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Climate Change Plays Havoc With World’s Weather as Europe/UK Fear Storms This Fall and Winter

Today, as in recent years, we see ample evidence that extra heat in the atmosphere and oceans can severely alter weather around the world.

We are seeing the impacts in Brazil where Sao Paulo reservoirs are now at 4.5 percent capacity and millions are suffering from inadequate and dwindling water supplies. We see similar stress in California where the worst drought in decades is forcing some communities to truck in water. In Syria the situation is even more dire — on the scale of a humanitarian nightmare — where a multi-year drought has destabilized government and spurred violent extremism to surge through an already troubled region.

Eastern Brazil Oct 15

(Sao Paulo region of Eastern Brazil clearly visible through a mostly cloudless but smoke-filled satellite shot on October 15. Note both the dessicated, browned land of a normally green region together with the steely gray smoke funneling in from wildfires both near Sao Paulo and further north in the drying Amazon rainforest. Intense heat and lack of rainfall combines with fires to create a pallor of smog over much of Brazil also visible here. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

In a warming world, drought and deluge are far more common. The added heat increases the rate of evaporation and amplifies the hydrological cycle such that the atmosphere holds 6 to 7.5 percent more moisture per each degree Celsius of heating. This is roughly equal to an increase in the rate of evaporation and precipitation by 6 to 7.5 percent as well. So where droughts occur, they will tend to be more severe and where strong storms develop, they will tend to dump even heavier volumes of rainfall. And a warming of the polar regions coincident with snow and ice loss, plays havoc with both the Jet Stream and traditional storm tracks even as the increased instability generates ever-more-powerful storms.

For a Europe facing off against an Atlantic and Arctic undergoing these wrenching changes, the story is altogether related. Sections of Southern France over a recent six week period received enough rain for an entire year. The Mediterranean waters off this region had heated to between 3 and 4 C above average dumping an intense load of moisture into a hungry upper level low that delivered storm after storm to the beleaguered regions. One spate of deluge dumped a full six months of water from the skies in just three hours.

Meanwhile, the UK may now be staring down a fall and winter season that may bring with it a return to the terrible and historic storms witnessed just last year.

monster storm UK

(Monster storm that bombed out to 952 mb on Wednesday lashes the UK and Ireland with rain and gales on Friday and Hurricane Gonzalo threatens Bermuda. Gonzalo is set to make an eastward turn across the Atlantic and will possibly impact the UK as a tropical storm by Monday or Tuesday of next week. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

This week, one such storm swelled to extraordinary intensity in the North Atlantic. On Tuesday and Wednesday it bombed out to a powerful 952 mb monster, filling up most of the Ocean between Newfoundland, Greenland and Europe, casting gales on into the UK and Ireland. It sent storm surges up rivers — forcing them to top their banks, lashed the isles with rainstorms that flooded Belfast, damaged hundreds of homes and sent officials scrambling to assure an already storm-weary public that they were better prepared for such events than last year.

The current storm is expected to rake through the UK and Ireland throughout this weekend before fading off toward the north. As it lifts, hurricane Gonzalo — now packing 125 mph winds and threatening Bermuda — is forecast to surge into the UK with tropical storm intensity come Monday or Tuesday of next week.

Gonzalo path

(Forecast path for Gonzalo shows a tropical storm off Ireland by Monday morning. Image source: NOAA.)

The 1-2 punch is reminiscent of a relentless series of storms that battered the UK this past winter. A sequence spurred by extraordinary and unprecedented changes to the North Atlantic climate including a slowing of the Gulf Stream, a powerful warming of surface waters in the Arctic, major losses to sea ice in almost all Arctic seas, and increasing cold, fresh water outflows from Greenland. The net effect is to enhance storm track intensity across the Atlantic as warmer waters and airs surge northward coming increasingly into contact with cold polar air and generating powerful and intense storms during the winter, fall, and spring seasons.

With global temperatures flirting with new record highs and with El Nino possibly flaring to life in the Pacific, the end of 2014 and the start to 2015 is altogether likely to see a continuation of such intense, extreme weather. Weather that is severe enough to cause damage and disruption in some areas or even powerful enough to throw whole cities and regions into instability.

Just a few of the tragic results of a warming climate as we approach the 1 C above 1880s temperatures mark.

