Another Global Warming Enhanced Heatwave is on the Way — 111 Degree (F) Temperatures Predicted For Central US

It was in the 80s along Alaska’s Arctic Ocean shores yesterday. Record hot temperatures for a far northern region facilitated by factors related to human caused climate change such as warming ocean surfaces, sea ice melt, and an increasingly wavy Jet Stream.

North Slope Temperatures

(Record hot temperatures in the lower to middle 80s F [26 to 28 C] spread into the North Slope region of Alaska along the shores of the Arctic Ocean yesterday. And according to Dr. Jeff Masters, the 66 F [19 C] reading at Barrow tied its all time record high. Image source: Brett Brettschneider.)

But extreme heat along the northern reaches of Alaska appears now to be ready to morph into another record heatwave for the lower 48. For the past two weeks, weather models have been consistently predicting severe heat for the Central US. And with each passing day, as the forecasts grow evermore certain, the development of yet one more period of record hot temperatures becomes more and more likely.

An extremely tall dome of hot and heavy air is expected to build up over Colorado, Oklahoma and Nebraska. Heat beneath the dome and near the surface is expected to intensify. By the middle of next week, temperatures over a continuous large swath from Northern Texas to Montana and the Dakotas is predicted to experience near or above 100 degree F (38 C) temperatures. By late week, some of these readings could peak at around 111 degrees Fahrenheit (44 C) for parts of Central Nebraska.

111 degree temperatures Central US

(Saturday, July 24 GFS model forecast shows severe heat settling over the Central US. It’s the kind of heatwave that is now more and more likely to occur due to human-forced climate change. Image source: Pivotal Weather.)

These temperatures are expected to range 18-25 F (10-14 C) or more above typical July averages. And if temperatures do hit so high, they will likely make a number of new record highs for this region of the US.

By Sunday, the heat is expected to sprawl both east and west. And high temperatures near or above the Century mark could ultimately stretch in a great triangle from Alabama west to the Central Valley of California and north to Montana’s Canadian Border.

Conditions in Context — Human-Caused Global Warming, Hot Ocean Surfaces

This extreme heat comes in the context of record hot global temperatures. During 2016, global surface temperatures are likely to range near 1.2 degrees Celsius above the late 19th Century average. These record temperatures have been spurred by greenhouse gasses spiking to levels not seen in millions of years. CO2 concentrations this year hit near 408 parts per million at the Mauna Loa Observatory — a level high enough to significantly further increase global temperatures, melt large glaciers, substantially raise sea levels, and prevent another ice age for thousands or tens of thousands of years. And continued burning of fossil fuels by human beings will likely push that number near or above 410 parts per million by May of 2017.

image

(A North America surrounded by sea surface temperatures in the range of 1-5 C above average is one that is more susceptible to extreme heat, heavy downpours, and drought. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

Closer to home, very warm sea surface temperatures surrounding the US are likely also aiding in the formation of the predicted heatwave. Hotter oceans surrounding continents can increase the prevalence of heat waves and droughts. And, in this case, 1-5 C above average sea surface temperatures encompass most of North America. In fact, the extent and extreme range of sea surface temperatures — which in the past have rarely exceeded 2 C above average — is notably pretty extraordinary.

These conditions, overall, are less and less impacted by El Nino which has now mostly faded in the Eastern Pacific. As ENSO neutral status now prevails, most temperature extremes are far more related to human-forced warming than El Nino. And, in any case, there’s practically zero chance than any given El Nino year would have resulted in global average temperatures hitting 1.2 C above 19th Century averages without the added heat forcing provided by human greenhouse gas emissions. So the truth of the matter is that the record heat we’re seeing is in greatest part the result of human-forced climate change.

