy — before crossing up the Bay and over the D.C. region by evening the same day at 958 mb (approx Cat 3).

To say this would be an absolute worst case disaster scenario for the Mid-Atlantic is an understatement. A storm of this intensity would produce 10-20 foot or higher storm surges, devastating winds, and catastrophic rainfall throughout the Outer Banks, Hampton Roads and on up the Chesapeake Bay. But unlike Harvey, it would be a fast-moving event. More like a freight train than a persistently worsening deluge.

This long range model scenario is not, however, an official forecast. It’s just what the GFS atmospheric computer models are presently spitting out. And such long range predictions from a single model, no matter how reliable, should be taken with at least a pinch of salt. That said, we should certainly, as the NHC recommends, keep our eyes on Irma and keep our response plans ready.

(Sea surface temperatures in the North Atlantic off the Southeast Coast are between 1 and 1.8 C above average. Atmospheric moisture levels are quite high as is instability. So as with Harvey, we have quite a lot more fuel than normal available for a hurricane to feed on. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

We should also note the context in which this present extreme potential emerges. Ocean surfaces in the North Atlantic off Florida are very warm with temperatures around 30.5 degrees Celsius (87 F) near the Bahamas. This is about 1.8 degrees Celsius above the already warmer than normal climatological average. Atmospheric moisture and instability in this region of the North Atlantic are also quite high. These two conditions provide fuel for hurricanes that do enter this region. They are conditions that are linked, at least in part, to human-caused climate change. And they are similar to the conditions that amplified Harvey’s intensity just prior to landfall.

So though the GFS forecast described above is far from certain, we should absolutely listen to the NHC’s urging for us to pay attention to what could be another dangerous developing storm. One that appears to at least be physically capable of defying previous weather and climate expectations. Let’s just hope it doesn’t.

Links:

The National Hurricane Center

Earth Nullschool

Tropical Tidbits

List of Most Intense Tropical Cyclones

Major Environmental Groups Aim for 100 Percent Renewable Energy; Nature Study Shows Solar Alone is on Track Toward 50 Percent

Here we explore how models have consistently underestimated PV deployment and identify the reasons for underlying bias in models… We propose that with coordinated advances in multiple components of the energy system, PV could supply 30–50% of electricity in competitive markets.Nature

It’s the call for the rapid conversion of energy systems around the country to 100% renewable power — a call for running the United States (and the world) on sun, wind and water. What Medicare for All is to the healthcare debate, or Fight for $15 is to the battle against inequality, 100% Renewable is to the struggle for the planet’s future. — Bill McKibben

*****

Let’s be very clear. The big first step in saving cities like Houston and regions like South Asia from this global warming nightmare we’re creating is to replace the chief cause of the problem with something else. And when the central driver of global warming is fossil fuel burning, then you can’t solve that problem by continuing to dig up fossil carbon and combust it. Full stop.

(The world is heating up, primarily due to fossil fuel burning. Rapidly replacing those fuels with renewables is crucial going forward. Image source: NASA.)

That’s why visionaries like Bill McKibben and agencies like 350.org and the Sierra Club are now engaged in a campaign to promote 100 percent renewable energy policies at every level of government. Under such policies, an increasing number of these governments and institutions commit to using only renewable energy. And they do so within a prescribed timeframe.

It’s a policy aimed at solving the climate crisis while saving the stakeholders themselves. At not continuing along a path toward worse disasters than Harvey and ultimately lethal climates like those of the Permian. At not putting stakeholder cities, states and industries at ever increasing risk. Ultimately, it’s aimed at combating the central cause of global warming — fossil fuels — by leveraging the superior economics of wind and solar to crowd them out. A goal that’s enabled by the fundamental economic superiority of renewables. And the timing couldn’t be better.

For renewable energy, in the form of wind and solar, is now less expensive in most applications than gas and coal. And the price is continuing to drop. This means that the economic argument for fossil fuels has fewer and fewer legs to stand on. Arguments attacking renewables increasingly rely on either baseless and false inflations of environmental damage, or on a downplaying of renewable energy’s economic strength and potential future capacity — attempting to divide and conquer environmentalists by creating inaccurate impressions or to tamp down enthusiasm among renewable energy supporters. Such anti-factual messaging, however, reveals the present economic, political and social vulnerabilities of fossil fuel interests as they are forced more and more to rely on outright deception.

Now, as with climate change, the fossil fuel special interests are facing off against a rising tide of scientific evidence. This time, the science isn’t just revealing the causes of environmental harm in the form of fossil fuel burning — it is showing why renewable energy’s growth rate will be faster and more transformative than expected.

(Environmental organizations like Greenpeace have provided the most optimistic and accurate assessments of solar growth rates — flummoxing most energy industry experts. Image source: Nature.)

A new study in Nature this week found that solar energy alone would represent up to 50 percent of global electricity generation capacity by 2050 on the basis of its economic strength alone. Solar benefits from a simplicity of design, use of common materials, easy scalability, a proven track record of increasing efficiency over time, and the ability to easily loop in technological design breakthroughs. These advantages have allowed solar to reduce its price by 22 percent for each doubling of installed capacity.

Wind benefits from similar economies of scale. And a new study out from the National Renewable Energy Lab found that the price of wind would fall by another 50 percent through 2030. Estimates that are up from 30 percent even earlier this year. A pretty amazing ability considering the fact that wind is already the lowest cost energy source in many applications.

