La Nina Fizzles, Pacific Hot Blob Returns, Record Global Heat Likely to Remain

A change of three degrees [Celsius] is an “extraordinary deviation — something you would expect to happen once in a millennium.” — Richard Dewey, www.SkepticalScience.com, on ocean warming in the northeastern Pacific

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Four degrees Celsius. That’s the current deviation from the 1981 to 2010 average for sea-surface temperatures over a broad region of the northeastern Pacific, a deviation you typically wouldn’t see once in a thousand years.

During 2013 to 2015 a similar warm-up over this same region of water occurred. Such extreme heat at the ocean surface generated mass loss of sea life. Numerous species from plankton to krill to copepods to starfish and many more on up the food chain were impacted. This great ocean warming also sparked losses of ocean oxygen off Oregon and Washington, pushing waters there into low-oxygen and anoxic states. These states, though they do not support advanced ocean life, tend to support anaerobic microbes that produce various toxins (including hydrogen sulfide gas). At the same time, atmospheric circulation was also impacted, resulting in unprecedented drought conditions for California as a ridiculously resilient ridge of high pressure settled in.

noaa-sea-surface-temperatue-anomaly

(Region of the northeastern Pacific about the size of the state of Washington shows ridiculously hot sea-surface temperatures in the range of 4 C above average. Such once-in-a-thousand-years ocean-surface heat has now occurred for three out of the past five years. As end 2016 nears, this unprecedented blob of hot ocean-surface waters appears to be returning. Image source: NOAA ESRL.)

Such a terrible blow to ocean health combined with ever-more-extreme atmospheric conditions are the very hallmarks of a heating climate. As a result, the events associated with the 2013-2015 hot blob will likely, in future years, be seen as one of the warning shots across North America’s bow — an indication that climate change-related impacts were about to seriously worsen.

Hot Blob Re-Forms as La Nina Splutters

Now, after a one-year hiatus, the hot blob is back and northeastern Pacific sea-surface temperatures are again on the rise. A previously-predicted La Nina is abruptly spluttering out, apparently crushed by a periodic warming of the northeastern Pacific called the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO). This natural variability-related feature is combining with climate change-induced ocean warming to again push ocean surface temperatures into unprecedented ranges.

heat-fire-risk-california

(The northeastern Pacific hot blob is a climate change-related feature that contributes to record heat, drought and wildfire risk for California. Over the coming week, the re-formed hot blob appears ready to plunge the state into 90 to 1oo degree (F) conditions — which will intensify wildfire risk for the state. Image source: Pivotal Weather.)

With the PDO again firing up, the hot blob re-forming, and La Nina starting to splutter, we can expect global temperatures to remain closer to the record-hot levels achieved during 2015 and 2016. This is bad news in that 2017 through 2022 might see another record-hot year coordinate with El Nino, which would push even closer to 1.5 C and 2 C climate thresholds — a clear sign that the age of fossil fuel exploration and burning needs to end as swiftly as possible if livable climate conditions are to be maintained.

Nearer-term, if this heat in the northeastern Pacific remains in place, we can expect worsening hot and dry conditions for the U.S. west coast even as sea life in the affected region again falls under threat. With global temperatures now hitting a range of 1.2 C or more above 1880s averages, there is risk that this event could match or even exceed the related harmful impacts seen during the 2013 to 2015 timeframe.

high-amplitude-jet-stream-waves-rrr

(Unusual high-amplitude Jet Stream ridging over the U.S. west coast like that predicted for Sunday in the GFS model run is associated with both extreme sea-surface temperatures in the northeastern Pacific [the hot blob] and sea-ice loss in the Arctic, both caused by global warming due to fossil-fuel burning. Note the numerous additional powerful ridge and trough formations running downstream of this unusual Jet Stream feature. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

Climate Change Links Again Non-reported by Media

Despite an obvious relationship between global warming and extreme regional heating events like the hot blob, some prominent media sources continue to link the formation of the hot blob to natural variability without mention of climate change. To do so fails to tell the whole story. Without that 1.2 C warming of the Earth since the 1880s due to our rampant burning of fossil fuels, we would not be seeing so much heat piling up in the northeastern Pacific. As such, the PDO has been put into a kind of climate change hyperdrive. And that’s what’s creating conditions under which these big, dangerous ocean hot blobs continue to grow.

