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Death Valley Like Heat Predicted to Blanket the Southwest By Next Week

Drought is again expanding over the US West. Oregon, after a very rapid April and May snowmelt, is being advised to conserve water. And with high pressure building in over the Southwest, weather models are predicting the emergence of an extreme heatwave by late this weekend. One that current guidance is indicating will bring 100 to 120 degree (F) temperatures to a wide region stretching from California’s Central Valley, through Southern California, Northwestern Mexico, Arizona, Nevada and into Southern Utah.

Strong High Pressure System

(The US is expected to swelter under a heat dome that is predicted to form this weekend and expand on into next week. Record heat is predicted to first impact the US Southwest before building into the Central US by late next week. Image source: NCEP/NOAA.)

The trigger for what may become a record-shattering heatwave is the predicted development of a powerful atmospheric ridge. Model guidance now shows a strong high pressure system currently over the Northeastern Pacific extending its influence eastward over the coming days. By the middle of next week, most of the US is predicted to fall under the atmospheric sway of a big bully of a high pressure system centered over the Southwestern States. Spiking atmospheric pressures and clear skies are expected to then usher in record temperatures for much of the US Southwest.

For parts of California’s Central Valley near Fresno, temperatures could rise as high as 116 F by Wednesday of next week (June 21). That’s about 23 degrees (F) above average for this time of year and would beat the hottest reading ever recorded in any month for the city. The same day prediction for Sacramento is in the range of 110 F — a little shy of the all-time record, but a reading that would shatter the June 21 daily record by a good margin.

110 degree + readings are expected to blanket Southeastern California, Sections of Northwestern Mexico, Southwestern Arizona, and Southeastern Nevada. Near 100 degree readings are expected to extend as far north as Redding, California. In other words, a huge section of the Southwestern US is expected to experience Death Valley like weather conditions.

Extreme Southwest Heatwave

(Record heat is predicted to blanket most of the Southwest US by next week. This graphic shows predicted peak daily temperatures on Wednesday, June 21. Image source: Pivotal Weather.)

This kind of record heatwave is something one might have expected during an extreme year of the 20th Century in July. But what we’re seeing is its potential to emerge now in mid-to-late June. An indication that record global atmospheric temperatures are starting to have some rather serious regional impacts along the lines predicted by various Global Circulation Models. These models indicated a particular vulnerability of the US Southwest to extreme heat and drying under the atmospheric forces set off by human fossil fuel burning. And this predicted heatwave is building up in an atmospheric context in which global temperatures will likely be around 1.2 C hotter than 1880s averages during 2016.

In this context, the potentially building record heatwave threatens to greatly expand and reassert drought conditions in the US Southwest this Summer. Should it emerge as models are currently predicting, it will greatly increase soil moisture evaporation and remaining snowpack melt across the region — amplifying drought conditions in over a region where many had hoped a strong El Nino would stave off these kinds of climate change related impacts for at least another few years. And for these reasons along with the direct risks of heat injury to human beings, interests should closely monitor its development.

Links:

US Drought Monitor

Quick Oregon Snowmelt Dampens Water Outlook

US Climate Data

Pivotal Weather

NCEP/NOAA

Hat tip to Zack Labe

Hat tip to DT Lange

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

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Even a Monster El Nino Can’t Beat the Southwest Drought

For those who follow weather, it’s a rather strange and disturbing story.

A powerful Pacific Ocean storm forms about 500 miles south of the Aleutian Islands. Heavily laden with rains, strong winds, and trailing a long squall line, the system takes aim at the US West Coast. It’s a burly beast of a thing. Pumped up by an enormous bleed of moisture rising off of one of the mightiest El Ninos ever seen. An instance of extreme Equatorial heat that’s been firing off since October.

Another Pacific Storm Deflected

(Another Pacific Storm is deflected northward by increasingly persistent high pressure systems as the US Southwest swelters under unseasonable warmth. GFS climate reanalysis by Climate Reanalyzer shows this disturbing weather pattern again and again in the February forecast. In short, it doesn’t look like the California Drought is going to end anytime soon. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)

The towering El Nino-fed storm clouds chug east, steaming along toward what appears to be an inexorable collision with California, Oregon, and Washington. But, at the last moment, the storm slams into a heavy pile of atmospheric heat. Warm air building over the US Southwest and nearby ocean zones has shoved the upper air steering current called the Jet Stream pole-ward. The great storm is sucked up into this atmospheric train, delivering its rains along an arc from Washington State on northward.

And so the seemingly impossible has happened. A powerful El Nino’s rains and snows — usually bound directly for California, Oregon and Washington — have been diverted by a new kind of atmospheric pattern associated with climate change.

El Nino’s Rains Gone or Just Taking a Break?

Ever since late January, strong ridges have tended to develop over Western North America. By February 4th, the National Weather Service (NWS) had begun to report on the pattern — describing  it as El Nino taking a 5-10 day break. But the ‘break’ had already begun to show up on January 26th — about ten days prior to the February 4 NWS announcement. And now, on February 10, we’ve seen two full weeks of warm, dry weather settling in over California and the US Southwest. Meanwhile, long range model forecasts indicate that the ‘break’ from El Nino conditions will continue through at least February 16th.