Links:

Two Flavors of Record Heat: Dead Horse and Houston

Pivotal Weather

Earth Nullschool

NOAA El Nino

Brett Brettschneider

NASA GISS

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Hat tip to DT Lange

Hat tip to Cate

Hat tip to Greg

 

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Heat-Stoked Wildfires Erupt Across US West — Out of Control Blaze Rages Near Oil Processing Facility

A potential record southwestern heatwave is building — predicted to hit peak intensity by the middle of next week. But, already, higher than normal temperatures and strong southerly winds are lighting off severe wildfires throughout the drought-stricken US West.

Fires Prompt Evacuations, Declarations of Emergency Across US Southwest

In Central New Mexico, a three acre fire exploded to three square miles in size Wednesday — prompting the governor to declare a state of emergency and spurring evacuations in the mountains southeast of Albequeque. Belching out a mountainous plume of smoke, the fire had forced 50 people to flee from their homes by late Wednesday. By 10 AM Thursday, the fire had again ballooned — this time expanding to 19 square miles in an outward rush that consumed an unconfirmed number of structures.

Doghead Fire June 15 New Mexico

(A crown fire southeast of Albuquerque forces the residents of 50 homes to flee as the governor of New Mexico declared a state of emergency Wednesday. Satellite image source: LANCE MODIS.)

In eastern Arizona, a small town was evacuated and residents of five more were given orders to prepare to leave as the Cedar Creek Fire devoured 4 square miles Wednesday evening. The fire continued to grow throughout the night and by Thursday morning had expanded to cover fully 8.5 square miles. Firefighters are now struggling to contain the blaze but hot weather and 30 mile per hour winds predicted Thursday present serious challenges.

Homes in Utah were also blanketed by smoke and haze as fires threatened. In Iron county, 40 mile per hour winds stoked yet another explosive blaze, cutting off Bumblebee Road and forcing 20 residences to be evacuated. As of last report, the fire was 400 acres in size, but this is likely to be a low estimate as 80 firefighters are now attempting to contain the blaze.

Southwest Drought Fuels Wildfire Near Santa Barbara Oil Refinery

It’s a rash of wildfires fueled by above normal temperatures and an endemic and steadily worsening drying of the region. Ongoing conditions related to human-caused climate change. And California has seen the worst of it. There, extreme drought has now lasted for three years. And in all of the past nine years, California has only seen two non-drought years.

Dry US West

(Dry US West. Dry conditions expanded to cover much of the US West this week ahead of a powerful and potentially record heatwave. Coincident with human-forced warming, an expansion of drought is expected in the US West. A condition that has born out in the form of worsening drying conditions for this region of the US over the past 2-3 decades. Image source: US Drought Monitor.)

In the south, near Santa Barbara, rainfall totals again fell short of average this Winter. Another dry season in a very dry decade that has provided ample bone-dry vegetation as fuel for wildfires.

By late Wednesday, these dry, warm conditions combined with strong sundowner winds to stoke fire dangers near the city. At that time, a 300 acre blaze burning near an oil facility exploded to cover about 2 miles of ground. By early Thursday, the huge blaze was raging out of control along a ridge near an Exxon-Mobile oil processing station.

Hundreds of campers were evacuated from the burning ridge as firefighters rushed in. The oil facility has now been emptied of non-essential personnel and more than 500 firefighters are attempting to erect a defensive line in order to contain the blaze. Currently, there appears to be no severe threat the fire will ignite fuels within the Exxon facility. But 40 mile per hour winds are predicted for later today and the nearby fire could be poised for more explosive growth.

Sherpa fire Near Exxon Mobile Oil Refinery

(Fire rages near Exxon Mobile oil processing facility in Santa Barbara, California on Wednesday. Firefighters had a brief respite as winds died down Thursday morning. However, fire conditions are expected to rapidly worsen by Thursday afternoon with the return of strong sundowner winds. Image source: Pete Demetriou.)

Dangerous Infrastructure — Oil Facilities Vulnerable to the Fires of Climate Change

This is the second time that a large oil facility has been threatened this year by a wildfire. In Canada, the Fort McMurray Fire forced the evacuation and shut down of large tar sands production facilities as barracks for oil workers succumbed to that massive blaze.

