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Wet Bulb Near 35 C — Heatwave Mass Casualties Strike India Amidst Never-Before-Seen High Temperatures

Never-before-seen high temperatures and high humidity are resulting in thousands of heat injuries and hundreds of heat deaths across India. In some places, wet bulb readings appear to be approaching 35 C — a level of latent heat never endured by humans before fossil fuel burning forced global temperatures to rapidly warm. A reading widely-recognized as the limit of human physical endurance and one whose more frequent excession would commit the human race to enduring an increasing number of episodes of killing heat. A boundary that scientists like Dr. James Hansen warned would be exceeded if a human-forced warming of the world was not halted.

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And it is in this newly dangerous climate context that temperatures near 125 degrees Fahrenheit settled in over India’s border region with Pakistan yesterday. A blistering wave of crippling heat hitting never-before-seen readings over that highly-populated nation. In Phalodi, India, the mercury rocketed to 123.8 degrees Fahrenheit (51 degrees Celsius). This reading exceeded India’s previous all-time record high for any location which stood at 123.1 degrees Fahrenheit (50.6 degrees Celsius) set on May 25, 1886. Across the border in Pakistan, temperatures crossed “critical” thresholds this week, hitting 124.7 degrees Fahrenheit (51.5 degrees Celsius) Thursday in the city of Jacobabad as officials in that state issued health warnings to the public.

image

(Temperatures rocketed to 123-125 F along India’s border with Pakistan on Thursday. These are the hottest temperatures ever recorded for this region of the world. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

Closer to the coast, temperatures rose as high as 107 degrees Fahrenheit (42 C). In the city of Surat, hospitals were strained by an influx of people suffering from heat injuries. People afflicted with giddiness, unconsciousness, dehydration, a bloody nose, abdominal pain, chest pain, and other heat related injuries flooded local health care facilities with emergency calls. As of Thursday, SMIMER hospital had reported 1,226 calls related to heat casualties since the start of May.

Local Surat weather services reported periods when temperatures spiked to 38-42 C and humidity — supplied by moisture flooding off the heating Arabian Sea — remained near 65 percent. These are wet bulb readings in the range of 32 to 34.4 C — a combination of heat and humidity that is very dangerous to anyone exposed for even brief periods.

340 Heat Deaths in Dehli

Across India, the story of heat casualties was much the same. Though no official national estimate of heat related injuries or deaths has yet been given, the current heatwave and related drought is far worse than that experienced during 2015 when 2500 people lost their lives in the excessive heat. But it’s reasonable to assume that heat injuries across India now number in the tens of thousands with tragic heat deaths likely now numbering in the hundreds to thousands.

In the capital city of Delhi, reports were coming in that the homeless population — swelled by farmers who lost their livelihoods due to a crippling three-year-drought — was suffering hundreds of heat-related deaths. As of Thursday, official estimates identified 340 total heat deaths among this increasingly vulnerable population.

Severe Drought and Record Heat — Conditions Consistent with Human-Caused Climate Change

Heat building into extreme record ranges and mounting heat casualties come as India suffers what is likely its worst drought on record. Last month, international water monitors identified 330 million people suffering from water shortages across India. As a result, the government has been forced to resort to extreme measures — posting guards at dwindling reservoirs, sending water trains to provide people in hard-hit regions with a life-saving ration of water, and planning to divert water from the greatly shrunken Ganges to aid parched regions.

Extreme heat of this kind, wet bulb temperatures approaching 35 C, heatwave mass casualties, and a never-before-seen drought are all conditions related to a human-forced warming of the globe. Though El Nino, during the 20th Century, brought with it a cyclical heat, a potential monsoonal weakening, and an increased risk of drought, the severity of the crisis now afflicting India is too great to be pinned on El Nino alone. India has now suffered three years of delayed monsoons — delays which began before the current El Nino took hold. Water levels in the Himalayas are low due to a decadal warming that has forced snow packs to retreat which has, in its turn, left India’s rivers increasingly vulnerable to drying. And global temperatures hitting in the range of 1.3 C above 1880s levels are absolutely adding intensity to the current heatwave and dryness.

Links:

Wet Bulb at 35 C

Heatwave Mass Casualties Strike India in 2015

Heatwave Injuries Mount in Surat

Earth Nullschool

India Shatters All-Time Hottest Temperature Record on Thursday

India Temperature Records

Hat Tip to DT Lange

Hat Tip to Colorado Bob

 

 

 

 

 

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Hot Winds Fan Massive, Unprecedented March Wildfire Burning 40 Mile Swath Through Kansas and Oklahoma

It’s likely that we’ve never seen a March wildfire like the beast that just ripped through Kansas and Oklahoma over the past day. But in a world that’s now exploring a new peak temperature range near or above 1.5 C warmer than pre-industrial averages, a level of heat not seen in the past 110,000 years, we’d be out of our minds to expect the weather and climate conditions to behave in any kind of manner that could be considered normal.

We’re Probably Looking at the Worst Wildfire on Record for Kansas and Oklahoma

Kansas Oklahoma Wildfire March 2016

(Massive, unprecedented, wildfire burns along a 40 mile swath across Kansas and Oklahoma on Wednesday. Image source: NASA/MODIS.)

And abnormal absolutely describes what happened in Oklahoma and Kansas yesterday and today.