Links:

LANCE-MODIS

NOAA

North Atlantic Ramping up to ‘Storms of My Grandchildren’

How Climate Change Wrecks the Jet Stream and Amps Up the Hydrological Cycle to Cause Dangerous Weather

How Climate Change Helped ISIS

Hat Tip to Colorado Bob

Hat Tip to Bernard

 

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The Storms of Arctic Warming: Polar Amplification, Vortex Disruption to Set off Extreme Weather Events For US, UK Yet Again

It’s happening again.

A story that starts in the Arctic where abnormally warm temperatures for this time of year are in the process of disrupting the polar vortex, shoving its node out of the Arctic Ocean and pushing it all the way south over Hudson and Baffin Bay. The result is a core of extreme cold shoved much closer to related warmer, southerly regions. A highly unstable event that is likely to spawn extreme weather for the US and UK yet again.

This polar heat amplification and related extreme weather is a signature of human-caused global warming. And though it wears a grotesque mask of what some would call a normal Arctic oscillation, it is anything but.

Our rapid production of greenhouse gasses since 1880 has caused the Arctic to warm, on average, by about 5.3 F (3.0 C). This rapid increase in warming is nearly 4 times that of the global average and resulted in temperatures for the Arctic, during the 20th Century, reaching a range not seen in at least 44,000 years and likely 120,000 years. Since warming has continued well into the first and second decades of the 21rst Century, Arctic temperature excursions are likely outside even that extreme range and may well now be approaching averages when parts of today’s Arctic first began to freeze and glaciate.

NASA Arctic Heat Amplification

(Arctic temperature increase from 1880 to 2012. Image source: Tamino. Data source: NASA GISS.)

The causes of this rapid Arctic amplification are manifold. First, human greenhouse gas emissions added more heat to the oceans and atmosphere. The polar sea ice, sitting atop a warming ocean went though a period of recession from the 1920s through the 1950s, hovered in about the same zone during the 60s and 70s and then commenced a more rapid melt phase from the 1980s onward.

Loss of Sea Ice and a Changing Jet Stream

Loss of sea ice reduced northern polar albedo (reflectivity) by a total of 4% since 1980 which increased Arctic heat capture by an amazing 6.4 watts per meter squared (more than 4 times that of human CO2 forcing over the entire globe). As a result, the seas under the Arctic ice cap began to even more rapidly warm. By 2012 the warming was intense enough to have reduced end-summer sea ice volume by 80 percent since 1979. Now, during winter time, a perforated and much diminished sheet of sea ice bleeds ocean heat into the Arctic atmosphere. As a result, cold air tends to be shoved out of the Arctic Ocean basin more and more often.

piomas-trnd2

(Sea ice volume losses with exponential trend. Image source: Wipneus. Data Source: PIOMAS.)

This bleeding of oceanic heat has bent the Jet Stream ever northward over two zones — one over Svalbard and one over Alaska. And both these Jet Stream weaknesses allow warmer air to rush into the Arctic from the south. These various heat forcings cause the winter time polar vortex to wobble uneasily over a warming Arctic Ocean even as it is more frequently ripped apart by warm air incursions through the oceanic weak points. Meanwhile, these vortex disruption and collapse events spill cold air southward over the continents and into the Atlantic Ocean.

Yet one more Polar Vortex Disruption

And for this winter, such Arctic heat driven polar vortex disruption and collapse events have been the norm. This week is featuring yet one more — sparking extreme weather that will revisit both the US and UK over the coming days.

T2_anom_satellite1

(Climate Change Institute Map Showing Arctic Heat Anomaly 2.68 C above the, already warmer than normal, 1979 to 2000 average. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)

Today, the Arctic temperature anomaly was 2.68 degrees Celsius above the, already warmer than normal, 1979 to 2000 average. Areas near Svalbard, Alaska, and Baffin Bay showed extraordinary temperature departures in the range of 15 to 20 degrees Celsius above average. Meanwhile a zone of cold, Arctic air has been shoved southward over the US, setting up extreme temperature differentials over a relatively small area and putting in place conditions ripe for extreme weather.

A Tale of Three Storms

A large Pacific storm now in the process of leaping over the west coast blocking pattern is forecast to dump up to 5 inches of rain on a parched California before injecting itself into the highly unstable atmosphere over the central and eastern US. Areas in the center of the US such as Oklahoma may experience a range of weather from thunderstorms to tornadoes and precipitation running the gambit between snow, hail, ice, and rain. This system is predicted to spread out, covering a massive swath from Texas to Maine and incorporating at least two low pressure systems. It will draw in a deep flow of warmth and moisture from the Gulf of Mexico and this warm and moisture laden air will abruptly collide with the much colder Arctic air to the north. Extreme rain, ice and snowfall are certainly possible as this intense event is expected to last from Saturday through Monday.