This economic strength really gives environmental advocacy groups an effective tool for achieving goals going forward. Now, a zero emitting technology that produces orders of magnitude less harm than present energy systems is within reach. Now cities, states and nations can change the world for the better. And now they can do it on the cheap. But not only does this thrust jibe with traditional environmental goals — it appeals to the 72 percent of republicans who support renewable energy, regardless of their views on climate change. In this way, the 100 percent renewable campaign is one that appeals to all Americans and can therefore gain ground in pretty much every state and region.

RELATED STATEMENTS AND INFORMATION:

Links:

The Underestimated Potential of Solar Energy to Mitigate Climate Change

Wind Power Costs Could Drop 50 Percent. Solar PV Could Provide up to 50 Percent Global Power. Damn.

Innovation Can Reduce Wind Energy Costs by Another 50 Percent Through 2030

Bill McKibben Kicks Off Keep it 100 Campaign

 

Half a World Away From Harvey, Global Warming Fueled Deluges Now Impact 42 Million People

Rising sea surface temperatures in South Asia led to more moisture in the atmosphere, providing this year’s monsoon with its ammunition for torrential rainfall. — The Pacific Standard

While flooding is common in the region, climate change has spurred dramatic weather patterns, greatly exacerbating the damage. As sea temperatures warm, moisture increases, a dynamic also at play in the record-setting rainfall in Texas. — Think Progress

******

With Harvey delivering its own hammer blow of worst-ever-seen rainfall to Texas, 42 million people are now impacted by record flooding half a world away. The one thing that links these two disparate disasters? Climate Change.

A Worsening Flood Disaster in South Asia

As Harvey was setting its sights on the Texas Coast this time last week, another major rainfall disaster was already ongoing. Thousands of miles away, South Asia was experiencing historic flooding that seven days ago had impacted 24 million people.

At the time, two tropical weather systems were developing over a very warm Pacific. They were angling in toward a considerably pumped up monsoonal moisture flow. And they appeared bound and determined to unleash yet more misery on an already suffering region.

As of Monday, the remnants of tropical cyclone Hato had entered the monsoonal flow and was unleashing its heavy rains upon Nepal. The most recent in a long chain of systems that just keeps looping more storms in over the region to disgorge they water loads on submerged lands.

By Wednesday, the number of people suffering from flooding in India, Bangladesh and Nepal had jumped by 18 million in just one week to more than 42 million. With 32 million impacted in India, 8.6 million in Bangladesh, and 1.7 million in Nepal. More tragically, 1,200 people have perished due to both landslides and floods as thousands of square miles have been submerged and whole regions have been crippled with roads, bridges, and airports washing out. Adding to this harsh toll are an estimated 3.5 million homes that have been damaged or destroyed in Bangladesh alone.

Worst impacts are likely to focus on Bangladesh which is down-stream of flooded regions in Nepal and India. As of last week, 1/3 of this low-lying country had been submerged by rising water. With intense rains persisting during recent days, this coverage is likely to have expanded.

Hundreds of thousands of people have now funneled into the country’s growing disaster shelters. A massive international aid effort is underway as food and water supplies are cut off and fears of disease are growing. The international Red Cross and Red Crescent and other relief agencies have deployed over 2,000 medical teams to the region. Meanwhile, calls for increased assistance are growing.

Warmer Oceans Fuel Tropical Climate Extremes

As with Harvey, this year’s South Asia floods have been fueled by much warmer than normal ocean surface temperatures. These warmer than normal ocean surfaces are evaporating copious amounts of moisture into the tropical atmosphere. This moisture, in turn, is intensifying the monsoonal rains.

(Very warm ocean surface temperatures related to global warming are contributing to catastrophic South Asian flooding in which 42 million people are now impacted. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

In the Bay of Bengal, ocean surfaces have recently hit about 3 C above the three decade average. But ocean waters have been warming now for more than a Century following the initiation of widespread fossil fuel burning. So even the present baseline is above 20th Century temperature norms. At this point, such high levels of ocean heat are clearly having an impact on tropical weather.

In an interview with CNN, Reaz Ahmed, the director-general of Bangladesh’s Department of Disaster Management noted last week that:

“This is not normal. Floods this year were bigger and more intense than the previous years.”

Further exacerbating the situation is that fact that glaciers are melting and temperatures are rising in the Himalayas. This increases water flow into rivers during monsoon season even as glacial melt flow into rivers is reduced during the dry season. It’s kind of a flood-drought whammy in which the dry season is growing hotter and drier for places like India, but the wet season is conversely getting pushed toward worsening flood extremes.

Links:

The Pacific Standard

Think Progress

Earth Nullschool

Nepal, India, Bangladesh Floods Impact Millions

NASA Worldview

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

So Let’s Talk About the Science of How Climate Change Kicked Harvey into Higher Gear

Harvey is finally on the move.

After making a second landfall early Wednesday, the storm is passing slowly out of the East Texas region that has suffered so much first from Harvey’s initial lashing as a rapidly intensifying category 4 storm, and second from its long-lasting and unprecedented rainfall.

(Harvey rapidly intensifies into a category 4 monster just prior to landfall. This rapid intensification and other climate change related factors helped to make Harvey a more dangerous storm. Image source: NASA.)

