Another Ridiculous Ridge — Western Wildfires Grow as US Heatwave Casualties Mount

In Borrego Springs, CA at 10 AM this morning, the temperature was a scorching 116 degrees F. Temperatures today are expected to hit 122 degrees F (50 degrees C) for this California location — which would tie the all-time high for any date there. But it’s just a microcosm of the record-shattering heat that is now settling in over the US West. Heat that looks like it will remain in place for days and possibly weeks. Heat that is now resulting in tragic instances of loss of life even as it is sparking numerous massive widlfires, melting snowpacks, worsening droughts, and otherwise sparking conditions that are related to a human-forced heating of the globe.

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In Glendale, a suburb of Phoenix, temperatures rocketed to 120 degrees Fahrenheit (49 C or 14 degrees F above average) as numerous locales recorded temperatures well in excess of 120 throughout the region (see map below). Tuscon hit 115 (46 C or 15 F above average) and Phoenix soared to 118 (48 C or 15 degrees F above average). California saw its own spate of record heat with Los Angeles soaring to 96 F (36 C which is 23 F above average), Burbank hitting 109 F (43 C and also 23 F above average), Riverside seeing 111 F readings (44 C and 19 F above average) and Thermal rising all the way to 119 F (48 C and 13 F above average). Seven communities in New Mexico also saw record hot readings for the day.

Google Maps Phoenix Temperatures on Sunday

(Sections of Phoenix scorched on Sunday with this Google Map from Ben Newmann showing some areas experiencing 127 degree F [or 53 C] readings. Image source: Google Maps via Ben Newmann.)

The record heat resulted in 4 separate incidents of hiker deaths as rescue personnel responded to trail-goers suffering from heat injuries Sunday. Two of the fatalities occurred along trails near Tuscon while another pair of fatalities cropped up just outside of Phoenix. A fifth hiker is now also reported missing.

Today, the extreme heat is predicted to make a repeat comeback as readings are expected to hit or exceed 121 F in some regions. Meanwhile, Tuesday is expected to be even hotter.

Thousands of Firefighters Battling Blazes

As heat expanded beneath a sprawling dome of high pressure, groups of firefighters the size of small armies battled numerous blazes.

In Los Angeles 2,000 firefighters and 23 aircraft were engaged with the Sherpa Fire raging through the Santa Barbara region. By late Sunday, nearly 8,000 acres had burned (12 square miles), a section of a water treatment plant was consumed, and the fire was 54 percent contained. However, 55 mph winds overnight and temperatures rising to or near triple digit heat today were expected to give those fighting the blaze a grueling challenge.

Near Albuquerque, the Dog Head fire had consumed fully 18,000 acres and was only 9 percent contained by late Sunday evening. The swift moving and raging fire had damaged or consumed 45 structures by that time as 1,000 firefighters fought to contain it. Continued extreme heat in the region through at least Tuesday is expected to make fighting the blaze a very difficult prospect over the next two days.

Cedar Fire Changes Direction Late Sunday

(Cedar Creek Fire grows in size as it changes direction late Sunday. Image source: Chris Gross.)

North of Phoenix, the Cedar Creek Fire had swelled to 26,000 acres Monday, cut off route 60, and jumped the containment line. A shift in the wind caused the fire to dramatically alter course Sunday night — outflanking firefighting efforts in the process. The blaze had been 40 percent contained as of late Sunday, but these estimates will have to be revised downward. The fire is now threatening the town of Carrizo — which is expected to receive evacuation orders later today.

Conditions in Context

Fueling both the extreme heat and wildfire outbreaks across the Western US are conditions consistent with human-caused climate change. Very strong high pressure ridges dominate both the ocean zones of the Northeastern Pacific and the North Atlantic. These high pressure systems are both more powerful and extend further north than is typical. In addition, water temperatures both off the Eastern Seaboard and off the US West Coast are much warmer than normal. These features have all fed the development of a powerful heat dome high pressure system that is now forming over the US.

Another Ridiculous Ridge

(Ten day forecast shows an extremely powerful ridge in the Jet Stream extending all the way into the Arctic as an associated heat dome swells beneath. This kind of system threatens to propel 90 degree heat all the way to the shores of the Arctic Ocean over the next two weeks. To be very clear, these conditions are not normal. They represent an extreme south to north transfer of heat that threatens to deliver a brutal blow, not only to the US and Canada, but also to the Arctic itself. Image source: NOAA NCEP via Zack Labe.)

Over the coming days, this ridge is expected to swell and strengthen as it drives the Jet Stream far north over Canada and into the Arctic. There, sea ice extents continue to range in record lows for this time of year — lending power to the forming ridge and the heatwave inducing dome high pressure system developing underneath. As a result, we will likely continue to see fire hazards spike throughout the Central and Western US, we will likely continue to see record or near record heat, and we will likely see a re-expansion of drought conditions in the US West.

In addition, this heat dome is so powerful and has such a strong predicted northward extent that temperatures in the 80s or even 90s may extend as far north as the shores of the Arctic Ocean in Canada and Alaska. So wildfire and heatwave risks will be moving north into Arctic regions over the coming days as well.

