“Worst Fire Conditions On Record” — As Heatwaves, Drought Bake North American West, Wildfires Erupt From California to Alaska

There are 146 wildfires burning in Alaska today. A total that is likely to see at least another dozen blazes added to it by midnight. A total that has already absorbed the entire firefighting capacity of the State and has drawn hundreds of firefighters from across the country in places as far away as Pennsylvania.

For Alaska, it’s a case of record heat and dryness generating fuels for wildfires.

Alaska wildfires Sunday

(MODIS satellite shot of wildfires erupting over a sweltering Southwestern Alaska on Sunday, June 21. Wildfires in permafrost regions of the Arctic like Alaska are particularly concerning as they are one mechanism that returns ancient sequestered carbon to the Earth atmosphere. A sign of a feedback set off by human warming that will worsen with continued fossil fuel emissions. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

Deadhorse, at the center of North Slope oil fields above the Arctic Circle set an all time record high of 82 degrees Fahrenheit (28 Celsius) on Sunday. That’s 3 degrees hotter than the previous all time record high of 79 degrees (26 C) set on August 16, 2004. The hottest reading for June at that location was a 68 degree (20 C) measure set in 2007. So, basically, Deadhorse just shattered the all-time record for June by 14 degrees (F) and the globally record hot summer of 2015 has only now gotten started.

Other locations experiencing new records for just Sunday included Kotzebue, which set a new all time record highest low temperature of 62 degrees (17 C). This reading broke the previous all time high minimum mark of 56 degrees (14 C), set in 1987. Bethel and Yakutat both tied their daily high minimum temperature records at 54 and 52 degrees (12 and 11 C), respectively.

And yesterday was just one day in long period of record heat for the State. Last month’s NOAA analysis showed temperatures fully 7 degrees Fahrenheit (4 C) above average. It’s a record heating that is now setting off severe wildfires all over Alaska. According to the state’s Wildland Fire Information Center, the relentless heat and dryness has turned spruce, hardwoods, brush, and tundra into dry fuels vulnerable to any ignition source. Over the past week, ignition has come in the form of lightning — with most of Alaska’s 2015 wildfires set off by nature’s spark.

As a result we are seeing nearly double the number of fires during June compared to a typical year. Fires that have already destroyed 30 structures, forced evacuations, and tapped Alaska’s firefighting resources to its limits.

Wildfires Burning in the Rainforests of Washington as Major Heatwave Approaches

Record hot temperatures and wildfires, unfortunately, are not just an issue for Alaska. They’re a prevalent concern all up and down Western North America. A zone that has seen several years of record hot temperatures and dryness. Extreme weather events fueled by such global warming-linked phenomena as a Ridiculously Resilient high pressure Ridge over the Northeast Pacific that has kept heatwave and drought conditions firmly entrenched throughout much of the region for months and years. An atmospheric condition that is also linked to a hot ocean surface water ‘Blob’ in the Northeast Pacific (which is itself implicated in a growing number of marine species deaths).

Paradise-Fire-June-17

(Paradise Fire burning near a drought-shrunken creek in the rainforests of Olympia National Park, Washington. Image source: NPS and Wildfire Today.)

This week, the added heat also generated wildfires in unusual areas like the rainforests of Washington State’s Olympic Peninsula. Driest conditions since 1951 have resulted in a great deal of fire resiliency loss for forests in the region (1951 was the year of the historic Five Forks Fire, one of the worst ever to impact Washington State). Already, a rare early summer wildfire (called the Paradise Fire) has burned through 417 acres of forest.

Firefighters are doing their best to contain the blaze. But the record heat and dryness are multiplying fuel sources. Fires are enabled by dried lichens growing high up in the trees. When flames touch the lichens they rapidly ignite sending sparks to other lichen-covered tree tops. In this way, flames can leap rapidly from tree to tree under current conditions.

It’s very unusual to see fires in this rainforest zone. And when ignitions have occurred in those very rare cases, they have typically flared during late Summer and early Fall. So this June burning has fire officials very concerned — especially given the nearly unprecedented fire hazard conditions throughout the State. Conditions that are predicted to rapidly worsen as an extreme heatwave is expected to build through the coming weekend.

