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A World in Hot Water sees Floods, Floods Everywhere

2015 was the hottest climate year in the global record by a long shot. According to Japan’s Meteorological Agency, temperatures were a full 0.18 degrees Celsius hotter than 1998, which is now the third hottest climate year on record, and a whopping 0.13 C above just last year (the second hottest year on record).

It’s a part of a larger warming trend that began during the latter 19th Century. One that has now seen more than 1 degree Celsius of total overall global warming. And so, in a little more than one hundred and thirty years, humans through a massive burning of carbon based fuels, have forced the world to warm by about 20 percent of all the warming seen at the end of the last ice age. But at that great glacial termination it typically took about 2,000 years for the world to warm by the amount we’ve now seen over little more than a Century.

A World in Record Hot Water

That’s a lot of heat accumulation for a very short period of time. A massive heat build-up that saw its most recent high point just this past year (2015). And all that extra heat accumulating over 2014-2015 blew an extraordinary amount of water vapor into the Earth’s atmosphere. Water vapor that primarily boiled off of Ocean hot spot zones. One of these zones, the Eastern Equatorial Pacific, experienced some of its hottest temperatures ever recorded as a monster El Nino blew up through that region. But other ocean surface hot spots abounded. The Northeastern Pacific, the Atlantic Ocean off the US East Coast, regions of the upper Northern Hemisphere Latitudes including the Barents and Bering Sea, the Indian Ocean, the Mediterranean, the Southern Pacific, the Southern Atlantic off South America and Africa and many other regions in between all experienced much warmer than normal surface temperatures.

Hot Water, Hot Water Everywhere

(Extremely warm sea surface temperatures around the world are dumping an extraordinary amount of moisture into the global atmosphere. As global temperatures hit peak just after El Nino, a heavy volume of this moisture is likely to come down in the form of extreme precipitation events. And with global temperatures at record levels, the resulting storms could be extroardinarily powerful. We’ve already seen some of this weather. But there’s all-too-likely more in the pipe. Image source: NOAA’s Earth Systems Research Laboratory.)

These hot waters generated unprecedented plumes of moisture. The water vapor flooded into the record hot atmosphere. And as we neared peak global temperature readings, or even worse, started to come off that peak, some of that massive volume of water hanging in the air began to precipitate out.

River Threatens to Devour 16th Century Castle in Scotland

One of the heaviest hit regions — Northern England and Scotland — has experienced the worst floods in its history this Winter. Residents of this waterlogged country now all-too-often report rivers of water running down the streets just outside their homes. And time after time during storm after storm, hundreds to thousands are forced to flee the record high and rising waters. Last week, a powerful North Atlantic low pushed river levels so high that a bridge that had lasted through more than three Centuries of floods finally succumbed to the epic torrent.

Today, the raging Dee River devoured 250 feet of bank and is now threatening to undermine Abergeldie Castle — a structure that has stood against storms for the past 450 years. But one that is now no match for the hydrological events arising in a record hot world.

According to some, climate change was only supposed to threaten the poor. But the particular natural disaster that we’ve brewed up apparently didn’t get the message. Abergeldie is the residence of an Scottish Baron and friend to the Queen — John Gordon (76) together with his wife. Sadly, these well established people have also recently joined the ranks of refugees to a disaster that does not discriminate. One that can devour homes and residences of any variety — those of any people of any nation and of any walk of life. Baron Gordon may not know it yet, but he stands in solidarity with the people of island nations around the world, with Bangladeshis, and with the hundreds of thousands of people all displaced by extreme weather events just this year. All of whom are deserving of our best efforts to help them and to, most of all, prevent ever worsening extreme weather events of the kinds we are now experiencing on a global basis.

John’s neighbor described a very distraught family in this recent Guardian posting:

“The castle is in imminent danger and John is at his wits’ end. It’s not only a home. It’s the heritage, the history. Nothing can be done while the river is in spate like it is. It’s just thundering down. It swept away and smashed the mature trees at the back of the house like matchsticks. It also took 250ft of the bank away and all the ground at the back. The river is right at the back door.”

160,000 Displaced by Floods in South America

For many in South America last week, the situation was just as dire. Regions suffering from a two year long drought suddenly found themselves facing off against some of the worst rainfall events in at least the last 50 years. Powerful storms driven by the massive heat and moisture bleed off the Equatorial Pacific ripped through the region — sparking high winds, ripping down power lines and inundating the area with flooding rains.

