Another Ridiculous Ridge — Western Wildfires Grow as US Heatwave Casualties Mount

In Borrego Springs, CA at 10 AM this morning, the temperature was a scorching 116 degrees F. Temperatures today are expected to hit 122 degrees F (50 degrees C) for this California location — which would tie the all-time high for any date there. But it’s just a microcosm of the record-shattering heat that is now settling in over the US West. Heat that looks like it will remain in place for days and possibly weeks. Heat that is now resulting in tragic instances of loss of life even as it is sparking numerous massive widlfires, melting snowpacks, worsening droughts, and otherwise sparking conditions that are related to a human-forced heating of the globe.

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In Glendale, a suburb of Phoenix, temperatures rocketed to 120 degrees Fahrenheit (49 C or 14 degrees F above average) as numerous locales recorded temperatures well in excess of 120 throughout the region (see map below). Tuscon hit 115 (46 C or 15 F above average) and Phoenix soared to 118 (48 C or 15 degrees F above average). California saw its own spate of record heat with Los Angeles soaring to 96 F (36 C which is 23 F above average), Burbank hitting 109 F (43 C and also 23 F above average), Riverside seeing 111 F readings (44 C and 19 F above average) and Thermal rising all the way to 119 F (48 C and 13 F above average). Seven communities in New Mexico also saw record hot readings for the day.

Google Maps Phoenix Temperatures on Sunday

(Sections of Phoenix scorched on Sunday with this Google Map from Ben Newmann showing some areas experiencing 127 degree F [or 53 C] readings. Image source: Google Maps via Ben Newmann.)

The record heat resulted in 4 separate incidents of hiker deaths as rescue personnel responded to trail-goers suffering from heat injuries Sunday. Two of the fatalities occurred along trails near Tuscon while another pair of fatalities cropped up just outside of Phoenix. A fifth hiker is now also reported missing.

Today, the extreme heat is predicted to make a repeat comeback as readings are expected to hit or exceed 121 F in some regions. Meanwhile, Tuesday is expected to be even hotter.

Thousands of Firefighters Battling Blazes

As heat expanded beneath a sprawling dome of high pressure, groups of firefighters the size of small armies battled numerous blazes.

In Los Angeles 2,000 firefighters and 23 aircraft were engaged with the Sherpa Fire raging through the Santa Barbara region. By late Sunday, nearly 8,000 acres had burned (12 square miles), a section of a water treatment plant was consumed, and the fire was 54 percent contained. However, 55 mph winds overnight and temperatures rising to or near triple digit heat today were expected to give those fighting the blaze a grueling challenge.

Near Albuquerque, the Dog Head fire had consumed fully 18,000 acres and was only 9 percent contained by late Sunday evening. The swift moving and raging fire had damaged or consumed 45 structures by that time as 1,000 firefighters fought to contain it. Continued extreme heat in the region through at least Tuesday is expected to make fighting the blaze a very difficult prospect over the next two days.

Cedar Fire Changes Direction Late Sunday

(Cedar Creek Fire grows in size as it changes direction late Sunday. Image source: Chris Gross.)

North of Phoenix, the Cedar Creek Fire had swelled to 26,000 acres Monday, cut off route 60, and jumped the containment line. A shift in the wind caused the fire to dramatically alter course Sunday night — outflanking firefighting efforts in the process. The blaze had been 40 percent contained as of late Sunday, but these estimates will have to be revised downward. The fire is now threatening the town of Carrizo — which is expected to receive evacuation orders later today.

Conditions in Context

Fueling both the extreme heat and wildfire outbreaks across the Western US are conditions consistent with human-caused climate change. Very strong high pressure ridges dominate both the ocean zones of the Northeastern Pacific and the North Atlantic. These high pressure systems are both more powerful and extend further north than is typical. In addition, water temperatures both off the Eastern Seaboard and off the US West Coast are much warmer than normal. These features have all fed the development of a powerful heat dome high pressure system that is now forming over the US.

Another Ridiculous Ridge

(Ten day forecast shows an extremely powerful ridge in the Jet Stream extending all the way into the Arctic as an associated heat dome swells beneath. This kind of system threatens to propel 90 degree heat all the way to the shores of the Arctic Ocean over the next two weeks. To be very clear, these conditions are not normal. They represent an extreme south to north transfer of heat that threatens to deliver a brutal blow, not only to the US and Canada, but also to the Arctic itself. Image source: NOAA NCEP via Zack Labe.)