The first sign of trouble was a warning of severe fire risk by weather officials for a multi-state region of the Central US on Wednesday. Extremely dry southwest winds gusting to 60 miles per hour coupled with anomalous temperature readings in the 80s (F) — or about 25 degrees (F) above average for this time of year — spiked fire hazards across a broad swath stretching from New Mexico and Western Texas on into Oklahoma and Kansas. The abnormal heat and dry winds combined to spark one of the worst grass fires on record.

The fire began in Northern Oklahoma at around 5:45 PM and almost immediately leapt northward — following the wind along a 1-2 mile wide swath through the northern portions of the state before roaring across the border into Kansas. It swelled to massive size — spewing out a plume of debris so large that doppler weather radar stations began picking it up. The large cloud, filled with tinders, dropped burning fragments over towns as far as 85 miles away from the blaze. People as far away as Arkansas reported smelling smoke.

During the height of the fire, the City of Medicine Lodge found itself facing an encroaching wall of flame on three sides. The nearby Route 160 had been cut off by the fire and as many as 2,000 structures, including the local hospital, were in danger of being consumed by the flames. Two homes burned, two bridges were destroyed and thousands were urged to evacuate as government officials declared a state of emergency. The American Red Cross scrambled to set up disaster shelters for evacuees.

Anderson Creek Wildfire Enormous Footprint

(Anderson Creek wildfire’s enormous footprint is likely to grow larger over the coming day before the massive fire is finally contained. For reference, 212,000 acres is about 300 square miles. Note that by early afternoon the size of the blaze had jumped to 400,000 acres or more than 600 square miles. Image source: KOCO.)

As of this morning, 800-1000 structures in Medicine Lodge remained under threat. But the fire appeared to have mostly swept around the city. An overnight shift in the wind had caused the blaze to balloon eastward. And, according to the most recent reports, more than 400,000 acres, or about 600 square miles, had burned along a 40 mile swath stretching through Kansas and Oklahoma by early afternoon Thursday.

Conditions in Context

For a single fire to burn so much land in just a single day is absolutely unprecedented for this region. By comparison, the fire season of 2014 was considered to be the worst on record for Kansas — but it took nearly 4,000 fires to burn 110,000 acres during March of that year and here we have a single fire that has now exceeded that record total.

Under the conditions of human-forced climate change, wildfire risk is amplified due to a number of factors. First, overall increased temperatures result in periods of greater and greater fire risk. In addition, the added heat increases rates of moisture loss, facilitating drought, flash drought, and brief periods of intense dryness. Plants, which have adapted over tens of thousands of years to manage an expected range of moisture levels, are unable to compensate for the increased heat and dryness and become more vulnerable to burning.

Hot Winds Blow over Oklahoma and Kansas

(Anomalous heat and dry wind events, like the unseasonable warmth over Oklahoma and Kansas that pushed March temperatures into the mid 80s [F] over Oklahoma and Kansas yesterday become more prevalent as human greenhouse gas emissions force the world to warm. These conditions are a trigger for increasingly severe wildfire events. Earth Nullschool GFS capture at 2100 UTC on March 23, 2016.)

Furthermore, increased prevalence of drought and thawing lands — such a permafrost thaw — provide an increasing volume of fuels to feed the fires that do ignite. Fires under such conditions tend to burn hotter — generating far more destructive and potentially rapidly expanding blazes than the tamer variety of fires both human beings and the lands they inhabit are used to. This is a story that could well be told the world over — from the Arctic to the tropics, to Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and the tip of South America.

Pretty much everywhere, increased global heat — now peaking in the range of 1.5 C above preindustrial temperatures — worsens wildfire risk. And it’s just one of the many, many negative impacts of rising global temperatures. But for Kansas and Oklahoma the massive plume of smoke painting the sky in shades of brown, gray and black may as well have spelled out the words — climate change.

UPDATE 2:40 PM Friday — Renewed Fire Hazard

By Friday afternoon, official tallies for total acres burned had remained at near 400,000 acres in Kansas and Oklahoma and included another 50,000 acres in Texas — or about 700 square miles over the three states. New damage estimates included the loss of hundreds and perhaps thousands of cattle along with many hundreds of miles of fence line.

Reports from the Weather Channel, from GFS model summaries, and from local observations indicated strong southerly winds re-emerging over the region and gusting up to 40 mph. Fire officials have indicated that the new strong winds and rising temperatures into the upper seventies (F) coupled with another slot of dry air could re-ignite smoldering flames in the large fire zone. As such, risks for continued burning and expansion of existing fires was on the rise by mid Friday afternoon.

Links:

Wildfire in South-Central Kansas

Wildfire Burns Through Barber County

Massive Wildfire Burns over 200,000 Acres

Real Earth Weather Analysis

NASA/MODIS

Broken Records, Strained Resources

Earth Nullschool

Hat tip to DT Lange

Hat tip to Kevin Jones

 

Wet Bulb at 33 C — Human Hothouse Kills Nearly 800 in Pakistan

Human-forced warming of the global climate system is pushing sea surface temperatures in some areas to a maximum of 33 C. Extreme ocean warming that is increasing the amount of latent heat the atmosphere can deliver to human bodies during heatwaves. And near a 33 C sea surface hot zone, the past few days have witnessed extreme heat and related tragic mass casualties in Sindh, Pakistan.

