Monsoon Disrupted By El Nino + Climate Change as India Suffers Deaths, Crop Losses from Extreme Heat.

May is the month when the massive rainstorm that is the Asian Monsoon begins to gather and advance. This year, as in many other years, the monsoon gradually formed along the coast of Myanmar early in the month. It sprang forward with gusto reaching the Bay of Bengal by last week.

And there it has stalled ever since.

On May 25-27, an outburst of moisture from this stalled monsoonal flow splashed over the coasts of India. But by the 29th and 30th, these coastal storms and even the ones gathering over the Bengali waters had all been snuffed out. The most prominent feature in the MODIS shot of India today isn’t the rainfall that should be now arriving along the southeast coast, but the thick and steely-gray pallor of coal-ash smog trapped under a persistent and oppressive dome of intense heat.

Monsoon Disrupted

(MODIS shot of India on May 30th. See the open stretch of blue water in the lower right frame? That’s the Bay of Bengal which borders coastal India. During a normal year at this time, that entire ocean zone should be filled with the storm clouds of a building monsoon that is already encroaching on coastal India. Today, there is nothing but a smattering of small and dispersed cloud through a mostly clear sky. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

Monsoon Described as Feeble

Official forecasts had already announced as of May 27th that the annual monsoon was likely to be delayed by at least a week for southeast regions of India. Meanwhile, expected monsoonal rainfall for western and northern sections of India for 2014 fell increasingly into doubt.

From The Times of India:

The monsoon is likely to be delayed by 10 days, according to scientists at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM) here. The IITM’s third experimental real-time forecast says that a feeble monsoon will reach central India after June 20 as against the usual June 15. Last year, the monsoon had covered the entire country by June 15.

The annual monsoon is key to India’s agriculture. The substantial rains nurture crops even as they tamp down a powerful heating that typically builds throughout the sub-continent into early summer. Without these rains, both heat and drought tend to run rampant, bringing down crop yields and resulting in severe human losses due to excessive heat.

But, this year, heat and drought are already at extreme levels.

Major Heatwave Already Results in Loss of Life for 2014

As early as late March, the heatwave began to build over the Indian subcontinent. The heat surged throughout the state, setting off fires, resulting in a growing list of heat casualties, shutting down the power grid and spurring unrest. Meanwhile, impacts to India’s agriculture were already growing as the Lychee fruit crop was reported to have suffered a 40% loss.

By late May, temperatures across a broad region had surged above 105 degrees shattering records as the oppressive and deadly heat continued to tighten its grip.

In a country surrounded on three sides by oceans, it is a combination of heat, humidity and persistently high night-time temperatures that can be a killer. Wet bulb temperatures surge into a high-risk range for human mortality during the day even as night-time provides little respite for already stressed human bodies. Such extreme and long-duration heat doesn’t come without a sad toll. As of today, early reports indicated a loss of more than 56 lives due to heat stroke (In 2012 and 2013, total Indian heat deaths were near 1,000 each year). That said, final figures on heat losses are still pending awaiting complete reports from all of India’s provinces.

“Climatologically, we know that heatwaves are increasing in frequency and the number of days exceeding 45ºC temperatures is increasing. The frequency will increase further with global warming, hence this is a good example of a situation where science and disaster management can come together and avert damage,” a spokesman for India’s National Disaster Management Authority noted on Friday.

Hot Dust

(Hot Dust. A dust storm rolls through New Delhi on Friday amidst furnace-like 113 degree heat snarling traffic and resulting in the tragic loss of 9 more lives. Image source: Gaurav Karoliwal/YouTube Screenshot.)

Today the heatwave continued to gain ground, with Kota and Rajasthan reaching an all-time record of 116 degree F (46.5 C) as New Delhi’s mercury hit 113 degrees F in the midst of a drought-induced dust storm. Dust shrouding the city spurred traffic chaos and in the heat, darkness, and confusion nine more souls were lost.

After two months of growing disruption due to heat and drought, the lands and peoples of India cry out for a Monsoon that is running later and later with each new weather report.

Climate Change + El Nino: Adding Heat and Beating Back the Monsoon

As systems approach tipping points, they are more likely to tilt toward the extremes.

For India this year, its seasonally warmest period from April to May found severe heat amplification from a number of global factors. First, climate change seeded the ground for the current Indian heatwave by adding general heat and evaporation to already hot conditions. With global average heating of +0.8 C above 1880s levels amplifying in the hot zones, early moisture loss due to higher-than-normal temperatures produces a kind of snowball effect for still more warming. Essentially, the cooling effect of water evaporation is baked out early allowing for heat to hit harder just as typical seasonal maximums are reached.