Over the coming days, this ridge is expected to swell and strengthen as it drives the Jet Stream far north over Canada and into the Arctic. There, sea ice extents continue to range in record lows for this time of year — lending power to the forming ridge and the heatwave inducing dome high pressure system developing underneath. As a result, we will likely continue to see fire hazards spike throughout the Central and Western US, we will likely continue to see record or near record heat, and we will likely see a re-expansion of drought conditions in the US West.

In addition, this heat dome is so powerful and has such a strong predicted northward extent that temperatures in the 80s or even 90s may extend as far north as the shores of the Arctic Ocean in Canada and Alaska. So wildfire and heatwave risks will be moving north into Arctic regions over the coming days as well.

Links:

Heatwave Scorching the Southwest Proves Fatal

National Interagency Fire Center

Sherpa Fire 51 Percent Contained

Wildfires Burn as Southwest Swelters Under Triple-Digit Heat

US Climate Data

NOAA NCEP

Zack Labe

Chris Gross

Ben Newmann

Hat tip to DT Lange

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Hat tip to Andy in San Diego

Hat tip to Caroline

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Death Valley Like Heat Predicted to Blanket the Southwest By Next Week

Drought is again expanding over the US West. Oregon, after a very rapid April and May snowmelt, is being advised to conserve water. And with high pressure building in over the Southwest, weather models are predicting the emergence of an extreme heatwave by late this weekend. One that current guidance is indicating will bring 100 to 120 degree (F) temperatures to a wide region stretching from California’s Central Valley, through Southern California, Northwestern Mexico, Arizona, Nevada and into Southern Utah.

Strong High Pressure System

(The US is expected to swelter under a heat dome that is predicted to form this weekend and expand on into next week. Record heat is predicted to first impact the US Southwest before building into the Central US by late next week. Image source: NCEP/NOAA.)

The trigger for what may become a record-shattering heatwave is the predicted development of a powerful atmospheric ridge. Model guidance now shows a strong high pressure system currently over the Northeastern Pacific extending its influence eastward over the coming days. By the middle of next week, most of the US is predicted to fall under the atmospheric sway of a big bully of a high pressure system centered over the Southwestern States. Spiking atmospheric pressures and clear skies are expected to then usher in record temperatures for much of the US Southwest.

For parts of California’s Central Valley near Fresno, temperatures could rise as high as 116 F by Wednesday of next week (June 21). That’s about 23 degrees (F) above average for this time of year and would beat the hottest reading ever recorded in any month for the city. The same day prediction for Sacramento is in the range of 110 F — a little shy of the all-time record, but a reading that would shatter the June 21 daily record by a good margin.

110 degree + readings are expected to blanket Southeastern California, Sections of Northwestern Mexico, Southwestern Arizona, and Southeastern Nevada. Near 100 degree readings are expected to extend as far north as Redding, California. In other words, a huge section of the Southwestern US is expected to experience Death Valley like weather conditions.

Extreme Southwest Heatwave

(Record heat is predicted to blanket most of the Southwest US by next week. This graphic shows predicted peak daily temperatures on Wednesday, June 21. Image source: Pivotal Weather.)

This kind of record heatwave is something one might have expected during an extreme year of the 20th Century in July. But what we’re seeing is its potential to emerge now in mid-to-late June. An indication that record global atmospheric temperatures are starting to have some rather serious regional impacts along the lines predicted by various Global Circulation Models. These models indicated a particular vulnerability of the US Southwest to extreme heat and drying under the atmospheric forces set off by human fossil fuel burning. And this predicted heatwave is building up in an atmospheric context in which global temperatures will likely be around 1.2 C hotter than 1880s averages during 2016.

In this context, the potentially building record heatwave threatens to greatly expand and reassert drought conditions in the US Southwest this Summer. Should it emerge as models are currently predicting, it will greatly increase soil moisture evaporation and remaining snowpack melt across the region — amplifying drought conditions in over a region where many had hoped a strong El Nino would stave off these kinds of climate change related impacts for at least another few years. And for these reasons along with the direct risks of heat injury to human beings, interests should closely monitor its development.