Human caused climate change is increasing instances of wildfires around the world through the combined forces of increased drought, rising temperatures, and more intense rates of evaporation. And in what could well be called an ironic twist of fate, the very fossil fuel infrastructure that is causing the warming is also quite vulnerable to the fires it has helped to light off.

If we were to use a metaphor, we could compare it to playing with fireworks on a 100+ degree (F) Fourth of July day in a big puddle of gasoline. In other words, this is the very definition of irresponsible. And the potential for tragedy here is enormous. Fossil fuel facilities contain massive amounts of volatile explosive compounds. Explosions at refineries due to accidents are among the most powerful manmade (if unintended) violent outbursts on Earth. And the very use and production of that fuel makes it more and more likely that a wildfire will set off a very real manmade firestorm at one of these many massive facilities.

Fire danger map US

(US fire danger map shows high to extreme potentials for wildfires across large sections of the country. Fire risk is likely to intensify over the coming week as a record heatwave is predicted to build across the country. Today’s outbreak, therefore, may just be the start. Image source: US Fire Service.)

It’s just one more example of how dangerous and irresponsible the global fossil fuel industry has become. And in this instance they are increasing risks to life and property not just to those who live anywhere near an oil or gas facility — but for anyone living pretty much anywhere at all. In other words, the fires are getting worse because we are burning fossil fuels. And the very fossil fuel facilities that are causing this problem are threatened.

Links:

Cedar Creek Fire Threatens Show Low

Wildfire Near California Oil Facility is Burning Out of Control

Santa Barbara Fire Burning Out of Control

Death Valley Like Heat to Blanket Southwest

US Fire Service

Pete Demetriou

LANCE MODIS

US Drought Monitor

Hat Tip to DT Lange

As a Titanic El Nino Begins to Fade, What Fresh Trouble Will a Record Warm World Bring?

Today the globe is feeling quite a bit of backlash from a human-warmed sea surface and atmosphere. As it ends up, Dr. Kevin Trenberth was right. Deep ocean warming set off by heat-trapping fossil fuel emissions and building up through the first two decades of the 21st Century did re-surge from the depths to haunt us in 2014, 2015 and 2016. In that wrenching global climate system shift to the hot side of natural variability, a titanic El Nino emerged. It was one of the top three strongest such events in the modern record. One that by NOAA’s measure appears to have tied the extreme event of 1998 at its peak intensity.

ONI sea surface temperature anomalies in Nino 3.4

(Sea surface temperature departure from average in the benchmark Nino 3.4 zone shows surface ocean heat anomalies for the 2015-2016 El Nino equaled peak 1997-1998 values. Image source: NOAA/CPC.)

Expected Heat, Drought, and Storms Together With a Few Ominous Surprises

This event did push the world into extreme warmth even as predicted related severe weather flared in some of the typical regions. Annual average global temperatures rocketed to about 1.06 C above 1880s baselines during 2015 even as monthly departures hit 1.2 to 1.3 C or more higher than the same benchmark during December and January.

Amidst this great upheaval of global heat, the world also experienced yet one more wave of freak droughts (this time over Northern South America, the Caribbean, large swaths of Africa and Southeast Asia), heat-related mass casualty events, floods, and strongest hurricanes on record. Arctic and global sea ice measures are once again plunging to new record lows. A global coral bleaching event, perhaps the worst such instance ever experienced, was also set in motion.

The predicted patterns and potential worse-case events (such as heatwave mass casualties, coral bleaching, and sea ice loss) were also contrasted by a number of surprises. The first and perhaps most ominous was the failure of El Nino to bust the California drought. Though the West Coast of the US did experience a number of storms, the pattern was more typical of normal Winter moisture for the Northwestern US even as drought continued throughout the Southwest.¬† Moisture instead tended to split fire-hose fashion — with storms either cycling northward into Alaska, the Aleutians, or the Bering Sea, or south over Southern Mexico or Central America, up across the Gulf and on out into a particularly severe storm zone forming in the North Atlantic.

