New Extreme Climate to Hurl More Rain Bombs at Texas, Light off Another Record West Coast Heatwave

They call them rain bombs. A new breed of severe storm fueled by a record hot atmosphere. One capable of dumping 2-4 inches of rainfall an hour and generating voracious flash floods that can devour homes and cars in just minutes. And in southeast Texas, the rain bombs have been going off like gangbusters.

In this week’s most recent iteration of flaring, climate change induced, storms, a region north of Houston and south of Dallas saw flood after flood after flood. Now, hundreds of people have been forced to abandon inundated homes, thousands of cars have been submerged, and seven people are dead. Rainfall totals for the region over the past seven days have averaged between 7 and 10 inches. But local amounts in the most intense bombification zones have come in at 16, 19, and even as high as 30 inches in Washington County. All time record rainfall totals that might be associated with a powerful hurricane. Floods that would typically happen only once every 500 years. But in the new moisture-laden atmosphere of a record warm world, a garden variety thunderstorm now has enough atmospheric oomph to frequently set off what were once multi-century floods.

Rain bombs over Texas 3

(Rain bombs again explode over Texas in a huge complex of storms on Tuesday afternoon in this GOES enhanced satellite shot. It’s all part of the same stormy weather pattern — associated with a trough and an upper level low — that over the past five days produced another round of record flooding over Texas. And it’s expected to remain in place through the end of this week. With more severe storms firing and 4-8 inches of additional rainfall on the way for some sections of soggy Texas, it appears that still more extreme flooding is likely. Image source: NOAA.)

It’s under these new, freakish, conditions that the Brazos River is today expected to crest at 53.5 feet — its highest level ever recorded. And this crest is predicted to push a flood of 8-9 feet into neighboring communities. Extreme flooding that local officials say Texans are not at all prepared for. In total, more than 40,000 people have been urged to evacuate. But with the worst flooding still on the way, the situation is still very fluid.

In isolation, the current Texas floods would be an extreme record disaster worthy of the weather history books. But it is just one of three such severe rainfall events to strike southeastern Texas since April. And, unfortunately, more storms are on the way as a strong ridge of high pressure out west is expected to generate another deep Central US trough and related rain bomb inducing storm pattern over the next five days.

West Coast Turns up the Heat

As parts of Texas face never-before-seen flooding, the US West Coast is staring down the gullet of an extraordinary surge of heat. A gigantic blob of hot ocean water off that region of the world is feeding the growth of a powerful atmospheric wave. And once the ridge of this wave really starts to swell northward on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, record hot temperatures are bound to explode all over the US West Coast and on up into Canada.

image

(Sea surface temperature anomalies on May 31, 2016. Extremely hot sea surface temperatures over a vast area stretching from the Equator to Alaska and all along the US West Coast enhance the development of strong ridges in the Jet Stream that have tended to spur extreme heatwaves over the past few years. Ocean temperatures over this zone now range between 1 and 6 C above normal late 20th Century values. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

In Fresno, the mercury is expected to rocket to 108 degrees Fahrenheit by Saturday — or about 18 degrees above normal for early June. Sacramento is expected to see 106 F readings at the same time — which is around 20 degrees above average for that Central California location. Further north, temperatures are also expected to skyrocket with Portland predicted to strike near 98 F on Sunday and Spokane calling for 96 F. In fire-ravaged Fort McMurray, the mercury is expected to top out at 85 F on the same day.

This expansive bulge of heat is expected to cover pretty much all of Western North American. Rising from the Desert Southwest, it is predicted to run through Oregon and Washington, rise up through Canada, and touch even the shores of the rapidly thawing Arctic Ocean.

Conditions in the Context of Human Caused Climate Change

The broader conditions fueling both record rain and potential record high temperatures over the North American West are the same. A record hot global atmosphere is one that is burdened with more heat and moisture than ever before. One that will inevitably produce more extreme rainfall and heatwaves than we are used to.

Locally, additional features related to a fossil fuel based warming of the world further contribute to the problem. Over the Northwestern Pacific, sea surface temperatures ranging from 1-6 degrees Celsius above average (2 to 10 F) generate a tendency for heatwaves and strong high pressure formation. These systems have often taken in all of the US West even as they’ve extended on up into Canada and Alaska. Adding to the problem is sea ice loss over the Arctic Ocean — which as of today is seeing the lowest ice extent ever recorded for this time of year. This sea ice loss tends to aid in Arctic warming which weakens the Jet Stream, which in turn tends to meander — creating these exaggerated trough and ridge patterns that have been associated with so much extreme weather recently.