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For Pakistan, the heat and humidity has been deadly. Temperatures over Southeastern Pakistan hit 100 to 113 Fahrenheit (40 to 45 degrees Celsius) during recent days. Night time lows dipped only into the 80s and 90s (30s Celsius). Relative humidity throughout this period has remained above a brutal 50% even during the hottest hours of the day.

Wet bulb temperatures (the wet-bulb temperature is the temperature air has if it is cooled to saturation — 100% relative humidity — by evaporation) climbed into a dangerous range of 30 to 33 degrees Celsius. This greatly reduced the ability of evaporation at skin level to cool the bodies of human beings exposed to such oppressive temperatures. As a result, people working outdoors, the elderly, or those without access to climate-controlled environments fell under severe risk of heat related injuries.

The Hospital Morgue is Overflowing

According to reports from Al Jazzera, thousands of heat injuries and hundreds of deaths have occurred across the region since Saturday. Karachi’s largest hospital — Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre (JPMC) — has been flooded with over 5,000 patients suffering from heat injuries since the weekend. At some points, the hospital was receiving one heat injury patient per minute — a pace that nearly overwhelmed the facility. By earlier today, more than 380 of those patients had died.

Dr Seemin Jamali, a senior official at JPMC noted to Al Jazeera:

“The mortuary is overflowing, they are piling bodies one on top of the other. We are doing everything that is humanly possible here. Until [Tuesday] night, it was unbelievable. We were getting patients coming into the emergency ward every minute.”

Across Sindh, Pakistan the story was much the same with the total official heat death toll now standing at 775 and climbing as calls were raised for more government support for people impacted by the worst heat wave to hit Pakistan in at least 15 years.

Killing Heat and Unprecedented Rains

This extreme and deadly heat is a feature of a boundary zone between a hot, high-pressure air mass over the Persian Gulf region abutting against a very moist and El Nino-intensified monsoonal system over India. The result is a combination of high heat and high humidity — factors that, together, are very hard on the human body (wet bulb temperatures above 30 C are considered dangerous, while a blanket measure of 35 C [never reached yet on Earth] is considered rapidly deadly even in the shade).

During late May and early June, similar conditions resulted in hundreds of heat related deaths in India. When the heat finally abated, the subsequent influx of monsoonal moisture set off torrential downpours. In some places, rates of rainfall exceeded typical June monsoonal accumulations by nearly 50 percent with Mumbai already having received 32 inches of rainfall (normal June rainfall is 23 inches). With Mumbai showing daily rainfall accumulations of 1-3 inches, it is possible that June totals could be double that of a typical year.

A Ramping Oceanic Heat/Moisture Pump — Feature of a Record Warm World

The high heat, high humidity and related extreme rainfall events are all features of a warming world. At issue, primarily, is the impact of human forced global warming on the ocean system and how this heating then impacts the atmosphere — making it harder for humans to remain alive outdoors during the most extreme heating events even as it pushes a tendency for more and more extreme droughts and deluges.

This warming related heat and moisture flux is most visible out in the Pacific, where record global atmospheric and ocean heat is pushing maximum sea surface temperatures into the lower 30s (typically between 30 and 31 degrees Celsius). These high sea surface temperatures in a record warm world are now dumping an extreme amount of moisture into the atmosphere through an El Nino amplified evaporation rate. A subsequent amplification of the equatorial storm track due to extreme moisture loading has already seen extraordinary record rainfall events in places as widespread as India, China and the Central U.S.

image

(Sea surface temperatures climb to near 33 C in the Ocean region near Pakistan — supporting wet bulb temperatures [high heat and high humidity] that generate a heightened risk of heat injury and death. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

Maximum global sea surface temperature is a good proxy measure for how much moisture the atmosphere can hold, a measure that also likely determines the maximum wet bulb temperature (implied latent heat) at any given point on the globe. And particularly, near Pakistan, we find ocean surface temperature readings in the range of 30 to 33 C running through the coastal zone of the Indian Ocean and on into the Persian Gulf. Readings that increased the amount of moisture the atmosphere could hold at high temperature, increased relative humidity readings as temperatures entered the 100s Fahrenheit (40s C), and forced wet bulb temperatures into deadly ranges which in turn reduced the ability of the human body to cool by evaporation at skin level.

This is how human-forced global warming kills with direct heat — by basically increasing latent heat to the point that evaporation can no longer cool the human body to a natural maintenance temperature of 98.6 (F) or 37 (C). And once wet bulb temperatures start hitting 35 C, then the heat casualty potential really starts to get bad — essentially rendering heat wave regions temporarily uninhabitable for human life outdoors. With maximum sea surface temperatures now running near 33 C, we’re probably just within about 2 C of hitting that deadly boundary.

The Pakistan and Indian heat deaths this year, though extraordinarily tragic and probably preventable without current level of human forced warming of the atmosphere, serve as a warning. Keep warming the globe through fossil fuel emissions and there are many far, far worse heatwaves to come.