30 day precipitation anomaly shows southwest drought continuing

(Over the last 30 days the southwest drought re-emerged as a blocking pattern again began to take hold over Western North America and the Eastern Pacific. Image source: NOAA/CPC.)

This continued loss of moisture for the US Southwest despite a record El Nino is particularly apparent in the Climate Prediction Center’s most recent precipitation anomaly measure for the last 30 days. Here we find that large parts of Central and Southern California have received just 10 to 50 percent of typical rainfall for this period. Coupled with 1-3 C above average temperatures for the month, this loss of rainfall during what would typically be California’s wettest period has come as a disappointment to many who were hoping a strong El Nino would help break the state out of a crippling drought. Now, the window for late Winter and early Spring rains is starting to close even as the blocking pattern appears to be strongly re-established in both the present weather pattern and in the forecast model runs.

But perhaps the biggest surprise coming from this El Nino year was a set of weather events in the North Atlantic that were likely more related to climate change. There, severe storms hammered a flood-beleaguered UK as a greatly distorted Jet Stream heaved Equatorial heat and moisture northward — rushing it up over a ridiculously warm and apparently backed-up Gulf Stream before slamming it on into a likely Greenland ice melt-outflow related cool pool. There the heat and moisture collided with cold to produce the epic storms that then vented their fury upon the UK.

Warm Arctic Storm

(December 29th saw temperatures rise above freezing at the North Pole — the first time temperatures have warmed so much for this high Arctic region so late in the year. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

During one such event, a daisy chain of heavy-hitting North Atlantic lows hurled high winds, heavy rains and epic surf at the UK even as the meridional flow set up by these powerful beasts shoved above-freezing temperatures all the way to the North Pole during late December. Yet one more unprecedented and unexpected event during a record warm year. One that looks more like a human forced warming which has overcome the traditional influences of El Nino, rather than an El Nino related impact in itself.

As El Nino Fades, Equatorial Heat Tends to Move Pole-ward

Though we may see these two events — the failure of El Nino to provide heavy rains to the US West Coast, and the massive northward pulses of storms, heat and moisture hitting the North Atlantic — as unrelated, the twain patterns appear to be linked to an ongoing polar amplification. Overall, heat within the Arctic has tended to weaken the Northern Hemisphere Jet Stream over these two zones. And even during El Nino, when the Jet would have typically strengthened, we have continued to see high amplitude wave patterns forming over these regions.

But as El Nino weakens and the Equator cools, the Jet Stream would tend to slow even more. Such an atmospheric state would tend to further exaggerate already significant Jet Stream wave patterns — transferring still more low-Latitude heat poleward. In addition, the ocean gyres tend to speed up as El Nino fades or transitions to La Nina. The result is an amplified pulse of warmer waters emerging from southern Latitudes and entering the Arctic.

It’s for these combined reasons — tendency to amplify south to north atmospheric heat transfer into the Arctic post El Nino and tendency to flush warmer waters toward Arctic Ocean zones during the same period that it appears we are entering a high risk time for potential new sea ice melts and possible related Greenland land ice melts during 2016 and 2017.

Hot Blobs

(Northeastern Pacific Hot Blob remains at high intensity even as its size is predicted to expand through July. Meanwhile, very warm sea surface temperatures are predicted to remain in place off the Eastern Seaboard. The net effect of these two hot blobs may be to shove the Jet Stream far northward over North America during the summer of 2016 — potentially increasing the risk of widespread and potentially record heat and drought. Predicted very warm sea surfaces in the region of the Barents and Greenland seas — in excess of 3 C above average for a large region — is also cause for concern. This is not only due to risk for sea ice loss through this zone, but also due to its potential to set off blocking pattern and heat dome formation over Eastern Europe and Western Russia. Image source: NOAA/CFS.)