Across the Atlantic, as the Jet Stream invades southward and picks up speed, a gale formed to the south of Greenland and Iceland before barreling on into the storm ravaged shores of England and France. The gales and storms this winter for the region have been relentless, resulting in the stormiest winter ever on record for England and creating conditions so battering and exhausting that more than 21,000 sea birds are thought to have tragically lost their lives in at sea before washing up on French shores.

Now a strong double barrel low pressure system is bringing gale force winds and heavy rains back to a United Kingdom that has suffered an almost constant assault of storms since the middle of December. Flood warnings have again been issued for multiple counties and regions just north of London, which experienced 60 degree temperatures earlier this week, are expected to see snow. The storm is expected to sweep through the UK on Friday and Saturday before exiting Sunday. A storm of similar intensity is then expected to return to the UK on Monday where the process of gales and floods are likely to again repeat.

Sediment outflow England France Storms

(Sediment outflow from the swollen rivers of England and France on January 26 as yet another storm encroaches. Image source: Lance-Modis.)

In total, this worst continuous period of storms in UK history, has resulted in over a billion dollars in damages. Meanwhile, the storms are expected to continue through at least early March.

Overall, these extraordinary conditions cannot be entirely separated from the still-high temperature deviations occurring in the Arctic. Usually, by this time of year, the ice is solid enough and the warm air incursions are weak enough to allow at least some minor re-establishment of the polar vortex. Not so for 2014. The above average temperatures throughout the Arctic continue and show little sign of abatement as we head into March and the end of sea ice freeze season.

Links:

NOAA’s Ocean Prediction Center

Winter Storm Encroaches

NASA Lance-Modis

PIOMAS

The Climate Change Institute

NASA GISS

Arctic Hotter Than at Any Time in at Least 44,000 Years

Polar Albedo Loss Due to Ice Melt Twice that Predicted by Models

Hat Tip to Colorado Bob

Tamino

Wipneus

21,000 Sea Birds Lost Due to Extreme North Atlantic Storms

British Isles Endure Endless Barrage of Storms: North Atlantic Riled By Human Warming Forecast to Assault UK With At Least Three More Powerful Cyclones Over Next 7 Days

British Isles Beset By Tempests on February 5, 2014

(The British Isles, upper right, beset by tempests on February 5, 2014. One storm is located over the western coasts of the UK as two convergent storms lurk to the northwest and southwest respectively. Image source: NASA/Lance-Modis)

Never-ending storms.

It’s been the litany for the United Kingdom ever since December unleashed her fury on the island nation’s rocky coasts. Then, the isles witnessed their windiest month ever in a series of storm events that threw about 100 ton boulders and reshaped coastal cliffs as if they were child’s toys. A month later, the wettest January on record cut off entire towns from road transport while flooding thousands of hectares of low-lying farmland. Now, with 23 straight days of rain occurring in January and with February hot on its heels, it appears that the UK may see its wettest winter in at least 100 years. 

The severe weather tally listed by the UK Met Office just goes on and on. Some highlights:

  • December was the 5th wettest month on record. January was the wettest. Combined, the January-December period was the wettest such period for at least 100 years.
  • There were more days of rain for January than for any month dating back 100 years.
  • For Southern England the period since December 12th was likely the wettest in 258 years.
  • Five months (153 days) worth of typical rainfall occurred in the 50 day period from December 12 to January 31.

This week, according to reports from BBC News, the most recent major storm of February 4-6 had cut off rail transport to a section of southwestern England even as coastal towns were besieged by mountainous surf and tens of thousands again lost power. The endless assault of wind, waves and rain also left buildings damaged, destroyed or undercut even as numerous coastal towns were left awash in the rising surf. Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, and Dawlish bore the heaviest blows as a massive sea wall protecting these coastal towns suffered severe damage. The rail line, riding along the back of the sea wall, was severed on Wednesday when a section of the wall was ripped out by battering waves and the overlaying rail buckled due to loss of support. A train, stranded on the tracks due to this damage, was battered by waves for nearly an hour before the passengers could be evacuated.

UK Coast Storm

(Massive waves over-top the sea wall to inundate Chesil Beach in Dorset, England. Image source: Paul McEvily.)