image

(Earth Nullschool map of Jet Stream wind pattern predicted for early June 5, 2016. A powerful ridge expected to form over the US West Coast is predicted to drive record heatwave conditions there by this weekend even as a facing trough will again spike the risk for extreme rainfall events over Southeastern Texas. This Jet Stream feature and related severe weather conditions — ranging from severe heat to floods — is now influenced by numerous effects currently emerging as human-forced climate change worsens. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

Large, hot ridges forming in one region tend to generate deep, stormy troughs in another. And the ridge over the US West has resulted in the formation of a related trough and unsettled weather pattern over the South-Central US centering on Southeast Texas. This trough has pulled cold, unstable air into the upper levels of the atmosphere over Texas even as it fed upon an uncanny volume of moisture streaming in off the abnormally hot waters of the Gulf of Mexico and Pacific Ocean.

The results? Well, we’ve already experienced them in the form of record floods for Texas, periods of record heat for the Western US, and a never-before-seen May wildfire outbreak in Alberta, Canada. This week, the overall pattern is again expected to ramp into high gear — which is likely to produce possibly never-before seen June heat out west and more extreme flooding for Texas.

Links:

Texas Floods Force Evacuations

Texas Floods: More Rain is Coming

Death Toll Rises to Seven in Texas Floods

Hundreds of Homes Destroyed in Texas Floods

Observed Precipitation NOAA

NOAA/National Hurricane Center

Weather.com Local Forecasts

US Climate Data

Earth Nullschool

 

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Multi-Day ‘Siege of Storms’ Follows Exxon Shareholder Meeting

A multi-day siege of severe thunderstorms morphed into a major flash flood event in parts of Texas, Kansas, and other states late Thursday into Friday, and more severe weather is expected into Friday night.Weather Underground.

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It was a stifling hot and humid day that set the scene for the Exxon shareholder meeting this week. There, in Dallas, Texas on Wednesday, oil company CEO Rex Tillerson found himself besieged by environmentalists enraged over his company’s decades-long campaign to misinform the public on climate change and by shareholders concerned about the company’s future prospects. But what the climate change denying oil company CEO, and even NOAA weather forecasters, didn’t know was that an extreme rainfall event worsened by the very smoke and fumes emitted by Exxon was starting to gather over Southeast Texas — not far from where the shareholder proceedings were taking place.

Protestors Ice Sculpture Exxon Knew

(Protesters urge stockholders to dump Exxon in a push for accountability over Exxon’s deceptive language and media campaigns related to emissions-based climate change. Image source: Exxon Facing Heat Over Climate Change.)

At the meeting, Rex Tillerson, set to retire in 2017, spewed out his usual pro-fossil-fuel rhetoric — defending the myth that oil represents the inevitable mainstay of global energy and concocting various straw-man arguments imagining oil protesters filling up cars with gasoline or flying jet airplanes to join in an array of embittered protests surrounding this week’s shareholder meeting. Rallying the board of directors, Tillerson managed to deflect numerous shareholder attempts to positively modify Exxon’s behavior with regards to fossil fuel emissions and responses to climate change. Outside the meeting, protestors called for keeping oil reserves in the ground, urged Exxon to transition to a non-fossil fuel based energy company and acknowledge and prepare for climate change, or urged Exxon investors to dump stock holdings in response to the company’s decades-long-effort to stifle effective climate action.

Outside the meeting, a 13 foot long ice statue spelling out the words — #ExxonKnew — rapidly melted in the sweltering heat of an atmosphere roiled by the powerful climate-altering forces fossil fuel entities like Exxon had already unleashed upon the airs of our world.

‘Siege of Storms’ Batters Texas

By Thursday, the day after Exxon’s shareholder meeting, an expansive trough had extended down from Canada and over Texas. Exploiting this hole in an increasingly weakened Jet Stream cool, Arctic airs plunged south. Crossing the Great Plains into Texas, this unstable atmospheric mass came directly into confrontation with a super-heated, moist flow rising off the Gulf of Mexico and Pacific Ocean.

Texas Rain Event

(Very heavy storms firing off over Southeastern Texas have dumped record amounts of rainfall over portions of the state and set off a flash flood emergency. Image source: NOAA.)

Both the big Jet Stream dip and the extreme moisture content in the airs over Texas were not normal. Both were new features enabled by a human-forced (Exxon-forced) warming of the world. For with global temperatures early this year spiking to 1.4 C above 1880s values, the planetary atmosphere is now enabled to contain about a ten percent higher moisture load than during the late 19th Century. It’s a weird new atmosphere that is now capable of producing storms with previously unimaginable heights of 70,000 feet over temperate Latitudes. And as the current El Nino fades and a temporary 0.2 to 0.4 C dip in global temperatures takes place in the cyclical transition to La Nina, some of that added, unprecedented excess of atmospheric moisture is bound to fall out in the form of never-before-seen rainfall events.