At this point we can take a bit of a step back to look at the larger situation. Sure, impacts will probably continue and even worsen for some areas. And due to a historic pulse of water heading downstream, the hammered city of Houston is far from out of the woods.

But as with Sandy and so many other freakish strong storms in a present climate that has warmed by around 1.2 C above pre-industrial values, we would be remiss if we didn’t discuss the climate change related factors that gave Harvey more fuel, that helped it to rapidly intensify, that worsened its flooding — both from rains and from storm surge, and that may have helped to produce a still pocket in the upper level winds that allowed it to stick around for so long.

Warmer Ocean Surfaces Mean More Rapidly Intensifying Storms, Higher Peak Intensity of Worst Storms

Hurricanes like Harvey cannot readily form in cool waters below a range between 70 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Ideally, the storms require ocean surface temperatures warmer than 80 degrees (F). And the more heat that’s available at the ocean surface, the more energy that’s available for a storm when it does form.

This energy comes in the form of atmospheric lift. In other words, air rises off the water more vigorously as water temperature rises. This lifting energy is called convection. And the more that’s available, the more powerful storms can ultimately become.

(Sea surface temperatures were between 1 and 2 degrees Celsius above average as Harvey approached Texas. Human-forced climate change is causing the oceans to warm. This, in turn, provides more fuel for hurricanes like Harvey — helping them to rapidly intensify and pushing their peak strength higher. Image source: NOAA.)

According to Dr Michael Mann, Ocean surfaces in the Gulf of Mexico are fully 1 to 1.5 degrees Celsius warmer, on average, than they were just 30 years ago. This warming provides more energy for storms that do form. And this, in turn, raises the top potential intensity of storms.

Some scientists, like Dr. James Hansen, refer to this prevalence of worsening extremity as loading the climate dice. If, in the past, we were rolling with a die six with a 1 representing the lowest storm intensity and a 6 representing the highest, we’re now rolling with something like a die six +1. The result is that the strongest storms are stronger and the absolutely strongest storms have an ability to achieve previously unattainable strengths due to the fact that there’s a lot more energy there to kick them into a higher state.

Increased potential peak storm intensity as a climate change factor does not necessarily result in more tropical storms forming overall. That part of the science on hurricanes is highly uncertain. But that heat engine in the form of warmer surface waters is available for the storms that do form to tap. And that can make them a lot stronger and more damaging than they otherwise would have been.

(Loading the climate dice — changes in frequency of cold and warm temperatures also has an impact on heatwaves, droughts, wildfires, storm intensity, and heavy precipitation events. Image source: NASA.)

As Harvey approached land, it tapped the energy of this much warmer than normal ocean surface. And that energy caused the storm to rapidly strengthen — first from a minimal tropical storm to a Hurricane, and then from a minimal hurricane to a Category 4 monster. Meteorologists tend to call such periods of rapid intensification — bombification. This term comes from minimum pressures that rapidly drop in swiftly strengthening storms — seeming to bomb out. And due to warming, the science indicates that rapid strengthening is also more likely. With some models pointing toward a 10-20 fold increase in the frequency of rapidly intensifying storms by the end of this Century if human forced warming of ocean surfaces continues.

Warmer Atmosphere Means Heavier Rainfall

Related to a warming of the ocean surface (and land surfaces as well) is the basic scientific fact that such warming causes the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere to increase. In total, with each 1 degree Celsius of warming near the Earth’s surface, the atmosphere ends up holding about 6-7 percent more moisture. The properties of this warming-driven increase in atmospheric moisture are described by the scientifically proven Clausius–Clapeyron relation which defines, in meteorology, how atmospheric water vapor content is driven by various factors, including temperature.

If we dig just a little bit further into our understanding of how this scientific driver impacts the atmosphere in a warmer world, we find that not only does the moisture content of a warmer atmosphere increase, but both the rates of evaporation and precipitation increase.

 

(Global warming has brought with it a sharp increase in the number of record-breaking daily rainfall events. This is due to the fact that a warmer world holds more storm-fueling moisture in its atmosphere. This warmer, wetter atmosphere increased the peak potential rainfall from Harvey enabling it to smash records for rainfall rates and precipitation totals. Image source: Increased Record-Breaking Precipitation Events Under Global Warming.)

It is here that we return to the loaded climate dice mentioned above. If, as we find today, the Earth is about 1.2 degrees Celsius warmer than in the past, then the atmosphere holds more moisture. About 7-8 percent more. And since there’s more heat, evaporation is more intense where it does happen. This loads the climate dice for more intense droughts. But since what goes up in the form of evaporation results in a heavier load of moisture in the higher clouds and in the storms that do form, the rains that follow will also tend to be more intense. This loads the dice for more severe rainfall events. And we have a very clear scientific observation that the most extreme rainstorms are becoming much more intense overall (see above graphic).

For Harvey, this meant that more moisture was available to provide the record-setting rainfall amounts coming from that system. Peak rainfall totals from the storm are now at nearly 52 inches. This is the most rainfall ever to occur in Texas from a tropical system in our records. A measure that may also break the all-time U.S. record for rainfall from a tropical storm. And Harvey was enabled to produce such high rainfall amounts by a warmer atmosphere.

Harvey a Brown Ocean Cyclone?

