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Early Warning Signs for James Hansen’s Superstorms Visible — North Atlantic Cool Pool As Harbinger to “All Hell Breaking Loose”

Extreme weather. It’s something that’s tough to predict 2 weeks out, much less 2 decades. But for more than twenty years Dr James Hansen has been warning that the out-flush of cold water from glaciers in Greenland and Canada into the North Atlantic could set up a storm-producing weather pattern the likes of which human civilization has never seen. An atmospheric wrecking ball in the form of an intense cold-hot dipole that, once firmly established over Atlantic Ocean waters between North American and Europe, would carry on in brutally destructive fashion for decades and decades. In other words, as Dr. Hansen says in the below video, “all hell would break loose.”

His recent and, what might well be called, earth-shattering paper on the subject — Ice Melt, Sea Level Rise, and Superstorms — takes a good, hard look at both the potential for exponentially ramping rates of ice melt and sea level rise over the coming decades and the impact those thousands of cubic kilometers of fresh water ramming out into the North Atlantic would have in producing a barrage of increasingly intense superstorms.

(Hansen addresses his concerns about the potential for increasingly severe storms and rapid sea level rise if human fossil fuel emissions do not stop soon in the above video.)

Early Evidence That All Hell is Starting to Break Loose

How could this happen? And what might it look like?

These are questions Hansen valiantly attempts to tackle. And according to him, in addition to a growing number of top climate researchers like Dr. Jason Box and Dr. Stephan Ramhstorf (please see Dr. Jason Box’s very salient take on the new Hansen study here), we may already be starting to witness signs of the wrenching oceanic and atmospheric shift that would produce these terrible weather systems.

For what we see now is the visible formation of a large cool pool in the North Atlantic. One that appears to be developing due to an increasingly rapid rate of Greenland melt. One that may be setting up atmospheric conditions for the age of storms that Hansen has feared could arise. An event resulting from a rampant human fossil fuel emission and a related very rapid injection of heat into the Earth System.

North Atlantic Cool Pool

(Composite global temperature anomaly data from NOAA for 2013 through 2015 provides evidence of the early start to the formation of a possible superstorm-producing North Atlantic cool pool. Image source: Climate Crocks.)

How might this cool pool become such a powerful storm generator? It could well be thought of as an ironic matter of atmospheric and ocean physics. Ironic in the sense that overall global heating produces a severe weather hazard in the form of a large area of cool ocean surface water.

Increased warming of the Earth results in more rapid warming at the poles, especially in the Northern Hemisphere. In turn, this polar amplification sets off a number of feedback loops in which ice in Greenland and West Antarctica begin to melt faster and faster. The ironic atmospheric relationship to large slabs of ice sliding off the great ice sheets and into the ocean begins to come into play. For a thin veil of fresh water from these increasingly massive volumes of melting ice begin to lock more and more heat into the local ocean system.

Over hundreds of thousands of square kilometers, the fresh water begins to cut off the ocean’s ability to ventilate heat into the airs above. As a result, the surface of the ocean and the local atmosphere cools. More heat is shoved into the deeper waters — where it can melt the sea facing glaciers ever more rapidly even as it gets to doing the dangerous work destabilizing carbon stores on the sea bed. Dangerous — not only for its potential to add more greenhouse gasses to the world atmosphere, but also for its ability to develop anoxic dead zones in the ocean depths and to expand those life-killing layers toward the sea surface.

Climate Change’s War Between Hot and Cold — Understanding the Warning Signs

In scientific terms, we call this a stratified ocean state. But in plainer words, we could think of it as a big mechanism for heat exchange and ocean and atmospheric chemistry change.

Where Hot and Cold Collide

(Anyone who knows anything about ocean and atmospheric physics should be concerned about this picture. Here we see the April 8, 2016 ocean surface temperature anomaly reanalysis provided by Earth Nullschool and developed from data collected by NCEP and the National Weather Service. Here we see a large swath of Gulf Stream waters ranging from 5-8 C above average temperatures coming into collision with waters in a North Atlantic cool pool ranging from 1-10 C below average. It is the increasing difference in temperature, or thermal gradient, between these two ocean zones that Hansen and others identify as having a high potential for very severe storm generation.)

Changing the ocean’s heat relationship with the atmosphere is bound to alter the weather. And Hansen’s paper points toward a serious risk that this fundamentally altered relationship will result in much more powerful storms. A cooler North Atlantic will collide with all kinds of expanding heat from various regions. A backed up Gulf Stream will warm up — it already has. The tropics will begin to heat up, increasing the temperature gradient between the lower Latitudes and the cool pool in the North Atlantic. Such conditions amp up the atmospheric storm potential by producing an abundance of what storms feed on — very extreme differences in temperatures, related strong winds and atmospheric vortexes, strong south to north and north to south air flows that link the tropics to the pole, and an ever-growing abundance of moisture bleeding off the record warm waters that come into increasing collision with the expanding pool of cold to the north. Such conditions risk the development of extraordinarily powerful storms in this region. Storms the likes of which our civilizations have never seen before. Storms that may leap the boundaries of their formation zones to have far broader impacts.