Links:

Skeptical Science

Ridiculously Resilient Ridge

NOAA ESRL

NOAA ENSO

Pivotal Weather

Earth Nullschool

The Weather Channel

Hat tip to DT Lange

Hat tip to Greg

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

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California in Losing Battle With Climate Change as Wildfires Devour 700 Homes, Force 23,000 to Flee

The oceans and airs of the world are warming. The waters of the Northeastern Pacific have concentrated that heat — resulting in the formation of powerful high pressure systems never seen in modern human memory. Highs that have warded off rainfall from the US West Coast for the better part of five years. Highs that have boosted already above average heat for the region so that now California snowpacks are at their lowest levels in at least 500 years. A lack of rainfall and water flow from snow melt setting off the worst drought in at least 1,200 years. One that has greatly contributed to the death of millions of trees across the state and increased fire risk to extreme and likely never before seen levels.

(Escaping the Valley Fire. Central Valley resident flees unprecedented and dangerous climate change spurred fires late Sunday night. Human forced warming is making these fires more common — creating a very dangerous situation for the US West.)

For decades now, researchers have identified drought in the southwestern US as one of the primary hazards of human-forced climate change. But this year, after five years of related drying, some of the worst wildfires in the Golden State’s history are threatening both Sacramento and the Central Valley.

“We Have Nothing”

Now, as of early morning on Tuesday, nearly 150,000 acres of wildfires in Central California have destroyed more than 700 homes and over 1,200 structures, endangered more than 9,000 more, resulted in the calling up of an army of 2,000 firefighters (For this region alone. Across the US West more than 18,000 firefighters are battling blazes), killed at least one person, and forced more than 23,000 to flee (see more here). It’s an egregious human toll. One in which more and more people are saying heart-wrenching words like these — “We have nothing.”

(Climate change refugees in the USA. Thousands of California residents have been displaced and hundreds have lost their homes due to a recent severe wildfire outbreak related to human-caused climate change. Video source: State of Emergency Declared.)

Perhaps the worst thing of all about these globally mounting tragedies is the fact that these increasing instances of extreme, climate change driven weather, were preventable. Now we are forced to live with the damage, danger, and tragic loss of lives and homes we’ve already locked in. Now we are forced to hope that wiser leaders than the ones we’ve had thus far will work as hard as possible to limit the degree of terrible harm that is all too certainly on the way.

There are harsh consequences to dumping 11 billion tons of carbon into the atmosphere each and every year. A rate faster, as an initial forcing, than at any rate in geological history. Governor Jerry Brown, horrified by the severity of the situation this week stated

“We are really in a battle with nature, … nature is more powerful than we are.”

Partly true. What’s really happening is that we’ve riled nature into a climate change driven frenzy of heat and fire. And it’s becoming too violent for us to manage.

Links:

Nature: California Snowpacks are at Lowest Levels in at Least 500 Years

California Experiencing Worst Drought in at Least 1,200 Years

Escaping the Valley Fire

Climate Change Risks Southwest’s Dustbowlification

One Dead As California Wildfires Rage

Valley Fires Have Destroyed 700 Homes

State of Emergency Declared

California Wildfires Raging

Hothouse Monsters Clash: Godzilla El Nino Pummels Pacific’s Hot Blob

Two climate change spawned monsters are duking it out over thousands of miles of Pacific Ocean waters. And in a human heated world its an epic battle between these two warming fueled atmospheric and oceanic goliaths — the Godzilla El Nino versus the Pacific Ocean’s Hot Blob.