Increasing rates of evaporation and precipitation had one obvious effect in Harvey — they increased the potential severity of rains coming from this kind of storm. But they also increase the ability of storms like Harvey to maintain strength or even intensify over land. If, for example, a storm like Harvey dumps a very heavy load of rainfall over land and if the evaporation from these recent rains has increased in a warming world, then storms like Harvey can tend to draw strength back from what amounts to a small ocean on land.

A recent NASA scientific paper on this issue describes a Brown Ocean effect. The 2013 NASA paper noted:

Before making landfall, tropical storms gather power from the warm waters of the ocean. Storms in the newly defined category derive their energy instead from the evaporation of abundant soil moisture – a phenomenon that Andersen and Shepherd call the “brown ocean.”

…The research also points to possible implications for storms’ response to climate change. “As dry areas get drier and wet areas get wetter, are you priming the soil to get more frequent inland tropical cyclone intensification?” asked Shepherd.

In essence, cyclones are better able to maintain strength or even re-intensify over wet areas of land in a warmer world due to increasing levels of evaporation and it was Harvey’s ability to maintain tropical storm strength over land for up to three days that helped to enable it to keep dropping such heavy volumes of rain.

Higher Seas Mean Worse Storm Surge Flooding

A warmer climate also brings with it the melt of continental glaciers and the thermal expansion of ocean waters. As glaciers flood into the world’s oceans, they rise. And since fossil fuel burning began at the start of the industrial age this related warming of the Earth and melting of glaciers has caused the oceans around the world to rise by more than 20 centimeters globally.

(Global warming increases the base ocean level which, in turn, worsens storm surge flooding. Harvey’s storm surge came in on this higher ramp. Image source: Sea Level Rise Science.)

Such higher seas alone are causing some coastal settlements to flood even on sunny days. But when storms like Harvey come roaring ashore, they do so on a higher overall launching pad. And this produces a multiplier effect for storm surge damages. A multiplier that would not have been there if the world hadn’t warmed.

Polar Warming Contributes to Blocking Patterns That Make Weather Stick Around in One Place Longer

Another climate change related factor that contributed to Harvey’s danger was its persist hovering over the same region. Harvey would not have been as damaging for Texas and the Gulf if it hadn’t hung over East Texas for more than five days. But here, again, we find that climate change related factors appear to be contributing to the increased lingering of various extreme weather producing systems.

To understand how, we need to look at the upper level atmospheric circulation pattern that moves weather systems from place-to-place. In other words — the Jet Stream. Climate change influences the Jet Stream by generating more warming at the poles than near the Equator. This in turn, according to the research of scientists like Dr Jennifer Francis, changes atmospheric slope. Warmer poles, in other words, create a taller atmosphere at the poles relative to the Equator.

(A high amplitude ridge-trough pattern helped to create a stagnant upper air slot in which Harvey stalled. This voiding of upper level steering currents enabled Harvey’s persistence. Some scientists are pointing toward increasing prevalence of these kinds of high amplitude ridges and troughs related to polar warming warming which is an upshot of global warming. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

Since atmospheric slope and temperature differences between the poles and Equator drive the speed of the Jet Stream, warmer poles cause the Jet Stream to slow down and meander. This generates big ridges and deep troughs. It also appears to assist the generation of large blocking high pressure systems. And all of these features can tend to cause weather patterns to get stuck.

This year, a persistent trough in the Eastern U.S. has generated a consistent stormy pattern and aided in the firing of powerful thunderstorms that produced record rains over places like Kansas City, Missouri. In the West, a persistent ridge has produced record heat and very extreme wildfires while aiding the formation of a very intense flash drought in Montana and the Dakotas. Harvey got stuck in a stagnant pocket between these two relatively fixed weather patterns. A climate change related feature that may have increased the duration of Harvey and facilitated its record rains falling over such a long period.

Other Factors — Interaction With The Eastern Trough

Finally, we can state that Harvey’s interaction with the very deep eastern trough also helped to fuel it. The trough provided a moisture and instability kick to Harvey as it moved over Texas — helping to wring out tropical moisture over the Lone Star State. And if we accept the fact that polar warming contributed to the depth of this eastern trough by slowing down the Jet Stream, then its interaction with Harvey was also a climate change related factor.

Qualifying This Discussion

What can be said with certainty is that climate change did not cause the hurricane. That hurricanes do happen in a normal climate. But this is the same same thing as saying that home runs happen in both middle school and major league baseball. It’s all baseball, but the factors from one to the other have qualitatively changed in an obvious fashion. The same thing happens to weather in a warming world. And it is due to the changes in these underlying factors that we can say without a doubt that climate change made Harvey worse.

What we can also say is that our certainty of all these various climate change related factors involved varies. For example, we can say with very high certainty that global warming is worsening rainfall extremes and that sea level rise is worsening storm surges. We can say with a good level of confidence that the peak intensity of the worst storms is also increasing and that bombification is more likely. And we can say with moderate confidence that climate change is altering atmospheric circulation patterns (an issue that is still under considerable debate).

But the varying degrees of certainty with regards to these aspects do not change basic facts. Your climate is your weather averaged over 30 years. And if the world warms, both your climate and your weather change.