West Coast Heatwave Saturday

(A major heatwave is predicted to invade the US West and Northwest States this weekend. Washington and Oregon are predicted to experience temperatures more typical of desert sections of California and Arizona. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)

Temperatures over large stretches of Washington and Oregon are expected to climb into the 90s and 100s, possibly reaching the 110s (Fahrenheit — Celsius range from 33 to 45) by Sunday. For these typically cool, wet States, this brutal heat blow, should it emerge as predicted, will set off a spate of all time record high temperature readings, deepen drought conditions extending northward from California, and heighten fire conditions that are already in the range of worst ever experienced for sections of these States.

California Experiencing “Worst Fire Conditions On Record”

Moving further south along the U.S. West Coast we come at last to the drought hot zone that is California. A State that is now enduring its fourth year of drought. A drought that tree ring studies show is likely the worst such event in 1,000 years.

These harsh climate conditions were starkly highlighted this weekend as reports from State emergency planning officials now indicate that California is currently experiencing its worst fire conditions on record.

Ken Pimlott, Director of CAL FIRE noted:

We measure the fuel moisture content of all of the vegetation -the brush and the trees and we track that over the course of time and compare it month to month each year. And we put it through formulas and determine how much energy and how much heat it will put out when it’s burning. And we have seen -we saw it last year and we will see it again this year- we’ll be reaching records for potential heat output for times of the year that would normally not be burning in those conditions.

Wildfire nonexistent snowpack

(Large wildfire burns in forests along the slopes of Sierra Nevada Mountains whose peaks are now entirely devoid of snow cover. Note that remaining glaciers are shown turning a dull brown in the June 21 MODIS satellite shot.)

So far this year over 1,100 wildfires have already ignited throughout the State. That’s nearly twice the typical number of 650 blazes popping up by this time of year. Exacerbating this stark context is a state water resource crisis compounded by non-existent Sierra Nevada snowpacks and dead trees that now number in the millions.

This is not Normal, Nor Should We View Widespread, Related Events in Isolation

Record and unusual Alaska, Washington, and California wildfires this season are, thus, not occurring in isolation, but as an inseparable feature of ongoing climate trends related to human-caused global warming. In this case, heatwaves are related to visible and extreme record ocean and atmospheric temperatures that have been ramping both globally and in the regions affected over past years and decades. And the fact that 2015 is continuing as the hottest year on record globally should also not be viewed as separate from the events witnessed all up and down the North American West Coast. Events that were largely predicted in many global climate models assessing the impacts of human based greenhouse gas warming on this vital national and global region.

We’ll end here by considering this thought — it’s only June, yet up and down the North American West Coast we are experiencing some of the worst heat, drought, and fire conditions ever recorded. It’s only June…

*   *   *   *

UPDATE NOON EST, JUNE 23, 2015: Satellite Imagery confirms that, over the past 24-48 hours, the wildfire situation in Alaska has continued to worsen. Widespread and large fires running throughout southwestern, central, northeastern and eastern Alaska today expanded and multiplied:

Wildfires Alaska June 22

(Fires flared to dangerous size across Alaska on June 22nd and 23nd. Image source: LANCE-MODIS)

These rapidly proliferating fires cover a diagonal swath stretching about 800 miles from southwest to northeast across the state. The fires are burning through Alaska’s permafrost zone and current intensity in the satellite image is similar to some of the worst Arctic fires we’ve seen during recent years. A substantial number of these fires feature smoke footprints indicating 5-10 mile active burn fronts. Smoke plume size is now large enough to become caught up in the Jet Stream and impact visual features of skies across the Northern Hemisphere.

Based on these satellite shots, it appears that Alaska is experiencing a heightening and very severe fire emergency — one that shows little sign of abatement over the next few days.

Links:

Deadhorse Sets New All-Time Record High Temperature

NOAA Global Analysis May 2015

Alaska’s Wildland Fire Information Center

More Than 100 New Fires Spring Up Across Alaska

PA Firefighters Heading to Alaska to Battle Wildfires

Wildfires Burn in Olympic Rain Forest

Climate Reanalyzer

LANCE-MODIS

California Fire Says 2015 Fire Conditions are Worst on Record

Die-off of Millions of California Trees Centered in Sierra Nevada

Hat Tip to DT Lange

Hat Tip to Andy in San Diego

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No Pause — NASA Shows Human Hothouse Maintaining Record High Temperatures for 2015

GISS Pulse

(What 2015 temperatures would look like on the annual graph if the +0.79 C departure maintained throughout the present year. Problem is, there’s at least some risk warming could intensify. Image from Tamino’s recent blog post which, justifiably, rips the fussy math of Anthony Watts and ‘friends’ into tiny little pieces.)