Links:

Pakistan Heatwave Death Toll Edges Toward 800

Pakistan Heatwave Death Tool Rises to 750

Heavy Rain Soaks India as Monsoon Advances

Flash Floods Pelt China

Earth Nullschool

An Adaptability Limit To Climate Change Due to Heat Stress

Hat Tip to Colorado Bob

May Likely to Break Global High Temperature Record as El Nino Conditions Strengthen in Pacific

The human warming-riled monster weather event that is El Nino continued to advance over the Equatorial Pacific this week. Ocean surface temperatures throughout the basin from north and east of New Guinea and along a broad stretch of thousands of miles of ocean climbed. Sporadic west winds and an overall weakness in the trades extended the expansion of warm surface waters along the serpentine back of the El Nino pattern from west-to-east even as a high heat content Kelvin Wave kept conditions below surface much warmer than normal.

sstaanim

(Pacific Ocean sea surface temperature anomalies from 2 April to 28 May. Animation source: NOAA)

Large and growing regions of 1 to 2 C warmer than normal surface temperatures expanded in broad, 1,000 + mile stretches near the date line and ranged out from the west coast of South America. An impressive region of, very hot, 2-3 C positive anomalies grew through an ever-larger span from Santa Cruz Island to coastal Ecuador and Peru. Though the above graphic is not granular enough to catch it, daily anomalies in this hot pool exceeded extremely intense +3.5 to +4 C readings.

Readings in the range of +0.5 to +1 C invaded regions north to south, east to west, joining in an extraordinary zone stretching from the Philippines to South America, and from Baja to Hawaii to the Solomon Islands. A separate pool of very hot water north of New Guinea and near the Philippines is likely to play a further role in El Nino development throughout this year should weak trades and anomalous west winds persist. Then, a second and reinforcing pulse of warm water is predicted to push the entire Equatorial Pacific Basin well above a +1 C positive anomaly by late Summer through Fall.

Weekly Anomalies

(Sea surface temperature anomalies in the four key Nino regions all show continued warming through the end of May. Image source: NOAA.)

The tightening grip of El Nino is plainly visible with each of the four key Nino zones showing ongoing temperature increases in what is now a 3-4 month long event. Meanwhile, the key Nino 3.4 zone closed its 4th straight period above the +0.5 C Nino threshold even as it jumped to +0.6 C above average this week. Notably, the Nino 1+2 zone off South America hit a very warm +1.6 C average positive anomaly this week, showing additional warming from strong late April values.

Together, these values all show very solid continued progress toward El Nino.

image

(Map of geographical Niño zones provided by NOAA.)

Conditions in Context: May 2014 Likely Hottest on Record Amidst Ongoing Extreme Weather

Overall, Equatorial Pacific ocean surface temperatures continued their advancement from May 27 to June 2, rising from +0.59 to +0.68 C above the 1979 to 2000 average throughout the week. Global sea surface temperatures have remained in an exceptionally hot and likely global record range between +1 and +1.25 C above 1979 to 2000 averages throughout the month of May and into early June. These extraordinary readings likely combined with very high atmospheric values to put May of 2014 in the range of hottest on record. It is worth noting that, according to NOAA, April of 2014 was also the hottest in the 134 years since global temperature measurements began.

El Nino tends to spike atmospheric heat and, when combined with a brutal human greenhouse gas forcing, greatly increases the likelihood that a given year will reach new global heat extremes.

For 2014, El Nino and global warming related weather disruptions already appear to be taking hold with the Indian Monsoon appearing weak and delayed, a summer heat dome building over Europe and Western Russia, with Southeast China experiencing record floods even as northern and western China and Japan experience record heat. Ongoing droughts and crop disruptions in Brazil, building heat and drought in Indonesia, and Australia experiencing two back to back hottest years on record is also indicative of the screaming global heating that typically comes when El Nino gives human-caused warming an explosive boost.

Links:

NOAA

Indian Monsoon Disrupted

Monsoon Misses Date With India, Onset Delayed

Monster El Nino Emerging From the Depths

 

Monsoon Disrupted By El Nino + Climate Change as India Suffers Deaths, Crop Losses from Extreme Heat.

May is the month when the massive rainstorm that is the Asian Monsoon begins to gather and advance. This year, as in many other years, the monsoon gradually formed along the coast of Myanmar early in the month. It sprang forward with gusto reaching the Bay of Bengal by last week.

And there it has stalled ever since.

On May 25-27, an outburst of moisture from this stalled monsoonal flow splashed over the coasts of India. But by the 29th and 30th, these coastal storms and even the ones gathering over the Bengali waters had all been snuffed out. The most prominent feature in the MODIS shot of India today isn’t the rainfall that should be now arriving along the southeast coast, but the thick and steely-gray pallor of coal-ash smog trapped under a persistent and oppressive dome of intense heat.

Monsoon Disrupted

(MODIS shot of India on May 30th. See the open stretch of blue water in the lower right frame? That’s the Bay of Bengal which borders coastal India. During a normal year at this time, that entire ocean zone should be filled with the storm clouds of a building monsoon that is already encroaching on coastal India. Today, there is nothing but a smattering of small and dispersed cloud through a mostly clear sky. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

Monsoon Described as Feeble

Official forecasts had already announced as of May 27th that the annual monsoon was likely to be delayed by at least a week for southeast regions of India. Meanwhile, expected monsoonal rainfall for western and northern sections of India for 2014 fell increasingly into doubt.

From The Times of India:

The monsoon is likely to be delayed by 10 days, according to scientists at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM) here. The IITM’s third experimental real-time forecast says that a feeble monsoon will reach central India after June 20 as against the usual June 15. Last year, the monsoon had covered the entire country by June 15.