Upper 60s to upper 80s California and Arizona

(Temperatures in the upper 60s to upper 80s is predicted for a large sections of California and Arizona on Tuesday, February 16th. It’s the kind of hot, dry air that brings back memories of recent years when formations of strong, ridiculously resilient ridges pushed California into one of its worst drought episodes on record. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)

It’s all just terrible timing. First, California snow packs during December and January began to recover due to strong, El Nino associated, storm systems barreling in. However, now during what should be the peak of the Southwestern rainy season, we have what could be a month long pause in storms hitting the region. It’s as if the rainy season is being hollowed out. And not just any rainy season — a strong El Nino rainy season which should have been far, far rainier than most.

Last week, Climate Central and Peter Gleick — a climate expert at Pacific Institue — made the following warning:

seven days of sustained warmth could melt as much as 30 percent of California’s snowpack. The hot, dry weather is exactly what baked in exceptional drought in California over the past four years. Some signs indicate the heat is driven in large part by climate change, but the role of the ridiculously resilient ridge is still an area of active investigation.

Well, by tomorrow seven days will have come and gone. But the end to the anomalous warm, dry spell is still nowhere in sight.

California Drought Really Hasn’t Budged

Meanwhile, a four-year-long California drought appears to be making a strong run at year five. In fact, if you look at the US Drought Monitor, you’ll find that a large swath of the West is currently suffering under moderate to exceptional drought conditions.

West Still Suffering From Drought

(Severe Drought remains in place over the US West. El Nino appears to have lost at least some of its ability to deliver heavy rains as an intensifying regime of human-forced warming pushes typical weather patterns further and further off-kilter. All bad news for an area that has been suffering from one severe drought after another since the early 2000s. Image source: Drought Monitor.)

Quite frankly, it’s insane that we’re still seeing these conditions during a monster El Nino. These droughts should be rolling back as the storm track intensifies and hurls severe weather at the US West Coast. But that’s not what’s happening. At least not consistently. Instead, we keep getting these extreme ridge patterns in the Jet Stream over western North America. We keep getting these very warm, very dry spells of weather during the wet season. And now, we have California Snowpack melting away in February of all times.

A Ridge-Trough Pattern That’s All-Too Likely Related To A Human-Forced Warming of the Arctic

The fact that these weather patterns emerged after the warmest January and lowest sea ice extents on record for the Arctic is a point that should not be missed by weather and climate analysts. It appears that what we are seeing is yet more evidence that polar amplification is driving a consistent high amplitude bulge in the Jet Stream over Western North America together with severe periods of warmth, dryness and snowpack melt during Winter. The hot side of a dipole pattern that is also setting up more extreme storm potentials as cold air is driven out of the Arctic along a deep trough over the Eastern US, slams into a record hot Gulf Stream, and then sets off a series of atmospheric bombs along a storm track running all the way across the North Atlantic and into Western Europe. Yet more evidence that what happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic.

Links:

Climate Reanalyzer

Drought Monitor

Hot, Dry Weather Could Cut California Snowpack

Polar Amplification vs A Godzilla El Nino

NWS: El Nino Taking a 5-10 Day Break

Arctic Sea Ice Death Spiral Continues

BBC: Storm Imogen Takes Aim at UK

Hat Tip to DT Lange

Hat Tip to Andy in San Diego

Hat Tip to Colorado Bob

 

 

US Experiencing Worst Fire Season on Record as Blazes in Washington and Oregon Explode Twelvefold to Over 1 Million Acres

Across the Northwest US — a region known for its damp climate, its rainforests, and for often cool and wet weather — wildfires have been exploding. This summer, heat and dryness settled over the region in a months-long drought and heatwave. By late June, wide areas were seeing their worst fire conditions on record — meaning that heat and drought were generating a never-before-seen potential for wildfire outbreak.

The heat settled in, baking Oregon, Washington and Montana with 90 and, sometimes, 100 degree + heat. Fires sparked and smoldered throughout June, July, and through late August. But over the past twelve days, despite amazing preparation and effort on behalf of fire officials, northwestern wildfires exploded in size by more than tenfold — erupting from about 85,000 acres in coverage to over a million acres burning as of Monday, August 24th.

Astronaught Photo Wildfires August 18

(An astronaut aboard the International Space Station photographs wildfires burning out of control on August 17, 2015. Image source: NASA and TIME.)

In a scene that has become all-too-common in a world that’s 1 degree Celsius above 1880s averages and climbing, firefighters were called in from as far away as Australia to battle the blaze. Prison inmates, firefighters from throughout the US and Canada, and National Guard Soldiers joined with the Australians to form an army to fight the blazes. Numbering more than 20,000, this force’s valiant efforts likely saved hundreds of lives and thousands of structures as fire conditions worsened in Northern California, Oregon, Washington and Montana.

By Thursday, three firefighters had tragically lost their lives as President Obama was calling the situation ‘out of control.’ Through Friday, Saturday and Sunday, acres burned continued to expand as vast plumes of smoke covered large swaths of the United States. Particulates born of the western conflagrations by Monday were hazing skies as far away as Newfoundland.