The storms resulting from what can best be described as a climate mangled by fossil fuel emissions produced rainfall of an extreme, record-shattering intensity in a region between Houston, Waco, and Austin over Thursday and on into Friday. In Brenham, 65 miles to the northwest of Houston, the 24 hour record for rainfall was shattered as 17 inches inundated local roads and communities. According to Weather Underground reports, one weather observer recorded 19.14 inches of rain after having to empty an overflowing gauge. In Bastrop County, emergency crews were overwhelmed by calls for water rescues as vehicles were rapidly submerged in the heavy flood. Now, at least one person is presumed dead and five people are missing in yet one more tragic storm and flood event sparking off in a record warm world.

Houston Severe Storms

(National Weather Service Radar shows severe storms and extreme rainfall sweeping into the Houston region at 4:30 PM EST. Widespread reports of severe flooding have prompted emergency officials to urge residents to stay home and avoid life-threatening severe weather conditions. Image source: National Weather Service Doppler Radar.)

Both satellite and weather radar show massive storms continuing to fire over this region. And GFS model forecasts indicate a strong likelihood for continued severe thunderstorm formation over Texas on into both Saturday and Sunday even as heavy rainfall propagates eastward over the Mississippi River Valley and Southeastern US. So this extreme event — a ‘multi-day siege of storms’ enabled by climate change — isn’t over by a long shot. A heavy punch of incessant flooding that is already prompting warnings of rivers over-topping banks all throughout and downstream of the affected region.

Unpredictable Severe Storms — Another Black Irony of Climate Change Denial

This most recent extreme rainfall event’s occurrence immediately following Exxon’s shareholder meeting is yet one more odd and ironic coincidence of human-caused climate change. A black irony similar to that of the Fort McMurray fires.

But perhaps even more disturbing than its coinciding with the Exxon shareholder meeting was the storm’s unpredictable nature. As noted above, a basic understanding of atmospheric physics in a warming world points toward an increasing risk of extreme rainfall events as El Nino transitions to La Nina. This risk is particularly severe in the new elongated trough patterns that have tended to form due to polar amplification and sea ice loss in the Arctic. However, current weather forecasting appears to be completely unaware of or unwilling to report on this new risk.

NOAA precipitation forecast dramatically undershot

(The NOAA precipitation forecast issued on May 25 just before Thursday and Friday’s extreme rainfall event failed to capture any indication that a 17-19 + inch rainfall event was on the way. An indicator that warming related extreme rainfall potentials may not be fully plugged in to current forecast models. Image source: NOAA.)

To this point — NOAA weather forecasts earlier this week had identified some risk of severe rainfall over this region. But the forecasts had only predicted around 3 inches of rainfall in the most heavily affected areas. The forecast therefore undershot Thursday rainfall intensity by 14-16 inches. And this makes it look like the current weather models are having some serious difficultly keeping up with the human-forced atmospheric changes that are now fully in swing. Combine this with current weather media’s near complete blindness (there are noted exceptions — Weather Underground included) to factors related to human-caused climate change and we have what could best be described as a hazardous degree of under-reporting on climate related risk factors. And the result is a great underutilization of a vast array of weather sensors and scientific talent that would be capable of providing helpful and life-saving information if only they were enabled to. But media-wide, we’re still living and acting as if climate change doesn’t affect the weather.

As a result, pretty much everyone — drivers, emergency responders, government officials, weather forecasters — were caught off-guard by this particular storm system’s severity and the numerous flash floods that resulted. So it’s pretty clear that the language of denial that started in places like the board-rooms at Exxon has become pretty much all-pervasive. A situation that will need to change if we’re going to effectively respond to the ever-more-severe events that are surely coming down the pipe.

Links:

Smoke and Fumes

Exxon Mobile CEO Defends Emissions of Smoke and Fumes

Divest From Deception

Exxon Facing Heat Over Climate Change

NOAA

National Weather Service Doppler Radar

Scientific Hat tip to Dr. Jeff Masters at Weather Underground

Hat tip to Cate

Hat tip to Ryan in New England

Hat tip to Greg

Hat tip to DT Lange

Climate Change + El Nino Brings Epic Floods to Texas

Texas Floods

(MODIS satellite shot of the epic storms that drenched Texas on Tuesday. Extreme rainfall events of this kind are more likely in a warming atmosphere. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

For the US, it (global warming +  El Nino) means an increasing likelihood of heavy precipitation events from the southern plains states through the desert southwest. Storm track intensification through the Pacific to North America means that extreme rainfall events are a distinct possibility for states like Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado, Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico.  — robertscribbler blog’s El Nino + Global warming forecast posted on May 15, 2015.