Links:

Heatwave Scorching the Southwest Proves Fatal

National Interagency Fire Center

Sherpa Fire 51 Percent Contained

Wildfires Burn as Southwest Swelters Under Triple-Digit Heat

US Climate Data

NOAA NCEP

Zack Labe

Chris Gross

Ben Newmann

Hat tip to DT Lange

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Hat tip to Andy in San Diego

Hat tip to Caroline

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Arctic Heatwave Forecast to Crush Northern Hemisphere Snow Cover This Week

The Russian side of the Arctic is heating up.

A high amplitude ridge in the Jet Stream is forecast to develop atop the Yamal region of Russia, expand northward over the Kara and Laptev seas, inject a plume of anomalously warm air over the polar region, and then proceed on along the Arctic Ocean shores of Siberia. Beneath this ridge, temperatures over the Arctic Ocean will spike to +1 to +4 C above average while temperatures over land will hit extreme +20 C and higher anomalies.

Arctic Heatwave June 6

(Arctic heatwave invades Siberia in the GFS forecast for later this week as depicted by Climate Reanalyzer.)

Arctic Ocean zones are forecast to see temperatures climb above freezing for much of the 80 degree North Latitude zone. Over Siberia, land-based temperatures are predicted to range from the 40s and 50s along the Arctic Ocean boundary and climb to the 60s to 80s in regions just inland.

As temperatures tend to flatten out over Arctic Ocean waters and as permafrost zones in Siberia are used to far cooler readings during Northern Hemisphere Summer, the predicted heatwave is likely to have some rather strong impacts should it emerge. Most notably, snow cover over remaining land and sea ice is expected to see a rather extreme reduction over the next seven days. In other words, GFS forecast models show Northern Hemisphere snow cover basically getting crushed:

Current snow CoverPredicted Snow Cover

(Massive reduction in Northern Hemisphere [NH] snow cover predicted coincident with Siberian Heatwave later this week. Left frame shows current NH snow cover. Right frame shows predicted NH snow cover for Tuesday, June 9. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)

Sparse remaining snow cover in Northeast Siberia along the East Siberian Arctic Shelf coastal zone is expected to be pretty much wiped out. One foot average snow cover along the shores of the Laptev and Kara seas is also expected to melt. And a broad section of remaining snow upon the sea ice is predicted to retreat away from the North Polar region — receding back toward the final haven near Greenland.

Snow is important for spring and summer-time Arctic temperature moderation due to the fact that it provides insulation to sea ice and permafrost as well as serving as a reflective, high-albedo surface that bounces back some of the incoming heat from the 24-hour seasonal Arctic sun. Snow melt, on the other hand, serves to form albedo-reducing melt ponds over the Arctic Ocean sea ice during summer. A critical factor in late season melt forecasting in which more June melt ponds tend to mean lower sea ice totals by end season. In addition, snow melt fills permafrost zone rivers with above-freezing waters that then flow into the Arctic Ocean — providing yet another heat forcing to the sea ice.

Conditions in Context

This weekly trend and forecast is consistent with an ongoing tendency during 2015 for strong ridge formation and warm air slot development over both Alaska and the Yamal region of Russia. The high amplitude ridges also likely have teleconnections with larger weather patterns such as El Nino in the Pacific, the warm water pool (hot blob) in the Northeast Pacific, and record low sea ice extents continuing for most of Northern Hemisphere Spring. Observations that are also consistent with the predictions made by Dr. Jennifer Francis that are a direct upshot of polar amplification set off by human-caused warming of the global climate system.

image

(GFS model forecast as depicted by Earth Nullschool showing ridge Northwest Territory, trough Greenland and North Atlantic, ridge Kara and Laptev region of Siberia. A dynamic that may be the result of teleconnections set off by factors related to human-caused climate change. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

It’s worth noting that many of these factors are self reinforcing. For example, more sea ice melt results in higher amplitude wave formation in the Jet Stream. Higher amplitude wave formation in the Jet Stream transports more warmth to the Arctic environment, resulting in more sea ice and snow melt which in turn weakens the Jet Stream further. A longer-term amplifying feedback of Arctic carbon release may also be in play (hinted at by an overburden of both CO2 and methane in the local Arctic atmosphere), which would also contribute to the conditions we now observe.

A final feedback, this one somewhat negative, occurs as a result of Greenland Ice Sheet (GIS) melt. Large cold, freshwater outflows from GIS into the North Atlantic result in localized cooling in that region. This feedback (also related to AMO weakening) enhances trough formation throughout the North Atlantic region adjacent to Greenland and the Canadian Archipelago. A final potential teleconnection to the ridges we see forming over both Yamal and the Alaska/Northwest Territory zone.

Links:

Climate Reanalyzer

Earth Nullschool

Heat Wave Forecast for Russia

Rapid Arctic Sea Ice Loss Linked to Extreme Weather

Tracking for Early Season Melt Pond Formation at The Arctic Ice Blog

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