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Ridiculously Resilient Ridge. RRR. Blocking high pressure system. All names given to a sprawling heat dome that has plagued the U.S. West Coast for the better part of two years running. It’s a weather system largely responsible for the California drought — the worst in at least 1200 years. A weather system implicated in an extraordinarily intense outbreak of wildfires across the North American West from Alaska through British Columbia and all along the US West Coast — including within the usually moist rain forests of Washington and Oregon.

image

(The RRR is shrinking and increasingly besieged by storms. A sign that the El Nino related Pacific Storm track intensification is beginning to assert. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

It’s a system connected to a climate change-enforced melting of Arctic sea ice and a similarly forced warming of the Northeastern Pacific Sea surface far above typical temperatures (see here, here, and here). An unprecedented and extreme heating of waters into a ‘Hot Blob’ stretching for thousands of miles. A related drying of airs. Oceanic and atmospheric heat energy generating an implacable atmospheric bully. A high pressure system so powerful it typically flung Pacific Ocean storms far off course — as far north as the High Arctic.

But now the RRR is starting to weaken. Its great northward extending ridge has retreated from Alaska. Intense storms exploding out from a system that is likely to rival the strongest El Nino on record (1997-1998) are now surrounding the ridge, nibbling away at its edges, cooling the waters of the hot blob through Ekman pumping, and raging on through Alaska and the Pacific Northwest.

image

(Storm-based upwelling is starting to cool Northeastern Pacific Ocean waters in a region that has been dominated by the Hot Blob during recent years. A condition that is undermining some of the RRR’s support. El Nino based storm generation to the south will likely continue to aim blows at this oceanic heat base. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

It’s early sign of RRR collapse. That the Hot Blob is starting to fail. With some of the precursors to likely far more intense Fall and Winter storms starting to get caught up into its spiraling decline. And as sea surface temperature anomalies are likely to hit 2.0 to 2.3 C above average in the Niño 3.4 zone in this week’s NOAA El Niño report, more RRR-challenging storms are likely on the way.

As Ricky Rood over at Weather Underground said this week it’s Godzilla vs the Blob. And Godzilla, at this point, appears to have the upper hand. And once the Blob goes down there’s nothing to keep what are likely to be some seriously epic storms slamming into the west coast of North America this Fall and Winter. But according to recent science, there’s a high risk that the Blob will creep on back as the Godzilla El Nino retreats during mid to late 2016. And for the West Coast that means high risk of a pretty vicious cycle of drought to flood to drought. A dangerous weather pattern intrinsically related to human-forced climate change.

Links:

Earth Nullschool

Godzilla Versus the Blob

California Drought Worst in 1200 Years

Climatologist Who Predicted California Drought Says it May Soon be Even More Dire

Dr. Jennifer Francis: Arctic Sea Ice, the Jet Stream and Climate Change

Hat Tip to Colorado Bob

Monster El Nino Hurls Record Barrage of Hurricanes at Hot Blob, Sets Sights on Drought-Ravaged California

The Hot Blob in the Northeastern Pacific held its own for quite some time. But it now faces the assault of a barrage of tropical cyclones spat from the maw of a monster El Nino that is now tracking its way toward the strongest such event on record. If this keeps up, the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge warding storms off the US West Coast will be besieged by increasingly powerful cyclonic systems. The Ekman pumping from such storms will cool the ocean surface at its periphery and expanding toward its heart, eventually crushing the ocean impetus for ridge formation. The continuation of such a pattern could then kick Bjerknes feedback into higher gear — opening wide the door for powerful storms striking the US West Coast this Fall and Winter.

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A Record-Shattering Barrage of Pacific Cyclones

Late during the evening of August 29th of 2015 something odd happened. For the first time in the history of modern meteorological record keeping, three category four typhoons simultaneously churned their way northward through the Pacific Ocean. These massive and powerful storms, just one category shy of the strongest typhoons we have a measure for, were hurled out of a region of extremely hot sea surface temperatures near the Equator. A zone, that for late August was also hitting record hot levels amidst a building Monster El Nino. And never before in modern memory had so many storms of such high intensity filled Pacific Ocean waters.

image

(Signs that powerful Fall and Winter storms are coming for the US West Coast? From north to south, strong cyclones are starting to put the squeeze on the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge. The Central and Eastern Pacific between 10 and 30 North, in particular, shows an eye-widening number of tropical cyclones. As of Tuesday, September 1, a whopping four tropical systems were churning northward out of an extremely hot El Nino zone. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

By today, the furthest northward cyclones had vented their fury and dropped in intensity. Meanwhile, a fourth storm — tropical depression 14-E — was in the process of exploding over the very hot waters of the Eastern Pacific. It’s an unprecedented number of storms flowing out of what may become the strongest El Nino on record as part of a powerful ocean-atmospheric feedback.