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It’s a summer of El Nino. And it’s a summer when human-caused global warming is now hitting new record hot extremes. A combination that spells big trouble for severe weather in various regions around the globe, including in the center mass of the United States.

If it was only a summer El Nino, the Central US wouldn’t have too much to be concerned about. Sure, the added Pacific Ocean heat would amplify the subtropical jet stream and assist in trough development over the region. Both factors that would somewhat intensify rainfall events during a typical summer.

But this is not a typical summer El Nino.

This summer El Nino is happening in conjunction with record low sea ice extents in the Arctic (see Baked Alaska graphic below) and record hot global temperatures in the range of +1 degrees Celsius above 1880s averages. The record low sea ice levels aid in ridge and trough development — spurring the formation of hot-cool temperature dipoles that feed storms. Extreme weather firing off in an essentially changed atmosphere. An atmosphere heated to levels likely not seen in all of the current Holocene interglacial and probably at least since the Eemian 150,000 years ago. It’s an extra level of heat that loads the atmosphere with a substantially greater amount of moisture (amplifying the hydrological cycle by 7 percent for each 1 degree C of warming). So when the storms do fire, they are now likely to dump much higher volumes of rain than we are used to.

Dipole anomaly NASA

(Extraordinary hotter north, cooler south dipole anomaly pattern that helped to feed instability and storm development over the Central US this week. The extreme warming in the Northwest Territory, Alaska and near Arctic Ocean region is a signature of global warming related polar amplification and sea ice loss in the Northern Hemipshere polar zone. It also likely has a teleconnection with both the current El Nino and the warm ‘blob’ of abnormally hot water in the Northeast Pacific. Image source: Earth Observatory — Baked Alaska.)

Such was the case with Texas on Tuesday and Wednesday where hundreds of homes were flooded, numerous lives lost, and hundreds of water rescues performed. In some regions, all-time record rainfall amounts were shattered. In Houston on Tuesday, hourly rainfall accumulations exceed 4 inches per hour (11+ inches daily accumulation for that city) — an extraordinary rate of rainfall no drainage system is designed to accommodate. Residents were stranded in cars for hours due to washed out roads or watched on in horror as the first floors of their homes were turned into strange flood-fueled washing machines.

It was a deluge that many compared with past record rainfall events spurred by hurricanes. But this was no hurricane, just a wave of intense storms rippling down an extreme trough in the Jet Stream and encountering an equally extreme atmospheric moisture loading.

Make no mistake, it was climate change and related human heating of the atmosphere that provided the steroids that pumped what would have been garden variety moderate to strong storms into the monsters witnessed on Tuesday and Wednesday. A billion dollar flood that, without climate change, would almost certainly have just been another summer shower.

Most news coverage of the event was decidedly narrow — focusing only on the extreme instances of weather and not on the clear global warming context. On Tuesday, Bill Nye, who’s been acting as a climate gadfly to an otherwise climate-change mum media posted the following tweet:

Bill Nye Climate Change

Billion$$ in damage in Texas & Oklahoma. Still no weather-caster may utter the phrase Climate Change. — Bill Nye

And as we’ve come to see time and again, the related climate change deniosphere led by the likes of Fox News and National Review had an epic meltdown as a result. Either denying climate change is happening at all or, as was the case with National Review, denying that policy action could have any impact to help what is an already worsening situation.

But the critical elements of the current event appear to have been lost in all the fuzz. The first is that it was predictable, if we just look at current weather (El Nino, insane trough development, and atmospheric moisture loading) in a climate change context. And the second is that if we continue to ignore climate change, people will not be warned in advance of events like the one that occurred last week. Events that we have proven are indeed predictable see here if looked at in the climate context (and if weather forecasters simply do the same).

Whether we respond rapidly through responsible policy action (which will certainly help to reduce the harm we are now causing, but not prevent all of it), or whether we listen to the voices of nonsense that helped get us into this mess in the first place and continue to delay action, there is certainly a degree of far worse weather in the pipe. And failing to report on climate change, as the media has largely done, increases risks for loss of life, property damage, and overall disruption.

So far, the flood death count for this week is 30 souls. If you’re a weatherman who’s ignoring climate change, or if you’re a media organization that’s preventing weather forecasters from talking about climate change, this should weigh heavily on your conscience.

Links:

Bill Nye Says Climate Change a Factor in the Texas Floods

Texas Flooding a Preview of Future Extreme Weather Events

LANCE-MODIS

Earth Observatory — Baked Alaska

How Global Warming Wrecks the Jet Stream, Amps up the Hydrological Cycle to Cause Dangerous Weather

Hat-Tip to Bruce

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