Massive Smoke Plume from Out of Control Northwest Wildfires

(Massive wildfires burning across the western United States sent out a 1,500 mile long plume of smoke on Saturday, August 22. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

Worst US Fire Season on Record Through Late August

As the US Northwest fights valiantly to get its massive wildfires under control, the United States now finds itself in its worst fire season on record through late August. In Alaska alone more than 5.1 million acres have burned. Now, with nearly 7.5 million acres gone up in smoke across the United States since Spring, we are about 300,000 acres ahead of previous worst season 2012.

The US record fire season should not be viewed as an event in isolation. Nor should it be viewed as normal — new or otherwise. It’s an upshot of extraordinarily warm waters in the Northeastern Pacific shoving hot airs northward into regions that typically experience cool, wet weather. The climate of the Desert Southwest has been forced into Northern California, Oregon, Washington, and Montana. And the result is that forests, already weakened by rising atmospheric nitrogen levels, and not accustomed to such heat and dryness, are at ever-greater risk of fire. Added dangers and stresses that are the direct upshot of human-based fossil fuel burning and human-forced global warming.

Links:

National Interagency Fire Center

Worst Fire Conditions on Record

LANCE-MODIS

Astronaut’s View of Northwest Widlfires

Resources Scarce as Northwest Fires Grow in Number

Hat Tip to Ray Duray

Wrecked Pacific Storm Track Now Runs From Equator to Arctic Ocean

There’s something not quite right going on in the Pacific.

In the northeast of that great ocean, the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge just keeps growing. A gigantic high pressure cell spreading out to encompass the entire region from the Aleutians to just off the California Coast. This giant, implacable system has lasted now for the better part of two years.  A mountain of atmospheric inertia towering over a deadly, human-warmed, hot pool of Pacific Ocean water.

A Not Normal Storm Track

To the west of our monstrous ridge runs an abnormal storm track. Firing off just north of the Equator and south and east of Japan, the track is fed by tropical systems swinging north and eastward. Merging frontal storms with the warm core cyclones, this storm track runs up along the boundary of the Northwest Pacific and into the Bering. Many of these storms end up bottled there. But a few surge over into the Chukchi and East Siberian seas. In this way, heat and moisture that originated in the tropics is eventually delivered to the Arctic. Exactly the kind of south to north heat and storm potential energy delivery that Dr. Jennifer Francis has been warning us about.

Over the next few days, this storm, heat, and moisture conveyor belt will continue to lend energy to systems firing off over the Pacific side of the Arctic. These storms will generate winds of 25 to 35 miles per hour with higher gusts. They’ll send swells in the range of 4-7 feet rippling across the still ice-smattered waters. And they’ll fling rain, sleet, freezing rain and snow over the still melting ice. An unsettled pattern featuring cold-core systems with an intensity comparable to tropical depressions but firing off in the chill boundary zones along the sea ice melt edge.

Ridge Forms South-to-North Storm Conveyor Belt

image

(Pacific storm track runs from just north of the Equator and on up into the Chukchi in this GFS model forecast for high [white] and low [purple]  pressure systems on Sunday, August 16th. Is this the track that El Nino generated storms take as the world warms? If so, there’s more trouble in store for the Arctic. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

Then, according to GFS model runs, things start to get interesting. By Sunday, August 16th our massive Northeast Pacific Ridge starts to really flex its muscles. It heightens to a near 1040 mb high pressure cell and links arms across the Arctic with a 1030 mb high over the Central Arctic Basin and another 1030 mb high over the Barents. In other words, the ridge forms a transpolar daisy chain. And on the left side of this transpolar ridge, the storm and moisture conveyor running toward the Arctic boundary kicks up a notch. Double barrel cyclones fire off in the region of 15 degrees North Latitude spawning from the very strong atmospheric feedback of our monstrous-looking El Nino. Three more storms run in train from 30 North to just past the 70 degree line in the Chukchi.

And all run along a diagonal northeasterly track aimed directly at the Arctic’s thawing heart.

It’s a new, odd storm track. One that, depending on the strength and orientation of the Arctic high either ends in the Bering, or runs all the way to the Pole itself. A heat and moisture delivery system that begins to take form in August but that, during recent years, has churned along through Fall, Winter and Spring. It’s a pattern that in 2015 is fed both by the global warming related hot pool in the Northeast Pacific and an El Nino still plowing toward off-the-charts strong. And due to the immense energy of the weather and climate systems involved it’s an anomalous pattern that risks an extreme storm potential energy delivery running from Equator to Arctic.

Links:

Earth Nullschool

Global Forecast System Model

Hot Pacific Ocean Runs Bloody

The Ridiculously Resilient Ridge

How Climate Change Wrecks the Jet Stream, Amps up the Hydrological Cycle to Generate Extreme Weather

An Army of Firefighters Battles 14 Blazes in Triple Digit Temps Across California — More than 1,000 People Displaced

It’s becoming all too clear that we’re rolling with some seriously loaded climate dice.