With up to 42 Inches of Rain Already Dumped on Texas, Harvey’s Track Over Gulf Means 10-21 More to Come

By mid-afternoon Monday, a still very wet Harvey had back-tracked over the Gulf of Mexico. The storm has now dumped unprecedented, record-setting rains totaling more than 30 inches over a Houston that is being forced to release dam water into already flooded regions in order to prevent over-topping or worse. Meanwhile, nearby Dayton, as of this morning, had received nearly 40 inches since the storm began on Friday. And as of noon, Baytown, TX has seen 41.77 inches over the sixty hour storm period.

Harvey’s circulation is now located along the coast south and west of Galveston and it is edging slowly back over the Gulf of Mexico. The storm is still drawing copious volumes of moisture up from the Gulf. This moisture flood is still fueling a massive shield of rain and thunderstorms stretching over much of Eastern Texas, a good portion of Louisiana and parts of Mississippi. And with its center now moving back over water, this moisture flow and its related thunderstorms are again starting to intensify.

 

(Harvey’s rains shield reinvigorates as the storm once again crosses into the Gulf. Image source: The National Weather Service.)

Presently, the most intense rains from the system are clustered over Houston (still), adjacent portions of the Texas Coast, and Eastern Louisiana.

As of 4 PM CDT, Harvey had re-intensified somewhat to 997 mb with maximum sustained winds near 45 miles per hour. Over the next 24 hours, Harvey is expected to back slowly southward over the Gulf of Mexico, then turn back northward. By late Tuesday, the tropical storm is again expected to be closing in on the Texas Coast for a likely second landfall late Tuesday or early Wednesday.

Present satellite imagery shows Harvey reintensifying somewhat in the infrared — with stronger storms firing near Harvey’s Center and just to the north in the Houston region. A dry slot of air in the storm, however, is likely to limit re-strengthening as the storm passes over water during the next 12-24 hours.

(Harvey appears to restrengthen somewhat in the infrared satellite as it taps Gulf heat and moisture. Image source: The National Hurricane Center.)

As such, Harvey at present is still a rather dangerous rain event. An event that is now re-gathering some of its strength and intensity as it digs more deeply into Gulf moisture.

Earlier today, meteorologists noted an optimistic wedge of dry air moving into the system from Central Texas. Such a wedge would tend to tamp down rainfall rates over Houston and East Texas. And the region did get a bit of a respite from heavy rains earlier in the day. However, with the moisture tap to that abnormally warm Gulf now re-established, heavier rains are again filling in near the storm center and just to the north.

(NOAA is still showing a potential for in excess of 20 inches of rain in the Houston region even following the massive, historic deluge that has already been unleashed by a hurricane fueled by a record warm world. Image source: NOAA.)

As a result, Houston is likely to get socked with a third bout of very heavy rain tonight through tomorrow with a fourth bout likely on tap for late Tuesday night. And, presently, NOAA now predicts that up to another 21 inches of rain is on the way for the Houston region on top of the already historic totals of 20-40 inches that have inundated the city.

(UPDATED 7)

UPDATE (8): The latest advisory from the National Hurricane Center notes that:

Harvey is expected to produce additional rainfall accumulations of 10 to 20 inches through Thursday over parts of the upper Texas coast into southwestern Louisiana. Isolated storm totals may reach 50 inches over the upper Texas coast, including the Houston/Galveston metropolitan area. These rains are currently producing catastrophic and life-threatening flooding over large portions of southeastern Texas. DO NOT ATTEMPT TO TRAVEL IN THE AFFECTED AREA IF YOU ARE IN A SAFE PLACE. DO NOT DRIVE INTO FLOODED ROADWAYS. Please see warnings and products issued by your local National Weather Service office for additional information on this life-threatening situation.

This storm isn’t over folks. Not by a long shot.

RELATED INFORMATION AND STATEMENTS:

Links:

The National Weather Service

The National Hurricane Center

NOAA

Harvey Moves Back Over Water. Historic Rainfall Will Continue.

Hat tip to wili

Hat tip to eleggua

Harvey’s Mammoth Deluge Potential: Some Models Are Showing Storm Could Produce Five Feet of Rain

Media, Texas, and Gulf Coast residents take note: the thing to be most concerned about with regards to Harvey is not its admittedly life-threatening storm surge and strong winds, but what is shaping up to be a potentially historic rainfall event.

*****

The latest update from the National Hurricane Center shows that Harvey continues to strengthen and is now a category 4 storm. Packing 130 mph winds and a 941 mb minimum central pressure, the storm is certainly now very powerful. This new intensity is above the NHC’s previously expected peak strength for the storm just prior to landfall late tonight. The situation is thus becoming ever more dangerous.

But with Harvey, the serious concern we are facing is not just the usual and notably very dangerous high winds and storm surge flooding that go along with a category 4 storm. We are also looking at very severe and long lasting flooding rains that will have the potential to cause damage and disruption for not just months but for years to come.

A Devastating Rainfall Potential

(Southeast Texas has never seen 60 inches of rainfall from a tropical system. But that potential exists with Harvey.)

Consensus models now predict that peak rainfall totals will be around 35 inches in association with Harvey. This is due to the dual facts that Harvey is currently a very moisture-rich storm and that the storm is expected to stall for between 5 and 10 days following landfall. The storm is predicted to hover along the coastline, drawing in an unusually intense flow of moisture from a much warmer than normal Gulf, and to generate severe thunderstorms hour after hour, day after day. And this kind of rain event, if it emerges, could produce a disaster of historic proportions for Texas.