The annual monsoon is key to India’s agriculture. The substantial rains nurture crops even as they tamp down a powerful heating that typically builds throughout the sub-continent into early summer. Without these rains, both heat and drought tend to run rampant, bringing down crop yields and resulting in severe human losses due to excessive heat.

But, this year, heat and drought are already at extreme levels.

Major Heatwave Already Results in Loss of Life for 2014

As early as late March, the heatwave began to build over the Indian subcontinent. The heat surged throughout the state, setting off fires, resulting in a growing list of heat casualties, shutting down the power grid and spurring unrest. Meanwhile, impacts to India’s agriculture were already growing as the Lychee fruit crop was reported to have suffered a 40% loss.

By late May, temperatures across a broad region had surged above 105 degrees shattering records as the oppressive and deadly heat continued to tighten its grip.

In a country surrounded on three sides by oceans, it is a combination of heat, humidity and persistently high night-time temperatures that can be a killer. Wet bulb temperatures surge into a high-risk range for human mortality during the day even as night-time provides little respite for already stressed human bodies. Such extreme and long-duration heat doesn’t come without a sad toll. As of today, early reports indicated a loss of more than 56 lives due to heat stroke (In 2012 and 2013, total Indian heat deaths were near 1,000 each year). That said, final figures on heat losses are still pending awaiting complete reports from all of India’s provinces.

“Climatologically, we know that heatwaves are increasing in frequency and the number of days exceeding 45ºC temperatures is increasing. The frequency will increase further with global warming, hence this is a good example of a situation where science and disaster management can come together and avert damage,” a spokesman for India’s National Disaster Management Authority noted on Friday.

Hot Dust

(Hot Dust. A dust storm rolls through New Delhi on Friday amidst furnace-like 113 degree heat snarling traffic and resulting in the tragic loss of 9 more lives. Image source: Gaurav Karoliwal/YouTube Screenshot.)

Today the heatwave continued to gain ground, with Kota and Rajasthan reaching an all-time record of 116 degree F (46.5 C) as New Delhi’s mercury hit 113 degrees F in the midst of a drought-induced dust storm. Dust shrouding the city spurred traffic chaos and in the heat, darkness, and confusion nine more souls were lost.

After two months of growing disruption due to heat and drought, the lands and peoples of India cry out for a Monsoon that is running later and later with each new weather report.

Climate Change + El Nino: Adding Heat and Beating Back the Monsoon

As systems approach tipping points, they are more likely to tilt toward the extremes.

For India this year, its seasonally warmest period from April to May found severe heat amplification from a number of global factors. First, climate change seeded the ground for the current Indian heatwave by adding general heat and evaporation to already hot conditions. With global average heating of +0.8 C above 1880s levels amplifying in the hot zones, early moisture loss due to higher-than-normal temperatures produces a kind of snowball effect for still more warming. Essentially, the cooling effect of water evaporation is baked out early allowing for heat to hit harder just as typical seasonal maximums are reached.

Equatorial Pacific Ocean Temperatures May 30

(Equatorial Pacific Ocean temperatures warmed to +0.63 C positive anomaly on May 30th, extending further into El Nino Range. Image source: University of Maine.)

In addition, this year saw rapid progress toward an El Nino event in the Pacific Ocean with sea surface temperatures warming into the El Nino range by mid-May and continuing to ramp higher. By today, Equatorial Pacific anomalies had hit +0.63 C according to GFS analysis, extending a run into El Nino conditions.

El Nino events typically allow for the formation of hot, drier air over India. These air masses tend to engender extreme heatwaves like the one we are seeing now even as they delay the onset of cooling monsoonal rains. In essence, the monsoon is confronted with a heavy and entrenched wall of hot air that doggedly resists being shoved aside. And this is the very situation we observe now over India — a sputtering monsoon to the east getting bullied by a brutally hot and thick air mass that just won’t give ground. Climate change only exaggerates the problem by increasing the intensity and inertia of the hot air mass.

Major monsoonal disruptions typically occur during years following an El Nino’s peak heating impact. For example, in 1998, during a period following an extreme El Nino, India suffered one of its most severe droughts and monsoonal delays on record. But during recent years preceding El Nino, such as 2009, India also saw severe heat, drying, and crop damage due to a weakening of the annual summer rains. So an early monsoonal enfeeblement and coincident strong heatwaves and droughts over India with El Nino still forming is cause for some concern and bears further monitoring.

Currently, temperatures over India are surging to between 5 and 12 degrees Celsius above already hot averages. With heat and drought firmly in place, forecasts are calling for a 1 to 2 week delay in the cooling and moisture-bringing monsoon as India continues to swelter.

Links:

Heatwave Persists Across India

LANCE-MODIS

Northern India to Endure Scorching Heat and Drought due to Weak Monsoon

Heatwave Continues in Raj, Kota

Lychee Crop Suffers 40% Loss Due to Heatwave

Dust Storm Blamed for 9 Deaths, Transportation Nightmare

Indian Monsoon Delayed as Heatwave Continues

Ten Day Delay in Monsoon

El Nino Delays Rain, May Spell Trouble for Government

El Nino May Disrupt Monsoon

(Hat Tip to Colorado Bob RE Tipping Points)

(Hat Tip to Mark from New England for Excellent Clarifying Questions)

 

 

Monster El Nino Emerging From the Depths. Nose of Massive Kelvin Wave Breaks Surface in Eastern Pacific

Monster El Nino

(A monster Kelvin wave, possibly more powerful than the 1997-98 event, is now rushing toward the surface of the Eastern Pacific. Image source: NOAA/ESRL.)