In addition, we are at serious risk of seeing the high amplitude blocks and wave patterns re-establish and persist, especially in the zone over Western North America were a related Northeastern Pacific Hot Blob is expected to restrengthen as El Nino fades. In fact, large regions of the US may fall under record to near record heat and drought this summer due to the combined influences of two very warm ocean zones surrounding her shores. Models now indicate a particular late spring drought risk for the Great Lakes region as well as an extended period of far above average temperatures for pretty much all of the Continental US during summer. Meanwhile, predicted above average spring-time precipitation for the Southwest appears less and less likely to emerge.

Finally, extreme above average sea surface temperatures are predicted to intensify over the Barents and Greenland seas through to end of Summer 2016. This is an area to watch. The added ocean heat would tend to pull the Jet Stream northward over Eastern Europe and Western Russia — generating risk of heatwaves and drought for this region even as Central Asia fell under risk of floods. Long range CFS precipitation and temperature model runs for Europe have not yet picked up this risk. However, given the intensity of heat predicted for Barents sea surfaces and the related tendency of warmth over oceans and in the far north to influence the formation of blocking patterns, heat domes, and high amplitude troughs, it’s worth keeping a weather eye on the situation.

El Nino to Weaken and Then Return; or is a Shift to La Nina Now Under Way?

Related to a polar and ocean warming-enhanced tendency to generate high amplitude Jet Stream waves — as well as associated persistent heatwaves, droughts, and floods — is the heat balance of the Equatorial Pacific. Strong El Ninos, or even a tendency to remain in or near an El Nino state, has historically aided in the breaking of new record global high temperatures when linking up to the greenhouse gas warming trend. Meanwhile, the shift toward La Nina has tended to enhance a range of global heating related issues including record rainfall events and large injections of heat toward the poles in the drop off from El Nino to La Nina.

The cause for increased risk of major precipitation events is due to the fact that El Nino is providing a massive moisture bleed into the atmosphere at times of peak intensity. With the current El Nino topping out near record levels and with global temperatures at above 1 C higher than 1880s averages, global atmospheric moisture levels are hitting new record highs at this time. If global temperatures subsequently drop by around 0.1 to 0.2 C during a transition into La Nina (into a range about 0.9 to 0.8 C hotter than 1880s values) then the atmosphere will be unable to keep a larger portion of that extra moisture in suspension and it will fall out as precipitation — primarily wringing out where the major trough zones tend to set up. We should be very clear here in saying that the drought risk related to a global warming intensification of ridge and heat dome formation is not reduced during such instances — just that the risk of extreme precipitation events is enhanced.

Russian Heatwave Pakistan Floods Jet Stream

(During 2011, as the 2010 El Nino faded into La Nina conditions, a high amplitude wave in the Jet Stream set off record heat, drought and wildfires over Russia even as Pakistan was hit by a month-long deluge that was the worst rainfall event for the region in the last 1,000 years. La Nina’s tendency to wring excess water out of the atmosphere can enhance the risk for such events to occur in a warming climate state. Image source: NASA.)

As for risks to sea ice, we’ve provided some of the explanation above. However, it’s also worth noting that the mobility of heat poleward tends to be enhanced during the periods when El Nino drops off toward La Nina. During these times, Equatorial heat tends to propagate in wave fashion toward the Poles — especially toward the Northern Hemisphere Pole which has already lost its strong Jet Stream protection warding away warm air invasions.

These two factors are major issues when considering whether La Nina or an ENSO Nuetral state will appear post El Nino during 2016. But there is a third — rate of global temperature rise. Though the primary driver of global warming is a massive human fossil fuel emission, the response of the world ocean system can significantly wag the rate of atmospheric temperature increases on a decadal time scale. If the ocean tendency is for La Nina, this would tend to somewhat suppress the overall decadal rate of temperature increase — and we saw this during the 2000s. But if the ocean tendency is to produce El Ninos (in a switch to a positive Pacific Decadal Oscillation, as appears to be happening now), then the overall pace of global atmospheric temperature increase would tend to be enhanced.