Hansen, in his paper found evidence that such conditions may well have existed during the last warm period between ice ages around 115,000 years ago. Back then, a huge flush of ice bergs running out from a melting Greenland during the peak period of warmth appears to have produced terrible storms in the North Atlantic. Storms powerful enough to pluck 2,000 ton boulders up out of the sea bed and hurl them 100 feet above sea level before depositing them onto the hills of places like Bermuda and the Bahama islands.

During that period, the rate of warming was slower. So the pace of melt was likely also slower than what we would see due to human warming. The atmospheric changes were thus milder than those we are likely to experience if human warming continues along its current path and sets the dramatic melt and related atmospheric wrenching into motion. Already, we see storms the likes of which history has never seen running into the UK and Ireland, aiming their increasingly powerful winds and rains at Western Europe. Already we see climate change enhanced superstorms. New forms of severe weather. Hellacious mergings of devastating hurricanes with extraordinary nor’easters.

But what we see now is nothing compared to what we will see if Hansen’s research is anywhere near the mark and if human fossil fuel burning continues unabated. What we risk, and what Hansen has warned us about in what he considers to be his most important work of science, is setting off a severe chain of events that includes rapid sea level rise and powerful, powerful storms. In addition, the ocean stratification that is the cause of all this atmospheric and oceanic trouble would set off further consequences not touched on in Hansen’s work — hitting ocean health hard and, likely, liberating more carbon stores from the Earth System to add to the troubles that humans (and particularly the fossil fuel special interests) are already rapidly bringing to the fore.

One final point — the Hansen paper has and will continue to generate a huge controversy in the science. But from the point of view of this threat analyst, there is a high potential for dangerous outcomes similar to those the Hansen paper warns of together with a number of additional troubles so long as the human-forced warming continues. And we already see visible evidence of those kinds of dangerous atmospheric and ocean changes starting to happen now.

Links:

Ice Melt, Sea Level Rise, Superstorms

The Storms of My Grandchildren

Human Warming Pushing Seas to Exponentially Rise

Dr Jason Box’s Take on the New Hansen Study

Earth Nullschool

NCEP

National Weather Service

Hurricane Sandy — the Storm that Climate Change Wrought

 

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Rapid Start to Hurricane Season Brings Andrea to US East Coast

AndreaSat

(Image source: NOAA)

Tropical Storm Andrea strengthened to a 60 mph storm early Thursday as she set sights on Florida and the US East Coast.

As of the 11 AM Hurricane Advisory from the National Hurricane Center, Andrea was located about 110 miles west of Tampa, Florida and was moving toward the northeast at about 15 miles per hour. This general motion is expected bring Andrea ashore in the big bend region of Florida later this afternoon.

No significant change in strength is expected before this storm makes landfall.

Andrea is a large and wet storm with tropical storm force winds extending out to 140 miles from the center. A broad swath up the East Coast of the United States is expected to receive heavy rainfall between now and Saturday as the storm is expected to follow the coast north and eastward. Areas of Florida are expected to see between 4 and 7 inches of rainfall with some localities experiencing in excess of 10 inches before the storm is over. A wider region of 2-5 inch rainfall is expected to blanket an area from Florida to Maine and will impact most East Coast metropolitan areas.

A storm surge of between 2 and 5 feet is expected to impact a stretch of coastline from Tampa Bay to Apalachicola. Areas hardest hit will be to the south of where the center makes landfall, as it brings an onshore wind flow behind it. Intensity of storm surge flooding will depend on tides and timing of landfall over the regions affected. In general, coastal flooding from the storm is expected to be moderate.

AndreaRainfall_Days_1-3_sm

(Image Source: NOAA)

Andrea formed Wednesday over the Gulf of Mexico just five days after the start of the 2013 Atlantic Hurricane Season on June 1rst. Forecasters expect a busy year with between 16 and 20 named storms forming in the Atlantic Basin. As many as three strong hurricanes could impact the United States, according to forecasters.

The 2012 Hurricane Season produced 19 named storms including the devastating hurricane hybrid storm Sandy.

Ongoing low levels of sea ice volume, area and extent in the Northern Hemisphere have contributed to an erosion of the polar jet stream making it more likely that tropical and Arctic air masses will collide. This new state of northern hemisphere weather, brought on by human-caused climate change, is likely to increase the frequency of hybrid storm formation as tropical air and polar air is drawn into closer proximity.

In the past, powerful hybrid storms were rare events, occurring off the East Coast about 1-2 times per decade on average. Sandy was the first powerful hybrid Hurricane in the satellite record to directly impact the US East Coast. It was also the largest Hurricane, in total area measured, ever to impact this region of the Atlantic.

Though it is very unlikely another storm like Sandy will form this year, the risks for this kind of storm are now higher than in the past.

The quick arrival of the more normal tropical storm Andrea does, however, serve as a herald to what is expected to be a busy hurricane season.