California, suffering through its second year of a desiccating 1,000 year drought, is now facing down a new set of related tragedies. Over the past few days temperatures rocketed into record triple digit heat. The Golden State, turning more and more into the withered Brown State, faced hot Santa Anna winds and a new eruption of dangerous fires.

(A rash of California wildfires has now displaced more than 1,000 people — adding to the long tally of forced displacement due to extreme weather conditions related to human caused climate change. Video Source ABC News.)

According to news reports, 14 major fires are now absorbing the efforts of an army of 7,000 firefighters and California National Guard members. In total, more than 1,000 people have been displaced by the fires raging throughout Northern  and Central California. Ten structures, including homes, along with boats and vehicles, have been destroyed even as more than 300 are now threatened.

Of the most intense and dangerous fires, the largest fire covered 13 square miles in Lake County. That single blaze alone forced 650 residents to evacuate and destroyed two homes. As of late Thursday night, this dangerous fire was only 5 percent contained. Nearby, Brenna Island saw a brush fire tear through a mobile home park destroying six structures along with numerous boats and vehicles. In Nappa Valley, a 12 square mile inferno spread beyond containment lines to threaten 136 structures — forcing another 200 people to evacuate. Over on the shores of Bass Lake a fourth fire nearly doubled in side — surging from 3 square miles to five square miles in just one 24 hour period. As the Bass Lake fire encroached upon the Cascadel Woods community another 400 persons residing in approximately 200 homes were forced to flee. By early this morning, the rapidly expanding fire was only 30 percent contained.

California Wildfire Smoke

(A pallor of wildfire smoke lingers over Northern California as blazes erupt under sweltering heat and gusty winds. At right of frame also note that the mountain snow pack is basically nonexistent. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

By yesterday afternoon, smoke from these wildfires was beginning to show up in the NASA/MODIS satellite shot. A dark pallor and haze that is all-too-likely to expand over coming days as temperatures in the middle 90s to lower 100s (Fahrenheit — 35 to 41 Celsius in the metric conversion) are expected to remain in place through next week.

California Continues to Suffer Through a Climate-Change Linked Drought

Off-shore, a massive pool of hot water continues to worsen California’s misery. The hot pool, also called The Blob, has maintained sea surface temperatures in the range of 3-5 degrees Celsius above average for the better part of two years now. These record hot Northeastern Pacific Sea surface temperatures, in turn, aided in the development of a persistent high pressure ridge. To the north, a recession of sea ice in the Arctic Ocean has aided the ridge — allowing the Jet Stream to surge northward over Alaska, Canada and, at times, into the High Arctic itself. The result is a kind of hyper-ridge feature. An obnoxiously long-lasting and vast spike of hot, dry air driving deep into the polar zone itself (hear more about the ridge and other climate change related extreme weather features in a recent radio chat I had with Hal Ginsberg). For over two years, this ridge has warded off rainfall-granting storms all while baking California and the U.S. West Coast under month-after-month of record heat.

California Drought

(US Drought Monitor shows exceptional drought maintaining its grip over nearly half of California. Meanwhile, 97.5 percent of the state suffers moderate to exceptional drought. To this point, California has experienced more than 90 percent of its land mass under drought for nearly two years now. Image source: The US Drought Monitor.)

The result is that fully 59 million people across the US West alone now suffer from drought. But the epicenter of this historic and unprecedented event is California. There, 97.5 percent of the state is still sweltering under drought conditions with a huge swath through the central portion continuing to experience the most extreme conditions we have a measure for.

Can a Powerful El Nino Beat Down the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge?

The California drought is now so intense that the state has lagged one year behind in rainfall. In other words, for the drought to end, nearly two feet of rain would need to fall over every inch of this parched and burning state. Earlier this month, an anomalous monsoonal pattern dumped an inch of rain over sections of San Diego. But this odd storm only effected the extreme south while the rest of California continued to dry out. And so the epic drought continues with no real hope for relief until Fall.

Then, an El Nino, which is likely to be one of the top 3 strongest ever seen, may begin to send a series of powerful storms marching toward the US West Coast. But for that to happen the warm water zone off the California coast must fade, its associated high pressure systems must fail, and the Jet Stream which has tended to dive north into the Arctic, must flatten. That’s what we pin our hopes on now for California rains — an El Nino strong enough to smash the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge and to, for a short time, alleviate some of the more brutal impacts of human forced climate change. A respite that may not come at all. Or, perhaps just as bad, when it does come — dump that 2 feet of rain all at once.

Links:

California Wildfires Destroy Homes, Force Evacuations

California Wildfires Displace Hundreds

LANCE-MODIS

Climate Chat With Hal Ginsberg

The US Drought Monitor

Possible Strongest El Nino on Record

Climate Change’s ‘Blob’ Heats Up In Northeast Pacific

They call it The Blob. No, it’s not some campy 1950s horror flick featuring a gelatinous monstrosity from space aimed at devouring all life in its path. This Blob is a pool of much hotter than normal water that has become increasingly entrenched in the North-East Pacific. A surface zone of record ocean warmth that has persisted and intensified in the same region for the better part of two years.

