March Climate Madness — Wildfires, Scorching Summer Heat Strike Central and Southwestern U.S. By Winter’s End

In Colorado today the news was one of fire. There, a wildfire just south of Boulder had forced emergency officials to evacuate 1,000 residents as more than 2,000 others were put on alert Sunday. Smoke poured into neighborhoods as dead trees killed by invasive beetles or a developing drought, exploded into flames. Depleted snowpacks along the front range of the Rockies combined with temperatures in the 80s and 90s on Sunday to increase the fire risk. Thankfully, so far, there have been no reports of injuries or property loss. A relieving contrast to the massive fires recently striking Kansas, Texas and Oklahoma — where farmers and communities are still recovering.

(The ignition source for the recent fire near Boulder appears to be due to human activity. But the on-the ground climate conditions enhancing tree deaths, reducing snow packs, and blanketing the region with record or near record heat increases the likelihood that a spark will turn into a dangerous fire.)

The record heat building into Colorado on Sunday and contributing to increased wildfire risk had spread up into the Central U.S. from the Desert Southwest. There, cities like Phoenix have experienced summer-like heat for at least the past week. On Sunday, the city saw a second day of record temperatures as the mercury hit 96 degrees (Fahrenheit). Saturday temperatures were almost as hot at 95 F. This was the 8th consecutive day of 90 degree (F) or hotter temperatures (the record stretch of 90 degree + readings for March was set in 1972 at 17 days). Meanwhile, forecast highs in the mid 90s for Phoenix today set the possibility for another record-breaker.

Much of the southwest also experienced record or near-record temperatures. Las Vegas broke new records Sunday as the thermometer struck past 90 (F). Meanwhile, Yuma broke its previous daily record high on Sunday as temperatures rocketed to 98 F.

(Extreme heat builds through the Central and Southwest U.S. on monday as a wildfire forces evacuations south of Boulder, Colorado. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)

Today, heat is also expected to again build into the central U.S. as parts of Kansas, Texas, Oklahoma and Colorado are predicted to experience temperatures ranging from the upper 80s to well into the mid 90s. Pecos is expected to hit 96 F — which is about 20 degrees (F) above average for a typical March day. And in some regions, such as parts of Kansas, these temperature departures are as much as 25 F above normal. These extreme high temperatures are expected to break numerous records for the region as most of the previous record highs for this area range in the upper 80s.

The heat will bring with it more risk of wildfires and a front sweeping in on Tuesday could increase windspeeds and dry conditions for some regions. Record warm global temperatures, (spurred by human greenhouse gas emissions primarily coming from fossil fuel burning) which are aiding in the systemic, longer term, loss of ice and snow cover while increasing the rate at which drought sets in and spiking the top potential range of temperatures during heatwaves, appears to be combining with a post La Nina trend that typically favors heat and drying in the Central U.S. to set the stage for these extreme conditions.

Links:

Fire Near Boulder Forces Evacuations

Drought Monitor

Will Phoenix Break Heat Records for Three Days in a Row?

Record Heat: Hot Temperatures Continue Today

Climate Reanalyzer

Hat tip to Andy in San Diego

Hat tip to Robert Prue

Hot Blob #2 Takes Aim at Sea Ice — Abnormally Warm Waters Invading the Arctic Through Bering and Chukchi

A lot of attention has been paid to a ‘Blob’ of unusual warmth at the ocean surface in the Northeastern Pacific. And for good reason, for that Blob of human-warmed water has had wide-ranging negative impacts on both weather and sea life. Now there’s a second hot Blob forming in the Bering and Chukchi seas. One that may also have some rather significant effects as the summer of 2015 continues.

Abnormally Warm Waters Running Toward the Sea Ice

Hot Blob #2 is a vast stretch of warm water covering the Bering and Chukchi seas between Alaska and Kamchatka (Neven, in his most recent sea ice summary, touched on this building warm water zone here). It encompasses surface waters in an usually frigid region that now feature temperatures ranging from 3 to 5.5 degrees Celsius above normal. Covering an area roughly 800 miles in diameter, this pool of outlandishly warm ocean waters is being fed by currents running up from the south and by heat bleeding off Alaskan and Siberian land masses. In this case, land masses that are also experiencing record heat.

image

(Hot Blob #2 forms in the Bering as its warm waters are swept north toward the Arctic sea ice pack. The above sea surface temperature anomaly map shows a broad stretch of much hotter than typical surface waters being pulled poleward by prevailing ocean currents. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

Though the abnormal warmth is also likely fed by a powerful albedo switch from white, reflective sea ice, to dark, sunlight absorbing ocean, other factors associated with El Nino and related to the hot blob off the North American West Coast are also likely in play. And of particular interest in this present extreme hot water situation are currents flowing northward out of these warm pools and directly into the Arctic. Currents that have been eating away at the ice since winter.

One warm water bearing current — the Alaskan Coastal Current — runs directly out of the abnormally hot surface zone in the Northeastern Pacific (Blob #1). This current flows along the North American Continental Shelf, out past the Aleutian Island Chain and finally up into the Bering Sea. A second current — the Siberian Coastal Current — feeds into the Bering from the Asian Continental Shelf. These currents then combine and push Bering Sea waters on through the Bering Strait and up into the Chukchi Sea.