Links:

NOAA

Tropical Storm Andrea Bears Down on Florida

Hurricane Season 2013: Experts Expect More Bad Storms

Global Warming Induced Drought Set to Re-Expand, Could Cost $200 Billion

Drought May 21 2013

A major drought that began last year, ramped up through last summer and autumn, and lingered through winter and spring of 2013 continues to have major impacts. Western states remain severely impacted with fire risks flaring throughout California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Texas and Oklahoma. Meanwhile, Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico continue to battle over water rights as drought conditions persist.

That said, the drought appeared to be slowly, tortuously abating as rains and record floods swept into various areas and began to provide relief. Now, about 46 percent of the US is currently suffering from some stage of drought. Though still very widespread, area impacted by drought last year surged to over 60 percent.

Now, as it appeared abatement and a slow return to normal conditions would continue, new forecasts show drought re-expanding into the plains states in time to threaten summer corn crops.

A recent report issued by climate experts at Harris-Mann Climatology found that:

“The drought in the Southwest is expected to move and expand eastward over the central and southern Great Plains, as well as at least the western Midwest, by late June or July. Flooded areas near the Missouri River are likely to turn to the opposite extreme of dryness later this summer season.”

For a farming region hoping to recover from the worst drought since 1955, and for a global food system teetering at the edge of insecurity this is a terrible forecast. Further, such a return to drought conditions would have serious monetary impacts. According to reports from AG Professional, a continuance and expansion of this drought could result in as much as $200 billion dollars in damages making the current drought the most costly weather disaster for 2012-2013, beating out even the far-reaching impacts of Hurricane Sandy.

Driving this change is a sudden shift of eastern Pacific Ocean waters toward a cooling phase called La Nina. La Nina tends to result in a heating and drying of the central and western United States. This shift led Harris-Mann to issue its revised forecast. You can see the cooling eastern Pacific on the map provided by NOAA below:

sst.daily.anom

(Image source: NOAA)

Harris-Mann also seems to note the unprecedented nature of current human-induced weather extremes stating:

“We’re still in a pattern of wild weather ‘extremes,’ the worst in more than 1,000 years, since the days of Leif Ericsson. For example, 2012 was the warmest year ever for the U.S., but on January 22, 2013, there was a record for the most ice and snow across the Northern Hemisphere continent.”

It is also worth noting that the period during which these extreme events occurred was the 8th warmest on record globally.

Links:

Drought Damage Could Top $200 Billion

Drought Conditions Forecast to Return to Central US

NOAA

US Drought Monitor

Climate Change Renders 30 Million Homeless in 2012

climate-refugees-bangladesh-thumb

(Image of flooded region in Bangladesh. Source: www.worldculturepictorial.com)

According to the International Displacement Monitoring Group, more than 30 million people were forced to flee their homes as a result of extreme weather during 2012.

Droughts, storms and floods caused this massive displacement, one many times the impact of warfare over the globe. Hardest hit regions included Africa, where 8 million people were forced to flee their homes due to extreme weather. That said, even well developed countries suffered major dislocation events resulting in an unusually high number of displaced persons — topping 1.3 million in 2012. The largest number came as a result of a climate change induced Superstorm Sandy which rendered about half a million people homeless in the US.

Over the past few decades, instances of extreme weather have more than doubled, according to reports from the US National Climate Data Center. This amped up weather is driven by increasing temperatures and rising atmospheric water vapor content brought on by human caused climate change. In addition, erosion of Arctic sea ice has led to a disruption of the northern polar jet stream, resulting in more blocking patterns that enhance the chances for droughts, floods, and blizzards. The large north-south dips in the jet also enhance the possibility for powerful hybrid storms, like Sandy, to emerge with ever-greater frequency.

Global monitoring groups expect the numbers of displaced persons to increase as human-caused climate change intensifies. Recent reports from climate expert Lord Stern highlighted in the Guardian called attention to this risk. Stern warned of high risks that temperatures could rise by 5 degrees Celsius or more by the end of this century. Such heating, Stern noted, would have terrible impacts:

“Hundreds of millions of people will be forced to leave their homelands because their crops and animals will have died. The trouble will come when they try to migrate into new lands, however. That will bring them into armed conflict with people already living there. Nor will it be an occasional occurrence. It could become a permanent feature of life on Earth.”

The news comes as worldwide CO2 levels begin to exceed 400 PPM — a dangerous threshold that could melt most polar ice and increase global temperatures by 3-4 degrees Celsius if fossil fuel emissions aren’t halted soon. Sadly, CO2 emissions are only rising, with the world on track to reach 550 PPM by mid-century and 900+ PPM by 2100. Such CO2 rises would be nothing short of catastrophic.

Through the resulting large temperature increases, wet bulb temperatures will be expected to begin to exceed 35 degrees Celsius over growing regions for increasing periods of time. During such instances, these regions will be rendered practically uninhabitable to mammal life, including humans. Human beings and livestock will be effectively heat-driven, first from isolated regions and then from growing areas of the globe as time moves forward. This impact will over-lap the already powerful and growing impacts that result from climate change induced storms, droughts and floods.

