More Signs of Gulf Stream Slowdown as Floods Devastate Cumbria, England

Back in 2009 heavy rains fell over the Northern UK. The rains, abnormally intense, pushed river levels to heights never before measured. A wall of water built-up. Surging over banks, it inundated the town of Carlisle, Cumbria, England — forcing many to flee to higher ground.

At the time, weather forecasters and climatologists wondered if there might have been a global warming link to the freak Cumbria floods. There was certainly risk. Risk that the North Atlantic would become a mess of storms as the Gulf Stream slowed down and cold air masses collided with warm — developing a raging storm track to the west of the UK. A climate situation with the potential to draw in never-before-seen rivers of moisture and set off flooding the likes of which the UK has never known. Flood defenses were shored up. New commitments were made to shift the country away from carbon emissions.

But in just six short years many of those commitments have lagged. Funding for flood defenses was cut by conservatives in the UK parliament even as similar funds for wind and solar energy were targeted in favor of fracking the countryside for natural gas. The usual litany of climate change denial spewed out of the regular conservative mouthpieces in the politics and the media. It was the height of hubris and mismanagement. And again we have a ‘never before seen’ rainstorm roaring up out of a greatly troubled North Atlantic.

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Sands Center Carlisle River Level

(On December 6 of 2015 river levels at Sands Centre in Carlisle hit 8 meters above the typical range. The previous record highest level for this river gauge was 4.5 meters — a level the new flood defense systems were designed to contain. But this week’s rainfall simply overwhelmed both flood defenses and previous expectations for the upper limits of extreme weather. Image source: Shoothill Gauge Map.)

On Saturday and Sunday of December 5th and 6th, 2015, Cumbria flooded again. An even higher flood surge than before overwhelmed the new defenses and forced residents to yet again flee. Then, just three days later on Wednesday more than two months worth of rain fell over the Cumbria region. The amount at 341 mm in just 24 hours was a new UK record and compares to average total rainfall for the month of December at 146 mm. The county was again overwhelmed by water. Human chains were formed to help bring those stranded to safety. After the waters began to subside — devastation. More than 6,000 homes were found to have been flooded with perhaps as many as 20,000 people displaced.

This was the flood UK parliamentarians swore they would fight to keep from happening again. The one conservative politicians said would never again happen in our lifetime. A flood that was worse than the terrible event of 2009 happening just six years after the first. And one that was almost certainly made worse by the dreadful alterations wrought by human forced climate change on the environment of the North Atlantic.

The Gulf Stream Slowdown and The Great New Storms of the North Atlantic

One doesn’t have to be a climatologist to see that sea surface temperature patterns in the North Atlantic are all topsy-turvy. The region of ocean to the west of the UK is cooler than normal. It’s a great cool pool once predicted by climate scientists and now made real by a human-forced warming of the world’s airs and waters. The result of an ever-increasing glacial melt outflow coming from Greenland.

image

(Temperature anomaly deltas in the region of the Gulf Stream are in the range of -5 C below average in the northern, Greenland melt-related, cool pool, and +9 C above average in a hot ribbon off the US East Coast. This overall new 14 C temperature variance from south to north is generating new atmospheric instabilities that intensify storm systems firing off in the North Atlantic. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

Climate scientists have known for a long time that just such a cool pool of fresh glacial melt could play havok with weather across the North Atlantic and on to far-flung regions of the globe. And it’s just such a weather disruptor that we see developing there now. One that was originally dramatized in the film The Day After Tomorrow. But one that will all-too-likely represent centuries of catastrophic weather terminating in a new, much hotter, far more toxic, and far less life-sustaining world — rather than simply a week-long hemisphere-sized superstorm abruptly halted by a nonsensical new ice age (Please see World Ocean Heartbeat Fading).

To the south of our cool pool and on off the US East Coast we find that sea surface temperatures are screaming hot. Hot as in the range of 5-9 degrees Celsius (9-16 degrees Fahrenheit) above normal. Both the cool pool to the north and the hot pool to the south taken together are an ominous sign that the Gulf Stream is slowing down. The cool, fresh water outflow from glaciers near Greenland is interrupting a heat and salt driven over-turning there. The over-turning, which drives the Gulf Stream current, slows down. As a result, heat that would be transported northward instead backs up off the US East Coast.

What results is a kind of dipole temperature pattern that aids in storm generation over the North Atlantic. The cool pool tends to pull cold air southward from Greenland. The hot ribbon off the US East Coast tends to draw warm, moist, tropical air into collision with the trough zone south and east of Greenland. The result is a high potential for storm bombification in the region west of the UK. These storms, in turn, pull rivers of moisture up from the tropical airs to the south and over England, Ireland and Scotland. This confluence of weather sets off unprecedented storms and heavy rainfall for the UK.