Links:

US Drought Monitor

Quick Oregon Snowmelt Dampens Water Outlook

US Climate Data

Pivotal Weather

NCEP/NOAA

Hat tip to Zack Labe

Hat tip to DT Lange

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Killing Heat — It Felt Like 165 Degrees in Iran Today

In Iran it was 115 degrees Fahrenheit today (46 C). Add in humidity and the heat index was a stunning 165 F (74 C). But what they really should be concerned about is the wet bulb reading

A Limit to Human Heat Endurance

Thirty five degrees Celsius. According to recent research, it’s the wet bulb temperature at which the human body is rendered physically unable to cool itself in the shade. At which evaporation not longer cools the skin. A temperature that results in hyperthermia, heat exhaustion and heat stroke — even when sitting still and out of direct sunlight over the course of about 1-3 hours. Basically, it’s the physical limits of human heat endurance.

The primary factors involved in determining wet bulb temperature are atmospheric temperature and humidity. The temperature of an air parcel cooled to saturation (100 percent humidity). Basically, it’s the coolest temperature human skin is able to achieve by sweating.

One of the reasons why high heat and high humidity seem so oppressive is the fact that it interferes with water evaporating from your skin keeping your body at its natural temperature (98.6 F). High heat + high humidity means less cooling at skin level, which can result in a pretty rapid over-heating. We’ve all experienced it, that sense of stifling on a hot, muggy day. And there’s a bone-deep reason why it feels so bad. Hit a too-high intensity and it’s a killer.

Persian Gulf Heatwave

(An oppressive heat dome high pressure system settles in over the Persian Gulf. Image source: Ryan Maue.)

At 47 percent relative humidity and 115 degrees Fahrenheit, it felt like 165 degrees (F) today in Bandar Mahshahr, Iran. That’s a wet bulb temperature of 34.7 C. A temperature near the edge of human limits and the second highest heat index value ever recorded in any official or unofficial measure (the highest unofficial measure was 178 F). It’s the kind of heat that is, quite frankly, deadly.

Heat Dome Settles Over Persian Gulf, Sea Surface Temperatures Spike

Bandar Mahshahr sits at the Northern end of the Persian Gulf. A region of water that features some of the highest sea surface temperatures on Earth. Over the past week, an oppressive heat dome high pressure system began to settle over the region. Air temperatures around the Gulf hit well above 110 F in many locations. In Baghdad, they soared to 122 degrees F (50 C). Yesterday and today, the sea surface temperatures also sweltered — ranging as high as 34.6 C (94 degrees F).

Since ocean surface temperatures produce latent heat and determine the maximum moisture loading of the Earth atmosphere, maximum sea surface temperature is a good basic yardstick to determine if surface wet bulb temperatures are capable of hitting or exceeding the human survivability threshold at 35 C. And what we are seeing is that the near Persian Gulf region is steadily entering this dangerous range.

image

(Sweltering sea surface temperatures like those now visible in the Persian Gulf can support heatwaves that the human body did not evolve to endure. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

As the heat dome continues to settle in over the next week, there is increasing risk to the people living in the Persian Gulf region. Some have access to cooled shelters, life saving ice and water. But many do not. At particular risk are the over 3 million Iraqis displaced by the violent conflict wracking that fractured state. Chronic electricity and water cuts throughout the region also lends to the overall vulnerability. It’s a current crisis. But it is one that occurs in an overall worsening context.

As the world’s oceans continue to be warmed by heat trapped through human greenhouse gas emissions,  sea surface temperature thresholds will be driven inexorably higher. The potential moisture content in the near surface atmosphere will rise and so will temperatures. This will increasingly generate heatwaves which the human body simply does not have the physical capacity to endure. Overall, this is one of the reasons we see more mass casualty events as a result of heatwaves — like the events occurring this year in Pakistan and India. It’s a case of pushing the atmospheric heat and moisture loading beyond human survivability thresholds. And we’re steadily doing that now. Let’s hope that this week’s Persian Gulf heatwave doesn’t add another hothouse mass casualty event to the growing list.