With world CO2 levels at 400 PPM, we are already in the period of time when weather events can be expected to cause increasing instances of dislocation. Depending on the rate of global ice loss and ocean heat uptake and on whether or not fossil fuel emissions are curtailed and eliminated soon, instances of heat lethality are likely to become more prevalent and an ever increasing concern after 2035-2050. At the same time, rising sea levels are also expected to begin to have an increasing affect on low-lying regions, especially in areas most prone to cyclone activity. Under business as usual fossil fuel emissions, by 2100 almost all regions will be severely affected by dislocation events.

Links:

Global Estimates: People Displaced by Disasters

Climate Change Will Make Hundreds of Millions Homeless

30 Million Displaced by Climate and Weather

Cornell Paper Confirms Growing Consensus: Global Warming Made Sandy More Violent, Will Result in More Freak Storms

On October 30th of 2012, I published a blog entitled “Hurricane Sandy, The Storm that Climate Change Wrought; How Global Warming Made Sandy Far, Far Worse.” This blog was largely intended to connect the dots between current storms, climate change, and ongoing advances in science produced by researchers such as James Hansen, Jennifer Francis, Bob Corell, Charles Greene, Jeff Masters, and prognosticators like Joe Romm and Bill McKibben.

In this blog, I referenced scientific research and weather observations from these leaders and others providing substantial evidence showing how global warming set in motion a series of events that first intensified Sandy, then moved her in a direction far more damaging to US coastal cities. Though I believed my meta-analysis of the scientific data to be correct, I wasn’t entirely certain that evidence would line up to largely match my initial observations.

After the publication of this blog, a number of key voices on climate change also produced similar analyses. On October 31, Joe Romm, head of Climate Progress published How Does Climate Change Make Storms Like Sandy More Destructive?  In the following weeks, more reports emerged. Dr. Jeff Masters, Bob Corell, and many others all bravely chimed in to claim that global warming played a major part in making Sandy worse. James Hansen called the current state of affairs a ‘global emergency. ‘

Now, a new paper produced by Cornell University shows that Arctic Melt Amplified Sandy’s Violence.

The report, issued by Cornell and Rutgers researchers in the March issue of Oceanography, describes how the severe loss of summertime sea ice appeared to:

… enhance northern hemisphere jet stream meandering, intensify Arctic air mass invasions toward middle latitudes, and increase the frequency of atmospheric blocking events like the one that steered Hurricane Sandy west into the densely populated New York City area.

The article was authored by Charles Greene and Jennifer Francis. Both scientists have produced ground-breaking work showing how the northern hemisphere jet stream produces increasingly amplified blocking patterns as sea ice erodes and how this new weather state heightens the frequency of extreme weather events. The risks, Francis notes, are highest when sea ice melt is greatest — during summer and autumn. However, as sea ice melt extends into winter and spring, risks for extreme events will increase then as well.

So we can look forward to more storms like Sandy.

It was Jennifer Francis who made near prescient warnings about the potential for violent weather during the fall of 2012 just prior to the emergence of hybrid superstorm Sandy. Francis and Greene’s new paper now connects the dots between global warming and increasingly severe weather events in a way never before seen in science. This new work appears, also, to be a validation of a broader work by James Hansen warning of the potential for powerful storms spurred by Greenland and West Antarctic ice melt (outlined in his book Storms of My Grandchildren). And the clarifying work of Francis and Greene seem to eerily mimic Joe Romm’s own prognostications in Hell and High Water.

In closing, I will leave you with a satellite image of Sandy — one that shows the blocking pattern spawned, deep-cutting Arctic cold front that linked up with an already powerful hurricane to both intensify and redirect Sandy in a way that produced unprecedented violence.

Sandy Arctic Arm

Links:

How Climate Scientists Journalists and Bloggers Warned of New Potential For Extreme Storms Before Sandy

Arctic Ice Loss Amplified Superstorm Sandy Violence

Joe Romm’s Analysis

Video of Sandy’s Surge, A Vivid Counterpoint to New Evidence That Storms are Growing Stronger

The above video, taken about three hours before high tide, shows how Sandy’s storm surge was already having a strong impact on Union City, New Jersey. The video serves as a nice counterpoint to evidence uncovered by Grinsted et al in a new study entitled Homogeneous record of Atlantic hurricane surge threat since 1923 showing that hurricanes and other severe ocean storms are growing more intense.

(Hat tip to Jeff Masters at Weather Underground for his excellent analysis of this emerging issue.)

Traditionally, wind speed has been used to gauge the force of storms. But since wind evidence has been less accurate until recent years, it has been difficult to provide a record of storm intensity over time. To avoid this problem, Grinsted turns to another, more reliable, measure — tidal gauges.

In his study, Grinsted used six tidal gauges at different locations along the US Gulf and East Coast to track storm surges from major events occurring from 1923 to the present. And what Grinsted found was evidence for increasingly powerful storms.