The ongoing assault of extreme weather has finally spurred an anemic UK government into action — calling up the military and releasing 230 million pounds in emergency funds. The aim is to provide effective response to the current disaster in a long string that has now extended to nearly two months and continues to serve up powerful storms delivering heavy rains and hurricane-force winds with almost bi-weekly frequency.

Conservatives, who had been ideologically opposed to responses to human-caused climate change (which they seem to believe they can wish away), appear to have been caught flat-fooded by the recent string of disasters as the government had cut funding to flood prevention efforts by more than 10% over 2013. These cuts took place at the same time that some of the wettest spring-time weather on record abruptly switched to extreme summer drought and wildfires and as climatologists were increasingly warning of severe weather risks for both the UK and Europe as the globe continued to warm. Climate change, on the other hand, suffered from no such lack of clarity — battering England with a two month period of record shattering weather that is likely to extend at least through February.

Three more strong storms on the way

After so long an intense period of storminess, one would expect a bit of respite. For what the UK has suffered amounts to the fury of a nearly two month long hurricane. But there is yet no rest for storm-ravaged England. NOAA’s Ocean Prediction Center, the Euro, and the GFS models all predict a powerful 950 mb storm to rush into England on the 8th. This storm is expected to be at least as potent as the most recent disaster with a wide field of hurricane force winds and heavy rains:

A_48hrbw

(The 48 hour forecast from NOAA’s Ocean Prediction Center hows a 950 mb low centered directly over the UK on February 8th. This storm is predicted to bring hurricane force winds and heavy rains to the already battered British Isles. Image source: Ocean Prediction Center/NOAA.)

Just 3 days later, on the 11th, the Euro model shows another 950 mb or stronger storm ravaging the English coast. And that storm has barely time to leave before a 958 mb tempest arrives hot on its heels by February 14th. So as far as the 10 day model runs extend, we are still in a situation of wall-to-wall storminess of hurricane intensity for England.

Greenland melt, warming tropics, a slowing Gulf Stream and a Mangled Jet

So what brought us to this pass? And what can we expect for the future?

For almost two decades, climate scientists have warned that a combination of Greenland melt, a relative cooling and freshening of the North Atlantic near Greenland and a slowing of the Gulf Stream would likely result in a number of increasingly severe storms. In the long-term model runs, these storms became even more intense as the tropics warmed and the ice-berg effect caused the area near Greenland to cool. The ever-increasing temperature differentials were predicted to cause major instability. It was the likelihood that massive storms would result from this interplay of increasing heat and increasing melt that, in part, spurred James Hansen to write his seminal work The Storms of My Grandchildren.

More recently, scientists such as Dr. Jennifer Francis have warned that polar sea ice retreat was causing in a weakening of the Jet Stream, creating the potential for very severe weather situations during the Fall, Winter, and Spring months as well as heightening the number of more persistent weather patterns called blocking patterns. In addition, since 2004, we have observed a slowing of the Gulf Stream by 10-15% even as Greenland melt rapidly intensified.

These changes, by 2012-2013 appeared to be, with increasing frequency, delivering severe weather to Europe. During this time, the region suffered one of its most severe Winter-Spring periods on record. And with the English storms, the Italian floods and the Balkan snows, 2013-2014 looks like a disastrous repeat.

Unfortunately, we are likely just at the start of a period of increasingly severe weather. Greenland melt will continue to ramp up, the Gulf Stream will continue to weaken, the Jet Stream will undergo radical change as the center of cold weakens and bounces around the Northern Hemisphere, trying to find a home. And human caused global warming will continue to add heat energy, increased rates of evaporation, and instability to the equation. So we are in the period where the storms grow worse and worse over time. And this is a fact we had better get used to. Something we had better prepare for and do our best to mitigate. For it is not something a comfortable denial can simply wish away.

Links:

NASA/Lance-Modis

The UK Witnesses its Stormiest Months on Record

UK Met Office Shows Record-Shattering Winter Weather

UK Storms Destroy Rail Line and Leave Thousands Without Power

Paul McEvily

Ocean Prediction Center/NOAA

How Global Warming Weakens the Jet Stream and Amps up the Hydrological Cycle to Cause Extreme Weather

Weakening Gulf Stream Causing East Coast Sea Level Rise

Greenland’s Record of Increasing Melt

Thousands Driven From Homes by European Floods

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