Links:

Physical Limits to Adaptation

Middle East Broils Under Extreme Heatwave

Iran City Hits Suffocating Heat Index

Earth Nullschool

Pakistan Heatwave Mass Casualty Event

India Heatwave Mass Casualty Event

Hat Tip to Robert in New Orleans

Heat Dome Wildfires, Methane Pulse Expand, Blanketing Arctic Siberia in Cloud of Dense Smoke

Heat Dome Fires Siberia

An immense cloud of smoke covers Arctic Siberia. Image source: Lance-Modis.

 

Add sea ice near record low levels, a mangled, wavy jet stream, heat dome high pressure systems that increasingly emerge in a thickening atmosphere, a global warming induced increasing of the hydrological cycle and warmth-amplifying methane seeps from the tundra and what do you get? Summer Arctic heatwaves that persist over days and weeks setting off temperatures in the 80s and 90s and sparking massive and terrifying fires that belch enormous clouds of methane-laced smoke larger than most countries.

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Last week, a persistent Arctic heatwave re-intensified over Central Siberia, setting off a rash of wildfires while at the same time apparently forcing some of this region’s vast tundra methane stores to erupt. Throughout the weekend, these fires grew, expanding and multiplying, spurring Russia to call up nearly a thousand firefighters and a score of aircraft to combat these raging blazes. Fires continued to erupt throughout the weekend, growing in number to more than 170 separate blazes. This massive region of fires fed a vast cloud of smoke that has now expanded to cover an area about 2000 miles in length and 1200 miles in width.

NASA’s Aqua satellite has provided a recent image focusing in on the area featuring the densest cluster of these fires. The approximately 130 fires shown (but not including all the fires involved) are indicated in red. (Hat tip to Colorado Bob for the head’s up).

Massive wildfires, Russia

More than 130 wildfires, indicated in red, erupt across Siberia. Image source: Aqua/Modis.

Much hotter than average conditions persisted over most of this smog-covered region on Monday as the heat dome high pressure system associated with the scorching Arctic temperatures and wildfires moved retrograde to a feeble Jet Stream and on toward Europe. Daytime temperatures over much of this Arctic region ranged from the mid 70s to the upper 80s with some locations showing highs in the lower 90s.

Arctic temperatures, Daytime, Siberia

Monday daytime temperatures for Central Siberia. Red indicates 77-86 degrees Fahrenheit. Image source: Arctic Weather Maps.

 

These Arctic heatwave conditions are expected to first shift toward Europe then move back over Siberia, eventually settling upon Kamchatka by late this week. According to these model forecasts, heatwave conditions will continue to persist for sections of Siberia at least until the end of this week. So Russia will likely continue to be under the gun for wildfires as the week progresses.

Methane spikes continue

Perhaps the most troubling event to occur in conjunction with Arctic heatwave conditions and a very large wildfire eruption over Central Siberia’s tundras and arboreal forest land is a disturbing methane pulse, also indicated by the Aqua satellite. This methane pulse emerged in conjunction with the heatwave that began last week and appears to have intensified somewhat in recent days. According the Methane Tracker’s A4R, the large clouds of smoke associated with the massive spate of wildfires show heightened methane levels even greater than those first observed last week. In some cases, the methane in the smoke clouds is around 2,000 parts per billion, nearly 200 parts per billion higher than the atmospheric average.

Given these dramatically elevated methane levels, one has to wonder if the fires are enhancing methane emissions from the thawing Siberian tundra and peat bogs.

This particular methane pulse also comes at a time when scientists are increasingly concerned about the potential for enormous methane pulses in the gigaton or tens of gigatons range coming from thawing submerged tundra in the East Siberian Arctic Shelf. A recent Nature article examined the subject in depth and caused broad controversy within the climate community. A NASA mission investigating Arctic methane emissions called CARVE is also seeking to clarify risks involved with the immense methane stores now being unlocked as the Arctic Ocean warms and as the tundra thaws.

The current massive spate of Siberian wildfires now appears to be at least as large those that occurred during June of 2012. In that event, massive blazes sent smoke across the Pacific Ocean to fill valleys on the West Coast of North America. With another week of heatwave conditions set for this region, it is possible that these already extreme conditions will intensify. So we’ll be keeping a close eye on what appears to be a still developing extreme event.

 

 

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