Though it’s not the sci-fi movie Blob, this particular climate change monstrosity could well be described as stranger than fiction. It’s an ocean feature of the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge which has warded storms off the North American West Coast over the past couple of years. A likely upshot of an ongoing Arctic heating — setting off weather conditions that sparked both this year’s massive Northwest Territory Wildfires and the worst drought the California region has seen in at least 1,000 years. And like the sci-fi movie space monster of yore, the Northeast Pacific heat Blob has a nasty penchant for devouring ocean life of all kinds.

image

(Under an ongoing El Nino, the Equatorial Pacific is getting pretty hot with temperature spikes ranging from +2.5 C above normal temperatures at mid-ocean to +4 C above average off the West Coast of South America. But these rather warm temperature anomalies are nothing compared to The Blob [at center frame above] which now features temperatures in the range of +5 C above average. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

The news about The Blob today comes in two forms — bad and worse. The bad news is that it’s still there. Still influencing our weather, still threatening sea life and fisheries. And the worse news is that it appears to be heating up. Today’s readings put much of The Blob in the 3.5 to 5.5 C above average temperature range, which is 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius warmer than we’ve seen in this zone since its first heat intensification during the spring of 2014.

Wonky Weather

Back in April, a study published in Geophysical Research Letters and reported in LiveScience found that temperatures over a broad region of Northeast Pacific surface waters had averaged between 1-4 C (2 to 7 F) above normal temperatures.  It covered an area roughly 1,000 miles in diameter and extended about 300 feet below surface waters.

Nick Bond, one of the study’s co-authors (and coiner of the term ‘Blob’), had this statement for the American Geophysical Union:

“In the fall of 2013 and early 2014 we started to notice a big, almost circular mass of water that just didn’t cool off as much as it usually did, so by spring of 2014 it was warmer than we had ever seen it for that time of year.”

WarmBlob_April2014_NOAA-2

(Warm Blob T anomalies for April of 2014 as provided by NOAA and AGU. Note that today’s anomalies are well in excess of April 2014 readings.)

The Blob’s large size combined with its failure to cool in spring to set off some rather strange weather impacts, according to the report’s findings. Winds blowing over high heat content ocean waters ran inland over the US and Canadian West Coasts. This invasion pushed warm air over lands and mountains. Snowpacks melted, lands warmed and dried out. Massive wildfires erupted thoughout both the US and Canada.

The hot air mass over the warm water blob has acted as a brutish atmospheric feature since this time. Like a towering wall of air it has consistently deflected oncoming storms that typically charge across the Pacific During Winter and Spring — reinforcing a weird extreme weather regime.

Threat to Sea Life

The AGU report also cited recent severe impacts to sea life as found in a March 17 study by NOAA. Highlights of the NOAA study showed substantial ocean life impacts including weaker copopod production in the warming waters, likely less vital salmon fisheries, bird deaths, marine mammal deaths and starving sea lions due to scarcity of food sources. In addition, the warm temperatures have been linked to a starfish wasting sickness that has killed off millions of sea stars up and down the North American West Coast.

What the NOAA report did not include was growing evidence that warming waters off the US West Coast have (when combined with eutriphication due to atmospheric nitrogen seeding through fossil fuel burning and farm nutrient runoff), since the early 2000s, resulted in increasingly dangerous low ocean oxygen levels (see Starving Sea Lion Pups and Liquified Starfish). It’s a one-two warming and oxygen loss that is pretty amazingly dangerous to ocean life.

The NOAA study further noted that the high sea surface temperatures spurring these impacts were at or near unprecedented levels, a confirmation of the AGU report findings:

We are in some ways entering a situation we haven’t seen before,” said Cisco Werner, Director of the Southwest Fisheries Science Center in La Jolla, Calif. “That makes it all the more important to look at how these conditions affect the entire ecosystem because different components and different species may be affected differently.”

PDO and Climate Change Not Helping

The current unprecedented warm temperatures in The Blob are, in part, an upshot of a warmer sea surface state now in effect called positive Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO). During these times, Pacific Ocean waters tend to be warmer — especially in the region where the Blob has recently emerged. During December of 2014, PDO hit new all-time record high values — an extreme likely pushed over the top by added atmospheric and ocean heating through human greenhouse gas emissions.

During positive PDO periods, El Nino events both tend to be more prevalent and show higher intensity. And during spring and summer El Ninos, we tend to see increased warming of the Pacific region now dominated by The Blob.

image

(A powerful blocking pattern associated with The Blob remains in place today. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

All these PDO based fluxes are natural variability related. But the real kicker, the icing on the cake of this extreme event is almost certainly climate change. Specifically for the hot Blob zone, general greenhouse gas warming of the adjacent Arctic called Polar Amplification has tended to generate a weakness in the Jet Stream directly over the region. This weakness has tended to aid in Ridiculously Resilient Ridge development and the month on month, year on year heatwaves that have pushed ocean temperatures in this zone into ever more extreme hot values (see Dr. Francis’s “Weird Weather Plot Thickens As Arctic Swiftly Warms“). And though overall global warming now in the range of +0.95 C above 1880s values has also likely contributed in a broader sense, the direct impact to the Arctic has likely aided in the development of a high anomaly heat spike for this particular ocean zone.

