India’s Monsoon is Delayed For Third Year in a Row — Climate Change is Likely Cause

“It has been observed that since 2001, places in northern India, especially in Rajasthan, are witnessing a rising temperature trend every year. The main reason is the excessive … emission of carbon dioxide.” — Laxman Singh Rathore, the director general of the India Meteorological Department.

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The reduction in India’s monsoon rains is a big deal. It generates systemic drought, creates a prevalence for heatwaves, and locally amplifies the impacts of human-caused climate change. For three years now, the Indian monsoon has been delayed. India is experiencing its worst heatwaves ever recorded and water shortages across the country are growing dire. The monsoonal rains are coming, again late. And people across India — residents as well as weather and climate experts — are beginning to wonder if the endemic drought and heat stress will ever end.

Historically, there was only one climate condition known to bring about a delay in India’s Monsoon — El Nino. And last year, a strong El Nino is thought to have contributed both to the Monsoon’s late arrival and to a very severe drought that is now gripping the state. What the 2015 El Nino cannot also account for is the 2014 delay and weakening of monsoonal rains. And during 2016, as India’s monsoon has again been held back by 1-2 weeks, and El Nino is now but a memory, it’s beginning to become quite clear that there’s something else involved in the weakening of India’s annual rains.

Indian Monsoon Delayed Third Year in a Row

India's Monsoon is Delayed Yet Again

(Onset of the Indian Monsoon has been delayed for three years in a row now. A condition likely caused by a human-forced warming of the world and one that is worsening an extreme drought and heatwave situation across the country. Image source: The India Meteorological Department.)

As of today, the eastern edge of the Southeast Asian monsoon had only advanced to the middle of Myanmar. This late progress is two weeks behind the typical advance of the monsoon in this part of the world at this time of year. Further west, the monsoon has extended somewhat futher — only trailing the typical monsoon’s advance by 5 days along the western coast of India.

With La Nina blooming in the Eastern Pacific, there’s no other climatological excuse for this delay. The El Nino influence is mostly gone. And all that’s left is a global climate context in which temperatures have now risen to around 1.3 C hotter than 1880s averages.

Climate Change is Likely Cause

Scientific studies modeling the impacts of human-forced warming have long found that heating the Earth atmosphere resulted in an eventual delay and weakening of the Indian monsoon. A study published last year in Geoscience Frontiers continued this line of study. Global Circulation Model (GCM) runs found that the Indian monsoon was expected to be delayed by 15 days on average during the 21st Century due to human caused climate change. That the amount of precipitation provided by the monsoon would be reduced by about 70 percent. And that the eastern section of the monsoon would tend to be subject to greater delays than the west.

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(Extreme heat in the range of 45 to 51 degrees Celsius [113 to 124 degrees Fahrenheit] is expected to continue to impact a broad region of Northern India and Eastern Pakistan tomorrow. These temperatures are in record ranges and threaten to again break the all-time hottest temperatures ever recorded in India this week. By now, the onset of monsoonal rains should be taking the edge off a good portion of this heat. But a monsoon apparently delayed by a human forced warming of the world still holds back its cooling loads of moisture. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

Delays in the Indian Monsoon result in a loss of precipitation due to the fact that the duration of the event is greatly reduced. Rainfall has to therefore be more intense over a shorter period of time in order to make up for losses. Increasing drought prevalence results in further moisture losses due to a kind of atmospheric heat and dryness barrier that tends to sap storms of precipitation even as they start to form. The net result for India is a prediction of severe moisture loss due to human-caused climate change.

This year’s India monsoonal delay — as with the delay during 2014 — falls into that pattern. And the massive drought that India is now experiencing as a result appears to be emerging from a set of atmospheric conditions that are consistent with human-caused climate change. India’s risk for continued drought and increasingly extreme heatwaves over the coming years is therefore on the rise. And it is yet to be seen if this year’s monsoon will deliver the hoped-for and desperately-needed relief. Already, the rain-bearing storm system is lagging. And that’s not a good sign.

Links:

The Effects of Climate Change on the Seasonal Monsoon in Asia

Earth Nullschool

The India Meteorological Department

India’s Heatwave Breaks Records

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The Beast Growls — Warming-Induced Wildfire Again Doubles in Size, Burns Tar Sands Workers’ Camp

On Monday, strong southerly winds and freakishly hot temperatures near 80 degrees (F) combined to fan the still-raging Fort McMurray Fire in Alberta, Canada. The monstrous, climate change enhanced, blaze swelled. And by the end of the day it had expanded to cover more than 354,000 hectares, 1,360 square miles, or an area larger than the state of Rhode Island.

In a little more than a week, a fire that emergency response personnel are calling ‘The Beast’ had once again doubled in size.