Both the new North Atlantic sea surface temperature pattern and the resulting storms are not normal. They are an upshot of only recently emerging weather patterns resulting from a human-forced climate change. And, sadly, we can expect to see them continue to worsen. This year, in particular, could see some extraordinary trans-Atlantic storms as the El Nino-driven tendency for trough development and tropical air injection over the US East Coast comes into play. But overall, El Nino or no, the new dipole temperature anomaly pattern in the North Atlantic fed by Greenland melt and a related Gulf Stream slowdown will tend to keep pushing the region into a stormier and stormier pattern for the foreseeable future. The UK and its politicians should be made well aware of the consequences of their actions. Continuing to plan to burn fossil fuels is simply adding more fuel to an already raging climate fire.

Links:

The Story of the 2009 Cumbria Floods

More Rain and Flooding Expected in Northwest England

Toxic Interests: In Lead-up to Paris Summit, Conservatives Around the World are Fighting to Kill Renewable Energy

The Devastation in Cumbria

Shoothill Gauge Map

Earth Nullschool

World Ocean Heartbeat Fading

Warning From Scientists – Halt Fossil Fuel Burning Fast or Age of Superstorms, 3-20 Foot Sea Level Rise is Coming Soon

Hat Tip to Dr. James Hansen

Hat Tip to Neven, Jeremy, and Miles

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Signs of Gulf Stream Slowdown — Sea Level More Than a Foot Higher off US East Coast

It’s the stuff that climate disaster movies are made of. But the events are all too real — happening now and not part of some dramatized script played out on the silver screen.

Signs abound that global ocean circulation is being profoundly altered by human-forced climate change. A pool of cold water has developed in the North Atlantic. England is getting slammed by anomalous winter-type rains and gales in August. And sea surface heights off the US East Coast are more than 30 centimeters (one foot) above the 1979 to 2015 average.

Sea level anomalies 30 cm off US east coast

(Global sea surface height anomalies off the US East Coast are more than a foot (30 cm) above the 1979 to 2015 average. A clear sign that the Gulf Stream is slowing down, perhaps by as much as 15-30 percent. Complete shut down of the Gulf Stream, though unlikely without extremely large melt outflows from Greenland, would result in a very dangerous 1 meter sea level rise. An impact that is primarily driven by ocean current change. Sea level rise by thermal expansion and glacial melt would, necessarily, pile on top of this bulge of backed up waters. Image source: NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center.)

World Ocean Heartbeat Fading

This past March, after observations of rising sea levels off the US East Coast, extreme positive sea surface temperature anomalies in the same region, and a critical slowing down of North Atlantic over-turning recorded throughout the 20th Century, Professor Stefan Rahmstorf published this earth-shattering paper in the scientific journal Nature.

The paper meticulously recorded a slow-down of bottom water formation in a region of the Atlantic Ocean south of Greenland. The period studied included all of the 20th Century and the first one and one half decades of the 21st Century. Rahmstorf concluded that Greenland ice sheet melt — starting around 1900 and spiking after 1975 — was having a profound impact. Cold, fresh water issuing out from Greenland was cutting off the flow of heavier, salty water transported northward by the Gulf Stream. It was preventing larger portions of that water from sinking. And it was slowing down the Gulf Stream together with a host of other ocean circulation driving currents.

A system vital to both the life and health of the world ocean and global weather stability was entering an arrest. In other words, the world ocean heartbeat was fading.

The Gulf Stream Train Wreck

Since the publication of Rahmstorf’s paper, evidence of a bottom water formation interruption and a subsequent Gulf Stream train wreck continued to pile up. Sea surface temperatures off the US East Coast, during summer time spiked to as high as 85 Fahrenheit (29.3 C) off the coasts of New York and New Jersey. And regions off Nantucket hit as high as 80 degrees Fahrenheit (26 C). That’s between 7-10 F (4-6 C) hotter than average for an already typically warm Gulf Stream.

imageimage

(Left frame image shows Gulf Stream waters spiking to 29.3 C or 85 F off New York and New Jersey. Temperatures in the range of 7-10 F [4-6 C] above average. Right frame image shows cool pool development in the typical bottom water formation zone between Greenland, England and Newfoundland. Combined with the ocean current overlay, which shows widespread meandering, this hot south, cold north ocean surface dipole is an indication that the Gulf Stream is slowing down and that bottom water formation is weakening. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

Further north, the opposite is happening. In the region east of the Grand Banks where the Gulf Stream currents typically flow strongly, there’s only a weak, meandering, confluence. The Gulf Stream appears to have hit a barrier. It has bottled up off the Northeastern US Coast. And it appears reluctant or unable to flow past mid-ocean.