So, in total, we have a number of factors pushing record ocean warmth in this region, setting the stage for sea creature death and wrecked North American weather alike. But the primary contributor to these unsettling events is almost certainly climate change. For its influences have made possible the new levels of extreme conditions which we are now experiencing.

Links:

Causes and Impacts of the 2014 Warm Anomaly in the Northeast Pacific

Warm Blob in Pacific Linked to Weird US Weather

NOAA: West Coast Waters Shifting to Lower Productivity Regime

Earth Nullschool

Weird Weather Plot Thickens As Arctic Swiftly Warms

Starving Sea Lion Pups and Liquified Starfish

Sea Ice Testing New Record Lows as Heat Wave Invades Northwest Territories

For 2015, it looks as if Arctic sea ice is sitting in some rather hot water.

For from the Chukchi to the Beaufort to Hudson Bay to Baffin Bay and on into the Kara, the edge region of the Arctic Ocean is feeling a very strong melt pressure during early May of 2015. And, according to 7-10 day forecasts, that melt pressure will only intensify. As a result, we could see new record lows for Arctic sea ice extent over the next few days.

Early Melt for the Chukchi and Beaufort

Arctic warming is now particularly intense along a broad region running from coastal Alaska through to the Mackenzie Delta and on into the northwestern portion of the Canadian Archipelago. It’s an area that typically waits until at least June to melt. But, this year, sea ice recession, break-up and opening of large polynyas for this far northern area is occurring almost in tandem with melt in more southerly regions like Hudson Bay.

For both the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas are continuing an early melt that began in March and has proceeded on to this day.

Chukchi melt may 11

(Chukchi Sea north of the Bering Strait showing early melt and break-up on May 11, 2015. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

In the image above we can see the MODIS satellite shot for the Chukchi Sea region on May 11, 2015. Note both the fractured nature of sea ice, the ice edge retreat that has already progressed well past the Bering Strait (a retreat far beyond a steadily retreating average extent line), and the very large polynya advancing into the Chukchi along the northern edge of Alaska.

It’s a melt that has been spurred by powerful southerly air flows and wind-driven currents issuing from the Bering Sea and Pacific Ocean to the south. There, a cluster of storms continued to back up and deflect northward toward the Arctic as powerful high pressure ridges remained entrenched over a pool of record warm water in the Northwestern Pacific.

Beaufort melt may 11

(Beaufort Sea ice near Mackenzie Delta showing advanced signs of break-up on May 11 of 2015. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

These same ridges are driving warm air up over the western region of the North American Continent. This flood of warm air has persistently invaded the Northwest Territory of Canada, forcing an early melt of the Mackenzie River. The heat has also frequently invaded the southern Beaufort Sea. The result is that the sea ice there is greatly fractured and that a large polynya dominates a wide area bordering Alaska, the Mackenzie Delta, and the Canadian Archipelago.

This polynya extends about 650 miles, has a width ranging from 15 to 80 miles and stretches 250 miles into the Canadian Archipelago between the Northwest Territory mainland and Banks and Victoria Islands. Many hundreds of miles to the north and east of this large polynya, is a mess of fractured ice rippling out through the Beaufort Sea. A massive disassociated ice flow that belies great general weakness for sea ice in the region.

Risk of Rapid Melt

As melt season progresses, these wide, dark areas of open ocean will serve to trap the radiant heat of 24 hour sunlight. The expansive stretches will generate swells that tear away at the surrounding ice. Already fractured ice flows will retain far less integrity than the contiguous, and far thicker, ice of years past. These combined factors set up conditions that can greatly enhance and speed the rate of ice loss as the spring advances into summer.

Arctic Sea Ice Extent May11

(NSIDC shows sea ice extent at second lowest on record for May 11, 2015. Rate of decline implies a plunge toward the 2006 record low line. Image source: NSIDC.)

This risk is particularly relevant when we consider that sea ice extent measures were at record low values throughout about half of March and for brief periods during early April. Currently, sea ice extent is at its second lowest level on record. A value that is now rapidly plunging toward the record low line set in 2006. Any continuation of the current rate of decline would bring the extent measure into new record low territory over the next few days.

A weekly continuation of this trend could push extent values far into record low territory, further worsening sea ice prospects for the broader 2015 melt season.

GFS 7 day Arctic Warmth

(7 day forecast shows Arctic heatwave building through the Northwest Territory. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)

To this point, 7 day forecasts predict a massive warm-up building over Alaska and the Northwest Territory through May 19th. Temperatures over land in this area are expected to build into the 70s and low 80s. This extreme warmth, in the range of 10-20 Celsius above average (18 to 36 Fahrenheit), will stretch all the way to Arctic Ocean shores off the back of a ridiculously resilient ridge in the Jet Stream. A ridge that has persisted, off and on, for much of the past three years. Above freezing temps will pulse out from the ridge to cover most of the Chukchi and almost all of the Beaufort — adding melt pressure to already fragile sea ice conditions for that region.