Equatorial Pacific Ocean Temperatures May 30

(Equatorial Pacific Ocean temperatures warmed to +0.63 C positive anomaly on May 30th, extending further into El Nino Range. Image source: University of Maine.)

In addition, this year saw rapid progress toward an El Nino event in the Pacific Ocean with sea surface temperatures warming into the El Nino range by mid-May and continuing to ramp higher. By today, Equatorial Pacific anomalies had hit +0.63 C according to GFS analysis, extending a run into El Nino conditions.

El Nino events typically allow for the formation of hot, drier air over India. These air masses tend to engender extreme heatwaves like the one we are seeing now even as they delay the onset of cooling monsoonal rains. In essence, the monsoon is confronted with a heavy and entrenched wall of hot air that doggedly resists being shoved aside. And this is the very situation we observe now over India — a sputtering monsoon to the east getting bullied by a brutally hot and thick air mass that just won’t give ground. Climate change only exaggerates the problem by increasing the intensity and inertia of the hot air mass.

Major monsoonal disruptions typically occur during years following an El Nino’s peak heating impact. For example, in 1998, during a period following an extreme El Nino, India suffered one of its most severe droughts and monsoonal delays on record. But during recent years preceding El Nino, such as 2009, India also saw severe heat, drying, and crop damage due to a weakening of the annual summer rains. So an early monsoonal enfeeblement and coincident strong heatwaves and droughts over India with El Nino still forming is cause for some concern and bears further monitoring.

Currently, temperatures over India are surging to between 5 and 12 degrees Celsius above already hot averages. With heat and drought firmly in place, forecasts are calling for a 1 to 2 week delay in the cooling and moisture-bringing monsoon as India continues to swelter.

Links:

Heatwave Persists Across India

LANCE-MODIS

Northern India to Endure Scorching Heat and Drought due to Weak Monsoon

Heatwave Continues in Raj, Kota

Lychee Crop Suffers 40% Loss Due to Heatwave

Dust Storm Blamed for 9 Deaths, Transportation Nightmare

Indian Monsoon Delayed as Heatwave Continues

Ten Day Delay in Monsoon

El Nino Delays Rain, May Spell Trouble for Government

El Nino May Disrupt Monsoon

(Hat Tip to Colorado Bob RE Tipping Points)

(Hat Tip to Mark from New England for Excellent Clarifying Questions)

 

 

China Falls Under Suspicion of Covering Up Deaths as Ocean Heat Dome Expands to Blanket Korea and Japan

US Weather Fatalities by Type

US Weather Fatalities by Type

(Image source: NOAA)

According to recent reports from NOAA and the CDC, heat is the most lethal form of weather in the United States. Death and injury rates have been on the rise as human-forced temperature increases have expanded, surging northward into major metro areas such as New York City. The CDC report showed a growing number of heat deaths and injuries for this northern region, with the New York Metro area seeing an average of 13 deaths and over 440 heat injuries each year during the period from 2000 to 2011. Nationwide, the average number of heat fatalities surged to 117 during a period from 2003 to 2011.

Heatwaves have hit the NYC region time and time again over the past decade, driving the death and injury rate inexorably higher. However, the heat impacting that area is paltry when compared to the extreme and deadly temperatures that have broiled southeastern China since late July. For more than three weeks, the Shanghai region of China has experienced almost daily temperatures in excess of 100 degrees Fahrenheit and sweltered under very high humidity for such hot conditions. This combination has pushed wet bulb temperatures (a measure that simulates the temperature of human skin) into a range of 29 to 32 degrees Celsius, very close to the lethal human limit of 35 degrees C.

On Sunday, an extreme heat pulse sent thermometers soaring to 109 degrees Fahrenheit in the city of Shengxian — its hottest temperature ever recorded and a scorching 32.3 degree wet bulb temperature. Meanwhile, on the same day, Hangzhou had hit a new all time record high temperature of 105.8 degrees Fahrenheit, the twelfth time since July 24th that Hangzhou has tied or broken its old all time temperature record which, in some cases, was set just the day before.

High heat and humidity of this kind is deadly to humans because as temperatures approach 35 degree C wet bulb readings, it is nearly impossible for the human body to carry away the excess heat it generates through evaporation. Never has a wet bulb temperature of 35 degrees C been recorded by humans. However, climate scientists such as James Hansen have asserted that it’s just a matter of time under the current regime of human-caused warming before we hit that ominous mark.