It’s worth noting that rainfall totals could also exceed the consensus forecast. Some models are now predicting upwards of 50 or 60 inches of rainfall by the time Harvey leaves the Texas area later next week (see top image above). The highest rainfall amounts ever produced by a tropical cyclone, in our records, for Texas is 48 inches. But there’s at least some possibility, with the perfect rainstorm that appears to be shaping up in Harvey, that these ultimate rainfall totals will be exceeded and a disaster of unprecedented proportions could emerge. But even if this worst-case doesn’t emerge, a 35 inch rainfall event would wreck untold destruction upon Texas’s southeastern cities.

Harvey strengthening as it moves toward shore

( Harvey rapidly strengthening to CAT 4 as it nears landfall. Image source: National Hurricane Center.)

Normally soft-spoken forecasters like Bob Henson and Eric Holthaus are not mincing words over the potential severity of the present situation. Last night, Bob Henson on twitter asked people: “Please don’t fixate on whether Harvey arrives as a Cat 2, 3, or 4. It’s the mammoth rainfall amounts (up to 35″) that will affect millions.” Meanwhile, Eric Holthaus warned: “This is scary. I have never seen a rainfall forecast like this in my entire career. Texas will be recovering from for years.”

Of course, we could dodge a bullet and rainfall totals could be lower for Harvey. It’s just that this event is currently trending toward a near worst case or worst case deluge-type storm that produces very heavy rains over the same region over nearly a week-long period.

Conditions in Context — This is Not Your Father’s Atmosphere

(The number of record rainfall events has increased dramatically during recent years. An observation attributed to human-forced climate change. Image source: Increased Record-Breaking Precipitation Events Under Global Warming.)

During recent years, a warmer than normal atmosphere has been producing more and more intense rain storms. The number of record daily rainfall instances around the world has been rising precipitously (see image above). This increasing severity is, in large part, due to the fact that human-forced warming amps up the hydrological cycle — producing more intense rain storms and more intense droughts. In other words, the climate dice are loaded for extreme rainfall and droughts in the present atmosphere. And it is in this atmosphere that Harvey has emerged. So we shouldn’t at all discount the fact that Harvey’s potential worst impacts from rainfall are now higher than they would have been even just a few decades ago. And this is one of the major reasons why we are seeing such a historic potential out of Harvey.

UPDATED (4)

UPDATE (5): As of 800 PM CDT the eye of Harvey crossed the coastline somewhere between Corpus Christi and Port O’Connor. Unfortunately, this storm is just getting started as a very severe one week long rain event is about to follow.

UPDATE (6): As of 1000 PM CDT and just following landfall, Harvey’s minimum central pressure had fallen to 938 mb. An indication that the storm was still strengthening as it began to cross the coastline. According to these reports (here and here), this is the 4th lowest barometric pressure recorded for a hurricane at landfall on the Texas coast since 1900. Maximum sustained winds remained at 130 mph with gusts to 160 mph.

Links:

National Hurricane Center

National Weather Service

Increased Record-Breaking Precipitation Events Under Global Warming

Greg Carbin

Eric Holthaus

Bob Henson

Hat tip to Greg

Hat tip to Titania

Hat tip to Wili

Hat tip to Andy in San Diego

Hat tip to Wharf Rat

Hurricane as Rain Bomb — Rapidly Intensifying Harvey Threatens to Dump 20-35+ Inches on Texas

A hurricane moving over the much warmer than normal waters of the Northern Gulf of Mexico is expected to rapidly strengthen to major status with 125 mph sustained winds over the next 12 hours before making landfall. Such rapid intensification brings with it the risk of severe storm surge flooding and damaging winds along the U.S. Gulf Coast. However, one of the most worrying features of this system is that it is incredibly moisture rich and new models now show a potential that the storm will dump as much as 20-35+ inches of rain across parts of Texas as the storm stalls over the region for 5-6 days.

(Present model guidance for Hurricane Harvey’s rainfall totals show a significant flooding potential for Texas. Note that maximum rainfall potential in this model is 40.6 inches.)

By late afternoon on Thursday, Harvey was a minor hurricane packing 85 mile per hour winds with a minimum central pressure of 976 mb and moving through the Central Gulf of Mexico on a path toward Texas. The storm was about 305 miles to the southeast of Corpus Christi, Texas and was moving toward the northwest at about 10 miles per hour. A curve toward the north is expected in the next 12-24 hours. Such a track would bring the storm adjacent to the Texas coast by some time late Friday or early Saturday.

As the storm moves north and west, it is expected to tap the warmer than normal waters of the Gulf of Mexico in the range of 87 to 88 degrees Fahrenheit and rapidly intensify into a major hurricane packing 125 mile per hour or higher winds.

(Rapidly intensifying Harvey approaches the Texas coast on Thursday. Image source: The National Hurricane Center.)

This is presently a very dangerous situation with the National Hurricane Center warning, as of the 4 PM CDT advisory that the storm is still expected to ‘rapidly intensify.’ And that peak intensity estimates could be conservative at this time. The storm will then bring 6-12 foot or higher surges to parts of the Texas Coast before moving slowly inland.