The above graph illustrates the number of major storm surges in any given year. Averages in 1923 steadily climbed from about 4 per year then, to nearly 7 per year now. This new, higher rate of powerful storm surges is also occurring in areas where ocean levels are 1 foot higher than they were during the 1920s and were development has encroached the shoreline boundary like never before. This combination of rising seas, increasingly powerful and more frequent storms, and runaway development has put a vast coastal region on a precipice. In coming years, this region will face at least a 1 meter rise in sea level, and, if the rate of increase illustrated in Grinsted’s study bears out, as many as ten major storm surge events per year on the East and Gulf Coasts by 2100.

(My personal opinion is that the 1 meter sea level rise predictions under business as usual fossil fuel emissions is a highly optimistic notion. More likely, unless emissions are reigned in, we will probably see at least 3 meters in sea level rise as first Greenland, then West Antarctic enter periods of rapid melt. In my view, the 1 meter range may be achieved only through rapid reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.)

Grinsted notes:

We find that warm years in general were more active in all cyclone size ranges than cold years. The largest cyclones are most affected by warmer conditions and we detect a statistically significant trend in the frequency of large surge events (roughly corresponding to tropical storm size) since 1923. In particular, we estimate that Katrina-magnitude events have been twice as frequent in warm years compared with cold years.

In this statement, Grinsted establishes a direct link between storm intensity and human caused global warming. This statement also corresponds with a meteorological theory called heat engine theory, which shows that storms grow stronger as more heat energy becomes available.

Links:

Aslak Grinsted, John C. Moore, and Svetlana Jevrejeva (2012), Homogeneous record of Atlantic hurricane surge threat since 1923, PNAS, http://www.pnas.org/content/109/48/19601.

http://www.wunderground.com/blog/JeffMasters/article.html

Sandy Misses Areas of US Suffering From Drought, Over 60% of Land Still Affected, US Winter Wheat Conditions Worst in 27 Years

Despite receiving record precipitation over a broad swath of territory, more than 60% of the United States is still suffering from a historic and global warming-induced drought. Sandy provided some mitigation for drought conditions in the Eastern and Mid-Western sections of the US. However, drought conditions were largely unchanged over broad swaths of the Western US and Heartland.

As a result, the US is now suffering its worst winter wheat harvest conditions in at least 27 years. Monitoring began in 1985, so it is impossible to know how far back one would have to go to find conditions similar to what is being experienced now. Just 40 percent of the current wheat crop is rated good to excellent. Fully 15 percent is rated poor to very poor.

“The low crop ratings will increase concern about the yield potential of this year’s crop,”Shawn McCambridge, the senior grain analyst for Jefferies Bache LLC in Chicago, said in a telephone interview to Bloomberg. “The weather doesn’t look promising for much improvement and may increase overseas demand for supplies left from last year’s U.S. harvest.”

The US corn crop is down 13 percent from last year. The US soybean crop is also down, showing a 7 percent loss from the year prior. Some of the remaining crops may have been damaged by Sandy as it raged over a large section of the Eastern US earlier this week.

Wheat losses similar to those suffered by US corn and soybean crops pose a risk for pushing the world’s food situation into a state of crisis. Throughout October, the UN has been warning of the potential for a spreading food crisis should any more ‘unforeseen events’ materialize.

Links:

http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-10-31/u-s-winter-wheat-condition-worst-in-27-years-as-drought-lingers.html

The Greenland High, Blocking Patterns and Sandy’s Arctic Arm: How Climate Scientists, Journalists and Bloggers Warned Of New Potential For Extreme Storms Before Sandy

Over the coming weeks, you will hear any number of people trying to ‘normalize’ the unprecedented weather event that was Sandy. You will hear people trying to over-emphasize Sandy’s link to ‘natural climate variability.’ You will hear people claiming that extreme events like Sandy could have never been predicted. And you will hear people trying to take Sandy out of a context in which the US has just experienced its hottest year on record, is still experiencing one of its worst droughts on record, has just experienced its most extreme climate year ever, and during a year in which Arctic Sea Ice has melted to extreme record lows.

And you should be assured — people taking Sandy out of a context of an ongoing string of extreme climate impacts as well as making these other assertions are entirely and completely wrong. Further, it is important to note that we were warned about the increased possibility of extreme storms like Sandy in the weeks and months before Sandy formed.

(Looking at this GOES satellite picture, you can see the swirl of clouds that is Sandy just off the South Carolina coast. See that long arm of clouds stretching down from the Arctic and then feeding into Sandy? That’s Sandy’s Arctic Arm.)

A key ingredient that made Sandy so intense was not just the 5 degree Fahrenheit above average temperatures in the Atlantic Ocean off the East Coast. This five degree warming was fed by an increase of 1  degrees of average Ocean temperature warming over the past century, pushing the potential for extreme years higher. An overall warming directly fueled by human carbon emissions. These increased temperatures and related increases in water vapor fueled Sandy, making her larger and stronger. These were clear global warming impacts that enhanced Sandy’s size and strength. But the kicker, the added boost that made Sandy a monster storm, the influence that pulled Sandy into the East Coast at such a destructive angle. That influence came from the Arctic.