We are observing an extraordinarily powerful Kelvin Wave, one that was likely intensified by factors related to human global warming, traveling across the Pacific. It appears to be an epic event in the making. One that may be hotter and stronger than even the record-shattering 1997-98 El Nino. What this means is that we may well be staring down the throat of a global warming riled monster.

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Ever since the early 2000s very strong east to west trade winds have been blowing across the Pacific. By around 2010, the force of this wind pattern had risen to never before seen records. Over the years, these record winds piled very warm waters in a region of the world east of the Philippines and Australia. As the pool grew warmer, evaporation increased and salinity levels in the hot water pool spiked. Increasing salinity in the zone resulted in a down-welling current that transferred heat into the ocean’s depths.

By 2013, this hot water pool had grown into a vast abyss of heat. Cyclones forming over this zone experienced a kick in intensity as the typical upwelling force of their winds only dredged more hot water from the ocean deeps. It was a pattern that is contrary to typical tropical storm dynamics in which cooler waters drawn up by intense storms tend to limit their peak strength. Not so with mega-typhoon Haiyan, the strongest storm ever to strike land. The cyclonic wind pattern only dredged more heat from the extraordinarily deep hot water. And so the storm only grew stronger and stronger, knowing little in the way of limits before it barreled into an already storm-battered Philippines.

After Haiyan’s passage, the heat pool remained, only growing deeper and more intense, waiting for a change in the wind. And by January of 2014, that wind change was already well on its way.

In Deep, Hot Water

Like an enormous bag waiting to burst eastward, the hot water pool contained temperatures of 29-30 degrees C or hotter and sagged deep, extending up to 150 meters below the ocean surface. A vast stretch of explosive heat that had been held in check from an equatorial surge only by the strongest trade winds on record. But by January, those trade winds had faded. The east-west flow first weakened, then it fluttered, then it died, allowing the wind direction to reverse.

Strong Trade Winds Hot Ocean

(Did strong trade winds intensify the current Kelvin Wave by piling hot water into the Western Pacific? Top graph shows ocean heat content rise, bottom graph shows zonal wind strength of the trade winds through 2011. Note that IPO — Interdecadal Pacific Oscillation — divergence roughly correlates with trade wind intensity fluctuation. Image source: England Study.)

This trade wind reversal has, since January, been facilitated by a string of explosive low pressure systems that developed in the vicinity of the Western Pacific both south and north of the equator. Northern hemisphere storms circulate in a counter-clockwise fashion while southern hemisphere storms circulate clockwise. When the storms line up, they kick storm winds out along the equator, providing strong reversals to the trade winds and further shoving our hot, monster Kelvin Wave to the east.

And as the trade winds fell and reversed due to this sporadic assault of countervailing storms, the hot, deep pool of water surged eastwards. To those on the surface, the motion was invisible. And but for a series of floats spread throughout the Pacific, we would never know a monster thing was rushing along toward the east at a depth of about 150 meters below.

But the floats did their work and by late February it looked like a rather strong heat pulse was on its way across the Pacific Ocean. Risks began to dramatically increase that the heat would breach the surface of the Eastern Equatorial Pacific and set in place the globe-altering weather pattern called El Nino. In a world where human warming was already having serious impacts, the emergence of a new, potentially strong El Nino was not at all a welcome sign. For one, it meant new global high temperature records were likely to soon follow.

It also meant that world food security may well be about to receive yet one more staggering blow.

First Warnings

As the signal for a new El Nino began to appear in the models during late February, NOAA started to issue watches and predictions. Initial estimates were for a 52% chance of El Nino by late 2014.

These warnings caused a ripple of concern through the global food markets. Already reeling under the insults of a series of severe, climate change induced, droughts from Brazil and Argentina, to California and Texas, to the Middle East, to China, the world’s growers were hardly prepared for another series of anomalous weather events. Russia rolling into bread-basket Ukraine further set anxieties alight. But the threat of even a moderate El Nino and its associated droughts and extreme weather seemed to be a rising perfect storm for what was already a terrible year.

Growers in Southeast Asia chided forecasters in the West, with some cautioning that El Nino trackers do their best to quiet down so as not to induce a panic.

Southeast Asia often experiences an interruption of the annual monsoon in association with El Nino. So the region, which was already suffering from ground water shortages, lowering glacial outflows and sporadic periods of intense drought — all conditions related to growth, over-consumption and climate change — could ill afford yet one more strike against it.

Still, the strike appeared to be gathering heat and steam.

A Rising Monster Pushing the Tip of Its Nose up in the Eastern Pacific

As growers and states with marginal or bad food security grew more anxious, the hot water surge intensified. Researchers independent of NOAA began to issue estimates for a 60, 70 even 80% probability for the emergence of El Nino. Others, tracking what now appeared to be the hottest Kelvin wave ever seen, began to issue warnings that a monster event may well be on the way.

Deep Hot Water

(Most recent NOAA Kelvin Wave assessment. Top panel shows deep water high temperature anomalies telegraphing across the Pacific and pushing toward the surface. Large, deep pool of hot water providing energy to for the wave is visible in the bottom panel. Image source: NOAA.)