Links:

LANCE-MODIS

NSIDC

Climate Reanalyzer

Accelerating Global Warming? NASA Shows February of 2015 was Second Hottest on Record

The Earth started out 2015 very hot. A record hot range that some researchers are now saying may be the beginning of a period of accelerated global warming.

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For the global temperature measure, February of 2015 was another extraordinarily warm month. One more hot month in an unbroken chain stretching all the way back to the mid 1980s. The second hottest February in the whole of the NASA record ever since temperature monitoring began in 1880.

In total, NASA GISS shows February of 2015 topping out as the warmest February of the new millennium at 0.79 degrees Celsius above the 20th Century average. A reading 1.06 C above temperatures measured during 1880. Only February of 1998 was hotter (Of all of the super El Nino year of 1998, only February and June still hold records as hottest months in the NASA measure).

But perhaps most importantly, the average of 2015’s first two months is 0.77 C above the 20th Century. This is just behind 2007 (by just 0.02 C) as the hottest two-month start of any year during the past 135, and likely hotter than at any time during the Holocene and possibly in the past 120,000 years altogether.

Temperature Map February NASA

(Global temperature anomaly map. Image source: NASA.)

Global temperature anomaly analysis by NASA shows extraordinary warmth for much of the Northern Hemisphere. In particular, most of the land mass of Asia experienced far above average readings. Temperatures in this zone measured as high as 8.4 degrees Celsius above average for the entire month — yet one more extraordinary period of departure for a rapidly warming region.

The North American West Coast through to Alaska also showed much warmer than normal readings. A pattern coincident with both a vast pool of warm water in the Northeastern Pacific and a ridiculously resilient ridge of high pressure (and coincident high amplitude wave in the Jet Stream) that has formed for seasonal periods over the region since the winter of 2012-2013.

Abnormal warmth was also pervasive through the tropics, the Arctic, Africa, Australia, sections of East and West Antarctica, and over most Oceanic zones. The only region experiencing colder than normal readings was the Eastern Half of North America. An area in the downward sloping trough of the prevalent Rossby Wave and associated hot-cold dipole pattern that has been so common for North America during recent winters.

Zonal Anomalies Feb 2015

(Temperature anomaly by Latitudinal Zone for February of 2015. Image source: NASA.)

NASA’s zonal anomalies measure shows very strong polar heat amplification, which is a tell-tale of the human greenhouse gas heat forcing, at the Arctic Circle line (66 North Latitude) and continuing on northward. Zonal anomalies peaked at around the 66 degrees North Latitude line in the range of 2.8 C above average for the entire month. Anomalies declined poleward but still maintained 1.5 to 2.5 C above average ratings.

Though somewhat cooler than the Northern Polar Region, the rest of the global also showed above average temperatures in almost all zones. 30-60 North showed readings ranging from 0.5 to 2.5 C above average, the tropics maintained about a +0.6 C above average range, 30-60 South ranged between 0 and 0.6 C above average with a dip in the heat sink and high wind region of the Southern Ocean. The Southern Polar Region showed the only zonal below average reading with -0.2 C between 85 and 90 South, but the entire region of 60-90 South ranged about 0.15 C hotter than average.

Conditions in Context

The main features of the current globally hot February are a weak El Nino in the Central Pacific (declared by NOAA in early March), a strong positive PDO pattern of very warm sea surface temperatures throughout the Pacific and an extreme polar amplification in the region of 60-90 North Latitude.

According to IPCC forecasts and Pacific Ocean warming impact studies, both the El Nino, which has tended to shift more toward the Central Pacific, and the amazing polar amplification are indications of what was expected in a world seeing a rapid accumulation of greenhouse gasses through the mechanism of human fossil fuel emission. The North American Rossby Wave pattern combined with extremely warm temperatures in the West and cold, stormy and snowy conditions in the East, was also predicted as a potential upshot of warmer than normal readings at the pole reducing temperature differentials from North to South and encouraging weakness and waviness in the Jet Stream (Francis). PDO intensification, contributing to a warm water pool off the North American West Coast and coincident mid Pacific El Nino may also have a teleconnection-type (Where large weather patterns reinforce and enhance the formation of other large weather patterns that may be hundreds or thousands of miles removed from the first. Some have poetically referred to teleconnection as an atmospheric dance.) influence with the ridging pattern in the west and the related troughing pattern in the east.

In global climate models, cool pools of water near Greenland and West Antarctica are also implicated in potential trough/Rossby Wave type patterns (severe frontal storms) which may also be influencing the extreme weather seen in the Northeastern US during February. These pools are associated with glacial melt and coincident fresh water outflow. In the North Atlantic, this has implications for global thermohaline circulation. A strong thermohaline circulation is essential for ocean mixing and related ocean health.

Overall, the global temperature disposition, extreme temperature anomaly, and related strange weather patterns are anything but a normal. They are instead indicative of the kinds of extraordinary climates and extreme weather both computer models and researchers have predicted as a direct result of human-caused warming.

Entering a Rapidly Warming World

entering a rapidly warming world

(Even with a rapid draw down in human emissions to RCP 4.5 levels, computer model essays show 40 year average rates of warming will likely accelerate over the next few decades. Image source: Near-Term Acceleration in the Rate of Temperature Change.)