By December 27th, when the rains had mostly abated, tens of thousands of people were displaced by rising flood waters. In Paraguay alone more than 100,000 people were forced to flee the floods. And throughout the rest of South America including sections of Brazil, Uruguay, and Argentina another 60,000 were made refugees by the raging waters.

(Floods, floods everywhere. NASA tracks the global extreme weather events of 2015 in the stunning composite video above. Video source: NASA.)

The floods swamped thousands of homes — ripping apart roads and other critical infrastructure as the region reeled to respond to the disaster. By Monday, December 28 the only form of transportation through much of the vast impacted area was by boat.

Missouri, Illinois Inundated

At about the same time historic floods were ripping through England and Paraguay last week, a massive storm system was in the process of dumping more than a foot of rain over some sections of the Central US. The heavy rains swamped Missouri spurring the government there to declare a state of emergency even as heavy impacts spread over a multi-state region of the Central US. The storm — dubbed The Four Season Storm — by Dr Jeff Masters over at Weather Underground, immediately put over 1.5 million people in the affected region under flood warnings as town after town was swamped by the torrential downpours associated with the powerful system’s eastern edge.

Mississippi Flooding over Missouri

(The Mississippi leaps its banks amidst freak, unseasonable storms during December of 2015 and January of 2016. This image taken at 39,000 feet by pilot Chris Manno in a 737 over Missouri on January 3rd.)

By today, the heavy rains dumped by the storm were well on their way through the Mississippi River basin and its tributaries. As a result more than 7 million people across the Central US are now impacted. In Illinois, levee breeches sent waters flowing out over lands up to six miles away from the Mississippi — swamping roads, homes and vehicles. Meanwhile, back in flood-soaked Missouri Governor Jay Nixon was inspecting the aftermath.

After touring St. Louis, he seemed aghast:

“I’m from this part of the state and, quite frankly, it’s almost hard to believe. It’s almost as if you’re living on some other planet.”

Heavy Weather Takes Aim at US West Coast

As multiple regions of the world reel under freak and historic flooding, the storm track in the North Pacific is now angling in at the US West Coast. A strong storm system is now battering California with heavy winds and rains. The system, which raged in out of the Pacific upon the backs of 27 foot waves, is now venting its fury over California. It’s the first of a series of storms that are, in total, predicted to dump as much as 7 inches of rain over the region by the end of this week.

Liquid precipitation accumulations 7 day

(NOAA’s 7 day liquid precipitation equivalent forecast shows 4 to 7 inches of rain or equivalent snow predicted to fall over Coastal California, the Sierra Nevada range and Central Arizona. For southwestern desert regions, especially, the predicted weather is expected to be unusually heavy. Image source: NOAA Weather Prediction Center.)

With three storms expected to impact the region over the next four days, it appears the flood risk is now taking aim at California. The extreme moisture of a record warm atmosphere again appears to be set to unload. Lets hope that our fellows on the US West Coast are prepared.

Links:

Japan’s Meteorological Agency

NOAA’s Earth Systems Research Laboratory

Climate Change Driven Storms Wreck 300 Year Old Bridge in England

450 Year Old English Castle Threatened by Flood Waters

100,000 Displaced by Floods in Paraguay

NASA

The Four Season Storm

Weather Underground

Chris Manno

Mississippi Inundates Southern Illinois — Memphis is Next

NOAA’s Weather Prediction Center

Hat Tip to Colorado Bob

Hat Tip to DT Lange

Join me with Dr. Jeff Masters and Dr. Steven Amstrup at www.voanews.com live at 12:30 PM EST tomorrow, Tuesday January 5th

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Hot Blob #2 Takes Aim at Sea Ice — Abnormally Warm Waters Invading the Arctic Through Bering and Chukchi

A lot of attention has been paid to a ‘Blob’ of unusual warmth at the ocean surface in the Northeastern Pacific. And for good reason, for that Blob of human-warmed water has had wide-ranging negative impacts on both weather and sea life. Now there’s a second hot Blob forming in the Bering and Chukchi seas. One that may also have some rather significant effects as the summer of 2015 continues.

