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Climate Change Superstorm Redux? Joaquin Shows Some Eerie Similarities to Sandy in Forecast.

It’s an El Nino year. So that’s supposed to mean a quiet Atlantic Hurricane Season, right? But as the tenth storm of 2015 threatens intensification, very heavy rains, and broadening wind fields as it’s expected to cloak itself in a frontal storm along a track a little south of Sandy — it appears a climate change — riled ocean and atmospheric system have failed to get the message.

Anyone looking at today’s ocean-atmospheric conditions and the Global Forecast System model run predictions probably couldn’t shake off the shivers as a number of chilling similarities to Superstorm Sandy began to show up in the five day outlook. The forecast is very, very uncertain. But it appears we might have a developing Superstorm-like Joaquin on our hands.

According to Mike Smith of Accuweather:

“There is going to be catastrophic flooding from North Carolina to Massachusetts, and this is going to disrupt the economy regardless of whether or not Hurricane Joaquin makes landfall.”

All Eyes on Joaquin As Climate Change Pattern Dominates North Atlantic

image

(GFS water vapor and wind forecast for October 2 shows a category 2-3 Jaoquine interacting with a powerful trough stretching down across the US East Coast. A trough extending all the way from Norway. Though not a polar trough like the one that interacted with Sandy, and though Joaquin’s characteristics aren’t as likely to go extra-tropical like Sandy, the broadening wind field, the potential left turn and the superstorm combining of trough and hurricane are potentially similar features. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

A freakish ‘Storms of My Grandchildren‘ type cool pool dominates the northern Atlantic. The backed-up Gulf Stream off the US East Coast is super hot (1-6 degrees Celsius above average). A massive trough is digging in — telegraphing from Norway through Iceland on to Southern Greenland, extending yet southwest over Newfoundland and the Northeastern and Mid Atlantic US. Further south, a developing Hurricane Joaquin over the Bahamas is about to shake hands with this massive trough. Just south of Newfoundland, a blocking high pressure system appears ready to bar Joaquin’s passage to the north and east. Setting up the potential for Joaquin to embed in the trough, to develop a rapidly expanding wind field even as it strengthens, and to possibly make a sickening left turn into the US East Coast.

Sound familiar? If so, it’s because you heard a similar story back during late October of 2012.

Jaoquin Forecast — Very Stormy Five Days for US East Coast

Currently, Jaoquine is a strengthening category category 2 hurricane packing 105 mile per hour (updated) winds as it drifts toward the southwest near the eastern Bahamas. Over the next two days Jaoquin is expected to strengthen, possibly into a powerful major hurricane, even as it begins to track toward the north and west. This track will result in its interacting with the large trough mentioned above. Even if Jaoquine does not make landfall, its interaction with the trough is expected to dump substantial and torrential amounts of rainfall from North Carolina on through New England even as it drives a broad tropical storm force wind field and related storm surge onto shore.

Jaoquine Rainfall

(NOAA five day rainfall forecast shows potential for significant related flooding for the Eastern Seaboard. Image source NOAA CPC.)

According to NOAA forecasts, 5 day rainfall totals are now expected to exceed 7 inches throughout large sections of North Carolina, Virginia, Delaware, New Jersey and Maryland with measures in excess of 5 inches expected from South Carolina all the way to Nantucket.

Joaquin’s wind field is also expected to expand as it interacts with both the trough and large circulation of the blocking high to the north and east. This broad wind field will bring at least strong nor-easter like conditions to the US East Coast. But the broad clockwise circulation off the blocking high also heightens risks that Joaquine will be shoved onshore even as it strengthens.

Current model runs bring a powerful category 1-3 Joaquine, packing a broad wind field with maximum strength from 90-115 mph, on shore near the North Carolina/Virginia border at around 2 PM Eastern Time on Sunday, October 4:

Joaquin track

(The National Hurricane Center shows Joaquin following a course the brings it over the Outer Banks and up the Chesapeake Bay. A worst case track for many sections of the US East Coast. Image source: NHC.)

If such a forecast does play out, it’s bad news. Very very bad news. It would represent a potentially very severe category 1-3 storm embedded in a large wind field and an even larger rain shield. A storm bringing heavy rains for days and lashing the coast with gale force winds up to 24 hours in advance of landfall. Features that would greatly enhance storm surge and flooding impacts — which could be very far reaching. It’s a dangerous potential interaction between Joaquine, a persistently extensive trough stretching across the North Atlantic, and one of the new, heavyweight, blocking patterns that have become so prevalent in this age of human-forced warming. One that could again wrap a hurricane in a, this time very wet, nor’easter.

Like Sandy, it would also serve as a herald for the oncoming new, more intense climate-change driven storms of our present age. Storms that have greater north-south energy exchanges. Storms that may be more more likely to form embedded or hybridized systems and storms that tap both the higher potential pressure and temperature differentials as well as an atmosphere that is more heavily laden with moisture.

Links:

The National Hurricane Center (Please publicly support!)

Current NOAA Joaquin in motion Infrared Graphic

Saffir Simpson Hurricane Scale

NOAA Five Day Rainfall Estimates (Frequently Updated)

Earth Nullschool

Is Joaquin Another Superstorm Sandy?

How Will Joaquin Compare to Isabel/Sandy?

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Hurricane Sandy, The Storm that Climate Change Wrought; How Global Warming Made Sandy Far, Far Worse

(Earth. See that massive swirl of clouds with arms stretching up into the Arctic and back across the Atlantic Ocean? Yes, that’s Sandy.)

This year was already the worst extreme weather year ever recorded. Fires, heatwaves, a monster Derecho and a devastating drought together would have made 2012 one for the record books. The one saving grace, it seemed, was that hurricane season hadn’t significantly added to an already severe problem. That was before Hurricane Sandy slammed into the US Northeast causing what many think will be in the range of 10-20 billion dollars in damage. If total damage estimates exceed 20 billion, Sandy will be one of the five most costly hurricanes in US history.

Sandy was nothing if not unprecedented. Never has the Northeast seen this kind of storm so late in the season. Never has New York and New Jersey been subject to such a high level of ocean flooding over such a broad area. According to CNN’s chief meteorologist: “There’s no one that’s not 300 years old that has seen anything like this.” That’s just a finer way of saying that there is no record for a storm like Sandy ever occurring in this region of the country. And, in many cases, there’s no record for a storm like Sandy occurring period.

What made Sandy so unique? In two words: climate change. We’ve seen northeastern Atlantic Ocean storms where powerful troughs combine with hurricanes in ways that create a much stronger storm. The last time such a thing happened was during the 1991 ‘Perfect Storm.’ But that storm formed over the open waters of the Atlantic and only caused damage as it brushed New England with the powerful squall lines and heavy surf it cast off. In the case of Sandy, the Perfect Storm came ashore far further south and west than is usually possible.

Sandy’s Global Warming Ingredients

Since 1991, atmospheric changes and alterations to the Earth’s physical characteristics have been taking place that make storms like Sandy more and more possible. These ‘ingredients’ include increasing ocean temperatures, changes in the jet stream, and the receding boundary of Arctic Sea Ice.

To understand how these changes made it possible for a storm like Sandy to have such a devastating effect on the US Northeast and Mid-Atlantic so late in the season, it helps to follow the life of the storm that became Sandy…

Like so many other hurricanes, Sandy was born of the tropical Atlantic. She started as a pulse of thunderous rain storms swirling off the coast of Africa. This tropical wave slowly gathered energy from the hot tropical Atlantic as she moved west, gradually twisting into the classic coma shape as she entered the central Caribbean.

(GOES weather satellite Image of Sandy from October 22. Sandy is already large for a tropical system. But Sandy will soon grow even larger by combining with other storms to the north.)

Ocean heat content for the South Atlantic and Caribbean was abnormally high this year. Most of this added heat content came from human caused global warming. In many regions, temperatures were 2-3 degrees above average. This meant that, for a storm like Sandy, these waters were about as warm as they would have been two to three weeks earlier during a typical season of the 20th century. This added energy increased the likelihood that the storm would form in the first place. It also gave the storm more capacity to strengthen even in an environment of increased wind shear.

As Sandy tracked northward, she plowed through Jamaica and hopped over the eastern tip of Cuba. Maintaining significant strength as a category two storm, Sandy grew to a large size, boasting a tropical storm wind field in excess of five hundred miles in diameter. Hovering off the coast of Florida, Sandy was about to enter the second stage of her development.

Two systems to the north would play key roles in Sandy’s growth and path. Both were products of new ‘blocking patterns’ that have emerged as regular weather events during the past decade. ‘Blocking patterns’ occur when the jet stream makes deep swoops down from the Arctic and into the mid and lower latitudes. These swoops make giant wave-like patterns in the jet stream. They also create a huge amount of atmospheric inertia. The result is that weather patterns tend to be more persistent. In the under-belly of a blocking pattern, one can expect abnormally hot and dry conditions to persist over long periods of time. In the frontal down-slope of the blocking pattern, one can expect abnormally cool, wet, and stormy conditions. The peaks of these blocking patterns tap the tropics and the troughs tap the Arctic.