It’s an El Nino year. It’s a year in which global CO2 averages are hitting above 400 parts per million for the first time in at least 3 million years. And it’s a year in which CO2 equivalent values for all greenhouse gasses (including methane, nitrogen compounds and other exotic heat trapping gasses) that humans have emitted are nearing 485 parts per million.

Added together — the equatorial Pacific Ocean taking a break in its duties as atmospheric heat sink (El Nino) combined with the immense volume of heat trapping gasses human beings have now loaded into the atmosphere — it’s more than enough to force global temperatures into territory likely not seen since the Eemian interglacial period 150,000 years ago.

Temperatures Continue March into Eemian Ranges

And NASA GISS, in its monthly report, is showing global temperatures that are edging into the Eemian range. First, April of 2015 came in at 0.75 Celsius (C) hotter than NASA’s global 20th Century benchmark (0.95 C hotter than 1880). This represents the second hottest value for April on record in the entire 135 year climate record, coming in just a bit cooler than the 0.83 C departure for 2010. Meanwhile, hindsight adjustments have found that the January-through-March period was warmer than earlier indicated — with new departures hitting +0.76 (Jan), +0.80 (Feb), and +0.85 (Mar).

Combined, the average of these first four months is +0.79 C above 20th Century measures. Or about +0.99 C above 1880s values. This puts us well outside the context of the 10,000 year period beginning at the end of the last ice age (Holocene) and edges us into a range more typical to the Eemian. A time when sea levels were between 6 and 8 meters (20-25 feet) higher than today.

Polar Amplification and the Greenland Cool Pool

Looking at the global temperature anomaly map provided by NASA, we can see where much of this extra heat accumulated throughout April:

Global Temps NASA April 2015

(NASA GISS global temperature anomalies map for April of 2015. Image source: NASA.)

Here we find that polar amplification for the upper Northern Hemisphere latitudes was continuing to hit high marks. Broad south-to-north wind flows over central Asia drove a powerful warming spanning up from Lake Baikal in Russia, on through Central Siberia, up over the Yamal region and into the High Arctic. Average temperatures for the month in this zone ranged from 2 C to as high as 6.9 C above average. Another zone of extreme warmth sprawled out over Western North America and into the Beaufort and Chukchi Sea regions. There, temperatures ranged between 1-4 C above 20th Century averages.

Other notable warm regions included the Equatorial Pacific — showing a band of 1-2 C departures in association with a developing El Nino — and the West Antarctic Peninsula, which saw heating in the range of 2-4 degrees Celsius above average for most of the month.

Overall, most of the globe showed above average readings with cool pools relegated to isolated regions. In particular, the distribution of cool temperatures near Greenland is somewhat disturbing. It’s an indication of increased glacial melt outflows from Greenland ice sheets into the North Atlantic. It’s also a validation of climate model analysis of human-caused global warming — which indicated cooling near Greenland due to a combination of ice sheet and ocean responses to heating the Earth-Ocean System. The ocean response — a dangerous slowing of Atlantic thermo-haline circulation — was also identified in a recent paper by Rahmstorf.

Zonal anomalies April of 2015

(NASA Latitudinal temperature anomalies again shows strength of Northern Hemisphere polar amplification. Image source: NASA.)

NASA zonal anomalies also continue to validate climate model predictions for human-caused warming. Here we find the predicted extreme polar amplification — more rapid warming of the Northern Hemisphere polar zone than the rest of the world — clearly indicated. There, in the 60-90 North Latitude zone we find temperatures ranging from 1-3.5 Celsius above the 20th Century global average. A rate of warming far exceeding any other region.

All other Latitudinal zones show about a +0.75 C above average temperature departure. The first noted exception is the heat sink in the Southern Ocean (at -0.5 to +0.5 C in this measure) which continues to uptake atmospheric heat, transfer it to the middle ocean and, by Ekman pumping through storm action, deliver it exactly where it is least needed — along the basal regions of various melting Antarctic ice shelves. The second is marked by a zone of March-April storm intensification along the Antarctic Continent and Southern Ocean boundary centering at 75 degrees South (-0.5 to -1 C).