Abnormally Warm Waters Running Toward the Sea Ice

Hot Blob #2 is a vast stretch of warm water covering the Bering and Chukchi seas between Alaska and Kamchatka (Neven, in his most recent sea ice summary, touched on this building warm water zone here). It encompasses surface waters in an usually frigid region that now feature temperatures ranging from 3 to 5.5 degrees Celsius above normal. Covering an area roughly 800 miles in diameter, this pool of outlandishly warm ocean waters is being fed by currents running up from the south and by heat bleeding off Alaskan and Siberian land masses. In this case, land masses that are also experiencing record heat.

image

(Hot Blob #2 forms in the Bering as its warm waters are swept north toward the Arctic sea ice pack. The above sea surface temperature anomaly map shows a broad stretch of much hotter than typical surface waters being pulled poleward by prevailing ocean currents. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

Though the abnormal warmth is also likely fed by a powerful albedo switch from white, reflective sea ice, to dark, sunlight absorbing ocean, other factors associated with El Nino and related to the hot blob off the North American West Coast are also likely in play. And of particular interest in this present extreme hot water situation are currents flowing northward out of these warm pools and directly into the Arctic. Currents that have been eating away at the ice since winter.

One warm water bearing current — the Alaskan Coastal Current — runs directly out of the abnormally hot surface zone in the Northeastern Pacific (Blob #1). This current flows along the North American Continental Shelf, out past the Aleutian Island Chain and finally up into the Bering Sea. A second current — the Siberian Coastal Current — feeds into the Bering from the Asian Continental Shelf. These currents then combine and push Bering Sea waters on through the Bering Strait and up into the Chukchi Sea.

Algae bloom hot pool

(Algae blooms, like this one in the Chukchi Sea just south of the ice pack, have been a common feature of the Pacific Ocean hot pools. The warmer waters are a preferred environment for microbes which can see some amazingly rapid population explosions. If the blooms become too numerous they can rob the ocean surface waters of nutrients and die off en masse. The decay of dead masses of algae can then leech away the oceans’ life-giving oxygen, setting off and contributing to a chain of harmful ocean anoxia. In a warming world, this process, combined with disruption of ocean currents and the basic fact that warmer waters bear less oxygen in solution, is a major contributor to mass extinction events. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

Northward propagation of these currents during spring and summer plays a critical role in the rate of sea ice recession in the Bering, Chukchi, Beaufort and East Siberian Seas. Waters warmed by the summer sun and by the more rapidly heating continents amplify in the Bering Strait before making contact with the sea ice and pushing it to melt and recede.

Impacts Already Visible Up the Coast

This year, waters in the Strait are extraordinarily warm — measuring 5.4 degrees above normal surface water temperatures. A plug of 5 C + above average water entering the Chukchi, Bering, Beaufort and East Siberian seas at a time when solar insolation is hitting peak intensity and during a period when nearby Arctic regions like Alaska are experiencing some of their hottest temperatures ever recorded. These waters, at temperatures in the range of 7-8 degrees Celsius, are warm enough to rapidly melt any ice they contact. And they’re flooding directly toward the ice pack.

Barrow Alaska

(Ice rapidly melting off of Barrow, Alaska on June 23, 2015. Ice is seen receding from the near shore zone even as the ice pack further out breaks into dark blue patches of open ocean. Image source: Barrow Ice Cam.)

Unusually warm surface water and air temperature impacts can already be seen further down the coast in places like Barrow, Alaska. Today, near shore sea ice dramatically melted and off-shore sea ice has retreated poleward — revealing the tell-tale blue of open ocean in the distance. An extreme one day change for Barrow sea ice, which only featured melt ponds and some near-shore melt 24 hours before.

Conditions, Model Runs Point Toward Substantial Thinning

Looking northward, we find ice pack conditions showing substantial thinning, significant melt pond formation over the surface ice and increasingly disassociated ice flows in the Beaufort, Chukchi, and East Siberian Seas. Near shore ice in the East Siberian Sea (ESS) has taken on a vivid blue or glassy appearance indicative of melt pond formation. Melt and compaction wedges have formed in the ESS along an axis pointing toward the pole. In the Chukchi, sea ice recession and thinning appear to be proceeding quite rapidly, while dispersing ice in the Beaufort is hitting warmer surface waters, fed by Mackenzie River outflow, and melting.

Navy ARCc Model Run

(The ARCc model run shows rapid thinning in the Beaufort, Chukchi and ESS through June 30. Image source: US Navy.)