We should point out that some of the model guidance from earlier in the day predicted a very intense storm. This morning’s GFS run showed a 938 mb minimum central pressure just before the eye wall landfall late Friday. Such pressures are more consistent with a category four storm with maximum sustained winds in the range of 130 to 156 mph. This afternoon’s intensity guidance from GFS has backed off a little bit to 948 mb — which is more in the range of a strong Category 3 storm which jibes with the most recent NHS predicted intensity of 125 mph.

(Harvey may be stronger than even current NHC guidance indicates. GFS models from earlier this morning showed a 938 mb storm by late Friday. Intensity in the models has subsequently backed off to 948 mb — which is equivalent to the strong category 3 strong that the National Hurricane Center now predicts. Image source: Tropical Tidbits.)

As the eyewall reforms and the storm’s intensification rate varies, we’ll tend to end up with different peak intensity forecasts. In any case, we are looking at a major hurricane producing serious impacts for Texas and the U.S. Gulf Coast over multiple days.

Present model guidance further predicts that Harvey will slow down and then stall over southeastern Texas after making landfall — remaining basically stationary near the coast until Wednesday. As it hovers over this region, the storm will pull warm, moist air in over Eastern Texas while maintaining tropical storm intensity, generating a 5 to 6 day long severe flood event. In some scenarios, the storm may partially re-emerge over the Gulf and restrengthen. By Thursday, Harvey is expected to be picked up by a frontal system dipping in over the Central U.S. Exiting the state as it moves north and east.

(Harvey’s associated thunderstorms boil with hot intensity in this GOES satellite picture. Watch an animation of the massive storms swirling around Harvey here.)

Such a long-term stall is expected to bring significant torrential flooding rains over parts of Southeastern Texas. With averages of 17-32 inches over a wide swath and as much as 35+ inches in isolated locales. It’s worth noting that with Harvey’s top intensity continuing to trend toward major hurricane status, with a human-warmed atmosphere now capable of producing much more intense rainfall events, and with the storm expected to rain out over such a long period, some of the ultimate rainfall totals could be historic.

From the National Hurricane Center:

“The system is likely to slow down once it reaches the coast, increasing the threat of a prolonged period of heavy rain and flooding across portions of Texas, southwest Louisiana, and northeastern Mexico into early next week.”

(UPDATES TO FOLLOW)

Links:

The National Hurricane Center

Tropical Tidbits

Pivotal Weather

The Capital Weather Gang

Hat tip to Bostonblurp

The Heavens Continue to Unleash Their Fury on South Asia — 24 Million Now Impacted by Flooding as Hato Approaches

The far heavier rains of a warming world have fallen hard over South Asia for nearly two months. In India and Nepal more than 18 million have been affected. But the floodwaters in these higher lands have combined into great torrents flooding downstream into Bangladesh. A country that is now witnessing its worst flood in 100 years as one-third of its low-lying land mass is covered by water.

(According to news reports, one-third of Bangladesh’s land mass is now covered by flood waters. August 19 satellite shot of Central Bangladesh shows raging rivers and flooded lowlands. Image source: NASA Worldview.)

The damage for such a poor country sitting at the forefront of a growing climate-change-based destruction from the recent extreme rain event has been tremendous. At least 115 people have died. Nearly six million have been impacted. The government has run out of medicine, water purification tablets, and temporary shelters for the hundreds of thousands of people displaced. More than 400,000 hectares of crops have been destroyed. Fully half a million homes have been damaged or lost. And there is not enough food or water to go around.

Fears of water-borne illness such as cholera are running high and calls for international aid in the flood-stricken state have grown more and more urgent. But the worst is not yet over as floodwaters from Nepal and India continue to swell Bangladesh’s multiple waterways over banks and into communities through central and southern parts of the country. And more rain may be on the way as another powerful storm system gathers.

(This is what happens if you keep burning fossil fuels. According to recent scientific reports, the global number of record-breaking rainfall events has increased dramatically during recent years. This increase has coincided with global temperatures exceeding the 1 C warmer than 1880s temperature threshold. Higher global temperatures amp up the hydrological cycle by squeezing more moisture out of land and ocean surfaces. A warmer atmosphere that’s more heavily loaded with moisture adds move convective energy to thunderstorms which tends to spike rainfall potentials for the strongest storms to higher levels. Image source: Increased Record-Breaking Precipitation Events Under Global Warming.)

In the Indian States of Bahir and Assam more than 430 people have lost their lives as schools have been buried under 8 feet of water, crops have been destroyed, roads have been washed out and power has been disrupted. As with Bangladesh, concern over contaminated water supplies has brought with it fears of water-borne illness as a gargantuan disaster relief effort gets underway.

Nepal has likewise seen its share of the pain and heartbreak. There, more than 140 people have perished in the floods as 40,000 families have been severely impacted.

(Hato, lower left, sets its sights on an already foundering South Asia on August 22nd. Image source: NASA Worldview.)

In total, more than 800 lives have been lost so far throughout these three countries. But the worst may be yet to come as, later this week, the remnants of Typhoon Hato will begin to affect the already-devastated region. Hato’s new injection of moisture and thunderstorms will bring back the potential for severe flooding over Nepal, India, and Bangladesh. Refilling rivers before they have a chance to subside and potentially generating yet one more major flood pulse for the lowlands.