At issue were deep ocean temperature anomalies that were now rushing across the Pacific and beginning to rise toward the surface. The zone in late February that had indicated temperature anomalies in the range of +4-6 C was over an area of approximately 48 degrees of longitude. By March 19, the hot zone of 4-6 C above normal temperatures had expanded to cover about 62 degrees of longitude, and contained a hotter 5-6 C anomaly zone that was now larger than the 4-6 C zone from late February. The deep, hot water pool in the Western Pacific was now beginning to set up a kind of bridge in which it could transfer east, dump its heat into the atmosphere and disrupt global weather. Perhaps, somewhat more disturbing, it was linking to a deep pool of warmer water off the coast of South America (also see animation at the top of this post).

By comparison, the monster El Nino of 1997 featured a Kelvin Wave covering about the same area but whose high temperature anomalies only peaked out at about 4.5 C above average. So the current Kelvin wave is of approximately the same size but, based on current observations, appears to contain more heat.

The Kelvin wave had also begun to tilt up in the front with its ‘nose’ just starting to break the Pacific Ocean surface at between 120 and 100 West Longitude. This put the tip of the rising heat spike almost due south of Baja California and almost due west of the Peru and Ecuador border as of yesterday, March 23.

Monster El Nino Shows Nose

(Monster El Nino pokes the tip of its nose through Pacific surface waters between 120 W longitude and 100 W longitude along the equator. Image source: NOAA/ESRL.)

In the above ocean temperature anomaly measure for March 23, 2014, we can see a hot pool in the range of 1 to 2 C above average beginning to emerge between 120 and 100 West Longitude. It is a heat pulse that has eliminated all but the closest near-shore cool upwelling along the west coast of South America.

Should the rest of the Kelvin wave follow, spot temperature anomalies in this region will spike well above 4 C and possibly has high as 5-6 C. Such an event would be even stronger than the one seen in 1997-98, drive global temperatures about .05 to .2 C hotter than previous records in a single year, and set off a series of extreme weather that, when combined with the already severe conditions set in place by human-caused warming, may well be far in excess of those seen during past events.

Links:

NOAA/ESRL

England Study

Abnormally Hot, Deep Pacific Ocean Waters Explode Haiyan into Monster Storm

NOAA El Nino Monitoring

Climate Change Pushing World to the Brink of Food Crisis

The Monsters of Growth Shock Rise: Conflict in the Ukraine, Global Food Crisis, and Spending 500 Billion Dollars to Wreck the Climate

India Times Chides Western Meteorologists about El Nino Predictions

Unusually Intense El Nino May Lie Ahead, Scientists Say

Disquieting Facts About El Nino

Washington Post: A Super El Nino May be on the Way

US Atmospheric Scientists Predict Intense El Nino

Weather Centre: Could the Next Super El Nino Be Forming?

Arctic Warmth to Play the Spoiler? Ocean Surface, Atmosphere Show Anomalous Heat Spike in Advance of Predicted El Nino

Pacific Ocean monitoring stations around the world are now calling for a 50-67 percent chance of El Nino later this year. A warming of the Eastern Pacific that, should it emerge, is likely to result in record atmospheric and ocean temperatures as the human greenhouse gas heat forcing emerges, once more, from the oceans. But, so far, the Eastern Pacific remains in a somewhat cool ENSO-nuetral state. It is a trend that should lead to global atmospheric temperature averages somewhat hotter than the ocean surface. A trend that should not show ocean temperatures spiking, with atmospheric values rising at a slower rate.

But over the past week, according to both GFS model assessments and NOAA observational data, average global ocean surface temperatures have been surging.

sst.daily.anom1

(Sea surface temperature anomaly from the already warmer than normal 1971 to 2000 base period. Image source: NOAA.)

Large zones of well above average sea surface temperature now cover vast regions of the global ocean system so that anomalous heat now is plainly the dominant feature. Pools of hotter than typical water where averages range from 1 to 4 C above normal now appear off both coasts of South America, through the Indian Ocean between Africa and Australia, off the East Coast of the United States, south of Alaska and in a zone stretching from Norway to Svalbard. By contrast only small cool zones remain in the Eastern Pacific, in the passage between South America and Antarctica, in a swatch of the Tropical Atlantic near Africa, and in isolated regions of the Central and Western Pacific.

Arctic Warmth Drives Temperatures Higher

But the zone of hottest temperatures appear, according to GFS model data below, in the Arctic, where much of the surface waters and ice sheet are warmer than average by 4 C or more. This heat bleed from the Arctic Ocean tips Northern Hemisphere values far above average and is a primary contributor to Arctic atmospheric temperatures in the range of 3-4 C above average (1979-2000) for mid to late March.

During the past few days, the effect of this warm surface was enough to drive temperature anomalies for the oceans higher than .9 degrees Celsius above the 1979 to 2000 global average according to GFS observational data. Understanding that the 1979 to 2000 global sea surface temperature (SST) average was already about .28 C above the 1880s average, we are now seeing SST daily values in excess of 1.18 C above 1880s averages before El Nino comes into play.

TS_anom_satellite1

(Sea surface temperature anomaly for March 18, 2014 vs the, already warmer than normal, 1979-2000 average. Image source: University of Maine.)

Even more impressive are the sea surface temperature values seen during the past two days (March 17-18) — hitting a .99 C positive anomaly or +1.27 C above 1880s values.