La Nina Emerges

( IRI/CPC consensus model runs show a drop off to a weak La Nina by late in the year. However, CFS model runs [image below] have shown a tendency to predict a resurgence of El Nino conditions by Fall. Image source: NOAA/CPC.)

To this point we find that the official model forecast consensus published by NOAA (IRI/CPC figure above) shows a transition to ENSO neutral states by May, June, and July which then proceeds on to a very weak La Nina by Fall. In such a drop off, we would likely still see record global high temperatures during the period of 2016 (in the range of 1.03 to 1.15 C above 1880s values).

However, the late 2016 and 2017 tendency for temperatures to recede from new record highs would be somewhat enhanced (likely dropping below the 1 C above 1880s mark in 2017 or 2018 before again making a challenge to the 2015-2016 record with the potential formation of a new El Nino in the 3-5 year time-frame of 2019 through 2021). It’s worth noting that this scenario shows an increased risk of a stronger warm air pulse heading toward the Northern Polar zone together with added fuel for extreme precipitation events as global temperatures would tend to drop off more swiftly from late 2015 and early 2016 peaks.

El Nino Continues

(CFSv2 model run — shows El Nino continuing on through the end of 2016. Over recent months, the CFSv2 series has shown a high accuracy. However, NOAA’s current forecast preference is for the IRI model set predictions [previous image above]. Image source: NOAA/CPC.)

In contrast, the CFSv2 model forecast from NOAA (above image) shows El Nino only weakening through to July and then re-strengthening in the October-November time-frame. This CFS model scenario would result in higher atmospheric temperatures in 2016 — practically guaranteeing a lock on an unprecedented three back-to-back-to-back record warm years for 2014, 2015, and 2016. But such a scenario — implying that the Pacific Ocean had entered a new period of El Nino tendency — would also tend to keep atmospheric temperatures nearer to the newly established record highs.

Under the CFSv2 scenario, we may expect annual average global temperatures to rise as high as 1.08 to 1.2 C above 1880s values during 2016 (a very extreme departure and one uncomfortably close to the 1.5 C warming mark). These extreme values would, perhaps, recede to around between 0.9 and 1.1 C during 2017 so long as the second El Nino pulse did not remain in place for too long. However, if the bounce back toward El Nino conditions was strong enough in late 2016, there would be an outside chance that the globe may experience not 3, but an absolutely obnoxious 4 back-to-back record warm years.

NASA temperature trend

(During 2015 global annual temperature rocketed to above 1 C hotter than 1880s values. There’s at least an even chance that 2016 will be hotter still. Considering the considerable heating tendency imposed by a fossil fuel-forced warming of the world, how much worse can it get during the 21st Century’s second decade? Image source: NASA GISS.)

Meanwhile, the warm air pulse heading toward the poles may be somewhat muted under this scenario. A statement that should be qualified by the fact that we’ve already seen a substantial amount of El Nino heat heading poleward during the present event. In addition, potentially heavy rainfall events may not receive the added oomph of a decent global temperature drop to wring out more moisture. A statement that requires the further qualification that overall atmospheric moisture loading is enhanced by rising global temperatures — so comparatively less heavy rainfall is a relative term here.

At this time, NOAA favors a transition to La Nina forecast stating:

“A transition to ENSO-neutral is likely during late Northern Hemisphere spring or early summer 2016, with a possible transition to La Nina conditions by fall.”

However, it’s worth re-iterating that the CFSv2 model forecasts have been quite accurate in predicting the path of the current record El Nino to date.

Links:

NOAA/CPC

NASA GISS

Hothouse Mass Casualty Event Strike Eqypt

Southern Hemisphere’s Strongest Storm on Record

Punishing Four Season Storm Grips US

A Monster Arctic Melt Season May Have Already Begun

Deep Ocean Warming is Coming Back to Haunt Us

Warm Arctic Storm to Unfreeze the North Pole

More Signs of Gulf Stream Slowdown as Floods Devastate Cumbria England

Deconstruction of Asia’s Wild Weather

Hat tip to Caroline

 

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