The Navy’s ARCc historic and forecast model run for May 30 through June 30 shows rapid thinning of sea ice in the affected regions. The forecast run for the next seven days shows extreme thinning continuing through the ESS and Chukchi, with thicker ice in the Beaufort also experiencing substantial reductions (Note that the Navy’s GLBb model runs look even worse).

Overall, given the fact that storms are now ranging through substantial sections of the Arctic, pushing for more sea ice dispersal, losses will tend to show up more in the sea ice area and volume measures first. Dispersal will also tend to mute extent losses for a time. Given the delay in area and volume tracking, it’s likely that overall impacts to sea ice will tend to be muted in the measures over coming days with a clearer signal showing up by late June and early July. But despite these underlying and complicating weather conditions, the fact remains that a lot of unusually warm water is heading northward toward the ice, with likely greater impacts to follow.

Links:

Earth Nullschool

US Navy

Barrow Ice Cam

The Arctic Ice Blog

A Deadly Climb From Glaciation to Hothouse

Awakening the Horrors of the Ancient Hothouse — Hydrogen Sulfide in the World’s Warming Oceans

Hat Tip to Colorado Bob

Hat Tip to Ouse MD

Haiyan Redux? Monster Typhoon Hagupit Forecast To Strike Philippines Still Reeling From Last Year’s Terrible Blow

In early November of 2013 the monster Typhoon Haiyan roared ashore in the Central Philippines claiming over 8,000 souls and rendering many thousands more homeless. It was the strongest storm ever recorded on Earth over land — boasting winds exceeding 190 mph and pressures below 900 mb. It formed over ocean surface waters that were far warmer than normal and whose heat extended much further into the ocean depths than was typical. The kind of powerful storm that many atmospheric scientists say is more likely to occur as humans keep heating the ocean and atmosphere, providing fuel and conditions to make the most intense storms ever stronger.

Today, more than a year later, 15,000 people are still living in tents along a swath that saw more than 4 million homes destroyed as Haiyan made landfall. Climate and extreme weather refugees in a world that is, sadly, seeing more and more dislocated people. People affected by drought, water loss, and by the devastation of storms. From Syria to Brazil to California to the Philippines, the refrain is the same. Bad weather pushed people to the edge or over. It took their homes or made living where they are a nightmare.

And, for a Philippines still reeling from Haiyan’s brutal blow, it may just be happening again.

Hagupit

(December 4 infrared satellite shot of Hagupit as it approaches the central Philippines. Image source: NOAA MTSAT.)

As of yesterday afternoon Hagupit had bombed out into a category 5 monster storm boasting 1 minute sustained winds of 180 mph and a minimum central pressure of 905 mb. This put Hagupit in a tie with super typhoons Vongfong and Nuri as the strongest storms of 2014. Not quite as strong as Haiyan, but still a very dangerous storm. One strong enough to fling out 50 foot waves and bring a storm surge as tall as a two story house to Philippine shores.

Over the next few days Hagupit is expected to steadily weaken, roaring ashore in the Central Philippines as a strong Category 4 or weak Category 5 before slowly churning off toward the WNW toward Manila.

Hagupit is a gradual mover and covers a relatively broad area. The result is that tropical storm and intense typhoon conditions will persist over regions for longer periods than occurred with Haiyan, even if Hagupit is not quite as powerful. As mentioned above, of serious concern is that the currently predicted track of Hagupit will bring it near or over regions that have yet to fully recover from the terrible impacts of Haiyan.

Hagupit predicted track

(Predicted track and strength of Hagupit. Image source: Joint Typhoon Warning Center.)

Overall, the predicted track is a bit to the north of Haiyan’s shoreward surge of last year. However, the hardest hit areas are still uncomfortably close to the guidance cone. In addition, the current projected path features more flood prone coastal regions than Haiyan’s path. With many bay features to funnel in and amplify a storm surge.

Along this track, the storm would primarily be a major rainfall concern by the time it reached the capital city of Manila.