In the GOES image above, we can clearly see a long white arm of cloud stretching all the way down from the Arctic and into Sandy. This arm both greatly increased Sandy’s size and fed her strength through a mechanism called baroclinity. This mechanism fed Sandy’s strength not directly through heat energy alone, but through extreme differences in pressure and temperature. A hot core hurricane met up with a cold core Arctic front tapping the extreme cold air over Greenland. It was this combination of extremes that made Sandy far, far worse. It was this Arctic Arm that pulled Sandy into the East Coast at the most destructive angle possible.

Though scientists didn’t specifically call for the merging of a hybrid system like Sandy, what they did warn us about was how receding Arctic Sea Ice was making severe weather events far more likely. One researcher, Charles Green noted:

“What’s happening now is that we are changing the climate system, especially in the Arctic, and that’s increasing the odds for the negative AO conditions that favor cold air invasions and severe … weather outbreaks.”

Another scientist, Dr. Jennifer Francis also highlighted how Arctic Sea Ice decline would likely result in the kind of blocking patterns that had caused severe weather events in the past. “It’s probably going to be a very interesting winter,” climate scientist Jennifer Francis said in early September in a teleconference with reporters. Francis, a researcher at the Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences at Rutgers University, has argued that shrinking Arctic ice can be tied to such recent weather events as prolonged cold spells in Europe, heavy snows in the Northeastern U.S. and Alaska, and heat waves in Russia. Francis also noted:

“What we’re seeing is stark evidence that the gradual temperature increase is not the important story related to climate change; it’s the rapid regional changes and increased frequency of extreme weather that global warming is causing. As the Arctic warms at twice the global rate, we expect an increased probability of extreme weather events across the temperate latitudes of the northern hemisphere, where billions of people live.”

In fact, it was Francis’s research that resulted in headlines like this one in the Los Angeles Times on September 13th: “Record loss of Arctic ice may trigger extreme weather” and this one in Climate Progress“How the Arctic Death Spiral Fuels a Wicked Backlash on Our Weather.” On this blog, I posted an article entitled “NOAA’s Global Warning: Arctic Tipping Point Reached, Extreme Weather, Rapid Melt, Ecological Damage to Follow.”

Unfortunately, like so many other global warming Cassandras, these warnings went unheeded. A Presidential campaign in which Mitt Romney bragged about denying climate change and de-funding FEMA made mockery of the science and the altogether salient warnings. Such blindness during a year of record drought and Arctic Sea Ice loss is as inexcusable as it is criminal. Such inexcusable piggishness culminated in a Presidential debate in which Romney goaded Obama into arguing over who could increase drilling and, thus, fossil fuel emissions, the most.

Then came Sandy and now all with eyes to see are able to bear witness to both the new potential for extreme weather and its Arctic Sea Ice melt enabler.

(A graphic of the Arctic blocking pattern that resulted in the Greenland High and Arctic air trough that both added strength to Sandy and helped pull her to shore. Image credit here.)

At issue is the way receding Arctic Sea Ice erodes the circumpolar Jet Stream. This happens as warm air is drawn up from the south, slowing that air current down. The result is that huge wave patterns begin to appear in the Jet Stream. These waves draw warmer air up from the tropics in the south and pull cold air down from the Arctic. The blocking pattern also results in a more frequent negative Arctic Oscillation during the fall and winter months. This negative Arctic Oscillation is associated with extreme winter storms in both the US and in Europe and has been implicated in a number of extreme weather disasters over the past decade and a half.

What happened this year is that withdrawing Arctic Sea Ice likely contributed to a very strong negative Arctic Oscillation occurring this fall. The result was a powerful blocking high pressure system over Greenland and an equally strong cold front pushing down from the Arctic. The fact that this happened at the same time Sandy was making her charge north is not simple coincidence. It is, in part, due to the loading of climate dice that resulted from these factors.

First, we had abnormal late-season heat in the Atlantic fueling a powerful late-season hurricane. Second, we had an abnormally strong blocking pattern establishing early during fall rather than winter. The conditions were set for two powerful storms, should they arise, to come together in a dramatic way. The hot Atlantic Ocean was bound to brew up at least a few more hurricanes. Chances were some of these storms would track close to the troughs pushed south by the blocking Greenland high pressure. The receding Arctic Sea Ice was causing more and more strong cold fronts to charge south. Chances were that one of these might intersect with one of the northward-bound tropical systems.

The deep dig of the charging cold fronts and the blocking high closing off any storm’s egress to the northeast made it increasingly likely that any merged hybrid would come ashore somewhere on the US East Coat. The chances for this set of conditions occurring without climate change eroding sea ice and heating the Atlantic are vanishingly small. But now, with the new conditions established, these events become more and more likely.

At issue here is the fact that these conditions are established now. So we can expect an increasing chance for powerful hybrid storms like Sandy resulting from Arctic and tropical storm mergers as time continues, as Arctic Sea Ice melt intensifies, and as the Atlantic Ocean continues to heat up.