Strong Bjerknes Feedback to Crush RRR?

Now, this strong storm pulse is starting to put the squeeze on the famed Ridiculously Resilient Ridge (RRR). It’s a persistent ridge that for the better part of three years has turned storms away from the US West Coast — deepening already prevalent drought conditions over California and threatening water security across the US West.

But now the RRR is surrounded by storms. A strong frontal trough runs from 30 North across the Central Pacific and on up into the Bering Sea. Another significant late summer low churns off the Pacific Northwest — running south and east toward Seattle and British Columbia. And four tropical cyclones push northward into the ridge’s southern boundary. It’s a full court atmospheric press. One that, through the mechanism of Ekman pumping, will push for the generation of upwelling and related cooling of the Northeastern Pacific waters beneath the RRR.

Bjerknes Feedback

(Sea surface temperature and atmospheric conditions are beginning to fall more in line with an El Nino related pattern called Bjerknes Feedback. Image source: NOAA.)

If this happens, a good portion of the RRR’s atmospheric inertia will fail — opening wide the door for a powerful west to east storm track development fed by heat rising off a Monster El Nino sprawling over the Equatorial zones. It’s a pattern that’s starting to look like a rather significant Bjerknes-type feedback to a record or near record El Nino. One that may well continue to develop and grow ever-stormier as Fall progresses.

2015 El Nino Still Heating Up, Expected to Heat Up More

Feeding the powerful pulse of storms is a still-heating Equatorial Pacific. As of Monday, NOAA’s Weekly El Nino Report found that the critical Nino 3.4 zone had warmed 2.2 degrees Celsius above average. This warming follows an inexorable three month rise that began in June and has mostly continued unabated. Furthermore, seasonal trends together with the already powerful observed atmospheric feedbacks would tend to continue to push surface warming through October and November. So it’s likely that an El Nino that has already ventured well into monster event range will warm further over the coming 4-10 weeks — setting the stage for a possible excession of 1997’s record setting intensity.

image

(The 2015 El Nino is starting to look like one of the very intense events some climate models predicted as an upshot of human-forced global warming. It’s only early September and Nino 3.4 is already 2.2 C hotter than average. This Equatorial Pacific region is still heating up as storm-forced up-welling begins to develop cool regions in the RRR supporting zones of the Northeastern Pacific Hot Blob. It will take a boatload of strong storms to crush the RRR, but the still strengthening monster El Nino to the south keeps firing them northward. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

Model runs still point toward this possibility with CPC/IRI convergent and dynamic 3 month average predictions in the range of 2.3 to 2.5 C above average (which would beat out 1997’s 2.2 C departure). Meanwhile, uncorrected CFSv2 model runs continue to put the October, November, December 3 month average prediction in the range of 2.75 C above baseline. A level that would basically blow the 1997 El Nino out of the water. To this point it’s worth re-iterating that weekly sea surface temperature departures for the Equatorial Pacific are now entering record setting ranges. Many analysts, like Weather Underground’s Steve Gregory, expecting these waters to continue to warm over the coming weeks.

Conditions in Context: Look Out For Rough Weather Coming to US West Coast

Though it’s too early to lock in the death of the RRR, conditions are lining up that will continue to put the squeeze on this persistent weather pattern. As a result, chances for some very intense storms beginning to slam into the US West Coast starting during October, November and December are on the rise. For those looking to a possible end to the droughts, wildfires and water shortages in the Western US, this potential change in conditions may be seen as a relief.

However, such an extreme switch brings with it the distinct possibility that storms associated with a potential strongest El Nino on record will be very disruptive. The droughts and numerous wildfires throughout the West have established soil conditions that will only enhance flood related impacts. Powerful rains associated with El Nino will likely increase erosion and further damage soils in regions already impacted by the severe droughts, mass tree deaths, and wildfires related to human forced climate change and fossil fuel burning.