(UPDATED)

Links:

Floods Claim More than 800 Lives Across India and Nepal

24 Million People Impacted by Flooding in India, Bangladesh and Nepal

NASA Worldview

Increased Record-Breaking Precipitation Events Under Global Warming

The Economist Sounds Death Knell for the Internal Combustion Engine as Pathway Toward Carbon Emission Reductions Opens Wide

Earlier this month, The Economist prophetically declared that the “death of the internal combustion engine” is at hand. That the end for this inefficient fossil fuel burning monstrosity was “in sight.” And that, ultimately, “days were numbered” for a design that has so efficiently and so harmfully injected billions of tons of pollution into the Earth’s atmosphere.

(Gigafactories like this one being built in Nevada and numerous others being built in Southeast Asia are helping to enable a combined electrical vehicle and grid based renewable power revolution. Note that the Tesla gigafactory is still far from complete even though it is currently producing 5 GWh of lithium batteries per year. Production by end 2018 is expected to hit 35 GWh per year and ultimate production could hit as high as 150 GWh per year.)

The Economist notes that performance gains for electrical vehicles are quickly outpacing those of internal combustion engine based vehicles. That “today’s electric cars, powered by lithium-ion batteries, can do much better.” It finds that electrical vehicles are simpler to manufacture, easier to maintain, and easier to improve than traditional vehicles. It points to the fact that transportation based emissions alone result in 53,000 premature deaths each year in the U.S. vs the 34,000 who die due to car related collisions. And it cites research showing that transferring existing vehicles to electrical vehicles would reduce vehicle based carbon emissions by 54 percent using present grid sourced electricity generation. But it also rightly notes that as the grid becomes more and more dominated by renewable based energy systems, vehicle-based emissions will fall further — eventually reaching zero on a grid fully supplied by sources like wind and solar. Finally, The Economist notes that when mated with automation and ride share, EVs have the potential to reduce the number of vehicles on the road upwards of 90 percent (in the most optimistic assessments).

EVs are disruptive in that they’re becoming increasingly easy for start-up companies to produce — even if they are more difficult for traditional auto manufacturers who have heavily invested in fossil fuel based vehicle production infrastructure and parts chains. The result is that numerous independent EV shops are cropping up and that countries and industries who were not traditionally auto manufacturers are capable of making serious new entries. Tesla was an industry leader in this regard. But many such businesses are emerging all over the world from the U.S. to China to Europe to India and beyond.

(Increasing predictions for rate of EV build through 2040. Image source: The Economist.)

Moreover, the predicted rate of EV adoption just keeps rising. The Economist points out that UBS expects that 14 percent of all new vehicles in 2025 will be electric. And while UBS is among the more optimistic prognosticators, even traditional oil companies like Exxon are being forced to acknowledge that EVs will take larger and larger portions of the auto market. In just one year, from 2016 to 2017, Bloomberg adjusted its expected rate of new EV sales in 2040 upward from 400 million to 520 million, OPEC from 50 million to 250 million, and Exxon from 80 million to 100 million (see graphic above).

Such large and expanding build rates will certainly enable more and more rapid rates of global carbon emissions reductions. Not just through direct carbon emissions removal by replacing ICE based vehicles with EVs. But also by enabling the mating of batteries with renewable energy systems around the world. Tesla, which is today producing 5 gigawatt hours of battery storage in 2017 from its Gigafactory in Nevada is now starting to do just that. In South Australia, Tesla is involved in mating wind energy with battery storage even as it pursues a similar project in New Zealand and following its completion of a solar and battery based storage system for Kauai Hawaii.

(The amount of batteries available for both EVs and grid based storage is set to rapidly expand. Note that Tesla recently announced that its Nevada Gigafactory could eventually produce 150 GWh per year of battery storage. Image source: The Economist.)

By 2018, rate of battery production at the Tesla plant will accelerate to 35 GWh per year with the plant ultimately able to achieve near 150 GWh per year (according to Musk). Similar very large battery production plants are being built in Europe and China, with a number likely also slated for India in the near future. And the batteries produced in these plants can be used either in EVs or as a massive and growing energy storage pool that’s already capable of directly replacing coal and gas plants now operating on electrical grids.

Such was the economic reality for the Liddel Coal Plant in New South Wales Australia when AGL Energy decided it was more economic to replace the plant with wind, solar and batteries than to continue to burn coal and gas as a baseload energy supply. And this decision was made under present economic realities. Now imagine what those economic realities will look like when the world is producing more than an order of magnitude more battery storage each year at much lower cost and as wind and solar costs continue to fall. In other words, the electrical vehicle revolution is enabling the renewable power revolution and vice versa. And both are bringing forward the time when global carbon emissions start to consistently drop off. To support the advancement of one is to support the advancement of both — to the larger overall benefit of more rapid global carbon emissions reductions and a quickening ability to address the very serious issue that is human-forced climate change.

Links:

The Death of the Internal Combustion Engine

After Electric Cars, What Will it Take For Batteries to Change the Face of Energy?

Tesla Could Triple Planned Battery Output of Gigafactory 1 to 150 GWh

China is About to Bury Elon Musk in Batteries

Tesla to Build World’s Largest Lithium Ion Battery Plant in South Australia

The Economist Announces Death of the ICE

Liddel Coal Plant in New South Wales Will be Replaced By Wind, Solar and Batteries

Tesla Powerpack Will Join Wind Turbine at New Zealand Salt Factory

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