Links:

http://articles.latimes.com/2012/sep/13/science/la-sci-sn-arctic-ice-melt-20120912

http://www.news.cornell.edu/stories/June12/arcticWildcard.html

http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2012/09/25/904311/how-the-arctic-death-spiral-fuels-a-wicked-backlash-on-our-weather/?mobile=nc

https://robertscribbler.wordpress.com/2012/10/11/noaas-global-warning-arctic-tipping-point-reached-extreme-weather-rapid-melt-ecological-damage-to-follow/

Hurricane Sandy’s Storm Surge Brings Ocean Into Atlantic City, Ocean City, Point Pleasant, Jersey Coast

(Sandy’s powerful swell surges into Atlantic City. Image credit: here.)

Yesterday, a hurricane that had combined with a nor’easter and then tapped into both the powerful energies of an over-heated Atlantic Ocean and cold Arctic air seeping out through regions once encased in sea ice vented its fury on the New Jersey coastline. All up and down the Jersey Shore, community after community faced a historic storm surge born of a storm made far worse by climate change. A storm whose effects were the worst seen in this region of the US East Coast in 300 years.

Atlantic City seemed to bear the brunt of Sandy’s wrath. As early as Monday morning, the city’s coastal defenses were breached, its sea wall overwhelmed, its boardwalk washed away and its streets and homes subject to the pounding force and rush of storm waves. Residents of the barrier island community found themselves stranded as the rising tide cut off access to their community. Many fled to community storm shelters only to find the rising tide flooding these structures as well. Homes were ripped off their foundations and floated down the street or were swept into the raging Atlantic. At one point, a National Guard unit made a valiant effort to save some of those stranded by the storm. The effort was partly successful, but resulted in the loss and flooding of a number of pieces of military equipment. Overnight, the storm worsened, preventing any access to the storm-ravaged town and forcing its terrified residents to spend a water logged and fearful night alone and without public aid.

Just to the south of Atlantic City, Ocean City also faced Sandy’s terrible wrath. A seven foot water rise inundated the town and flooded its streets. As the water rose, 231 residents made emergency calls for help after refusing to heed evacuation orders. Though 50 persons were moved to escape the raging seas, miraculously no lives were lost. Almost as an after-thought Sandy parted with a 100 foot section of the Ocean City Pier.

Further north along the coast, Point Pleasant waged a valiant battle against rising seas all throughout the day. High waves and pressing tides battered the city’s beleaguered dune line. Finally, as the storm rushed in with the astronomical high tide, the dunes gave way and torrents of water rushed into the town’s streets. The city’s boardwalk was torn to shreds as boats were ripped from their moorings to float into the city where they were finally laid to rest on streets, lawns, or railroad tracks. In some places, water rushed nearly a mile inland. One home, three quarters of a mile from the shore, flooded with more than a foot of ocean water in the first floor driven in by Sandy and the 8 PM high tide.

“I kept asking him [my husband], ‘Should we go on the roof?’ I was really scared,” said Rosemary, as their house flooded. “The force and the speed that the water was pouring down and pouring over, it was scary. It rose so fast. It just kept coming and coming.”

In another part of town, firemen bravely faced the rising waters, slogging through the chest-deep flood to reach stranded residents.

The word New Jersey governor Chris Christie used to describe the wide-spread and far-ranging devastation all up and down the Jersey coast was “unthinkable.”

“The idea … that you see homes in the middle of Route 35 southbound and northbound is just unfathomable,” Christie told reporters at a morning briefing.

 

Links:

http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/weather/weather-blog/bs-md-oc-update-20121030,0,1291228.story

http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2012/10/point_pleasant_beach_residents_1.html

http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2012/10/30/new-jersey-chris-christie-jersey-shore/1668825/

Historic Hurricane Sandy Brings Fury, Flood and Fire to New York City, Breezy Point, Long Island

(Breezy Point, NY. Image credit here.)

A deadly and devastating storm, one that set records not seen in 300 years, dealt a terrible blow to New York’s coastal regions Monday.

The 940 millibar storm, the most intense for this region on record, pulled a 14 foot storm surge up Long Island Sound and into Naragansett Bay Monday evening. This intense pulse of water overwhelmed New York’s flood defenses, filling the great city’s subways, overwhelming the Battery area, and soaking New York City neighborhoods. Construction at the new World Trade Center site was inundated, underground subways; parking lots and shopping centers were flooded out.

Massive surges of water assaulted the US’s largest city from all sides. Naragansett, to the north spilled water into the city’s back side. Long Island Sound, to the south, funneled an amplifying pulse of water directly into the city’s heart. The massive storm surge rushed in through storm drains, sending water gushing up through sewers, fountaining out of man hole covers, until neighborhood after neighborhood looked out over flooded streets.

Above the city, the storm left the twisted wreckage of a crane dangling from a high rise apartment complex built for the affluent. Billionaires, who occupied the top four floors of the complex, were treated to a front row view of the wreckage — twisting and swaying in Sandy’s 90 mph winds. Transformer fires and electrical equipment explosions whelmed the night before leaving much of the city dark late Monday. Large sections of the city remained without power as first responders began to pick over the damage this morning.