Conditions in Context

Overall, temperatures at +0.99 degrees Celsius above 1880s averages for the first four months of 2015 should be cause for concern. We still have El Nino ramping up in the Pacific. And with some models showing the event could be quite powerful, the added boost to global heating we are seeing now could well ramp higher later this year. In addition, we are entering an Arctic melt season that is showing some risk of pushing Arctic sea ice into new record lows — at least early in the melt season. Such an event would further tilt the globe toward record heat by reducing ice-based light and heat reflectivity in the Arctic at times of 24 hour sunlight (May through July).

As such, there is risk that already record warming seen since 2014 and into 2015 could continue and, potentially, ramp higher through the end of this year.

Links:

NASA GISS

Standing on the Shores of Disaster

A Faustian Bargain on the Short Road to Hell

Catch 22 No 1

Steaming Equatorial Pacific Sees Winds Blowing Toward Monster El Nino

World Ocean Heartbeat Fading

Second Monster Kelvin Wave Forming? West Wind Back Bursts North of New Guinea Rival Intensities Last Seen in January.

This January, a powerful period of west wind bursts tapped a very hot, deep pool of Pacific Ocean water and shoved it eastward along the equator. The hot water was driven downward by Eckman pumping forces even as it began to propagate across the Pacific. The resulting Kelvin Wave was, by March, among the most intense sub-sea warming events ever seen for the Equatorial Pacific during this time of year.

By late May and through June, this heat had transferred to surface waters and the Equatorial Pacific, overall, had greatly warmed.

This initial warming prepped the ocean surface for continued atmospheric feedbacks and the emergence of an El Nino by sometime during the summer and fall of 2014. A monster event that, should it form on top of human-caused warming, could push both global temperature and weather extremes to record levels never before seen. But for El Nino to continue to emerge, more strong west wind back bursts are required to keep shoving the hot pool of Pacific Ocean water eastward, spreading it out across the Pacific and dumping its warmth into the atmosphere.

Now, during early July, just that appears to be happening.

image

(Strong west wind back burst visible in the Western Pacific north of New Guinea and the Solomon Islands and just north of the Equator. Image source: Earth Nullschool. Data Source: Numerous Including NOAA GFS.)

For along a synoptic band ranging from the Philippines to north of New Guinea and the Solomon Islands a powerful zone of west winds has emerged between two double-barrel low pressure systems. The first set of lows form a broad counter-clockwise circulation along the 10 degree North Latitude line. The second set hovers just south of the equator, forming a clockwise wind flow. These two wind patterns merge in a significant back-burst pushing against the traditional flow of the east-to-west trades.

Wind speeds in the anomaly zone are in the range of 30-40 kilometers per hour with higher gusts, or currently just shy of the wind strength observed during the very strong January west wind back burst.

Strong West Winds Tapping Pool of Very Hot Water

Hot Water Western Pacific

(Very hot water in the Western Pacific hitting 32 C [90 F] in some spots. Image source: NOAA/National Weather Service.)

It is worth noting that winds in this region have been slowly intensifying over the past few days. So any further increase in strength would make this event easily comparable to the January event that spawned such a powerful Kelvin Wave.

Surface waters in this west wind zone range from 86 to upwards of 90 degrees Fahrenheit over a broad zone along the equator and northward to a very hot pool just east of the Philippines. Eastward and downward propagation of such intensely hot water, driven by these strong west winds has the potential to generate a second strong Kelvin Wave. The back-burst winds we are seeing now are strong enough to generate such a wave and the sea surface temperatures in the region are at very high positive anomalies, especially in the region east of the Philippines. Propagation of a second strong Kelvin Wave would spike 0-300 meter temperatures again and would lock in the formation of the expected El Nino later this year.

Links:

NOAA GFS

Earth Nullschool

NOAA/National Weather Service

Climate Prediction Center ENSO Monitoring

Monster El Nino Emerging From the Depths

 

NOAA: El Nino is Coming. Extreme Weather, New Global High Temperature Records to Likely Follow.

In the masterfully constructed fantasy world of Westeros, George R.R. Martin’s characters have a saying — Winter is Coming.

The words are spoken with an air of dread as winters in this realm can extend for years, starve entire cities, and push civilizations to the brink. In a world impacted by human climate change, the words El Nino might be uttered with a similar dread, as it foreshadows a dumping of Pacific Ocean heat back into an already warming atmosphere.