For comparison, the global sea surface temperature average for 2013, according to the National Climate Data Center, was .42 degrees Celsius above the 1880s average and the hottest year for ocean surface temperatures, 2003, was .52 degrees Celsius hotter than the 1880s average. The average for the past two days, should the GFS observation stand, is +.75 above the highest annual average on record.

Daily values for even the entire ocean system can show rather large swings, but this high temperature trend is somewhat new and has been ongoing now for about a week.

Oceans dumping heat into the atmosphere without El Nino

By contrast, global atmospheric temperatures within the first two meters, according to the same GFS data, are, on March 18, .69 C above the 1979-2000 average. It is a reading .3 C below current sea surface temperature values. Yet it is also a reading about 1 C over 1880s values and about .3 C above annual global high temperature records set in 2010.

With ocean surface temperatures higher than 2 meter air temperatures, it appears the ocean is now dumping some of its latent heat back into the atmosphere through radiative transfer. This is a situation opposite of what has been observed for much of the past 13-14 years running when Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) went negative and the oceans underwent rapid warming as they sucked up atmospheric heat.

What we now observe in the preliminary GFS data is evidence that the ocean is dumping a bit of this stored and massive volume of heat back into the atmosphere. And we are seeing significant positive oceanic and atmospheric heat forcing well before any major level of Eastern Pacific Ocean warming and associated El Nino have come into play.

Links:

NOAA ESRL

University of Maine

National Climate Data Center

UCAR GFS

UCAR: El Nino or La Nada?

Arctic Sea Ice Still Below 2007 Record Low Extent in Many Measures

And so the Arctic refreeze that began on September 19th, after a summer of devastating melt, continues apace. Temperatures are falling throughout the Arctic as the sun dips lower and lower on the horizon, beginning a phase that will eventually result in the total darkness of winter. As you can see on the map above, snowfall is starting to blanket land masses in the region. But an ominously large and dark open expanse of water remains.

Extent, Area Still Close to or Below Previous Records For End of Summer

It is October 5th, 16 days after refreeze began and 20 days after a typical melt season’s end. Yet some measures are still showing Arctic sea ice below past record lows set in 2007. NSIDC and IMS are still showing ice extent values just below the 2007 level. With that record breached on August 25th of this year, we have experienced 41 days, or 11% of the entire year, with sea ice extent values below the previous record low set in 2007.

What this means is that large, dark areas of ocean are having a longer time to absorb heat from sunlight and remain warm for longer periods. What it also means is that a greater degree of endothermic cooling is needed to freeze a much larger expanse of ocean. The result is that much of this cooling work goes to refreeze and less and less goes to thickening the ice. This combination of getting ever further behind the refreeze curve and having to refreeze in a warming ocean sets up the Arctic for even deeper melt in the years following.

All measures show today is a record low for this date in history. Sea ice area is 3.1 million square kilometers below the 1980 value and sea ice extent is currently 3.5 million square kilometers below the 1980 value for today (NSIDC). Sea ice extent is also about 800,000 square kilometers below the record low set in 2007 for today’s date. Sea ice area is about 480,000 square kilometers below the 2007 value for today’s date. These values are roughly equal to the minimum departure seen at melt season’s end. So, though refreeze has begun, the gap, for the moment, remains. However, as the refreeze season progresses, all measures except volume should appear to show some recovery as the ice spreads out with seasonal cooling. We will have to see how much the severe blow that occurred this summer affects overall winter sea ice area, extent, and volume.

New Volume Measure Shows 700 Cubic Kilometers Lost This Year

In my summary post for the epic melt that occurred in 2012 and its implications for melt in the years to follow, I included the final volume measurements for the melt season’s end in September. But it is also worth providing a summary for you here.

Overall, volume fell to 3,300 cubic kilometers, 700 cubic kilometers lower than the record low of 4,000 cubic kilometers set last year. Average yearly volume losses since 2007 are such that, should they continue at the current rate, the Arctic experiences an ice-free state at the end of summer by 2018. Exponential volume loss trends still point toward a potential ice-free state as early as 2015.
These two dates are critical in determining the Arctic’s response both to current melt rates and feedbacks. Should they materialize, we will know that all ice in the Arctic is headed for a rapid melt far sooner than predicted by the major science bodies. And this particular case has very severe implications for Greenland and for world sea level rise.

And a Few Words on Arctic Methane

Arctic methane concentrations will continue to climb through the fall and into early winter. We shall keep an eye on these readings since, as satellite data shows, their concentrations have been growing over the years and because they are one of the number of amplifying feedbacks occurring in the Arctic environment. The size of past pulses and their relative rate of growth is some cause for watchfulness, so we will do our best to track this year’s methane emission peak given the limited tools available.

The most recent methane data for Barrow Alaska is posted below (updated on September 29th, 2012). Note the three outliers at the upper right corner of the graph that caused some concern earlier in September but were confirmed to be from a likely human source. We will also be posting satellite images and comparisons from the University of Maryland as they become available.

Links:

http://arctic.atmos.uiuc.edu/cryosphere/

http://nsidc.org/arcticseaicenews/

http://asl.umbc.edu/pub/yurganov/methane/MAPS/NH/

http://www.esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/dv/iadv/graph.php?code=BRW&program=ccgg&type=ts

https://sites.google.com/site/arcticseaicegraphs/

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