U.S. Climate of Troubles: Record Heat Out West, Severe Floods in the East

Yesterday a record heatwave affecting 40 million people cracked pavement, grounded flights, threatened power grids and risked serious injuries across the Southwestern U.S. Meanwhile, today, a heavily moisture laden tropical storm Cindy is threatening to dump 10 to 15 inches or more of rain on parts of the U.S. Southeast. A pair of opposite weather extremes of the kind we’ve come to expect more and more of in a world that’s warmed by about 1.2 C above 1880s averages.

(Very extreme weather conditions settled over the U.S. on June 20. Today, Cindy is expected to bring extraordinary rainfall totals to the U.S. Gulf Coast. Video source: ClimateState.)

Record-Shattering Western Heat

Yesterday, the mercury struck a scorching 127 degrees F in Death Valley California — the hottest June 20th ever recorded for that heat-blasted lowland. Meanwhile, Death Valley-like heat spilled out over a large swath of the southwest. Phoenix fell just shy of its daily record as temperatures struck 119 F. And Las Vegas tied its all-time record of 117 F (which was set just four years ago on June 30th). Needles, Daggett and Barstow in California joined Kingman in Arizona and Desert Rock in Nevada to also break previous heat records as temperatures soared to between 111 and 115 F across these cities and towns.

(Record heat hammered the U.S. West on Tuesday spiking fire hazards, grounding planes, causing power outages and increasing the risk of heat injury. Image source: National Weather Service.)

All these severe high temperatures took a serious toll as both cities and citizens fell under blast-furnace-like conditions. In Phoenix, 43 flights were grounded. Aircraft could not generate enough lift for a safe take-off in the thin, low-density hot air. Total number flights grounded since Monday now tops 50 for the city — with more expected Wednesday when temperatures are expected to hit 118 F.

As flights were grounded in Phoenix, fires began to spark across the Southwest. Several fires ignited in Southern California including a large 950 acre blaze near Big Bear. In Utah, hundreds of people were forced to evacuate a ski town when a weed-killing torch ignited a swiftly spreading fire. And in southwest Arizona, a wildfire burned 8 structures as more than 100 firefighters rushed to contain the blaze. Firefighters across the southwest struggled against some of the most difficult conditions imaginable — extreme heat, blustery southerly winds, and rapidly-drying vegetation.

Record heat also overwhelmed grids when customers cranked up air conditioning and high temperatures put a major strain on power lines and transformers. With California temperatures climbing to historic levels yesterday, power outages were reported across Central Valley and on into the Bay area. Extreme warming of road surfaces caused highways to buckle even as hospitals prepared for a surge of various heat-related injuries from burns, to heat exhaustion, to heat stroke.

(Recent warming of ocean surfaces to well above average ranges off the U.S. West Coast have likely boosted the development of the recent western heatwave. Ocean surface warming is a signature condition of human-caused climate change. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

A strong high pressure system and a large associated ridge aided by abnormally warm waters off the U.S. West Coast are the primary regional causes of the most recent heatwave. The pool of warm water in the Northeast Pacific — somewhat reminiscent of the Hot Blob that formed in the nearby ocean zones during 2014 and 2015 — appears to be boosting the development of upper level ridges and related surface heat over the region as temperatures climb to 10 to 25 F or more above normal for many locations. Despite recent record winter and spring rainfall for parts of the region, this new heatwave is starting to again advance drought conditions across the Southwest. Yet another hard shift in weather extremes from wet and cool to dry and hot that can likely be linked to climate change.

Cindy Ushers in Severe Flooding across the Gulf Coast

While the west scorches under extreme heat, the weather threat to the U.S. Southeast comes in the form of severe flooding. In the Gulf of Mexico, a sprawling Tropical Storm Cindy is interacting with a stalled frontal system to spike moisture levels in the atmosphere above the U.S. Gulf Coast. Already, between 3 and 9 inches of rain have fallen over parts of Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida and Alabama. But the slow-moving, heavy rain bearing Cindy is poised to dump still more.

(24 hour rainfall totals show that heavy precipitation in the range of 3 to 9 inches have already fallen across the Gulf Coast. Cindy is expected to bring even more over the coming days. Image source: NOAA.)

According to NOAA QPC predictions for the next week, as much as 8.5 additional inches of rainfall could impact already-flooded parts of SE Louisiana. And when all is said and done, the system is forecast to drop between 10 and 15 inches or more of rainfall over parts of the area. The storm is not presently expected to rival last year’s August rain event which dumped up to 30 inches over the same region. Of course, with climate change boosting rainfall potentials by warming the Gulf of Mexico and spiking atmospheric moisture and instability, the unexpected can certainly happen. Let’s just hope that’s not the case with Cindy. But 10-15 inch rainfall totals are certainly disruptive enough. And with some streets in New Orleans already seeing 2-3 feet of flooding as more storms rush in from the Gulf, this event is certainly far from finished.

Links/Credits:

National Weather Service

ClimateState

Earth Nullschool

NOAA

Tropical Storm Cindy Pushes Toward Central Gulf Coast

Hat tip to Suzanne

Hat tip to Greg

Hat tip to Tigertown

Sahara-Like Heat Marches North, Sparks Scores of Massive Wildfires Across Portugal

Over the past week, Sahara Desert-like weather conditions marched north into Spain and Portugal. This extreme, abnormal heat brought with it a rash of severe wildfires. And, unfortunately, these are exactly the kinds of conditions we should expect to see more and more of as a result of human-forced climate change.

(Wildfire consumes homes, businesses and vehicles on Madeira Island, Portugal on August 10, 2016. Meanwhile, scores of wildfires are also burning over the mainland. Video Source: CV.)

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Yesterday, the temperature hit a hot, dry 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) just west of Lisbon, Portugal — temperatures more typical to the Sahara desert hundreds of miles to the south. On any normal August day, this Atlantic coastal town would expect to see readings around 28 C (83 F).

To the north, a sprawling heat dome of high pressure has tucked beneath a big jet stream wave for much of the past week. Pulled poleward by near record-low sea ice extents, this atmospheric brute — one of a new breed made stronger and thicker by human-forced warming of the atmosphere — funneled in brisk winds even as it baked Portugal’s lands and islands day after day.

4,200 Firefighters Mobilized

Fires, already sparking in the extreme heat, expanded and multiplied. By Wednesday, more than 180 of these blazes raged over both Portugal and its island archipelago of Madeira.

Portugal Spain Wildfires August 10 2016 NASA

(NASA satellite shot shows large wildfires burning over Portugal and Spain on August 10, 2016. For reference, width of bottom edge of frame represents 250 miles. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

On mainland Portugal scores of fires cut roads and power lines. Whole villages were emptied as the blazes encroached, numerous homes were destroyed and one life was tragically lost. Everywhere, firefighters scrambled to get a toehold in containing multiple out-of-control fires with a massive mobilization that included more than 4,200 emergency personnel from across the country.

This abnormally tough-to-control fire situation spurred Portuguese officials to seek aid from the EU. The request drew a swift response from Spain as well as Italy, which immediately sent three fire suppression aircraft to aid in the massive effort.

Madeira Burns

Southwest across the Atlantic, the Portuguese island of Madeira, one of several islands in the Madeira Archipelago, was also burning. Abnormally hot conditions over the past week with 35 C (95 F) temperatures and strong, dry winds had fanned large fires running across the island. By Tuesday, Archipelago capital city Fuchal saw numerous fires rushing toward town. Both firefighters and the military mobilized, but this combined effort was unable to prevent the fire from entering the town. Three people were tragically caught up in the blazes as 40 homes burned and a famous five-star hotel was consumed to its foundations.

Madeira fires August 10 2016 NASA

(Fires cover large sections of Madeira, a Portuguese island, on August 10, 2016. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

Across town, two hospitals shut down operations as fires encroached. As a result the 379 people injured by the blaze were forced to flood into the few remaining medical facilities.

As of this afternoon, fires still rage around Madeira. One thousand people have been evacuated from the island and emergency officials are still scrambling to deal with a difficult-to-control fire situation. Many visitors not already evacuated were reported to be sheltering in a local sports stadium.

An ‘Abnormal Fire Situation’ in the Context of Climate Change

Like many regions of the world, Portugal experiences an annual fire season. However, this year’s fires are far more extensive, they rage under hotter-than-normal temperatures, and they are being fanned by strong, dry winds. In short, 35-40 C readings are not normal for any time of year in Portugal. The fire conditions, therefore, are far worse than what Portugal typically experiences. But in the new world forced to warm by human greenhouse gas emissions, such conditions, along with a much more extreme wildfire potential, are far more likely to occur.

Europe temp anomaly Summer 2015

(During 2003, Europe experienced a massive heat wave that produced thousands of heat-related deaths. In 2015 another strong, but somewhat less intense, heat wave hit Europe in July. This year, abnormal heat is sparking wildfires across Portugal. These are the kinds of new extremes that Europe can expect to see more and more of as human-forced climate change causes Sahara Desert-like weather conditions to march northward. Image source: NOAA.)

Fires happen almost every summer in Portugal — just not fires like these. It is obvious from Portugal’s requests for assistance that the large number and extreme intensity of the fires has saturated Portugal’s emergency firefighting capability. Prime Minister Antonio Costa, in a news conference earlier today, starkly stated: “This abnormal situation surpasses the normal response capacity of our forces.”

It is worth noting that these fires have not yet reached the extent of the 2003 blazes. Back then, a massive European heatwave that many scientists have attributed to human-forced climate change helped to spark wildfires that killed 19 people and burned fully 10 percent of Portugal’s forests. But it’s clear the 2016 fires are already among the worst Portugal has ever experienced — and this fire event isn’t yet finished. Over the coming week, temperatures are expected to range from 35 to 42 C, providing no hint of relief in an already dangerous fire situation.

Links:

LANCE MODIS

NOAA

Madeira Wildfires — Three Dead as Flames Reach Funchal

Three Dead and Hundred Hospitalized as Flames Sweep Through Portugal

Hundreds Flee Forest Fires in Portugal

Earth Nullschool

Climate Makes European Heatwaves 10x More Likely

Hat tip to DT Lange

Hat tip to TodaysGuestIs

Hat tip to Plaza Red

Another Global Warming Enhanced Heatwave is on the Way — 111 Degree (F) Temperatures Predicted For Central US

It was in the 80s along Alaska’s Arctic Ocean shores yesterday. Record hot temperatures for a far northern region facilitated by factors related to human caused climate change such as warming ocean surfaces, sea ice melt, and an increasingly wavy Jet Stream.

North Slope Temperatures

(Record hot temperatures in the lower to middle 80s F [26 to 28 C] spread into the North Slope region of Alaska along the shores of the Arctic Ocean yesterday. And according to Dr. Jeff Masters, the 66 F [19 C] reading at Barrow tied its all time record high. Image source: Brett Brettschneider.)

But extreme heat along the northern reaches of Alaska appears now to be ready to morph into another record heatwave for the lower 48. For the past two weeks, weather models have been consistently predicting severe heat for the Central US. And with each passing day, as the forecasts grow evermore certain, the development of yet one more period of record hot temperatures becomes more and more likely.

An extremely tall dome of hot and heavy air is expected to build up over Colorado, Oklahoma and Nebraska. Heat beneath the dome and near the surface is expected to intensify. By the middle of next week, temperatures over a continuous large swath from Northern Texas to Montana and the Dakotas is predicted to experience near or above 100 degree F (38 C) temperatures. By late week, some of these readings could peak at around 111 degrees Fahrenheit (44 C) for parts of Central Nebraska.

111 degree temperatures Central US

(Saturday, July 24 GFS model forecast shows severe heat settling over the Central US. It’s the kind of heatwave that is now more and more likely to occur due to human-forced climate change. Image source: Pivotal Weather.)

These temperatures are expected to range 18-25 F (10-14 C) or more above typical July averages. And if temperatures do hit so high, they will likely make a number of new record highs for this region of the US.

By Sunday, the heat is expected to sprawl both east and west. And high temperatures near or above the Century mark could ultimately stretch in a great triangle from Alabama west to the Central Valley of California and north to Montana’s Canadian Border.

Conditions in Context — Human-Caused Global Warming, Hot Ocean Surfaces

This extreme heat comes in the context of record hot global temperatures. During 2016, global surface temperatures are likely to range near 1.2 degrees Celsius above the late 19th Century average. These record temperatures have been spurred by greenhouse gasses spiking to levels not seen in millions of years. CO2 concentrations this year hit near 408 parts per million at the Mauna Loa Observatory — a level high enough to significantly further increase global temperatures, melt large glaciers, substantially raise sea levels, and prevent another ice age for thousands or tens of thousands of years. And continued burning of fossil fuels by human beings will likely push that number near or above 410 parts per million by May of 2017.

image

(A North America surrounded by sea surface temperatures in the range of 1-5 C above average is one that is more susceptible to extreme heat, heavy downpours, and drought. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

Closer to home, very warm sea surface temperatures surrounding the US are likely also aiding in the formation of the predicted heatwave. Hotter oceans surrounding continents can increase the prevalence of heat waves and droughts. And, in this case, 1-5 C above average sea surface temperatures encompass most of North America. In fact, the extent and extreme range of sea surface temperatures — which in the past have rarely exceeded 2 C above average — is notably pretty extraordinary.

These conditions, overall, are less and less impacted by El Nino which has now mostly faded in the Eastern Pacific. As ENSO neutral status now prevails, most temperature extremes are far more related to human-forced warming than El Nino. And, in any case, there’s practically zero chance than any given El Nino year would have resulted in global average temperatures hitting 1.2 C above 19th Century averages without the added heat forcing provided by human greenhouse gas emissions. So the truth of the matter is that the record heat we’re seeing is in greatest part the result of human-forced climate change.

Links:

Two Flavors of Record Heat: Dead Horse and Houston

Pivotal Weather

Earth Nullschool

NOAA El Nino

Brett Brettschneider

NASA GISS

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Hat tip to DT Lange

Hat tip to Cate

Hat tip to Greg

 

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

Wet Bulb Near 35 C — Heatwave Mass Casualties Strike India Amidst Never-Before-Seen High Temperatures

Never-before-seen high temperatures and high humidity are resulting in thousands of heat injuries and hundreds of heat deaths across India. In some places, wet bulb readings appear to be approaching 35 C — a level of latent heat never endured by humans before fossil fuel burning forced global temperatures to rapidly warm. A reading widely-recognized as the limit of human physical endurance and one whose more frequent excession would commit the human race to enduring an increasing number of episodes of killing heat. A boundary that scientists like Dr. James Hansen warned would be exceeded if a human-forced warming of the world was not halted.

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And it is in this newly dangerous climate context that temperatures near 125 degrees Fahrenheit settled in over India’s border region with Pakistan yesterday. A blistering wave of crippling heat hitting never-before-seen readings over that highly-populated nation. In Phalodi, India, the mercury rocketed to 123.8 degrees Fahrenheit (51 degrees Celsius). This reading exceeded India’s previous all-time record high for any location which stood at 123.1 degrees Fahrenheit (50.6 degrees Celsius) set on May 25, 1886. Across the border in Pakistan, temperatures crossed “critical” thresholds this week, hitting 124.7 degrees Fahrenheit (51.5 degrees Celsius) Thursday in the city of Jacobabad as officials in that state issued health warnings to the public.

image

(Temperatures rocketed to 123-125 F along India’s border with Pakistan on Thursday. These are the hottest temperatures ever recorded for this region of the world. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

Closer to the coast, temperatures rose as high as 107 degrees Fahrenheit (42 C). In the city of Surat, hospitals were strained by an influx of people suffering from heat injuries. People afflicted with giddiness, unconsciousness, dehydration, a bloody nose, abdominal pain, chest pain, and other heat related injuries flooded local health care facilities with emergency calls. As of Thursday, SMIMER hospital had reported 1,226 calls related to heat casualties since the start of May.

Local Surat weather services reported periods when temperatures spiked to 38-42 C and humidity — supplied by moisture flooding off the heating Arabian Sea — remained near 65 percent. These are wet bulb readings in the range of 32 to 34.4 C — a combination of heat and humidity that is very dangerous to anyone exposed for even brief periods.

340 Heat Deaths in Dehli

Across India, the story of heat casualties was much the same. Though no official national estimate of heat related injuries or deaths has yet been given, the current heatwave and related drought is far worse than that experienced during 2015 when 2500 people lost their lives in the excessive heat. But it’s reasonable to assume that heat injuries across India now number in the tens of thousands with tragic heat deaths likely now numbering in the hundreds to thousands.

In the capital city of Delhi, reports were coming in that the homeless population — swelled by farmers who lost their livelihoods due to a crippling three-year-drought — was suffering hundreds of heat-related deaths. As of Thursday, official estimates identified 340 total heat deaths among this increasingly vulnerable population.

Severe Drought and Record Heat — Conditions Consistent with Human-Caused Climate Change

Heat building into extreme record ranges and mounting heat casualties come as India suffers what is likely its worst drought on record. Last month, international water monitors identified 330 million people suffering from water shortages across India. As a result, the government has been forced to resort to extreme measures — posting guards at dwindling reservoirs, sending water trains to provide people in hard-hit regions with a life-saving ration of water, and planning to divert water from the greatly shrunken Ganges to aid parched regions.

Extreme heat of this kind, wet bulb temperatures approaching 35 C, heatwave mass casualties, and a never-before-seen drought are all conditions related to a human-forced warming of the globe. Though El Nino, during the 20th Century, brought with it a cyclical heat, a potential monsoonal weakening, and an increased risk of drought, the severity of the crisis now afflicting India is too great to be pinned on El Nino alone. India has now suffered three years of delayed monsoons — delays which began before the current El Nino took hold. Water levels in the Himalayas are low due to a decadal warming that has forced snow packs to retreat which has, in its turn, left India’s rivers increasingly vulnerable to drying. And global temperatures hitting in the range of 1.3 C above 1880s levels are absolutely adding intensity to the current heatwave and dryness.

Links:

Wet Bulb at 35 C

Heatwave Mass Casualties Strike India in 2015

Heatwave Injuries Mount in Surat

Earth Nullschool

India Shatters All-Time Hottest Temperature Record on Thursday

India Temperature Records

Hat Tip to DT Lange

Hat Tip to Colorado Bob

 

 

 

 

 

Dangerous Heat Sets Sights on Southern United States

High wet bulb temperatures and related heatwave mass casualty events have spanned the globe during the record hot summer of 2015. Now, it appears the Southern United States is also falling under the gun of life-threatening heat and humidity.

Gulfs of Mexico, California Host Screaming Sea Surface Temperatures

As with so many recent heatwaves with the potential to produce mass casualty events, the story starts with sea surface temperatures in excess of 30 degrees Celsius (86 Fahrenheit). And across a broad region of the Gulf of Mexico and all throughout the Gulf of California ocean surface waters now feature temperatures in the range of 30 to 33 degrees C (86 to 91 F).

image

(A tell-tale pool of 30 C+ water is gathering in the Gulfs of Mexico and California. Such hot water is a support for deadly wet-bulb readings in the range of 30-33 C. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

These are waters warmed by increasingly vicious human hothouse conditions. A world ocean facing a global fever that is 1 degree C (1.8 F) hotter than the more placid, less dangerous temperatures of 135 years ago.

In the Gulfs of Mexico and California, this heat has concentrated — pushing the waters there into 1-4 C above average ranges. Generating a dangerous reservoir of latent heat. One featuring ocean temperatures similar to those that kicked off heatwave mass casualty events in India, Pakistan, Japan and Egypt this summer. But this feature of the human hothouse is now focusing in on the Southern US — creating conditions that are increasing the risk of heat stress, heat injury and possibly loss of life.

The steaming waters of our southern gulfs will feed dangerously high wet bulb temperatures throughout a large region from the Carolinas to Florida through the Gulf States and on into the Southwest over the coming days and weeks. Ocean temperatures hot enough to support wet bulb readings in the range of 30 to 33 degrees Celsius. Dangerous levels very close to the maximum human threshold of 35 C.

NOAA Predicts Heat Indexes to Skyrocket

Concordantly, a similar measure used to determine how hot it feels outside is set to skyrocket throughout the southern US over coming days. In many regions heat indexes are predicted to exceed 100, 105, 115 or even 120 degree readings.

High Heat Index US South

(Forecast heat index map for Monday, August 24. Over the next seven days, heat index values are predicted to remain in dangerous ranges across large sections of the Southern United States. Image source: NOAA.)

Regions at greatest risk include Southern California, Arizona, and the Gulf Coast states of Texas, Lousiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and Florida.

Heat index values in excess of 105 F (40 C) are considered dangerous. Those crossing a 127 F (53 C) threshold are considered exceedingly dangerous. The NOAA forecast now includes dangerous heat indexes predicted for the above regions lasting for at least the next seven days. And with sea surface temperatures likely to remain much hotter than average near the area of highest impact through the end of August, these high-risk heat conditions have the potential to continue for some time.

Links:

NOAA

Earth Nullschool

Heatwave Mass Casualty Events of 2015

Wet Bulb

Heat Index

Hat tip to DT Lange

Hothouse Mass Casualties Strike Egypt, Heatwave Continues to Hospitalize Thousands in Japan

Back in May, official temperatures soared to 35 degrees Celsius (95 degrees Fahrenheit) as humidity levels spiked in Cairo, Egypt. The early high heat and humidity sparked anxiety among residents worrying over the coming summer. Public complaints about official temperatures being lower than actual measures were widespread among a populace vulnerable to heat exposure in a notoriously hot region of the world suffering the ongoing impacts of human-forced warming.

The below video captures some of the sentiment of a few months ago, when concern that record global temperatures in the range of 1 degree Celsius above 1880s averages might result in harm to Egypt’s populace was widespread and growing:

(Egyptian residents feared the killing heat was coming back in May. Sadly, their concerns have born out as a powerful heatwave in July and August is resulting in tragic loss of life there. Video source here.)

Unfortunately, the early fears appear to have been all-too-valid. For in late July a seasonal flow of hot, humid air from India, Pakistan and the Persian Gulf began to settle over Egypt. The hot air issued from regions where deaths from 2015 heatwaves numbered in the hundreds and thousands, where hospitalizations numbered in the tens of thousands. As the heat dome extended its oppressive tendrils over Egypt, both temperatures and humidity spiked — pushing wet bulb readings into ranges that made it difficult for humans to maintain body temperatures. Official air temperature readings ranged from 35 to 47 degrees Celsius (95 to 116 degrees Fahrenheit) and the added moisture reduced the ability of evaporation to cool the skin.

The risk of heat injury rose. And over the past few days this hot air and humidity spike began to prey on Egyptian residents. The result was 42 tragic deaths due to the excess heat over the past two days alone. Scores more were hospitalized as the entire country from north to south sweltered.

Weather forecasts, unfortunately, show the hothouse heat continuing to blanket Egypt throughout the coming month. Let’s hope that, somehow, the terrible toll in heat casualties abates.

Japan Heatwave Mass Casualty Event Continues

It’s a hotter world we live in now. One in which any of us living on Earth are now four times as likely to experience a heatwave than we were during the 1880s. And at the most extreme end of this spectrum are the heatwave mass casualty events — which this year have been very numerous and widespread. Italy, Egypt, the Persian Gulf, Pakistan, India and Japan have now all experienced mass hospitalizations and deaths due to the excess heat of a world forced to rapidly warm by human fossil fuel emissions.

For Japan, which has been experiencing heatwave related deaths and hospitalizations since July, the harm due to excess heat spiked to new extremes this week. There, over the past seven days alone, nearly 12,000 people were hospitalized due to heat stroke. That’s the highest number of heatwave related casualties since tracking of these new events began in 2008. And of the thousands hospitalized, an additional 32 souls were lost.

image

(Heat and humidity from a pool of anomalously hot ocean water is still blasting Japan, resulting in the hospitalization of an ever-rising number heatstroke victims. Sea surface temperatures remain in the range of 2-4 degrees Celsius above average as a heat dome high pressure system swelters Japan. Sea surface temperature anomaly map by Earth Nullschool.)

The new wave of deaths and hospitalizations brings to over 45,000 the total number of heat stroke victims requiring emergency care in Japan during this summer alone. More than a thousand of these victims have required care extending longer than 3 weeks. And, tragically, more than 85 souls have now been lost.

During this time, Tokyo shattered its record for longest period of 35 C (95 F) degree or hotter days running. The above 35 C readings extended for a full eight days from July 31 to August 7th. It’s high heat and humidity that resulted in hundreds of hospitalizations for that city alone. And though the heat has somewhat abated, temperatures during recent days have remained in the range of 33 to 34 C (92 to 94 F)– still scorching-hot for a typically much cooler city.

Overall, Japan’s oppressive heat dome hasn’t budged. And it will likely remain in place until extremely hot sea surface temperatures surrounding Japan begin to abate. As of today, there was little sign of such relief as the hot waters remained in the range of 2-4 degrees Celsius above average. And so the hot waters continued to pump both heat and moisture into the air around and over Japan, spiking wet bulb readings and creating a dangerous situation for residents not at all used to these abnormal conditions.

Links

May Heatwave Sparks Fears of Hot Summer in Egypt

Egypt Heatwave Kills 42

Japan in Hot Water

Earth Nullschool

It Felt Like 165 Degrees in Iran Today

Heatwave Mass Casualty Event in Pakistan

Heatwave Mass Casualty Event in India

Record Japan Heat Leads to 32 Deaths in One Week

Hat Tip to Brian

Hat Tip to Colorado Bob

Japan in Hot Water — Longest Heatwave on Record for Tokyo, Tens of Thousands Hospitalized

This morning, at 10:53 AM local time in Tokyo, the temperature was a sweltering 95.2 F (35.1 C) and climbing

For six days running thermometers in that city have been above 95 degrees F (35 C). That’s the longest unbroken string of 95 degree + highs Japan’s capital has experienced since record-keeping began 140 years ago in 1875. In other words, parts of Japan are experiencing never-seen-before heat.

All told, recent days have seen fully 25 percent of Japan’s cities and towns hit temperatures above 95 F. It’s a heat that sinks bone deep. That gets into the blood. That makes it hard to keep going outdoors. A heat that causes injury and, sometimes, death. And over this summer more than 35,000 people have been hospitalized throughout Japan due to heat injury. Of those, more than 850 have remained hospitalized for three weeks or more. And from this grim tally 55 have now lost their lives.

Hot Ocean Waters Breed Heat Domes

The record hot air temperatures have come on due to a combination of factors. First, the ocean around Japan is abnormally warm. Recently, near-Japan sea surface temperatures have ranged from 2-5 degrees Celsius above established averages. That’s excessively hot water, especially when one considers that El Nino will typically draw the warm waters south and eastward. But this year is not at all typical with unusual-to-record heat now ranging much of the Pacific Ocean basin.

image

(Extreme sea surface temperatures and a heat dome high pressure system are setting the stage for record heatwaves and tragic heat injuries in Japan. Ocean temperatures in the region have ranged up to 5-6 C above average for this time of year. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

Near Japan, the added ocean warmth lends both heat and humidity to the air about the archipelago land mass. A combination that can push wet bulb readings into ranges that are ever more difficult for human bodies to manage.

Concordant with the exceptionally hot waters surrounding Japan is a heavy heat dome high pressure system dominating the atmosphere above it. This heat dome, as with many weather systems under the regime of human-caused climate change, has been doggedly persistent. Setting up an excessively long-lasting period of record heat that has now continued off and on for weeks.

Multiple Heatwave Mass Casualty Events for Record Hot 2015

Japan joins India, Pakistan, and the Persian Gulf Region as locations experiencing heat capable of producing mass casualty events this year. In India, more than 3,000 lost their lives due to high heat and humidity during late May and early June. In Pakistan, more than 1,500 died due to the heat even as hospitals were overwhelmed by related injuries. And in Iran last week, wet bulb temperatures rocketed to a stunning 34.7 C.

Under human-forced climate change it’s a sad fact that heatwaves proliferate. We are now four times more likely to experience a heatwave on any part of the globe than we were back during the 1880s. Before our fossil fuel burning warmed the global climate by 1 degree Celsius. And as maximum temperatures and humidity push toward and past the wet bulb limit of 35 C, we are unfortunately likely to see more and more of these heatwave mass casualty events.

Links:

Tokyo Endures Longest Heatwave Ever Recorded

Earth Nullschool

Hothouse Claims Lives in India

Wet Bulb at 33 C in Pakistan

It Felt Like 165 Degrees in Iran Today

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

Glacial Outburst Flood — Human Hothouse Displaces Hundreds in Tajikistan

If you lived during the 1880s, when the globe was one degree Celsius cooler than it is now, you’d see far less in the way of heatwaves. But an immense vomiting of greenhouse gasses into our atmosphere and oceans by fossil fuel industry since that time has greatly multiplied these periods of extreme temperatures. So much so that you are now four times more likely to experience a heatwave anywhere on the globe at any given time than you were 135 years ago.

Heatwaves, depending on their intensity, can have serious consequences. The most direct impact is due to the excess heat itself. In the more extreme instances, heatwaves during recent years have featured an ominous capacity to hospitalize tens of thousands. These heat stroke victims, in the worst cases, perish. Such was the case for India and Pakistan this year where hundreds tragically lost their lives due to the impact of increased heat alone.

But if heatwaves occur in regions where glaciers still exist, the impact can be even more profound.

Glacier Outburst Flood In Tajikistan


(“The lake disappeared and turned to salt…” Melting of glaciers in Tajikistan is having a far-reaching impact. This UN-based program describes how the lives of Tajikistan’s people are being threatened by water loss due to glacier decline. But the impacts of glacier outburst floods can be more directly destructive.)

In Tajikistan, the heat is bringing with it a great decline in high elevation glaciers. Some have already disappeared. It’s a loss resulting in severe impacts to both energy and water security for the country. But perhaps even more disturbing is what happens when water is suddenly released from the dwindling glaciers.

Such was the case with Tajikistan this month. Beginning on July 16, an oppressive heatwave settled over this Central Asian nation. Temperatures rocketed to record levels. Baking its broad mountains — valleys, slopes and glaciers alike.

Crammed between Afghanistan, Pakistan, China, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, Tajikistan squats along the northwest boundary of the Tibetan Plateau. The upthrust of great glacier-capped peaks tower over this country. Peaks whose heads are loaded with a great volume of ice that is now being forced to rapidly melt.

This month’s record heatwave dealt a terrible blow to that ice. The glaciers, of which Tajikistan boasts 8,492, were already greatly weakened by a 3 degree Celsius temperature increase over the past five years. All it took was the shove of the most recent temperature surge to push some of these to the breaking point. By Tuesday, a great outburst flood had ripped through the mountain valleys of the Central Asia country. The outburst flood waters roared out, overtopping rivers — washing away more than 50 homes, cutting off major roadways, and driving 620 persons into government disaster shelters.

Unfortunately, this most recent climate change mass casualty event may be just one of many. In Tajikistan, a mud dam has developed along the path of major glacial melt. Water pressure is building behind the dam. Should it release, more than 30,000 people will be in the path of the outburst flood.

Risk of Outburst Flooding Near Large Glaciers is a Global Hazard

All throughout the Tibetan Plateau region glacial outburst floods related to human-caused warming are on the rise (see the glacial megaflood). As much as 70 percent of the ice within the great Himalayan glaciers could melt out by 2100 under business as usual fossil fuel burning. The result would be a crescendo of glacial outburst floods followed by a period of drastically increased aridity for the lands around Tibet.

Alaska. Prince William Sound, waterfall flows from under Blackstone Glacier.

Alaska. Prince William Sound, waterfall flows from under Blackstone Glacier.

(The high elevation of glaciers combined with the vastness of their captured water and the often steep grades upon which they perch can generate violent flooding in the event of rapid melt. In many instances, silt from glacial outflows can develop a dam downstream of the glacial flood. Such dams are often unstable and can be subject to catastrophic collapse. In the worst cases, ice dams can form in the interior sections of very large ice sheets — such as those seen in Greenland and Antarctica. Glacial outburst floods due to such melt and ice dam formation in the major ice sheets are catastrophic events of geological scale and impact. Image source: ADT.)

Glacial outburst floods are sudden, powerful, violent, and difficult to predict. They are limited only by the amount of water the glaciers themselves release — ice masses that hold volumes of water often measured in cubic kilometers. The drastic impacts and terrible violence due to this kind of flooding was also recently witnessed during 2013 in Kedarnath, India. And what we see in Tajikistan and India during recent years is, sadly, just a taste of what’s to come in a fossil fuel emissions warmed world.

Finally, in this narrative, we cannot ignore potential glacial outburst flood impacts from melting over the Greenland Ice Sheet and Antarctica. And unlike Tibetan glacial melt, potential outburst flood events issuing from Greenland or Antarctica are a hazard of global scope. Such events would likely be driven by extended periods of rainfall over the ice during summer heating events. An ominous melt-driving phenomena that science is just now starting to track.

Links:

Heatwave + Glacial Melt Forces Hundreds to Flee in Tajikistan

Human Hothouse Death Toll Climbs to 2300 in India

Wet Bulb at 33 C

Freakishly High Temperatures Trigger Melt, Mudslides, Flooding in Tajikistan

The Glacial Megaflood

ADT

Amplified Melt and Flow of Greenland Ice Sheet Driven by Late Summer Rainfall

Hat Tip to TodaysGuestIs

Hat Tip to Colorado Bob

Mangled Jet Stream Delivers Record-Shattering Heat, Extreme Wildfires to California

California Heatwave May 15

(GFS Model 40 hour forecast for May 15 shows 90 and 100 degree temperatures spreading across most of California. Image source: University of Maine. Data source: Global Forecast System Model/NOAA.)

It’s just mid-May, but a wave of record July-like heat and wildfires is building for California and the US West.

A high amplitude Jet Stream wave that has been in place over the US West for more than a year now has resulted in hot, dry conditions throughout this very long period. It is an ongoing insult that contributed to the worst California drought in more than 100 years. A set of weather anomalies that continues to leave California and the US Southwest very vulnerable to heatwaves, fires and amplifying droughts as summer continues to emerge.

The pattern is essentially stuck — featuring a hot, pole-reaching, wave of the Jet Stream continuously rising over the US West, Western Canada and Alaska, and diving deep into the Arctic. It is a condition climate researchers such as Dr. Jennifer Francis attribute to an ongoing erosion and degradation of Northern Hemisphere sea ice. And the predictions of Dr. Francis appear to have born out in both recent observations and cutting edge scientific research showing how sea ice loss has shoved the storm track away from California and the US Southwest (see how Climate Change Made the California Drought Worse).

In any case, it is highly unusual for such an intense Jet Stream pattern to remain fixed for so darn long.

Emerging El Nino Contributes to 100 Degree (F) Heat

In recent months, the strength of the heat flowing up through the Jet Stream wave has been intensified by a growing pool of anomalously warm water to the south in the Eastern Pacific. This gathering pool of intensifying heat is a signal for the coming of El Nino. Come winter, a strong El Nino might bring a radical and violent switch of California weather to much more rainy conditions. But, for now, it lends further energy to a gathering and extraordinary May heatwave for the US West Coast.

It is a flood of heat that is expected to bring 90 to 100 degree plus temperatures for a broad zone from southeast California to the coast and on northward through the Central Valley. And, already, the effect is being felt for some regions. Yesterday, Van Nuys Airport in Los Angeles shattered its previous record high temperature of 91 for the date as temperatures rocketed to 93 F. Today, the forecast is for 98. Tomorrow, 100. Friday 96.

This forecast is for a string of four consecutive all-time record highs during a period in which temperatures hit an extreme range of 18-25 F above the typical daily peaks of 75 for this time of year. Sacramento, meanwhile, is expected to tie the all-time high today at 100 F after reaching the same reading yesterday. Tomorrow’s forecast is for a scorching 101 F. Typical average highs for this time of year in Sacramento are around 80 F.

Bernardo Fire Threatens Homes

(Fire approaches El Camino Drive, threatens homes in Carlsbad. Image source: Resident’s Contribution to ABC 10’s Twitter Feed)

Santa Anna Winds, Heat, Drought Spur Large Fires

Rising Santa Anna winds in the range of 40 to 60 mph with maximum gusts as high as 87 mph in the San Diego Mountains combine with relative humidity values below 10% and extreme heat to create a high potential for wildfire outbreaks. As a result, red flag fire hazard warnings have been issued for a zone along California’s southwest coast and into the south-central valleys.

By Tuesday, two large fires — one in Bernardo, San Diego and a second in Miguelito, Santa Barbara — had already erupted and consumed hundreds of acres. The Bernardo fire, by early today, had rapidly expanded to cover more than 1,550 acres forcing the evacuation of over 20,000 people and 1,200 buildings. Three schools and one military base were also evacuated as fires raced through valleys to threaten expensive homes in developments on local ridges. As of late morning, the fire was only 25% contained.

The Bernardo fire, as of this writing, posed a severe threat to many highly populated areas forcing numerous evacuations and even the closing of El Camino Drive. Given conditions on the ground this is a very dangerous situation in which the fire may undergo rapid expansion. Up-to-the minute photos by local residents show rapidly deteriorating and dangerous conditions (see ABC 10’s live feed). People in the area should exercise extreme caution and pay close attention to local fire/weather bulletins.

The Miguelito fire, on the other hand, had grown to 600 acres in just one day as it threatened local ranches. Firefighters had, by late morning, managed to contain 50% percent of that blaze.

Conditions in Context

The most recent record heat spike is likely to only exacerbate current dire drought and fire issues for the state. Local reservoirs remain very low and various water rationing and restriction regimes have already been imposed in numerous districts. Atmospheric moisture levels are also very low resulting in little in the way of evaporative cooling once heating intensifies. The result is a high risk for continued record heat, drought, and fire as spring proceeds into summer.

Mangled Jet Stream May 14

(Mangled Jet Stream pattern on May 14, 2014 features numerous high amplitude Rossby Waves and hot-cool/east-west dipole patterns. High speed Jet Stream flow is more indicative of a winter pattern, possibly due to the retreat and temporary re-establishment of the polar vortex. But the huge propagation of east-west/hot-cool dipoles and the continued upper level air invasion of the northern polar zone point toward a highly disrupted Jet Stream. Image source: University of Maine.)

Though highly anomalous and extreme for early May, the most recent California heat spike is likely to abate by Friday and Saturday as an onshore wind flow and slight weakening of the ridge is expected to bring cooler conditions. Ongoing high amplitude Jet Stream waves, however, are expected to continue to propagate over the US West Coast with the ridge predicted to again re-strengthen later next week. The added heating of the atmosphere as spring progresses into summer is likely to further exaggerate this already extreme set of conditions. So the atmosphere is rigged for further record heat spikes and the potential for long periods of record or near-record conditions going forward.

UPDATE: By noon, Pacific time, the Bernardo Fire had expanded to 1680 acres and spawned two smaller fires in the San Diego region sending residents in Carlsbad and Poinsettia scrambling. It is difficult to express how dangerous this situation has become. Risk for severe intensification of these fires is very high due to extreme temperatures, humidity in the range of 6% in San Diego, and very strong Santa Anna winds.

UPDATE: Passenger photo by cGilbertRun of three fires plaguing San Diego from inbound airline Wednesday afternoon at 1 PM Pacific Time:

Aerial Photo of three fires in San Diego on Wednesday

By early afternoon, the multiple blazes continued to expand spurring numerous additional evacuations, cutting off power to homes and businesses, and causing traffic snarls. Emergency authorities urged residents to remain at home or work unless ordered to evacuate to prevent congestion and to speed egress from affected areas.

UPDATE: By 1:30 PM PST, the Carlsbad Fire had spurred another 15,000 evacuations in San Diego. As of this time, the effect of the third fire is unknown.

UPDATE: Blaze near Poinsettia has resulted in an additional 11,000 evacuations. Sporadic reports coming in of three more fires now underway.

UPDATE: 30 homes reported burned in Carlsbad as of 2:00 PST. Unconfirmed reports of 103 F temperature readings in central San Diego.

UPDATE: MODIS shot of fires burning in southwest California and northwest Mexico during satellite pass this afternoon:

MODIS Shot of Fires buring in California

UPDATE: Local elementary school apparently damaged in Carlsbad Fire.

UPDATE: Five of the six fires burning in San Diego include: The Carlsbad Fire, The Oceanside Fire, The Highway Fire in Fallbrook, The Camp Pendleton Fire, and the Bernardo Fire.

UPDATE: Seven fires now burning is San Diego. Six are shown on the map below which does not include the Bernardo Fire:

Map of 7 Fires

 

UPDATE: New fire reported in San Marcos, bring the total number of San Diego fires to 8.

UPDATE: Unconfirmed new fire near Black Mountain (5 PM PST). If confirmed, this brings the total to 9.

UPDATE: The San Marcos Fire has prompted yet one more major evacuation. Thousands of residents fled the fire only to get bogged down in gridlock near the blaze. Firefighters are now on the ground to protect San Marcos residences but air support appears delayed, possibly due to multiple fires resulting in a thinning of resources.

UPDATE: Large office building now ablaze due to engulfment by the Carlsbad Fire. Unconfirmed reports of windswept embers falling over portions of San Diego.

UPDATE: DC 10 firefighting aircraft deployed to assist in fighting 8 + fires. Officials state that Carlsbad fire is now 10% contained, forward progress of Lakeside fire halted. Anti-looting guards set up to protect evacuated Carlsbad residences. Carlsbad officials: “It’s unbelievable, this is something we should see in October, not May. I haven’t seen it this hot, this dry in May before… this is an extraordinary weather event.”

All too apt tweet from King Pine Homes: “8 fires in North County SD right now. Climate Change sucks!

UPDATE: National Weather Service shows 4+ all-time record highs for the day broken in the San Diego region with readings topping out between 93 and 99 degrees.

Warmest thoughts and wishes go out to both the brave firefighters and to all the families in the affected regions. Please stay safe!

San Marcos Fire

(View from San Marcos as night falls over San Diego by GradyGray.)

UPDATE: San Diego County will hold a news conference at their County Emergency Operations Center (EOC) at 8:30 local time.

UPDATE: Governor Brown has just declared a state of emergency for all of San Diego County, noting: “I find conditions of extreme peril to the safety of persons and property.”

UPDATE: According to reports from the California Fire Service, the Tomahawk Fire has now burned over 6,000 acres and is now encroaching on Camp Pendleton.

UPDATE: 9,196 acres confirmed burned in San Diego County today.

UPDATE: The San Marcos Fire has spread to cover 500 acres is just a few hours.

UPDATE: Must-see footage of the Carlsbad Fire filmed by a passing driver earlier today:

FINAL UPDATE: Firefighters gained ground last night against the 9 fires that sent tens of thousands of San Diego residents scrambling yesterday. The Carlsbad Fire, the most destructive of the outbreak, was 60% contained as of early this morning. Another destructive blaze, the San Marcos Fire, had expanded to 700 acres by morning as firefighters focused resources to contain it. In total, more than 10,000 acres in and around San Diego have burned and more than 25 buildings have been destroyed. Thankfully, there is no report of loss of life.

Such a severe outbreak of early season fires is unprecedented so soon in the year. Seasoned fire officials, such as San Diego Fire Chief Michael Davis, have been aghast at the early extreme intensity of this fire season. Davis noted:

This is May, this is unbelievable. This is something we should see in October. I haven’t seen it this hot, this dry, this long in May.

Human-caused climate change, again, appears to have shown its awful hand in California this spring.

As firefighters and residents alike return to some rough allegory of normalcy this morning, dangers remain high. Record and unprecedented heat and dryness is, once more, settling over the region today, bringing with it the danger for more fires.

Links:

Global Forecast System Model/NOAA

University of Maine

Weather Underground Forecast for Sacramento

Weather Underground Forecast for Van Nuys Airport

National Weather Service Public Information for San Diego CA

California Wildfires: Hot, Dry Windy Conditions Expected Again Wednesday

Climate Change Made the California Drought Worse

ABC 10’s live feed of Bernardo Fire

Hat Tip to Andy (in San Diego very close to these fires and whom we wish to remain safe)

Hat Tip to Kevin Jones, and Mark from New England

Arctic Sea Ice Breaking Up as Heat Anomaly Spikes to 4.21 Degrees Celsius Above Average

The Siberian Heat Wave that began last week continues apace today. Far warmer than normal southerly winds continue to blow over a large region of Siberia bringing with them near freezing and occasionally above freezing temperatures. The combined influence of this off-shore flow and, what is for the Arctic, late spring and early summer-like weather is having a profound effect on Arctic sea ice in the regions of the Kara, Laptev, and East Siberian Seas.

Last week, we reported that an early break-up of sea ice was ongoing in the Kara Sea. Now, with the warm, off-shore flow shifting west, this break-up zone has expanded well into the Laptev and East Siberian. Satellite observations indicate that a very large section of ice pack, stretching from Severnaya Zemlya past the New Siberian Islands and on into the East Siberian Sea has been shoved northward by the strong south-north wind flow. The result is large gaps, ranging from 50-100 miles in width, forming along the boundary of the land fast ice and spreading through a zone of high impact for about 2,000 kilometers through the Kara and Laptev Seas before extending along a less involved fault zone another 1,000 kilometers into the East Siberian Sea.

Moving from west to east around the Arctic Basin, below is a summary of the ongoing break-up. Please note that some sections of these images are obscured by cloud cover:

Kara Sea March 9 v2Kara Sea March 24

(Kara sea before large scale breakup on March 9 in the top frame and after large-scale break up on March 24 in the lower frame. Image source: Lance-Modis)

Above, we have a continuation of the Kara Sea ice breakup we reported last week. Note that the break-up now extends all the way through sections of the land-fast ice to shore. Motion of the floe is still mostly south to north with sections of open water here ranging from 5-30 kilometers in width.

Moving east, we find that the eastward drift of the off-shore wind pattern and associated warm air temperatures that are closer to May and June norms have had a dramatic impact on Laptev sea ice as well:

Laptev March 9

Laptev March 24

(Laptev sea ice on March 9 with some large polynas prior to large scale break-up and extending of polynas on March 24. Image source: Lance-Modis)

Here we find the section of large openings and polynas spreading east from Severnaya Zemlya through the Laptev and on past the New Siberian Islands. Ice crack sizes are quite large with gaps stretching between 30-50 kilometers in width. Sea ice toward the central pack shows much more extensive cracks (leads) and breakage.

Still further east, the warm southerly winds have also widened and extended large cracks running through the East Siberian Sea, the region of water covering the shallow and sensitive East Siberian Arctic Shelf zone:

East Siberian Sea March 9

East Siberian Sea March 24

(East Siberian Sea ice on March 9 in the top frame and March 24 in the bottom frame. Image source: Lance-Modis.)

The crack structure appears to have shifted north, extended and widened even as the ice system became more crack-riddled.

Siberian Heat Wave Continues

Temperatures in the region continue to range between 5 and 20 or more degrees Celsius (9 to 36 F) above average for this time of year. This abnormal ‘heat’ translates into average temperatures ranging from -14 to 0 C (8 to 32 Fahrenheit). It is worth noting that salt water freezes at around -2 C (28 F, depending on salinity). So average temperatures in this range are enough to retard refreeze after breakage, to keep sea ice more disassociated and brittle, and to result in some areas where sporadic melt occurs.

As spring continues, warmer water beneath the ice pack, waters warmed by solar insolation, ice warmed by solar insolation, and warm water outflows from the Continents may well become involved to enhance early season sea ice break up and melt.

Overall, the Arctic is now experiencing an extraordinarily high temperature anomaly of +4.21 above the 1979-2000 average or about 5.7 C above the 1880s average. These excessive above average temperatures are high enough to initiate early melt, fragility and break-up in some zones (as observed above).

T2_anom_satellite2

(Very large Asian heat plume. Image source: University of Maine.)

This particular heat wave is in association with a very large Asian system in which much warmer than average temperatures extend south to north from Northern China, Mongolia, through the Yakutia region of Russia and on up into the Kara, Laptev, East Siberian, and Beaufort Seas of the Arctic Ocean. It is also worth noting the rather impressive hot pool forming over the Balkan States of Eastern Europe and the Ukraine which is, perhaps, a pattern settling in with the potentially oncoming El Nino.

GFS model runs show the current Arctic pulse spiking to around +5 C above 1979 to 2000 averages over the next 48 hours and then slowly fading through March 31 as anomalies return to a range of about +2-3 C above average. Hot zones continue to linger over China, Mongolia, Siberia and Eastern Europe as a somewhat troubling heat pulse develops over a large swath of western Greenland before riding up over Svalbard potentially bringing 30-40 degree (F) temperatures to both Western Greenland and this Arctic island by late in the forecast period.

Links:

Lance-Modis

University of Maine

Arctic Ice Graphs

 

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)

Ocean Heat Dome Steams Coastal China: Shanghai to Near Very Dangerous 35 Degree Celsius Wet Bulb Temperatures This Week

Shanghai Under Ocean Heat Dome

Shanghai, southeast China swelter under Ocean Heat Dome.

(Image source: NASA/Lance-Modis)

An ocean heat dome that formed over a broad area of the Pacific Ocean, the South and East China seas, and a large stretch of coastal China during late July continues to create a dangerous combination of record hot temperatures and high humidity.

According to reports from AccuWeather, the sweltering coastal China town of Shanghai hit a new all-time record high temperature of 105.8 degrees Fahrenheit (41 degrees C) on Tuesday. But this marker may just be a milepost to what is predicted to be a 107-108 degree scorcher on Wednesday and Friday. With humidity predicted to be around 50% and barometric pressure readings expected to hit 1005 millibars, these represent extraordinarily dangerous conditions.

The human wet bulb limit: 35 C

Recent climate papers by former NASA scientist James Hansen have issued warnings of the potential for wet bulb temperatures on the surface of the Earth to start to exceed levels that are lethal for humans at 35 degrees C  for longer and longer periods as humans continue to warm the atmosphere. Hansen notes:

One implication is that if we should “succeed” in digging up and burning all fossil fuels, some parts of the planet would become literally uninhabitable, with some time in the year having wet bulb temperature exceeding 35°C. At such temperatures, for reasons of physiology and physics, humans cannot survive, because even under ideal conditions of rest and ventilation, it is physically impossible for the environment to carry away the 100 W of metabolic heat that a human body gene rates when it is at rest.

Different from direct air temperature, wet bulb readings measure what air feels like on the surface of the skin. The measure simulates the cooling effect caused by human sweat evaporating from the skin surface. In very dry, hot conditions, human skin temperature can remain below this lethal level as the rate of evaporation increases due to dryness. Since most of the world’s hottest regions are very dry, humans can withstand air temperatures of 120 degrees (Fahrenheit) and above. Thankfully, it is very rare that extraordinarily hot and humid conditions occur in the same locations. This is generally due to a cooling affect provided by an adjacent ocean mass — as most damp regions are also near or surrounded by cooler ocean air.

The Ocean Heat Dome

Enter the weather conditions forecast for Shanghai tomorrow and Friday…

A massive heat dome high pressure system has settled, not just over land areas of China, but directly over a large region of the Pacific Ocean and adjacent China seas. The result is that sea surface temperatures are now ranging 1-4 degrees Celsius above the already warm 1971-2000 average with a large area showing temperatures above 30 degrees Celsius (86 Fahrenheit). This large region of hot water and corresponding hot ocean air is pumping both heat and humidity into the Shanghai region. Hot ocean air is being pumped over Southeast Asia where it mixes with the already baking land mass air to form a brutal brew of very high heat and high humidity. The clockwise flow of the heat dome then pulls this mixture of record hot and humid air over the highly populated regions of Shanghai.

These ocean-based heat dome conditions are not normal, with typical heat dome conditions usually forming over land. The danger in this particular set of conditions is that very high heat combines with higher than usual humidity to result in much greater heat injury risks for humans.

Ocean heat dome

Sea surface temperatures under Ocean Heat Dome

(Image source: Weather Online)

Forecasts for tomorrow and Friday are showing Shanghai temperatures will probably reach at least 107-108 degrees Fahrenheit (42 C) in an area where relative humidity is forecast to be 50% and where barometric pressures are forecast to remain around 1005 millibars of mercury. This brings us to the extraordinarily dangerous high wet bulb temperature of 33 degrees Celsius.

Please do your best to stay safe

In such instances, the best defense is to find a cool, shaded location and limit exposure to heat during the hottest times of the day. Drinking cold fluids can also aid in reducing core body temperatures. A common heat mitigation aid is freezing a bottle of water and carrying it in a pocket next to your thigh. The cold bottle will contact the skin near the femoral artery, cooling blood there and transporting this cooler blood throughout the body. If extreme heat is still too much, placing the bottle in direct contact with the large veins in the neck will provide even more efficient cooling. This simple cooling pack also doubles as a means to replenish vital fluids.

Under such conditions, it is also important to be alert for signs of heat exhaustion and heat stroke to include:

  • Confusion
  • Dark-colored urine (a sign of dehydration)
  • Dizziness
  • Profuse sweating
  • Weakness
  • Muscle cramps
  • A lack of sweating

China has also activated emergency operations facilities and is providing information and aid in the hardest hit regions.

Unfortunately, record heat is expected to continue over Shanghai through at least next Wednesday with only one day expected to see below 100 degree (F) readings. With so many already dealing with heat stress, our best hopes are that all there will have the means to remain safe.

Hat Tips and People I Just Feel Like Promoting:

Colorado Bob

Prokaryotes

Dark Snow

Unprecedented Jet Stream Wave Sparks 120+ Degree Temps in the US Southwest and Tundra Fires in Extreme Northern Canada.

Canadian Tundra Fires June 29

(Tundra Fires Near Hudson Bay in Northern Canada on June 29, 2013. Image source: Lance-Modis)

Today, as temperatures rocketed to above 120 in the US Desert Southwest, temperatures hit 87 degrees on the shore of the frozen waters of the Canadian Archipelago. These were the south to north markers of a heatwave that spanned 3,000 miles from Death Valley, California to Cambridge Bay in extreme northern Canada.

Beneath the southern section of this vast and sprawling heat dome, US communities coped by setting up cooling centers and issuing heat warnings. But despite this agile preparedness, hospitals in the hardest hit areas were flooded with cases of heat injury.

In one instance, an outdoor concert in Las Vegas saw more than 200 persons treated for heat injuries while more than 36 were hospitalized. Sadly, an elderly man also passed away at one local hospital after suffering from heat stroke. Temperatures reached an extraordinarily hot 115 (Fahrenheit) in Sin City.

Elsewhere, across the region, Palm Springs hit 122, Death Valley hit 125, and Phoenix hit a scorching 119. Tomorrow is expected to bring another day of extreme record heat, so area cities and residents are still under the gun.

Further north, near 90 degree temperatures stretched all the way to the frozen shores of Cambridge Bay in extreme northern Canada. There, some locations on the ice choked waterway experienced 87 degree temperatures, which is nearly 40 degrees (Fahrenheit) above average for this time of year.

The extreme heat sparked numerous tundra fires across Northern Canada, some of which you can see in the NASA satellite image above. Note the smoke tails rising from two clusters of fires in the upper center portion of the image. That ice speckled area of blue to the right is the, usually frigid, Hudson Bay.

The heat also set off melt and fracturing of sea ice in Cambridge Bay, which you can see in the NASA shot below:

Ice melt Cambridge Bay June 29

(June 29 Ice Melt and Fracturing, Cambridge Bay. Image source: Lance-Modis)

Warming air temperatures typical for this region (high 40s to low 50s) usually result in a more gradual melt. But hot air temperatures at up to 55 degrees (Fahrenheit) above freezing tend to have a far more rapid effect. It is also worth noting the nearly complete lack of visible snow cover in this extreme northern region.

I’ve Never Seen A Rossby Wave Like This

The cause of this 3000 mile swath of heat is an extremely high amplitude wave in the Jet Stream that stretches from the Western US all the way up to the Arctic Ocean. This large bulge has allowed a powerful ‘heat dome’ high pressure system to build up beneath it, concentrating heat over the vast area affected.

Epic Rossby Wave June 30

(Image source: California Regional Weather Office)

Note the up-flow of Jet Stream winds rising up the coast of California, Oregon, Washington and British Columbia then lifting all the way up to the Arctic Ocean before diving back down through central Hudson Bay and into the US Midwest, before making another hairpin turn north again over the Appalachians.

Large Jet Stream waves of this kind are termed ‘Rossby Waves’ after the climate scientist who first identified them. They show extreme north-south and south-north elongation. In the time I’ve been tracking the extreme changes to the Northern Hemisphere Jet Stream brought about by human-caused warming, I’ve never seen a Rossby Wave quite so large as this. Nor have I seen one that is the result of so many large back and forth meanders. In fact, the entire Northern Hemisphere Jet is a mess of meanders, cut off upper level lows and blocking highs.

One of these upper level lows is expected to bring abnormally heavy rain with up to 3-5 inches for some parts of the US East Coast over the next couple of days. So as heat bakes a swath from Death Valley to the Arctic Ocean, the Eastern US braces for potential flooding. Similar Jet Stream loops and swirls spawned the European floods this June, a series of deadly floods that killed hundreds in India and Tibet, and multiple anomalous Arctic heatwaves occurring throughout the past month.

Extreme Jet Streams, like the one displayed above (for late Saturday, June 29), are far more likely to spawn extreme weather events than the usual, gently wavy Jet Stream that human civilization has been used to for much of the 20th Century and, probably, for most of the 10,000 year period since the last ice age. But a combination of eroding sea ice and record or near record low Northern Hemisphere snow cover contribute to both a slowing of the Jet Stream and in greater north-south and south-north flows. The result is large wave patterns in the Jet that tend to get stuck in the same configuration for long periods. Beneath the swells in the Jet, we get hotter temperatures, dryer conditions, and the risk of everything from extreme heatwaves to droughts and fires. In the dips, we get cooler temperatures and much, much stormier conditions resulting in a range of weather from extreme winters (Europe during winter/spring 2013), to floods (Europe summer 2013, India late June 2013), to record rainfall and powerful thunderstorms (US May-June 2013).

These are vivid examples of how human-caused climate change can result in extreme weather.

Heat Wave to Last For at Least a Week

The current record heat wave affecting both the US West and a large section of Canada is expected to last at least until the end of this week. Slow moderation, though, is expected for some regions after Sunday. However, the blocking pattern that spawned this particular heat wave shows little sign of changing position. So hotter, dryer conditions are expected to remain in place for the foreseeable future for much of the US South-West.

Meanwhile, Canada and regions along the Arctic coastline are still likely to see much warmer than usual conditions as periodic warm air invasions from the south are likely to continue.

Links:

Lance-Modis

California Regional Weather Office

Punishing Heat Hits Western US

 

 

 

PAC 2013, The Month-Long Arctic Cyclone: Transitioning to a Warm Storm?

PAC2013Jun21

(Image source: DMI)

Well, it’s official. PAC 2013 has yet to give up the ghost. After transitioning to the Canadian Archipelago, it has now formed a trough composing three low pressure centers that roughly straddles Greenland, Baffin Bay, and the thickest sea ice. At this point, the storm is nearly one month old (with a formation date around May 21-26). Lowest pressures appear to be around 990 mb, but the entire region is covered in rough weather and clouds.

A look at the heat map shows the storm pulling in warmer air from the Alaskan side of the Arctic and from regions around it. This extra energy has given it enough to fuel multiple lows for an extended period. As a by-product, many regions over the Central Arctic are now above freezing. Areas near the low pressure centers still show temperatures in the range of 0 to -3 Celsius. But a broad swath of above-freezing temperatures are now under the circulation of this, rather large, storm.

PAC2013TempJun21

(Image source: DMI)

On the map, we also notice areas of high heat concentration centered over Scandinavia, Central Siberia, Alaska, and just West of Hudson Bay. These regions of heat are both potential launching pads for more warm air invasions of the Arctic as well as feeding sources for our storm, should it continue.

And, according to forecasts, we can find that this storm isn’t done by a long-shot. ECMWF model runs show it forming troughs with numerous low pressure cells and chewing through large portions of the Arctic all the way through to July 1. Seems we were right to caution against an end to PAC 2013 in this earlier blog.

A very interesting example is the ECMWF forecast for June 27th when PAC 2013 forms a sprawling trough from the East Siberian Sea to Baffin Bay to Greenland to the Kara. It is a trough composed of not one, not two, but at least six separate low pressure cells. The forecast for tomorrow through much of the model run shows similar configurations with daisy chains of storms linked by a trough swirling along through the Arctic.

Six Lows PAC 2013

(Image source: ECMWF)

These model runs would seem to indication very stormy conditions not only for the Central Arctic, but for the periphery as well.

The ‘Warm’ Arctic Storm Begins to Emerge?

With temperatures rising to above freezing in the Central Arctic Basin and with storms projected to persist at least until July 1rst, we may receive an unwelcome glimpse of the ‘Warm’ Storm described here. Previously, I had speculated that ‘Warm’ Storm conditions would be present with moderate-to-strong cyclones persisting in the Central Arctic at a time when air temperatures ranged from 0 to 6 degrees Celsius. As we can see from the temperature map at the top of the post, we are not far off from that threshold now. And with heatwaves popping up around the Arctic there is more than enough warmth to push Central Arctic temperatures higher over the coming days and weeks.

Over at the Arctic Ice Blog (read it, join it, follow it, chat on it — you will learn boatloads), expert posters Wayne and R. Gates have noted that while clouds block direct sunlight, they can act to trap long-wave radiation. R. Gates had also linked a recent scientific study which showed that cloudy conditions from March to May enhanced rather than inhibited melt. The energy of this long-wave radiation would transfer directly to ice and ocean, so atmospheric temperatures would not be directly impacted. But more heat content in the waters and ice, overall, might be providing some of the extra kick that ECMWF appears to have missed. Another recent study by Edward Hanna found that low level clouds helped to increase the record Greenland ice sheet melt of 2012 (study here) by trapping heat near the ice. So the overall effect of clouds in cooling is less certain than one would think at first blush.

Another source of this extra heat may be via the ocean itself. As noted in previous posts, cyclonic action creates a kind of pumping force (Ekman), that can pull water up from the ocean’s depths. In the Arctic, the surface layer is cold. But underneath lies a layer of warm water fueled by the inflow from oceans surrounding the Arctic (primarily the Atlantic). As commenter Johnm33 noted, once a strong inflow of upwelling water is established, it is possible that yet more warm water is being drawn into the deep Arctic Ocean from the Atlantic. If this warmer inflow was pumped to the surface, it would add to atmospheric heat beneath the storm.

Lastly, the atmosphere, via high amplitude waves in the Jet Stream is now also providing its own source of heat by dredging deep into the lower latitudes and pulling warmer air up into the Arctic. So far this summer, we have seen record heat waves in both Scandinavia and Alaska. These heat waves were caused by persistent blocking patterns that injected heat into these Arctic locations. Scandinavia saw temperatures in the 80s, Alaska saw temperatures rocketing into the upper 90s. The Jet Stream configuration allowing for these hot air injections at these locations still persists and are plainly visible on the current Jet Stream map:

Mangled Jet Jun21

(Image source: California Regional Weather Service)

Note the large wave in the Jet Stream (and associated warmer air) now riding up over Alaska and deep into the Beaufort, Chukchi, and East Siberian Seas. Another pulse is visible lunging up through Scandinavia. A third, though less southwardly linked, pulse is also now rising over Eastern Siberia. These extraordinarily high amplitude waves all cross far beyond the Arctic Circle. An atmospheric condition that is anything but normal and one that is also continuing to supply warmer air to the Arctic environment, even one covered by a storm that would normally substantially cool the atmosphere there (for more information on how snow and ice melt in the Arctic is enabling these high amplitude Jet Stream waves, take a look at some of the work of Dr Jennifer Francis). Instead, as the discrepancy with ECMWF predictions and surface observations shows, we have temperatures that are only .5 to 1 degree C cooler than average under the storm (they should be about 3-7 C cooler) and much, much warmer conditions surrounding it.

A Warm Storm persisting in the Central Arctic for long periods is a potential nightmare scenario for sea ice melt. Currently, we have warming conditions in the Central Arctic, a spate of record heat-waves at the periphery in places like Alaska and Scandinavia, a mangled Jet Stream that keeps pumping warmer air into the Arctic, and a storm that is now projected to persist until at least July 1rst. So we now have to consider at least the temporary emergence of the Warm Storm to be a possibility going forward.

Impacts to Sea Ice Still Ongoing, Likely to Ramp Up

A substantial thinning and chopping up of the sea ice is now apparent in all visible (when you can see through the clouds), concentration, and thickness monitors. Now, a wasteland of thinned, shattered and broken ice is visible in a swath from Svalbard all the way to Wrangle Island near the Bering Strait. A comprehensive graphic summary of these impacts is provided below:

PAC2013USNavyJun21Thinner

(Image source: US Navy)

The current image, provided by the US Navy is a stark contrast to conditions seen at the end of May. This thickness measure shows a long ‘claw’ of much thinner ice reaching all the way in to the Central Arctic and encompassing the North Pole. This graphic reveals very poor Central Ice thickness conditions for mid-to-late June.

USNAVYConcentrationPAC2013

(Image source: US Navy)

The US Navy surface concentration graphic also reveals very broken conditions for the Central Arctic in mid-to-late June.

UniBremanPAC2013

(Image source: Uni Bremen)

Uni-Bremen has been providing consistent confirmation of ice damage and fragmentation due to the Ongoing Arctic Storm for nearly two weeks now. Here’s the most recent concentration monitor showing the broad swath of broken ice.

Cryosphere Today PAC2013

(Image source: Cryosphere Today)

And Cryosphere Today, which is less sensitive than the other monitors shows low ice concentrations stretching from Svalbard to Wrangle Island.

Overall, should PAC 2013 continue to warm even as it persists, it should have ever-greater deleterious effects on the Central Arctic sea ice as mid-to-late June transitions into July. The US Navy thickness forecast shows ongoing thinning and fracturing in this region all the way through June 28th. One interesting feature of note in this forecast is that it appears a substantial section of ice will be separated from the main pack and stranded in the Kara Sea if current trends continue through early July.

PACUSNAVYforecastJun28

(Image source: US Navy)

The Storm That Just Won’t Quit

So, apparently against all odds, PAC 2013 continues and, even worse, shows risk of beginning a transition to a ‘Warm’ Storm in the Central Arctic. Should this trend remain in effect, increasingly visible damage to the central ice is likely to become ever more apparent as June turns to July.

Links:

DMI

ECMWF

US Navy

Cryosphere Today

Uni Bremen

Neven’s Arctic Ice Blog

California Regional Weather Service

Jennifer Francis Explains How Sea Ice and Snow Melt impact the Jet Stream

The Warm Arctic Storm

The Arctic Heatwave: Greenland, Alaska, Scandinavia, Heat Domes and a Mangled Jet Stream

Over the past year, we’ve now experienced three major heatwaves north of the Arctic Circle. Greenland melted under a freakish blanket of heat-trapping clouds, Scandinavia saw an early June heatwave that sent temperatures into the 80s, 30 to 40 degrees hotter than normal, and just this week Alaska experienced record heat that sent temperatures there into the upper 90s, probably the hottest temperatures ever recorded there.

Now, a combination of new research reveals changes to the Jet Stream that enable warm air to enter the Arctic even as a thickening atmosphere sets in place conditions where powerful ‘heat domes’ are more likely to form.

Unprecedented Heat, Melt In Greenland

Our story begins in Greenland during July of 2012. At that time, a powerful blocking pattern enabled a strong high pressure system to form over that frozen land. An upward swing in the jet stream pumped ever-warmer air over its vast ice sheets. Finally, record temperatures were reached both along the coast-line and even at the center of its three kilometer high glaciers. Temperatures in the Greenland interior rocketed to 60 degrees.

Greenland Melt 2012

(Image source: Nicolo E. DiGirolamo, SSAI/NASA GSFC, and Jesse Allen, NASA Earth Observatory)

Within only a few days, almost the entire ice sheet was experiencing some kind of melt. A record 90% of the ice sheet succumbed, far out-pacing the previous record of 52 percent set just two years before in 2010.

Draped over top of this melt was a freakish layer of low clouds. Clouds are, generally, thought to block heat from the sun. But, in this case, it appeared the clouds had locked heat in, recirculating it and keeping it close to the ice, forming a heat-trapping blanket over Greenland.

Far above this low cloud layer, the atmosphere was growing ever thicker. A towering high pressure system known as a heat dome was sucking in the warmer air from around and beneath it, trapping it in a denser and denser layer. From the south, a long-period, very persistent blocking pattern fed warmer, moister air into this heat dome. Meanwhile, the sea ice, which had tended to insulate Greenland from direct assaults of heat in the past, had retreated far behind its usual summer lines of defense.

As a result, Greenland baked.

In the media, contrarians did their best to down-play what was clearly a catastrophic event. They retreated to their usual ‘natural variability’ claims. But the closest event bearing any similarity to the 2012 event happened in the 19th Century and it didn’t occur at the end of a long string of worsening melt. Context formed a mire which contrarians were having ever-greater difficulties extracting themselves from.

The Scandinavian Heat Wave

But context was coming back to haunt us yet again as June 2013 rolled around. This time, another blocking pattern had emerged — creating a strange whirl in the Jet Stream. The path of atmospheric current followed a course much like a river bends through a marsh. It coiled, snake-like, bending back on itself, forming cut off circles.

This punch of colder air extended from Greenland all the way into central Europe. This extrusion of Arctic atmosphere resulted in one of the most extreme winter/spring periods Europe has ever experienced. Record snows were followed by record floods. By June, some water gauges on Europe’s largest rivers recorded the highest levels since the 1500s. It was the third 1,000 year flood to occur within the last 13 years.

But the colder, stormier air didn’t penetrate any deeper than Eastern Europe. There, it doubled back on itself, heading up and back into the North Atlantic. In front of this coil of air, this blocking pattern that had persisted over Europe since winter, rose a burst of heat. This pulse flowed into Scandinavia where it stagnated. Heat pooled in this region and, in a few days, records were being shattered across such improbable Arctic regions as Finland. 80 degree temperatures reigned in a region that usually experienced 40 degree weather this time of year.

In about a week, the Scandinavian Heat Wave had backed off, but temperatures remained well above average into mid-June.

The Alaskan Heat Wave

But heat was, again, about to re-emerge just two weeks later in another improbable region of the Arctic.

This time, a blocking high pressure system that had created a high amplitude wave in the Jet Stream over the Pacific Ocean just south of Alaska and west of British Columbia was about to preform an exotic trick. Alaska, resting just north of this blocking ridge had lain beneath a front of cold air for much of May. So while areas of California, Nevada, Arizona, Washington, Oregon, and British Columbia were experiencing abnormally warm conditions, Alaska experienced temperatures that had plunged into record low territory for many cities.

Contrarians proclaimed the end of global warming for Alaska. But the heat was coming and they only had to wait one month. By June, the blocking pattern which had kept cold air to the north and warmer air to the south began to edge into Alaska. Temperatures flipped from the 20s to the 70s for many regions. Barrow, which had experienced a warmer than average winter and spring, saw temperatures rise into what, for it, was the balmy 40s.

But this pulse of warmer than average air wasn’t finished. The current of Jet Stream cut off, giving this warm high pressure system an encapsulating band of winds. Conditions were now right for the formation of another heat dome. And form it did. By Monday of this week, temperatures had rocketed to 98 degrees in some places of the Alaska interior, possibly breaking the all-time record high for the hottest temperature ever recorded, at any time, in Alaska.

Today, temperatures for Barrow, one of the coldest cities on Earth, are projected to hit 70 degrees, about 31 degrees above the average high for this time of year.

Greenland, Scandinavia, Alaska, three record heat waves above the Arctic Circle all in the last year. What in the world had happened to the weather?

Enter the Experts…

A number of climate scientists and meteorologists have begun to grapple with the new, unstable regime of weather gripping the Arctic. These include Dr. Jennifer Francis of Rutgers University, Stu Ostro of The Weather Channel, and Dr. Edward Hanna of the University of Sheffield.

Dr. Francis, last year, provided compelling scientific evidence that the erosion of Arctic sea ice and the rapid melt of Northern Hemisphere snow cover during the summer time resulted in changes to the Jet Stream. This erosion of sea ice and land snow resulted in less of the Arctic’s cold air being trapped within the Arctic. It also resulted in more floods of warmer air coming up from the south. This north-south motion of air masses had the net effect of reducing the temperature difference between the Arctic and the mid-lattitudes. As a result, the river of air surrounding the pole known as the Jet Stream began to slow down, forming large dips and bulges.

As these dips formed and the air slowed, the Jet Stream had more of a tendency to become stuck. This sticking in place created ‘blocking patterns’ in which a given set of weather was more likely to persist over long periods of time. Recent examples of these blocking patterns and their related weather include Europe’s extreme winter and spring of 2012-2013 and the 2012 US Heatwave and related 2012-2013 drought. Further, without the collision of Arctic and Tropical air masses enabled by a massive dip and up-swing in the polar Jet Stream near the US East Coast, it is doubtful that the Hybrid Superstom Sandy would have ever formed.

Dr. Francis notes an increased frequency of such extreme, blocking pattern spawned, events and the picture she paints provides us with a much better understanding of how climate change is impacting our weather.

Recently, Dr. Francis spoke on the subject of climate change in an event entitled “The Alarming Science Behind Climate Change’s Increasingly Wild Weather”  with the weather Channel’s Stu Ostro. Stu brings a different yet complimentary set of knowledge to the new observations presented by Dr. Francis. Over the past couple of decades, Stu has noted what appears to be a ‘thickening’ of the atmosphere. He equates it to a cake batter which, when heated, tends to rise. This rising atmosphere, according to Stu, has led to the formation of powerful, persistent high pressure systems. As Stu noted in a recent article in Mother Jones:

“The frequency of these really strong ridges of high pressure aloft, these anomalous high pressures aloft are increasing.”

And the result is some rather alarming consequences.

A recent paper headed by Dr. Edward Hanna at the University of Sheffield implicates both the mangled Jet Stream and a powerfully thickened high pressure system in the record 2012 melt in Greenland. According to the paper:

Our analysis allows us to assess the relative contributions of these two key influences to both the extreme melt event and ongoing climate change. In 2012, as in recent warm summers since 2007, a blocking high pressure feature, associated with negative NAO conditions, was present in the mid-troposphere over Greenland for much of the summer. This circulation pattern advected relatively warm southerly winds over the western flank of the ice sheet, forming a ‘heat dome’ over Greenland that led to the widespread surface melting.

Dr. Hanna’s paper pointed out the movement of warmer air over Greenland via a strong blocking pattern in the Jet Stream and the building up of a powerful ‘heat dome’ and blocking high pressure system over the ice sheets. Hanna also added the contribution that lower level clouds enhanced, rather than inhibited, melt.

Together, this research points toward how receding sea ice and a warming climate are setting in place conditions that are causing these Arctic heat waves. And the recent heatwaves in Greenland, Scandinavia, and Alaska provide excellent illustrations of the kind of events we can expect with greater frequency in the future.

Links:

Nicolo E. DiGirolamo, SSAI/NASA GSFC, and Jesse Allen, NASA Earth Observatory

Dr. Jennifer Francis: Understanding the Jet Stream

One Meteorologist’s Come to Jesus Moment on Climate Change

‘Heat Dome’ Melted Ice Sheet in 2012

Atmospheric and Oceanic Climate Forcing of the Exceptional Greenland Ice Sheet Surface Melt in Summer 2012

Heatwave Sends Temperatures in Alaska to 94 Degrees

Human Climate Change is Wrecking the Jet Stream: UK Met Office Calls Emergency Meeting

Arctic Sea Ice Melt, Methane Release Shows Amplifying Feedbacks From Human-Caused Climate Change

Maryland Storm’s Aftermath

Powerful storms swept through Maryland Friday after a record heatwave causing wide-spread damage and power outages. You can view the second half of this video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q6Q3qPz3iJU&feature=plcp

 

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Global Warming Induced Heat, Fires, and Floods Ravage US

Image

The mainstream media isn’t saying it. But the truth is obvious to anyone with a clear pair of eyes and a mind unadulterated by ideology: the US is getting pummeled by the effects of global warming induced fires and floods. Over the past week, scores of fires have burned through Colorado and California, leaving hundreds of square miles burned, hundreds of homes lost, injuries and at least one death. In Florida, the fourth named storm of a hurricane season that began far earlier than usual slammed into Florida, dumping over 30 inches of rain in some locations.

The combined one, two punch comes after the hottest spring on record in the United States and during a period of time when dust bowl era temperature records are being smashed one after another. In the mid-west, temperatures ranging from 105 to 115 degrees shattered old records, in some cases by as much as 12 degrees.

It is only June. So the early onset of high temperatures, wildfires, and tropical storms doesn’t bode well for the rest of 2012. Both wildfire and hurricane seasons usually peak during the months of August through October. The onset of record storms and fires in June is an unprecedented beginning and hopefully not a forerunner to even worse weather and fires to come.

Hellish afterglow

Victims of wildfires in Colorado, after being forced to evacuate their homes, described some of the unreal scenery as they drove through the state Tuesday night. One observer said that the sky was lit with the red glow of fires raging all over the state, comparing the scene to ‘hell on Earth.’

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Unfortunately, Wednesday morning saw one of the most threatening of the many fires ravaging Colorado double in size. The exploding Colorado Springs fire has now forced more than 30,000 people to flee their homes. With only 5% of the blaze contained, officials are now rushing more than a thousand firefighters to the scene. Pre-evacuation orders have also been issued in counties adjacent to the blaze and it appears that even more people may be displaced before the expanding fire is contained.

Warnings from climate scientists ignored, under-reported

Over the past three decades, climate scientists have been warning that increased global temperatures caused by human emissions of greenhouse gasses would result in more heatwaves, fires, and extreme weather events. Over the past five years, with about 1.5 degrees of warming, these kinds of events have been growing in scale and intensity. With business as usual climate estimates predicting another six degrees of warming over this century, unless greenhouse gas emissions are substantially curbed, one can only expect the extreme weather, temperatures and fires to worsen.

Links:

http://www.mercurynews.com/ci_20949290/wildfire-devours-homes-colorado-springs?source=most_viewed

http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2012/06/27/507119/hell-and-high-water-strikes-media-miss-the-forest-for-the-burning-trees/

http://capitalclimate.blogspot.com/2012/06/more-high-plains-high-heat-yet-another.html

 

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