As a result, a broad zone between England, the Southeastern Coast of Greenland and Newfoundland lack the warm, salty inflow of a strong Gulf Stream. Sea surface temperatures range from 2-7 F (1 to 4 C) below average. The northward progress of heat from the Gulf Stream is tapering off. And this cut off of heat flow from Equator to mid latitudes shows more and more as the development of an anomalous cool pool continues throughout.

Taking in the entire North Atlantic, what we see is a weather-destabilizing hot-cold dipole. The warm waters are backed up off the US East Coast. This is evidenced by both the very warm sea surface temperatures and by an extreme increase in sea surface heights by 1 foot over a broad region. And to the north, we have the climate change signature cool pool.

Anomalous Storms Strike England During Summer

This Gulf Stream train wreck and related cool pool development has already done a bit of a number on UK weather this summer. A series of gales and heavy rainstorms have slammed into the UK Coast — bringing heavy seas and torrential rains. One months worth of rainfall fell over parts of the UK during the past week alone. And with more storms on the way it appears that August of 2015 may be the wettest ever recorded.

It’s a changed climate state that Dr. James Hansen warned of in a recent paper. One that means more powerful storms for the North Atlantic as the Greenland Ice Sheet spews out greater and greater volumes of water and ice. Ever since 2012, we’ve seen a tendency for these kinds of anomalously powerful storms. And more rough weather is certainly on the way.

storms-reshape-englands-coastline

(During the winter of 2013 and 2014, storms reshaped the coastlines of the British Isles. But this was just the start. For the North Atlantic is now in the process of firing up an age of storms. Image source: AGU.)

The Fall forecast is calling for the strong gales that we’ve already seen to continue to intensify through at least October and November. Strong storms that will draw energy by the high differences in sea surface temperatures in the North Atlantic, but also, possibly, from an El Nino-amplified storm track causing powerful troughs to begin to dig in off the US East Coast. A situation that could set up a kind of trans-Atlantic storm firing line.

The long term forecast, however, is even worse. With Greenland just beginning to shed more and more of its ice, the cool pool off England will tend to intensify even as the hot pool off the US East Coast and within the Gulf of Mexico heightens. A screaming, storm-generating temperature differential that such melt will worsen as the decades wear on and if human fossil fuel burning continues to add more heat fuel to this already developing dangerous situation.

Links:

NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center

Rahmstorf– AMOC is Slowing Down

World Ocean Heartbeat is Fading

Earth Nullschool

Even Chances August Will Be Wettest on Record for The UK

Warning From Scientists — Halt Fossil Fuel Burning or Age of Storms, Rapid Sea Level Rise is Coming

North Atlantic Ramping up to “Storms of My Grandchildren?”

AGU

Fall Forecast: Storms Target UK, France

Hat tip to Spike

November-Type Gales Hit England in August — Looks Like a Weird Atmospheric Response to El Nino + Climate Change May Be Unfolding

Atmospheric ENSO INDEX

(Atmospheric El Nino Index by WSI shows a very strong atmospheric response is unfolding. But long range weather maps, long range NOAA forecast shows an atypical pattern for El Nino. Image source: WSI.)

They say that a picture can paint a thousand words. How about a graph that exceeds 100 El Ninos? It may not jump out at you at first, but that’s what we’re looking at above.

This graph, provided by Weather Channel Affiliate WSI (and based on atmospheric data collected by NOAA) represents intensity of atmospheric response patterns to El Nino. Typically, this means cloudiness at the Central Pacific Equator, the propagation of near equatorial westerlies, atmospheric wave propagation in the Jet Stream, and storm track amplification. In other words, teleconnections.

On the left side of the above graph, we see positive and negative numbers indicating standard deviation correlation to an ENSO neutral state. Push into 2 standard deviation range either high or low and you’re getting about a typical El Nino or La Nina response from the atmosphere. And ever since June we’ve been in the 3 standard deviation or about top 10 percent of El Nino response range.

That’s a pretty strong ocean to atmosphere signal. But it pales in comparison to what’s being predicted. Looking ahead, the Euro weather model then pushes us all the way up to a 4 standard deviation event (or top 1 percent of atmospheric response rates) by early-to-middle August. This is an extreme response to El Nino. One that could have some amazing impacts come Fall, or possibly sooner (see North Atlantic storm discussion below), especially when we take into account some of the added impacts of human caused climate change. Should such a response emerge, both the US Southeast and Gulf Coast could be in for some extremely severe storms.