Climatology — Very Strong Supertyphoon in December Feature of a Globe in Hot Water

Climatologically, it’s a bit odd for such a strong storm to form in December, even in the warm Western Pacific (at peak intensity, Hagupit was the strongest December cyclone in at least the past 15 years). During recent years and under the apparent influence of a heating climate this region has tended to feature tropical cyclone formation year-round. A phenomena that some atmospheric scientists expect to continue to ramp up with human-caused warming.

sea surface temperature anomaly West Pacific

(Sea surface temperature anomaly for the Western Pacific in the vicinity of the Philippines. Image source: NOAA Sea Surface Temperature Anomaly Charts.)

Sea surface temperatures for the region remain in a very hot range of 0.5 to 2 degrees Celsius above the 20th Century average. Meanwhile, temperatures at depth are in the slightly above average range. So Hagupit has plenty of energy to feed on, even if conditions aren’t quite as favorable as they were for Haiyan last year.

Perhaps more striking is the persistence and intensity of ocean surface heat on both the regional and global levels. GFS models for the past 8 months have shown positive ocean surface anomalies in the range of +0.6 to +1.4 C above the 20th Century average. A very, very hot world ocean, especially when we consider that the typical major ocean heating event called El Nino was in neutral status throughout this period. In this context, it is also worth noting that January through October of 2014 was the hottest such period for the world surface in all of the 136 year global climate record. Again, occurring without the added heating influence of a declared El Nino.

The Western Pacific, itself, is the hottest ocean zone in the world. And high temperature departures there have been implicated both in increasing storminess at the surface and in a troubling heightening of the troposphere over a warm and warming region.

It is in this context that we should consider the extraordinary storms we’ve recently witnessed and the major potential impacts of Hagupit over the coming days.

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UPDATE: Thursday, Hagupit went through an eye replacement cycle as well as a brief period of weakening. This caused the storm to temporarily dip below super typhoon intensity (150 mph). As of Friday morning (EST), Hagupit had re-strengthened to a 150 mph monster storm with a very low central pressure of 915 mb.

A large and intense storm that is, at least one day ahead of landfall, already pushing seas to the steps of homes, washing out roads in the city of Samar where Hagupit is expected to make landfall, and lashing the Philippine coast with intense squalls.

It is worth noting that many communities in Samar and along the Philippine coast are low-lying and are thus very vulnerable to the effects of Hagupit. A fact the Philippine government appears well aware of as it has already evacuated more than 500,000 people ahead of landfall.

The storm will also race ashore over seas already elevated by human-caused climate change, though the peak of the warm water bulge has shifted east in a broader transition toward more El Nino-like conditions for the Equatorial Pacific.

Wind Shear — Limiting Storm Intensity

Hagupit is feeling the impacts of wind shear to its south and west and this influence is likely to keep the storm below the terrible intensities seen during Haiyan.

Hagupit SW wind shear

(Hagupit feeling the effects of southwest wind shear on December 5, 2014. Despite these influences, Hagupit is maintaining status as a strong category 4 storm. Image source: NOAA MTSAT.)

It is, nonetheless, predicted to be a very powerful storm — raking the Philippine Coast with category 4 winds (135-155 mph), monster waves, storm surges in excess of 10 feet and dumping 10-25 inches of rainfall over very broad regions. Areas along the path of the storm are likely to be heavily impacted by rainfall as the storm weakens and dumps copious moisture. The expected very heavy rainfall has also prompted lahar warnings for mudslides on the flanks of volcanos Mayan and Bulusan — both in Hagupit’s path.

Hagupit track

(Updated track of Hagupit from the Joint Typhoon Warning Center)

Hagupit’s current projected track brings its center about 50-100 miles north of Haiyan’s path. This predicted motion would spare regions hardest hit by Haiyan from Hagupit’s worst impacts. However, recent satellite imagery depicts a bit of a southward jog. This recent motion, combined with the storm’s broad size and slow forward speed, mean these regions may still take a substantial beating.

The storm is a slow mover — advancing only at a rate of 5-10 miles per hour. So regions will feel the impacts of Hagupit for much longer than Haiyan. For the Philippines as a whole, it looks like this will be a three day event. A longer duration storm, though somewhat less intense.

Links:

NOAA MTSAT

Joint Typhoon Warning Center

NOAA Sea Surface Temperature Anomaly Charts

More than 15,000 People Still Living in Tents a Year After Haiyan

Weather Underground (Who Is Matching Donations to a Charity Providing Relief for the Victims of Extreme Weather)

James Reynolds — Providing Live Updates From Samar on His Twitter Feed

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

(Post Edited on December 5)

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