So have thousands died?

Road Sing Burns in Shanghia Region

Road Sign Burns Under Record Heat in Shanghai Region

(Image source: Shenzhen Daily)

As reports of vehicle fires and sporadically smoldering infrastructure in the massive Chinese heatwave flared, suspicions emerged that Chinese officials are covering up what are potentially thousands of heat-related deaths.

According to Chinese news agencies, the official report is that about two dozen have died so far in Shanghai’s record-shattering heatwave. But similar heat in Europe and Russia resulted in tens of thousands of deaths over the past decade. At issue is the fact that China’s current record heat and humidity are at levels never before experienced in its weather history and that this event is even more intense than the deadly heatwaves of Europe and Russia. Add to this extraordinarily dangerous event the fact that more than 400 million people live in the region of China currently being socked by record heat and the vague reports coming out of China seem highly incongruent.

Never before has such high wet bulb temperatures hit a region of so dense a population. Yet China has only continued to report the vague ‘dozens’ estimate.  It was this discrepancy that caused WeatherUnderground Historian Christopher Burt to speculate that China may be covering up a catastrophic rash of fatalities:

Eastern China, where about 30% of the population of the country and 5% of the global population reside (approximately 400 million people) has undergone a heat wave unprecedented in its history. No one really knows how many have died as a result of the heat wave (Chinese news sources claim ‘about two dozen’), but statistically it is almost certain that many thousands must have perished as the result of the heat over the past month.

If Christopher Burt’s, quite rational, analysis ends up proving true, we can expect reports of fatalities to begin to slowly trickle out of China. Misreporting and under-reporting of Chinese heatwave casualties would also be yet one more instance of government officials and mainstream media downplaying and under-reporting the effects of catastrophic events related to human-caused climate change. Such under-reporting is yet one more manifestation of a dangerous and paralyzing denial that has so hampered an effective response to these increasingly dangerous and self-inflicted events.

Making such a call, however, is possibly premature as residents of this region are more acclimated to excessive heat than Europeans or Russians. As Burt notes:

One thing to keep in mind, however, is that it is ALWAYS hot and humid in eastern China during the summer (unlike Russia and Western Europe), so perhaps the population has learned to adapt to extreme heat.

The Ocean Heat Dome Expands to Cover Korea and Japan

Ocean Heat Dome

Ocean Heat Dome Over China, Korea and Japan

(Image source: NASA/Lance-Modis)

A sprawling heat dome high pressure system that has scorched a region stretching from coastal China to a large expanse of the Pacific Ocean shifted eastward into Korea and Japan over the weekend. Southern Japan saw temperatures surge into the 100s with Shimanto recording the highest temperature ever measured in Japan of 105.8 degrees Fahrenheit (41 degrees Celsius). Tokyo, meanwhile, broke the record for its hottest minimum temperature at 86.7 degrees Fahrenheit (30.4 C).

South Korea, over the same period, reported 8 deaths as temperatures soared to 102.2 degrees Fahrenheit (39 C) in Busan. Temperatures in Seoul hit the still hot, but more moderate, 90s (32 C +).

Both South Korea and Japan are surrounded on multiple sides by water. This geographic feature would usually provide a cooling effect as ocean temperatures are typically many degrees cooler than land temperatures. But, in this case, a massive heat dome is baking the ocean itself to unprecedented high surface water temperatures. As a result, a large area of open ocean now shows readings above 30 degrees Celsius ( 86 Fahrenheit). This extremely hot, near 90 degree water, has formed the central pulse of the current heatwave even as it has pumped extraordinarily humid air for such hot conditions over adjacent land areas. A shift to the north of this large and still growing region of extraordinarily hot ocean water led to the record steamy conditions over Japan and Korea during the past few days — both of which can expect little relief from the now, very hot, water.

Asia in Hot Water

Ocean Heat Dome Puts Asia in Hot Water

(Image source: Weather Online)

Forecasts for Shanghai, Korea, and Japan call for slightly less sweltering temperatures in the upper 90s with more isolated readings in the 100s as clouds are expected to move in and increase chances of rainfall by later this week. A slight improvement but a welcome change, nonetheless. Meanwhile, hot ocean conditions create a risk for continued very hot temperatures for much of this coastal region.

(Hat Tip to Colorado Bob for the head’s up)

%d bloggers like this: