November-Type Gales Hit England in August — Looks Like a Weird Atmospheric Response to El Nino + Climate Change May Be Unfolding

Atmospheric ENSO INDEX

(Atmospheric El Nino Index by WSI shows a very strong atmospheric response is unfolding. But long range weather maps, long range NOAA forecast shows an atypical pattern for El Nino. Image source: WSI.)

They say that a picture can paint a thousand words. How about a graph that exceeds 100 El Ninos? It may not jump out at you at first, but that’s what we’re looking at above.

This graph, provided by Weather Channel Affiliate WSI (and based on atmospheric data collected by NOAA) represents intensity of atmospheric response patterns to El Nino. Typically, this means cloudiness at the Central Pacific Equator, the propagation of near equatorial westerlies, atmospheric wave propagation in the Jet Stream, and storm track amplification. In other words, teleconnections.

On the left side of the above graph, we see positive and negative numbers indicating standard deviation correlation to an ENSO neutral state. Push into 2 standard deviation range either high or low and you’re getting about a typical El Nino or La Nina response from the atmosphere. And ever since June we’ve been in the 3 standard deviation or about top 10 percent of El Nino response range.

That’s a pretty strong ocean to atmosphere signal. But it pales in comparison to what’s being predicted. Looking ahead, the Euro weather model then pushes us all the way up to a 4 standard deviation event (or top 1 percent of atmospheric response rates) by early-to-middle August. This is an extreme response to El Nino. One that could have some amazing impacts come Fall, or possibly sooner (see North Atlantic storm discussion below), especially when we take into account some of the added impacts of human caused climate change. Should such a response emerge, both the US Southeast and Gulf Coast could be in for some extremely severe storms.

Trough

(A rather deep trough for Summer-time swings down through the Eastern US. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)

For the US, such a strong atmospheric response to El Nino forcings would tend to indicate a powerful trough digging in through the Eastern half of the country, even during summertime. And while we do see a rather strong trough for this time of year setting up over and extending down from the Hudson Bay region of Canada, we do not see an overall suppression of summer-time heat and potential for greatly increased precipitation that would typically occur under such a pattern, as yet.

Instead and somewhat oddly, the pattern has kicked energy out over the ocean — fueling the North Atlantic storm track and powerful oceanic cold core cyclones at a time when such events should be rare. Yesterday, a gale hammered Scotland and Ireland, kicking up seas west of England into a frenzy of 30 foot swells. To say this event is odd for summertime is a bit of an understatement. Sans tropical storms swinging north, the higher Latitude regions of the Atlantic are typically calm this time of year.

Winter-Type North Atlantic Gales During Summer

But living in typical times we are not. Greenland melt is ramping up. And so we see the start of a Heinrich Event-like cool pool in the North Atlantic. Call it a baby Heinrich or a precursor or whatever you like. But it’s there. And it’s anomalously cool. And it’s going to influence the weather regardless of whether we like it or not. It’s an event related to both fresh water flow into the North Atlantic and an associated decline in the strength of the Gulf Stream. This odd summer North Atlantic storm generation is then, perhaps, due to a teleconnection between the strong atmospheric signal of El Nino and the underlying signal of human-forced climate change. Such a teleconnection would tend to shift the El Nino related trough a bit eastward and result in an amplified North Atlantic storm track. Which is exactly what we are seeing.

image

(It looked like a North Atlantic winter storm. But this screen capture of 30 foot swells due to a powerful gale off England was taken late last night [August 3rd]. For those familiar with typical summer patterns for the North Atlantic this should be a moment that inspires head-scratching. One with an uncanny similarity to patterns predicted in a recent paper by Dr. James Hansen. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

NOAA long range forecasts are also picking up the signal of powerful storm track intensification over the Gulf Coast and the Southeastern US. Such a prediction hints at a strong storm track running diagonally across the Atlantic from Florida to England and aligned with a trough edge running through that broader region. It’s a pattern that could put England in the firing line for severe winter storms yet again. For the US, the upshot is powerful storms slamming a region from Texas through the Carolinas from September through February. Florida, Coastal Georgia and the U.S. Gulf Coast are particularly hard-hit in the forecast. But we also shouldn’t rule out some strong bombs impacting the Mid-Atlantic region before they tear off across the ocean.

No Significant Drought Relief for California?

Sadly, the atmospheric response to El Nino is not pushing forecasts for a wet winter for the US West Coast. Monsoonal moisture hits the US Southwest during September and October, but barely touches California in the forecast. The moisture pattern then retreats eastward. Heat and dryness are particularly focused in the region of Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana. Abnormal warmth is also predicted to remain in place over Alaska.

NOAA November December January PrecipitationNOAA November December January Temperature

(NOAA long range forecast finds little drought relief for the US West Coast this winter even under the influence of a predicted powerful El Nino. Image source: NOAA CPC.)

This pattern appears to indicate that the NOAA models are calling for the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge and the hot Blob of water off the US West Coast to mostly remain in place. An overall very bad forecast considering El Nino’s predicted intensity and the currently indicated strength of atmospheric response. It may be that cooling in the North Atlantic associated with Greenland melt and Gulf Stream weakening is having such a powerful impact on the Jet Stream that El Nino cannot over-ride — instead solidifying the Pacific Ridge to Atlantic Trough fixed atmospheric wave and dumping its teleconnection influence into the firing range that the North Atlantic is steadily morphing into.

To this point, it’s worth noting that long range model forecasts of this kind can carry with them a rather high error bar. The ocean-atmosphere forcing of the predicted super El Nino will likely result in some rather dramatic wrenchings of the climate system. And for such an El Nino to fail to over-ride the West Coast block would have some very serious added impacts on down the line.

Links:

Weather Channel Affiliate WSI

Climate Reanalyzer

Warning From Scientists Stop Burning Fossil Fuels or Rapid Sea Level Rise, Age of Storms is Coming Soon

Earth Nullschool

NOAA CPC

(Please support publicly funded, non-special-interest based science, like the fantastic work provided by NOAA and NASA, without which this report and the reports provided by Climate Reanalyzer, Earth Nullschool, and WSI would not be possible.)

World Ocean Heartbeat Fading? ‘Nasty’ Signs North Atlantic Thermohaline Circulation is Weakening

Scientists call it Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC). But we may as well think of it as the heartbeat of the world ocean system. And when that heartbeat begins to slow down, we’d best sit up and start paying attention:

(New video produced by climate hawk Peter Sinclair and featuring top scientists Stefan Rahmstorf, Michael Mann, and Jason Box, issues warnings about an observed disruption to ocean circulation due to water freshening in the North Atlantic. This is the kind of work I mentioned last week in my KPFA interview. The kind that should be showing on major network news every single night. Since that probably won’t happen, I urgently ask you to spread this video, together with its critical information, as far and as wide as possible.)

Global Warming Poses Risk to Ocean Circulation, Life Support

For nearly three decades now, prominent climate scientists have been warning policymakers that salt and heat driven circulation of the world ocean system (called thermohaline — thermo for heat and haline for salt) could be disrupted by cold water outflows from Greenland. There, in the North Atlantic, salty, dense, ocean water issuing from the tropics along the Gulf Stream begins to cool. The heavier water, burdened with salt, sinks to the bottom in the North Atlantic. This sinking, in turn, drives a massive ocean conveyer belt. It delivers colder, oxygenated water to the deep ocean. It dredges less oxygen rich bottom waters to the surface where they can be reinvigorated. And it drives this ocean revitalizing train of currents through every major corner of the world ocean.

A disruption of this ocean water mixing machine would ripple through the world oceans like a gunshot to a vital circulatory organ, reducing oxygen levels throughout the whole ocean system, and greatly reducing the oceans’ ability to support life. It would be a major shift toward a stratified, less life supporting ocean, and one step closer to the nightmare ocean state called a Canfield Ocean (named after its discoverer — Dr. Donald Canfield).

Warmer, salty water cooling and sinking in the North Atlantic is an essential cog in the wheel of this massive ocean water overturning machine. It has also been described (as Dr Box notes in the video above) as the Achilles Heel of global ocean circulation.

But I like to think of it more as the world ocean’s beating heart. The reason is that any disruption of the overturning process in the North Atlantic basically kills off a life-giving circulation to the entire world ocean system.

Cooling in Exactly the Wrong Place

AMOC Temperature Trend

(Linear temperature trend from 1900 through 2013 produced by Stefan Rahmstorf in his new study. Note the anomalous cool pool just south of Greenland. That’s exactly the kind of temperature signature you don’t want to see. One that is indicative of cold, fresh water outflows from Greenland interfering with North Atlantic and World Ocean Circulation. Also see: RealClimate.)

Now, a new 2015 report headed by Dr. Stefan Rahmstorf finds that the world ocean system is cooling in exactly the wrong place — the North Atlantic just south and east of Greenland. This cooling is an indicator that a high volume outflow of cold, fresh water is entering this region of ocean. A cold, fresh outflow that comes directly from the melting glaciers of Greenland itself. A cooling and freshening that creates a physical block to salt water down welling in the North Atlantic. The kind of block that can directly disrupt the Gulf Stream and the rest of ocean circulation on down the line.

Dr Rahmstorf explains the findings of his study in his notes at RealClimate:

The North Atlantic between Newfoundland and Ireland is… the only region of the world that has defied global warming and… cooled. Last winter [this region] was the coldest on record – while globally it was the hottest [such period] on record. Our recent study (Rahmstorf et al. 2015) attributes [ anomalous North Atlantic cold water] to a weakening of the Gulf Stream …, which is apparently unique in the last thousand years.

It happens to be just that area for which climate models predict a cooling when the Gulf Stream System weakens (experts speak of the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation or AMOC, as part of the global thermohaline circulation). That this might happen as a result of global warming is discussed in the scientific community since the 1980s – since Wally Broecker’s classical Nature article “Unpleasant surprises in the greenhouse?” Meanwhile evidence is mounting that the long-feared circulation decline is already well underway. (emphasis and a little clarity added)

To Dr Rahmstorf’s point that the North Atlantic was experiencing a Gulf-Stream threatening record cold while the world was under a pall of record warmth, we need only look at NOAA’s Land-Ocean temperature anomalies map for the winter of 2014-2015 below:

NOAA land ocean temperatuer anomalies

(NOAA Land Ocean temperature anomalies map for 2014-2015 shows extraordinary record cold pool of water south of Greenland in a record warm world. The smoking gun for large glacial outflow and thermohaline disruption in the North Atlantic. Image source: NOAA via ClimateCrocks and MeltFactor.)

Other Concerns Regarding North Atlantic Cooling

Unfortunately, an expanding pool of cold, fresh water in the North Atlantic is not just a threat to ocean health. It also represents a zone of anomalous cold in a region surrounded by atmospheric and ocean warming. As such, it represents a zone of likely expanding atmospheric instability — one involved in the shift of the cold center of circulation from the polar zones and more toward Greenland and Canada. Parcel to the kinds of weather disruptions that have been described in the theories of Dr. Jennifer Francis and during some of the later works of Dr. James Hansen (alluded to in The Storms of My Grandchildren).

As such, cold water bleeding from the great glaciers of Greenland not only poses a threat to ocean circulation, it also poses a risk for generating significant disruptions to atmospheric winds and related weather as well. Ones that could set off increasingly intense storm events in the Northern Hemisphere similar to what was seen for the US Northeast this winter (but likely worsening with time) and the extraordinarily powerful barrage of storms hitting England during the winter of 2013-2014.

Dr. Hansen in his Greenland Ice Sheet Loss: Exponential? paper warned of the potential for continent-sized frontal storms packing the strength of hurricanes under some rapid Greenland melt scenarios by mid-century.

Hollywood dramatizations aside, this is more than enough real world weather and climate trouble to pose serious cause for concern. And as Dr. Rahmstorf, Peter Sinclair, Dr. Jason Box and Dr. Mann allude to the header video — the policy makers were warned well in advance.

Links:

A Nasty Surprise With the Greenhouse

What’s Going on With the North Atlantic?

Exceptional 20th Century Slowdown in North Atlantic Overturning Circulation

Unpleasant Surprises in the Greenhouse

NOAA

MeltFactor

Greenland Ice Sheet Loss: Exponential?

Linking Weird Weather to Rapid Warming in the Arctic

Canfield Ocean

Hat tip to Today’s Guest Is…

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