To this point, it appears that some climate models are in agreement that the period of the next few decades are likely to see an accelerated warming trend. Decadal rates of warming, during this time, are expected to accelerate to between 0.2 and 0.25 C per ten years, even if human greenhouse gas emissions are rapidly drawn down. The result would be about 1.4 to 1.6 C worth of warming above 1880s levels by or before 2040. Without a rapid draw-down, and a continuation on the current catastrophic path of fossil fuel burning, recent model essays from Dr. Michael Mann indicate that humans could exceed the 2 C warming threshold by the mid 2030s.

Links:

Near-Term Acceleration in the Rate of Temperature Change

GISS Surface Temperature Analysis

Paleoclimate Implications For Human-Made Climate Change

Warming Arctic May be Causing Heatwaves Elsewhere in the World

The California Weather Blog

Increasing Intensity of El Nino in the Central Equatorial Pacific

Evidence Linking Arctic Amplification to Extreme Weather in the Mid-Latitudes

Greenland Melt — Exponential?

Far Worse than Being Beaten With a Hockey Stick

Earth Entering a New Period of Rapid Temperature Change

Hat tip to Bassman

Human Hothouse Found to be California Drought Culprit as Ridiculously Resilient Ridge Reasserts

This is an event that is more extreme than any in the observed record, and our research suggests that global warming is playing a role right now. — Stanford Scientist Noah Diffenbaugh

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Last week, a strong storm over-rode a powerful high pressure ridge that has been deflecting moisture-loaded weather systems northward and away from the US West Coast for the better part of two years. Though some precipitation did grace the northern and mountain stretches of the drought-stricken state of California, it is no-where near enough to alleviate an epic 21+ month long drought. A drought borne of a blocking pattern that began during the winter of 2012-2013 and now threatens to extend to the end of 2014 and, possibly, beyond.

In the wake of the storm, the powerful ridge reasserted — again delaying hopes that a parched California would at last begin to receive at least a normal allotment of rain.

Blocking Ridge Oct 6, 2014

(Euro Model forecast shows the ridiculously resilient ridge [RRR] strongly in place off the US and Pacific Northwest coasts in the October 6 run. Image source: ECMWF.)

It is a high pressure ridge based blocking pattern that has become so persistent that researchers at Stanford University have given it a new name — the ridiculously resilient ridge or Triple R. And the Triple R, according to those same researchers has climate change based origins.

For this week, Stanford scientists published a new study that found:

The atmospheric conditions associated with the unprecedented drought currently afflicting California are “very likely” linked to human-caused climate change.

Researchers used a combination of climate models and statistical techniques to determine that large, persistent high pressure systems of the kind that have been locking California into perpetual drought are more likely in the presence of high concentrations of greenhouse gasses. They found that the ridge, which has generated year-round wildfires in California and at its peak intensity during January of 2014 stretched from Hawaii all the way to coast of the Arctic Ocean north of Alaska, was a kind of new species of extreme weather far more likely to occur in a human-warmed world.

south-to-north-weather-pattern-alaska

(January 23 of 2014 weather pattern showing a moisture flow diverted from Hawaii to Alaska by the Triple R west coast blocking pattern. Image source: NASA.)

The anomalous strength of the ridge also likely played a role in the powerful polar vortex disruptions that were commonplace throughout the winter of 2014. As the ridge shoved more warm air into the polar zone north of Alaska the cold core of the polar vortex was displaced south and eastward over the Canadian Archipelago and Hudson Bay — driving extreme weather events over the central and eastern US as well as across the Atlantic and on to the UK.

The Researchers found that ridging was the overall and anomalous tendency of the pattern in this region of the northeast Pacific. They observed that the ridge remained strong throughout the winter of 2013, weakened during the summer of that year, then flared into an extreme intensity by January of 2014. Since that time, the ridge has swelled and spluttered, occasionally letting a storm or two pass but still serving as a kind of brutal sentinel to weather systems that would typically make their way to California.

The results of such a human-caused disruption of the climate are all too visible in the most recent US Drought Monitor.

September 23 drought monitor

(Despite tropical storms and the occasional weakness in the Triple R allowing a brief influx of moisture, 100% of California is still suffering from drought conditions with 58% percent of the state under the most extreme level of drought. Image source: US Drought Monitor)

A drought event that is the most extreme in the observed record and that is now linked to climate change by at least three major studies.

From the Stanford Study’s authors:

“We’ve demonstrated with high statistical confidence that the large-scale atmospheric conditions, similar to those associated with the Triple R, are far more likely to occur now than in the climate before we emitted large amounts of greenhouse gases,” Rajaratnam said.

“In using these advanced statistical techniques to combine climate observations with model simulations, we’ve been able to better understand the ongoing drought in California,” Diffenbaugh added. “This isn’t a projection of 100 years in the future. This is an event that is more extreme than any in the observed record, and our research suggests that global warming is playing a role right now.”

Links:

Stanford Scientists: Causes of California Drought Linked to Climate Change

ECMWF

NASA

US Drought Monitor

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