California missing two years of rain

(As of August 13, 2015, some parts of California were facing a rainfall deficit of 2 years or more. In order to break the drought, 2015’s monster El Nino would have to set off severe flood conditions during Fall and Winter. With the RRR under threat, is California staring down the barrel of a switch to an equally ridiculous barrage of storms? Image source: National Weather Service, Phoenix.)

To this final point, parts of California are now entering a 2 year rainfall deficit. A deficit that, in some places, equals 30-40 inches or more. A monster El Nino crushing the RRR and massively amplifying the Pacific Ocean storm track and pumping immense volumes of moisture into the mid-latitudes raises the risk that this much water or more could be dumped upon parts of California and the US West Coast in little more than a season. A switch from persistent, crushing drought to flash flood that could be extraordinarily disruptive.

Links:

Earth Observatory: Trio of Hurricanes in the Central and Eastern Pacific

Earth Nullschool

National Hurricane Center

The Ridiculously Resilient Ridge

NOAA: Bjerknes Feedback

NOAA’s Weekly El Nino Report

CFSv2 Model SST Predicted Departures in Nino 3.4

Steve Gregory: El Nino Stronger!

Climate Change Could Double the Likelihood of Super El Ninos

National Weather Service, Phoenix

Hat Tip to Ray Duray

(Please support public, non-special interest based science like the fantastic El Nino reports provided by NOAA and without which this analysis would not be possible.)

Monster El Nino Turns Typhoon Eyes Toward Arctic

What does a Monster El Nino look like? In two words — climate change. And by the end of August climate change’s Monster El Nino may have spawned two strong tropical cyclones and hurled their powerful remnant systems into the Arctic.

The 2015 Monster

The Equatorial Pacific is cracking wide open. Heat, at near new records for August, is oozing out. In the Nino 3.4 zone last week, the heat bleed hit a new intensity of + 2 degrees Celsius above average. That puts our current El Nino easily in the running for one of the top three strongest. And the warming there is expected to continue through at least October — possibly setting up conditions in which the 2014-2016 El Nino is the most intense and perhaps longest-running such event ever seen.

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(Our Monster El Nino and three hot blobs — one off California, one off the Pacific Northwest, and one in the Bering and Chukchi — just keep getting hotter and hotter. The extremity of heat covering this section of the Pacific Ocean is simply extraordinary. And the fact that it keeps building may have some serious impacts on Pacific, Arctic, and North American weather patterns. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

Unlike typical El Ninos, the high heat anomalies are not isolated to a band along the Equator. They extend upward across a vast pool that encompasses practically all of the Northeastern and North-Central Pacific. All of the Bering Sea and a chunk of the Arctic Ocean as well. It’s as if the typical El Nino heat has developed a great chimney that runs over thousands of miles from Equator to Arctic. One that encompasses millions of square miles of much warmer than normal ocean surface. An entire zone that, for the ocean, is a blistering 1-5 degrees Celsius hotter than ‘normal.’

The Warming World’s Intense El Ninos’ Dance With Polar Amplification

Scientists have long warned us about this. Warned us that increasing global temperatures through ongoing fossil fuel burning could greatly amplify the intensity and the frequency of strong El Nino events. A recent paper published in Nature has continued this line of research finding that, under human-forced global warming, the frequency of strong El Ninos is doubled. And, right on queue, the 2014-2016 El Nino is shaping up to be one of the nastiest, if not the nastiest such event we’ve yet experienced.

But it’s not just a question of the intensity of heat boiling out of the Equatorial Pacific. It’s also a question of how a strong El Nino behaves in a world that has been forced to warm by 1 degree Celsius. According to Dr. Jennifer Francis, a significant portion of that extra heat has tended to focus in the Arctic. And this extra Arctic heat has, among other things, gone to work weakening the Jet Stream. In some regions, as we see today over the entire Northeastern Pacific, the tendency has been for powerful high amplitude ridges to form. The ridges often extend all the way into the Arctic — developing pathways for yet more heat to hit the high polar zones.