The result is that most moderate to strong El Nino years are record hot years, pushing the global temperature average ever higher through a cycle of natural variability warped toward hot by human greenhouse gas forcing. And, in fact, even two of the recent weak El Nina years, 2005 and 2010, were both hottest years on record:

gistemp_nino_s

(NASA GISS temperature graph showing global increases since 1950 reflecting El Nino, La Nina, and ENSO neutral years. Image source: NASA GISS.)

These new record high temperatures occurred during a period when cold water upwelling in the Pacific was particularly strong. Driven by the most powerful trade winds on record, this ocean surface and atmosphere mixing dumped an unprecedented amount of heat into Pacific waters. It is a period known as negative Pacific Decadal Oscillation and it usually reflects a time of cooling for the atmosphere. But, despite this rather intense period of heat transfer from atmosphere to ocean, the atmosphere remained at or near record hot levels, only slightly slowing in its rate of upward rise.

El Nino is Coming

Now, according to reports from NOAA, the waters just below the surface of the Eastern Pacific are starting to warm and rise. This warm water pulse, known as a Kelvin Wave, is proceeding from west to east even as it is rising from the depths. The source of these warm waters is a deep, hot pool in the Central and Western Pacific. A pool of warmth that has been intensified over the last 14 years by a near constant bombardment of above normal ocean surface temperatures. The hot ocean waters evaporated, becoming more heavily burdened with saline and eventually sank far into the depths.

Now, as the trade winds have weakened and westerlies sporadically began to emerge, this pool of hot water was drawn eastward by upwelling currents near the South American Continent. Should these hotter waters break the surface, the world will experience a moderate to strong El Nino along with global atmospheric temperatures that are likely to be the hottest on record.

From the NOAA ENSO forecast:

While all models predict warming in the tropical Pacific, there is considerable uncertainty as to whether El Niño will develop during the summer or fall. If westerly winds continue to emerge in the western equatorial Pacific, the development of El Niño would become more likely. However, the lower forecast skill during the spring and overall propensity for cooler conditions over the last decade still justify significant probabilities for ENSO-neutral. The consensus forecast is for ENSO-neutral to continue through the Northern Hemisphere spring 2014, with about a 50% chance of El Niño developing during the summer or fall.

Meanwhile, the latest Climate Prediction Center forecast now shows a 52% chance that El Nino will form by the months of October, November and December:

CPC ENSO forecast

(CPC ENSO forecast through December of 2014. Image source: IRI CPC)

This is slight increase of about 2% from even the late February analysis.

It’s worth noting that though continued forecast agreement across agencies through early March provides increased likelihood of El Nino’s emergence later this year, spring forecasts are typically somewhat unreliable due to atmospheric instability. In addition, the Pacific Ocean remaining in a negative PDO state over the last 14 years also produces some uncertainty in the forecast.

“Impressive” Subsurface Warming

In addition to models showing an increased chance of El Nino starting in April and rising through November, projections imply that this El Nino, should it emerge, may be the strongest in over a decade. As noted above, a very large pool of warm water is rising up from the depths. Meanwhile, model runs show sea surface temperatures warming to an average deviation above 1.25 degrees Celsius with some showing values above 2.5 C. Such moderate to strong values, should they emerge, could produce the warmest conditions for the Eastern Pacific since 1998, a powerful event that spiked surface water temperatures for that region up to 2.9 C above normal.

Kelvin Wave Subsurface Temperatures

(Strong Kelvin Wave spreads eastward and features subsurface temperature anomalies in the range of 4-6 C above average in a wide zone at 150 depth. Note the wave beginning to push above 60 meters in a region near the Eastern Pacific during late February. Image source: NOAA.)

Mark Halpert, acting director at the Climate Prediction Center, noted that subsurface warming was “impressive” and seemed quite confident for early spring that this region of the world was developing toward a substantial El Nino event later this year.

Globe to Warm. Amped Hydrological Cycle, Sea Ice Loss to Play a Role in El Nino Induced Weather Swings?

Should the predicted El Nino emerge and be as strong as average model values indicate, global surface temperatures could rise by between .05 and .15 degrees Celsius, pushing climatology into a range of .85 to .95 degrees Celsius above 1880s values. This would be a substantial jump for a single year, resulting in yet one more large shift toward an ever more extreme climate.