(East Village, NY. Image credit here.)

Though New York City was assaulted by a host of troubles, much of Long Island and coastal New York also fell under the heavy blow of this monster storm. Storm surges left section after section of the coast assaulted by battering waves. In places, the dune lines or sea walls were breached, leaving communities vulnerable to the ravages of an angry sea.

Sandy’s fury inundated Breezy Point. The force of the storm was enough to flood first floors and foundations, ripping off debris and sloshing it together in a twisted, shambling mound of wreckage at the mercy of an angry tide. But the worst came in the form of an unexpected fire that leapt from house to house even as the flood waters swirled about. Fire fighters dragged hoses through the heaving water or piled into inflatable boats in a desperate attempt to combat the spreading inferno. NYPD personnel took to the water in scuba equipment to reach victims trapped in flooded, burning homes. As the water began to trickle out, homes burned to their foundations. In all, the fire claimed about a hundred structures. By sunrise, all that remained of a large swath of town was a pile of wet and smoldering debris. A scene that might remind one of last year’s Japan Tsunami or of Dante’s Inferno, depending on predilection.

Hurricane Sandy + Winter Storm + Climate Change = Perfect Storm For Election Day?

“We don’t have many modern precedents for what the models are suggesting,” ~NOAA

*      *      *       *       *        *       *       *

There’s a monster forming off the East Coast. It comes in the form of a late season hurricane, Sandy, the 19th of 20 storms so far this season. It comes in the form of an Atlantic Ocean abnormally hot for this time of year, hot enough to fuel this unseasonably powerful storm. And it comes in the form of a second strong storm, this one born of the Arctic, sweeping down from the north.

The concern? That these three weather phenomena — an Atlantic Ocean heated 5 degrees above average by human caused global warming, a powerful hurricane fueled by that same warming, and a winter storm intensified by growing extremes in temperature differences could all combine into a storm worse than the so-called ‘Perfect Storm’ that harried the Northeast and ravaged shipping lanes back in 1991.

The timing of the possible conjunction of these storm occurs this weekend and extends into the middle of next week. Uncomfortably close to election day. Which begs the question — was it so wise for Mitt Romney and Republicans to deny climate change? And was it a good choice for Obama to decide not to publicly press the issue during the debates? Yes, the oil companies are rich and powerful and spend lots of money in an all-too-human attempt to morph public opinion to their ‘special,’ and increasingly damaging, interests. But what about Mother Nature? What about her say in all this heat-causing carbon dioxide being pumped into the atmosphere? Never a good bet to ignore her.

As Brad Johnson over at ClimateSilence.org noted: “Sandy is yet another reminder that the candidates should stop competing over who can poison the weather faster with increased oil, gas and coal production.” Of course, Brad did fail to mention that under President Obama, alternative energy production has doubled, Obama set CAFE standards to increase to 55 mpg, and that he has been the strongest Presidential advocate yet for policies that reduce the impact of climate change. All that said, publicly competing over who would increase fossil fuel production the most certainly did not send the right message.

And the forecast is for something very close to Brad’s version of ‘poisoned weather.’

Here is the current satellite view of Sandy. It shows a massive storm currently located over the southern Bahamas. Its maximum sustained winds are now 105 miles per hour and it is strengthening over the hot waters of the Gulf Stream. Sandy is powerful enough to lash central Florida with rain bands and gusty winds from more than 400 miles away. If you look at the massive and extensive structure of Sandy, you will see that its feeder bands stretch as far south as South America and about 800 miles northeast into the Atlantic.

This is a massive, massive storm. And it is poised to combine with a powerful winter storm sweeping down from Canada and grow even larger. The merging of these storms is expected to inject energy into Sandy, spreading out its tropical storm wind field over a radius of 300 miles. This is expected to push a powerful storm surge over the mid Atlantic and Northeast coastlines starting this weekend and extending into mid-week. This event coincides with full moon high tides and, according to Jeff Masters over at Weather Underground, could be a 1 billion dollar storm.

Somewhat troubling is the fact that the most reliable models are predicting Sandy could make landfall in Delaware with a 940 mb central pressure. This is an extraordinarily low pressure for a storm so far north. Jeff Masters, however, doesn’t believe that particular prediction will bear out. He still expects an immensely powerful storm, just not quite that powerful. Comparisons have been made between this storm and the ‘Perfect Storm’ of 1991. That said, this particular storm combination may be even stronger than the one that formed in 1991. Furthermore, it is moving along a path that makes it much more likely to directly impact the US East Coast.

So the Perfect Storm appears to have been just a prelude to increasingly dangerous weather, growing worse and worse as more and more greenhouse gasses are pumped out.

Links:

http://www.wunderground.com/blog/JeffMasters/show.html

http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/refresh/graphics_at3+shtml/235313.shtml?tswind120#contents

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/25/hurricane-sandy-new-york-delaware_n_2013788.html

http://climatesilence.org/

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