Like El Nino, the ridge over the Northeastern Pacific is involved in an ocean-atmosphere dance. It’s a dance that includes widespread and abnormally warm water (see hot blob strengthens). And it’s a dance that includes the powerful impact of a Monster El Nino stalking the equatorial zones.

El Nino Hurls Twin Typhoons at the Arctic

Last week, this atmospheric dance included the formation of two tropical cyclones. Feeding off the powerful convection rising up over the Equatorial Pacific, these massive cyclones gathered intensity from the easterlies rushing in to feed the El Nino. They steamed north and westward. By today, Typhoon Goni was threatening the Philippines and Taiwan with 125 mph sustained winds. Meanwhile, Super Typhoon Atsani’s 150 mph sustained winds were tearing through Pacific Ocean waters east of Guam.

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(GFS model forecast graphically displayed by Earth Nullschool finds typhoons Goni and Atsani running into wall of the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge by Tuesday. It’s an atmospheric heat bleed from El Nino to Arctic that, according to long range forecasts, has a risk of carrying these strong storms with it. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

Over the next few days, the typhoons are expected to turn north and eastward. Goni is predicted to skirt the Philippines, Taiwan and Japan. Atsani is expected to remain over open waters to the east of Japan. Both are heading toward the hot, northward moving airs on the backside of the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge.

Currently, the Ridge is positioned over the Northeastern Pacific Ocean hot pool just south and east of the Aleutians. It’s a strong and very deep high pressure system that’s expected to maintain in the range of 1035 to 1040 mb over the coming days. It’s dredging up the hot El Nino airs of the Equatorial Pacific and flinging them all the way to the Arctic Ocean.

Atsani is expected to plow into the back of this atmospheric wall of hot airs and to then follow the warm flow northward — approaching the Bering Sea edge by next Thursday as a powerful 960 to 970 mb extra-tropical low with Goni’s remnants following in its wake.

RRR meets Atsani With Sights on Arctic

(Forecast sea level pressure map for Thursday, August 27th show Atsani’s powerful remnants on a track for the Bering Sea and Alaska or the Arctic Ocean. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)

If Atsani’s remnants enter the Bering as predicted, it will then either track through Alaska or enter the southern Chukchi and Beaufort Seas. At that point, the strength and disposition of the Arctic high will determine its final path. If the high recedes closer to Greenland and the Canadian Archipelago, Atsani’s extratropical system could be projected into the Arctic Ocean proper as a late season cyclone threatening the sea ice. If the Arctic high is more centrally located, Atsani’s remnants would plow down into the facing trough over Western and Central Canada — bringing with it some very stormy weather.

A Very Odd Storm Track

As with last week, we continue to see this odd tendency for a storm track to develop from the Western Pacific through to the Bering Sea, Alaska, and the Arctic itself. It’s a teleconnection-driven atmospheric dance between a powerful summer El Nino, the hot blob of water over the Northeastern Pacific, and the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge riding over top. With such a pattern so firmly entrenched, there’s a risk that this storm track will maintain well into Fall and, perhaps, persist into Winter with Alaska as the destination for Pacific storms. Under such a pattern there is little hope for drought-busting weather to reach California. Which would mean a continuation of terribly dry conditions there unless our Monster El Nino can somehow squash the extraordinarily dogged RRR.

Meanwhile, for the Arctic, the risk of powerful storms plowing through weak, late season ice is looking a little bit less like an outlier event and more and more like a possibility for end August. So we’ll have to keep a close watch on Atsani, Goni, the RRR and the Arctic High.

Links:

NOAA’s Weekly El Nino Report

Earth Nullschool

Frequency of Strong El Ninos Doubles Under Human Heat Forcing

Dr. Jennifer Francis Explains How Polar Amplification Mangles the Jet Stream to Generate Extreme Weather

The Hot Blob Strengthens

Climate Reanalyzer

Wrecked Pacific Storm Track Now Runs from Equator to Arctic Ocean

 

 

 

“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…

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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

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

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