Perhaps also as concerning is the fact that El Nino often results in severe weather shifts around the globe. With drought and flood events already being amplified by a 6% increase in the hydrological cycle since 1880 and with a massive reduction in Arctic sea ice coverage playing havoc with the Jet Stream, adding an excess of heat over hundreds of thousands of square miles of Eastern Pacific waters is likely to further increase instability.

As examples, the last, rather mild, El Nino of 2010 coincided with one of the worst heatwaves and wildfire outbreaks ever experienced in Russia, while the powerful 1998 El Nino battered California with a winter-long series of extraordinarily intense storms.

Flattened Jet Stream Aims Storm Track at West Coast

(El Nino flattens and amplifies storm track while aiming it at the US West Coast. In combination with already excessive atmospheric moisture levels driven by human-caused warming, such a situation can result in an extraordinarily extreme progression of storms for California in the event that a strong El Nino combines with human-warming driven weather alterations. Image source: ZoomRadar.)

For the potentially arising El Nino, farmers in California may experience a switch from extreme drought conditions to extreme deluge. The result of a flattening pattern in the Pacific Jet Stream that tends to coincide with El Nino to funnel a river of Pacific moisture directly over the US West Coast. With the hydrological cycle already amped up by human-caused warming, such a large moisture dump could be even worse than those previously experienced.

As observed in 2010, high temperature anomalies over Central Asia that typically coincide with El Nino can, in the current climate state, result in severe droughts and wildfire outbreaks. This could result in an expanding zone of drought and fire as well as produce a troubling hot air pool that could occasionally spill into the Arctic. If the pattern emerges during summer or early fall, the result could be both record sea ice melt and severe heatwaves, wildfires and droughts from the center of the Eurasian Continent all the way to the Arctic Ocean.

It’s worth noting that both increased rates of evaporation and very low levels of Arctic sea ice could amplify some aspects of El Nino induced weather extremes. So the combination of spiking global temperatures and adding yet more weather instability to an already amped up system could make a moderate to strong 2014 El Nino a severe event indeed.

Links:

IRI CPC

NOAA

Dr. Jeff Masters: El Nino Coming in 2014?

El Nino Watch Alert

NASA GISS

Arctic ‘Heat Wave’ to Rip Polar Vortex in Half, Shatter Alaska’s All-Time Record High for January?

62 Degrees Fahrenheit. That’s the all time record high for anywhere in the state of Alaska for the month of January. 57 Degrees Fahrenheit. That’s the temperature measured earlier this week in southern Alaska.

And forecasts call for warmer weather from Friday through Monday…

Across Alaska, temperatures are as much a 30 degrees above average for this time of year. This record winter warmth has pushed Alaska’s average temperature, according to reports from Anchorage, to 24 degrees Fahrenheit. By comparison, the lower 48, hundreds of miles to the south, is experiencing average temperatures of 22 degrees Fahrenheit. Though 24 degrees is not typically seen as a heat wave, readings in the upper 50s and lower 60s for Alaska in January may as well be. If these same temperature extremes were occurring during summer, some parts of Alaska would be experiencing a 90+ degree scorcher.

Mangled Jet Stream, Anomalous 10 Month Blocking Pattern to Blame

What we are witnessing is what amounts to a ten month long warm air invasion of the Arctic, with Alaska at ground zero. Human-caused global warming has resulted in an amplification of polar temperatures well above the typical average. Now the region is experiencing readings that range of 15-30 degrees warmer than normal.

This massive temperature increase (also associated with a reduction of land and sea ice) is causing a weakening in the polar Jet Stream which is allowing more warm air to invade the Arctic from the south. Early last spring, a weakness in the Jet resulted in a powerful and extraordinarily persistent blocking pattern forming over Alaska. Warm air flooded continuously up and over Alaska, occasionally penetrating deep into the Arctic Ocean region. Heat wave after heat wave impacted Alaska, which set numerous all-time record high temperatures during the summer of 2013.

This anomalous heat flooded in and spilled out around the Arctic Circle, disgorging so much hot air that the term ‘Arctic Heat Wave’ became common parlance. Now, this historic and extraordinary pattern has continued for 1o months running. A kind of persistence that may well give new meaning to the term blocking pattern.

south to north weather pattern Alaska

(Image source: NASA)

The wave pattern stretches so high into the upper latitudes that what we are seeing is weather systems more often rise up from the south and travel northward over Alaska and into the Arctic, than proceed in their typical east-west progression.
The west-east weather train is broken. And a strange south-north train from equator to Arctic is instead set in place.