Algae bloom hot pool

(Algae blooms, like this one in the Chukchi Sea just south of the ice pack, have been a common feature of the Pacific Ocean hot pools. The warmer waters are a preferred environment for microbes which can see some amazingly rapid population explosions. If the blooms become too numerous they can rob the ocean surface waters of nutrients and die off en masse. The decay of dead masses of algae can then leech away the oceans’ life-giving oxygen, setting off and contributing to a chain of harmful ocean anoxia. In a warming world, this process, combined with disruption of ocean currents and the basic fact that warmer waters bear less oxygen in solution, is a major contributor to mass extinction events. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

Northward propagation of these currents during spring and summer plays a critical role in the rate of sea ice recession in the Bering, Chukchi, Beaufort and East Siberian Seas. Waters warmed by the summer sun and by the more rapidly heating continents amplify in the Bering Strait before making contact with the sea ice and pushing it to melt and recede.

Impacts Already Visible Up the Coast

This year, waters in the Strait are extraordinarily warm — measuring 5.4 degrees above normal surface water temperatures. A plug of 5 C + above average water entering the Chukchi, Bering, Beaufort and East Siberian seas at a time when solar insolation is hitting peak intensity and during a period when nearby Arctic regions like Alaska are experiencing some of their hottest temperatures ever recorded. These waters, at temperatures in the range of 7-8 degrees Celsius, are warm enough to rapidly melt any ice they contact. And they’re flooding directly toward the ice pack.

Barrow Alaska

(Ice rapidly melting off of Barrow, Alaska on June 23, 2015. Ice is seen receding from the near shore zone even as the ice pack further out breaks into dark blue patches of open ocean. Image source: Barrow Ice Cam.)

Unusually warm surface water and air temperature impacts can already be seen further down the coast in places like Barrow, Alaska. Today, near shore sea ice dramatically melted and off-shore sea ice has retreated poleward — revealing the tell-tale blue of open ocean in the distance. An extreme one day change for Barrow sea ice, which only featured melt ponds and some near-shore melt 24 hours before.

Conditions, Model Runs Point Toward Substantial Thinning

Looking northward, we find ice pack conditions showing substantial thinning, significant melt pond formation over the surface ice and increasingly disassociated ice flows in the Beaufort, Chukchi, and East Siberian Seas. Near shore ice in the East Siberian Sea (ESS) has taken on a vivid blue or glassy appearance indicative of melt pond formation. Melt and compaction wedges have formed in the ESS along an axis pointing toward the pole. In the Chukchi, sea ice recession and thinning appear to be proceeding quite rapidly, while dispersing ice in the Beaufort is hitting warmer surface waters, fed by Mackenzie River outflow, and melting.

Navy ARCc Model Run

(The ARCc model run shows rapid thinning in the Beaufort, Chukchi and ESS through June 30. Image source: US Navy.)

The Navy’s ARCc historic and forecast model run for May 30 through June 30 shows rapid thinning of sea ice in the affected regions. The forecast run for the next seven days shows extreme thinning continuing through the ESS and Chukchi, with thicker ice in the Beaufort also experiencing substantial reductions (Note that the Navy’s GLBb model runs look even worse).

Overall, given the fact that storms are now ranging through substantial sections of the Arctic, pushing for more sea ice dispersal, losses will tend to show up more in the sea ice area and volume measures first. Dispersal will also tend to mute extent losses for a time. Given the delay in area and volume tracking, it’s likely that overall impacts to sea ice will tend to be muted in the measures over coming days with a clearer signal showing up by late June and early July. But despite these underlying and complicating weather conditions, the fact remains that a lot of unusually warm water is heading northward toward the ice, with likely greater impacts to follow.

Links:

Earth Nullschool

US Navy

Barrow Ice Cam

The Arctic Ice Blog

A Deadly Climb From Glaciation to Hothouse

Awakening the Horrors of the Ancient Hothouse — Hydrogen Sulfide in the World’s Warming Oceans

Hat Tip to Colorado Bob

Hat Tip to Ouse MD

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

 

Arctic Sea Ice Anomaly Continues Record Plunge

Sea ice area anomaly fell to a new record low today as Arctic refreeze continued to lag normal seasonal refreeze. Today Arctic sea ice anomaly was 2,709,000 square kilometers below the 1979-2008 average. Today’s anomaly broke the record set yesterday by 4,000 square kilometers. Based on the current, somewhat slow, rate of refreeze, it appears possible that new record low anomalies will be set over the coming days.

A high amount of latent heat in the Arctic appears to be fueling this phenomena. Temperatures range from 10-20 degrees Celsius above normal over a broad area. And, so far, refreeze has been slow to catch up to even the record low values set in 2007. However, with all this said, some extent measurements (a measurement that doesn’t include gaps behind the ice edge), are beginning to approach the extent measurements from 2007. What this shows is that the ice edge is advancing fast enough to begin to make up gains, but large holes remain behind the ice edge, showing that some of the refreeze is superficial and that record lows still hold in the region.

Current rates of refreeze coupled with high Arctic temperatures would seem to point toward record or near record low ice area and extent for much of the remainder of this fall.

Links:

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

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

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