According to Dr. Jennifer Francis, these blocking patterns have emerged as a result of sea ice loss in the Arctic. The receding edge of the sea ice pulls air northward changing the shape of the jet stream from that of a rippling halo to that of a circle of sine waves.

The new blocking pattern that had established itself over the central US allowed a powerful cold front to sweep southward, both lending energy to Sandy via strong temperature and pressure gradients and steering Sandy first northward, then pulling her in toward the Mid-Atlantic coast. A second aspect of the blocking pattern emerged in the form of a new high pressure system that has tended to form recently over Greenland. This particular high pressure system blocked the path of Sandy northeastward, shoving Sandy back up against the frontal trough that ended up lending her so much strength.

(A visible satellite shot of Sandy beginning to combine with a powerful Arctic cold front. The massive trough of cold air is outlined in blue. Sandy is in the red circle. To the northeast is a blocking high backing in over Newfoundland. Note the extraordinary size of the combined trough and Sandy.)

As Sandy began to touch the trough’s strong, cooler winds, her tropical storm wind field spread out, eventually reaching 900 miles in diameter. In addition, Sandy found herself cloaked in the trough’s rain shield. This shield helped to prevent the worst effects of wind shear which, at times, was powerful enough to rip a normal storm apart.

Sandy’s encounter with the Arctic-born cold-air trough caused her to explode in size and as she moved north, she pummeled the Outer Banks of North Carolina and Coastal Virginia from 300 miles off shore. What strength she lost at her core was multiplied manifold in the expanding reach of her effect. North Carolina and Virginia coasts experienced impacts usually reserved for those in the direct path of a Hurricane — powerful winds, heavy rains, and storm surge flooding. Roads were washed out, dunes were breached, homes were flooded. Water rises exceeded seven feet in some places.

(Sandy taps hotter than normal Atlantic Ocean water in final rush to the coast. At this point, Sandy is the largest tropical cyclone ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean.)

Yet Sandy was still hundreds of miles away, biding her time for the final rush to shore. And in this critical time period, global warming again played its hand. Sandy was now moving parallel to the Virginia coast. In normal years, water temperatures would begin to drop off here, sucking energy from the storm. This year, though, water temperatures had heated to 5 degrees Fahrenheit above normal through, the year after year, heat trapping effects of human emitted greenhouse gasses. Sandy drank deep from this added heat and, as the Arctic-born trough began to pull Sandy in to shore, she intensified.

Maximum sustained winds reached 90 mph, tropical storm force wind diameter reached 1000 miles, hurricane force wind diameter reached 200 miles, and the pressure fell to an unprecedented 940 millibars. Sandy was now a storm for the record books. A storm that was the largest tropical cyclone ever to form in the Atlantic. A storm never seen before in this region of the world. A storm powerful enough to push ocean water nearly a mile inland up and down the Jersey coast. A storm mighty enough to create a nearly 14 foot water rise in New York City.

Without climate change, the storm may not have formed in the first place, the storm probably wouldn’t have reached category 2 strength or grown to such a large size, the storm would have not combined with such a powerful trough sweeping so far south, the storm would have not been blocked from going out to sea by the new Greenland/Newfoundland high pressure, the storm would not have strengthened so far north over abnormally hot waters, and the storm would have not been pulled into the coastline by the powerful blocking pattern caused by melting sea ice.

Sandy was, in all ways, the storm that climate change wrought. And since the pattern is now established for this kind of storm to happen now, it is likely that this kind of ‘300 year storm’ will happen again. Almost certainly with growing force and almost certainly within the next decade or two.

I’ll leave you with the following quote from Time Magazine:

“Perhaps, if you are in your 60s or 70s or 80s, Sandy’s destructive forces are a once in your lifetime event. But younger generations—those of us in our fifties, and our children—will likely be looking at flooded coastal cities, devastated infrastructure, blownout power, and storm surges for the rest of our lives.”

(Graffiti scrawled on the side of a house flooded by Sandy. Image credit: here.)

Links:

http://science.time.com/2012/10/30/climate-change-and-sandy-why-we-need-to-prepare-for-a-warmer-world/

http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/newsdesk/2012/10/watching-hurricane-sandy-ignoring-climate-change.html

http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/2012/10/30/did-climate-change-cause-hurricane-sandy/

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sunita-narain/sandy-climate-change_b_2044339.html

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/

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