In the above image sequence, provided by NASA, the heat and associated moisture flow all the way from the equatorial region near Hawaii, up over thousands of miles of Pacific Ocean waters before flooding on through Alaska and into the high Arctic. The extraordinarily powerful and persistent blocking pattern has linked the deep tropics to the high Arctic in unprecedented and anomalous fashion. Especially when one considers that the current pattern has lasted for almost an entire year.

This it the kind of extreme weather pattern that Dr. Jennifer Francis warned about. The kind of pattern Dr. Jeff Masters continues to point out in his cutting edge blog — Weather Underground. In my view, we ignore Dr. Francis and Dr. Masters at our risk. Their observations hold true to what is happening now and they are very useful tools for predicting the weather of a world in which human global warming has now become the primary driver of the world’s climate. Without the actual and ongoing context that is human warming, the few meteorologists still associated with climate change deniers scramble to find the increasingly rare analogs in past climate that match today’s extreme weather. But there is no analog to warmest ever temperatures in Alaska and polar temperatures that are now hotter than they were at any time over at least the past 44,000 years. And there is certainly no analog to CO2 levels higher than they’ve been at any time during the past 4.5 million years.

For this is the disrupted Jet Stream pattern not only directly responsible for the anomalous Arctic heat Alaska is now experiencing. It is also the cause of colder air being driven out of the Arctic and southward over the US, causing multiple cold snaps and extreme winter weather events in the lower 48. For the warm air influx, both at the surface and at the upper levels of the atmosphere, result in multiple polar vortex collapse events.

Polar Vortex to be Ripped in Half

And we are in the midst of just such a polar vortex collapse now. Over the past week, warmer air has flooded the high Arctic, weakening the polar vortex as the center of cold air began to split and streamed down over the continents. By Monday, these warm wedges of air, driving up over both Svalbard in the east and Alaska in the west, will have completely separated the polar vortex into two disassociated cold centers.

In essence, the polar vortex will have been ripped in half by a pincer style warm air invasion from the south. Who knew that atmospheric warming would come to mimic the battlefield tactics of Germans rumbling over the fields of France during World War II? But here we are:

Polar Vortex Ripped in Half

(Image source: University of Washington)

In the above image, we can plainly see the much warmer than normal air wedge driving up from the south and over Alaska in association with the now, ten month old, blocking pattern and related Rossby wave feature over the Pacific and North America. A second, albeit weaker, wedge drives in over Europe and across Svalbard. The net result is a ‘pincer’ of warm air invading the Arctic and cutting the polar vortex in half.

Note that one cold air vortex is predicted to be centered over Eastern Canada near Hudson Bay (Monday). The other is shown to be driven south to Russian Kamchatka near the Sea of Okhotsk. Perhaps coincidentally, this cold air core is very close to the Amur region of Russia and China that experienced a 150 year flood event just this summer. A flood event also associated with anomalous Jet Stream patterns linking polar, temperate, ocean and monsoonal storm patterns (see Song of Flood and Fire and Requiem for Flooded Cities).

Under this pattern the Arctic and especially Alaska will continue to experience record or near-record warmth, while the lower 48 continues to suffer the repeated blows of extreme winter weather as the conditions that are supposed to be affecting the Polar region are instead mercilessly driven southward by a human caused warming and polar vortex collapse event.

Links:

Jet Stream Flip Flop: Alaska is Warmer than Lower 48 Again

Sea Ice Loss Locks Jet Stream into Severe Winter Storm Pattern for Much of US

The Arctic Heatwave: Greenland, Siberia, Alaska Heat Domes and a Mangled Jet Stream

From Archangel to Alaska, Heat Waves Now Flank the Central Arctic

NASA

Dr. Jennifer Francis, Top Climatologists, Explain how Global Warming Wrecks the Jet Stream and Amps up the Hydrological Cycle to Produce Extreme Weather

Weather Underground

Arctic Temperatures Now Hottest Seen in at Least 44,000 Years

Cold Snap for the US? It’s the Collapsing Polar Vortex, Stupid.

University of Washington

A Song of Flood and Fire

A Requiem for Flooded Cities

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

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