Trough

(A rather deep trough for Summer-time swings down through the Eastern US. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)

For the US, such a strong atmospheric response to El Nino forcings would tend to indicate a powerful trough digging in through the Eastern half of the country, even during summertime. And while we do see a rather strong trough for this time of year setting up over and extending down from the Hudson Bay region of Canada, we do not see an overall suppression of summer-time heat and potential for greatly increased precipitation that would typically occur under such a pattern, as yet.

Instead and somewhat oddly, the pattern has kicked energy out over the ocean — fueling the North Atlantic storm track and powerful oceanic cold core cyclones at a time when such events should be rare. Yesterday, a gale hammered Scotland and Ireland, kicking up seas west of England into a frenzy of 30 foot swells. To say this event is odd for summertime is a bit of an understatement. Sans tropical storms swinging north, the higher Latitude regions of the Atlantic are typically calm this time of year.

Winter-Type North Atlantic Gales During Summer

But living in typical times we are not. Greenland melt is ramping up. And so we see the start of a Heinrich Event-like cool pool in the North Atlantic. Call it a baby Heinrich or a precursor or whatever you like. But it’s there. And it’s anomalously cool. And it’s going to influence the weather regardless of whether we like it or not. It’s an event related to both fresh water flow into the North Atlantic and an associated decline in the strength of the Gulf Stream. This odd summer North Atlantic storm generation is then, perhaps, due to a teleconnection between the strong atmospheric signal of El Nino and the underlying signal of human-forced climate change. Such a teleconnection would tend to shift the El Nino related trough a bit eastward and result in an amplified North Atlantic storm track. Which is exactly what we are seeing.

image

(It looked like a North Atlantic winter storm. But this screen capture of 30 foot swells due to a powerful gale off England was taken late last night [August 3rd]. For those familiar with typical summer patterns for the North Atlantic this should be a moment that inspires head-scratching. One with an uncanny similarity to patterns predicted in a recent paper by Dr. James Hansen. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

NOAA long range forecasts are also picking up the signal of powerful storm track intensification over the Gulf Coast and the Southeastern US. Such a prediction hints at a strong storm track running diagonally across the Atlantic from Florida to England and aligned with a trough edge running through that broader region. It’s a pattern that could put England in the firing line for severe winter storms yet again. For the US, the upshot is powerful storms slamming a region from Texas through the Carolinas from September through February. Florida, Coastal Georgia and the U.S. Gulf Coast are particularly hard-hit in the forecast. But we also shouldn’t rule out some strong bombs impacting the Mid-Atlantic region before they tear off across the ocean.

No Significant Drought Relief for California?

Sadly, the atmospheric response to El Nino is not pushing forecasts for a wet winter for the US West Coast. Monsoonal moisture hits the US Southwest during September and October, but barely touches California in the forecast. The moisture pattern then retreats eastward. Heat and dryness are particularly focused in the region of Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana. Abnormal warmth is also predicted to remain in place over Alaska.

NOAA November December January PrecipitationNOAA November December January Temperature

(NOAA long range forecast finds little drought relief for the US West Coast this winter even under the influence of a predicted powerful El Nino. Image source: NOAA CPC.)

This pattern appears to indicate that the NOAA models are calling for the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge and the hot Blob of water off the US West Coast to mostly remain in place. An overall very bad forecast considering El Nino’s predicted intensity and the currently indicated strength of atmospheric response. It may be that cooling in the North Atlantic associated with Greenland melt and Gulf Stream weakening is having such a powerful impact on the Jet Stream that El Nino cannot over-ride — instead solidifying the Pacific Ridge to Atlantic Trough fixed atmospheric wave and dumping its teleconnection influence into the firing range that the North Atlantic is steadily morphing into.

To this point, it’s worth noting that long range model forecasts of this kind can carry with them a rather high error bar. The ocean-atmosphere forcing of the predicted super El Nino will likely result in some rather dramatic wrenchings of the climate system. And for such an El Nino to fail to over-ride the West Coast block would have some very serious added impacts on down the line.

Links:

Weather Channel Affiliate WSI

Climate Reanalyzer

Warning From Scientists Stop Burning Fossil Fuels or Rapid Sea Level Rise, Age of Storms is Coming Soon

Earth Nullschool

NOAA CPC

(Please support publicly funded, non-special-interest based science, like the fantastic work provided by NOAA and NASA, without which this report and the reports provided by Climate Reanalyzer, Earth Nullschool, and WSI would not be possible.)

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