The Beast Growls

(The Fort McMurray Fire again exploded on Monday — invading tar sands facilities even as the eastern sections of the fire came to within 7 kilometers of the Saskatchewan border. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

As the fire expanded, it swept north and east. Casting off choking, dense smoke, the fire spiked air quality ratings to 38 (a 10 is considered dangerous), forcing emergency response personnel, workers, and those few people now inhabiting the blackened town of Fort McMurray to wear particulate filtration masks. The bad air quality caused some officials to speculate that the return of more than 80,000 residents to the town could be delayed. The evacuees had been forced from their homes by the fires during early May — a wave of climate change refugees that have now faced a three week period of dislocation. But any thought of residents returning was swiftly overwhelmed by the rapidly-expanding fire itself.

8,000 More Evacuations, Oil Worker Camp Burned

As the town of Fort McMurray choked in the smoke of resurgent fires, walls of flame moving north and east again threatened tar sands facilities. Firefighters scrambled to widen fire breaks as fires moving as fast as 40 kilometers per hour leapt defensive lines and entered some of the industrial sections.

Ironically-named Travis Fairweather, a wildfire information officer, described the completely untenable situation:

“Yesterday the fire was showing extreme behaviour and lots of smoke in the air. We had to pull the firefighters off the line because it was so dangerous out there.”

The entire industrial zone fell swiftly under threat and by late Monday more than 8,000 tar sands workers from a total of 19 camps had been ordered to evacuate. By Tuesday morning, the Blacksand Lodge — a temporary residence for oil workers manning tar sands facilities located 35 kilometers to the north of Fort McMurrary — had succumbed to the flames. A large facility, the Blacksand camp provided 665 residential units for workers. In total, it’s estimated that about 6,000 workers remain in tar sands facilities and emergency responders are coordinating to organize an air evacuation if necessary.

Fort McMurray fire extent May 16

(Fort McMurray Fire extent with hotspots as of early Monday on May 16. The region affected by the fire as of this time was truly vast — stretching nearly 50 miles long and 30 miles wide. Through late Wednesday, the massive blaze is likely to again claim more ground. Image source: Wildfire Today.)

Fire Situation to Remain Extreme on Tuesday and Wednesday

Southerly winds and far above average air temperatures are again expected to worsen fire conditions on Tuesday and Wednesday. Highs are predicted to hit near 80 in Fort McMurray on both days and dry conditions are expected to dominate. So continued rapid growth of the McMurray Fire over this period is likely. With fires now on three sides of the industrial zone and within sections of the tar sands facilites, we can expect a continued threat to the oil production zone over at least the next 48 hours.

Long range forecasts indicate that warmer than normal conditions are likely to continue over the next week. However, rainfall predicted on Thursday and Saturday could again slow the fire’s growth — giving firefighters another shot at containing this massive blaze. It’s worth noting, though, that the fire is now so large and intense that it will likely take weeks to months to extinguish.

Extreme Fires in the Context of Human-Caused Climate Change

Overall, more than 530,000 hectares have now burned throughout Canada. This total is more than 24 times the amount of land consumed in fires by this time last year. During the 20th Century, large May burn extents of the kind Canada is experiencing during 2016 were unheard of. For much of Canada — May tended to be a cool month featuring temperatures in the 40s, 50s and 60s (F). Not the 70s and 80s (F) that have tended to crop up so frequently this year. Fires tended to be sparse and small — if they ignited at all. But the heat, a growing number of dead trees, and a thawing zone of carbon-rich and flammable permafrost have all added to the fire danger. Evidence that a very rapid pace of warming and related damage to Canada’s forests is having an extraordinary and dangerous impact.

Over the coming seven days, abnormal 60-70 degree (F) temperatures are expected to expand throughout even the far northwestern regions of Canada — reaching all the way to where the Arctic Ocean meets the Mackenzie Delta and spiking fire hazards within that thawing permafrost zone. Such huge extents of extreme fire hazard over northern and far-northern regions that typically experience much, much cooler weather is a feature that is absolutely consistent with effects resulting from human-forced warming. A warming that continues to be made worse by the extraction of carbon-based fuels like those unearthed at the tar sands facilities now endangered by the very fires of climate change they helped to ignite.

Links:

Notely Addresses Extreme Conditions Facing Fort McMurray Firefighters

On a Scale of 1 to 10 Air Pollution, Fort McMurray is a 38

Map of Tar Sands Facilities Forced to Evacuate by Fort McMurray Fire

LANCE MODIS

Canada Interagency Fire Center

The Arsonists of Fort McMurray Have a Name

Wildfire Today

Hat tip to DT Lange

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Hat tip to Greg

Hat tip to Redsky

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