Category Archives: Climate and weather

Is the California Drought Over?

My friend Peter Gleick tosses this question aside and informs us that there are actually better questions. Is California having a wet year? How does the snowpack look? Are the reservoirs filling up? Will the groundwater recharge? Will the forests in the Sierra recover with all this precip? Will farmers get all the water they want this year? Will a wet year help the endangered salmon? Will governor Brown cancel the drought declaration? Can Californians stop conserving water and throw some on their lawn?

It turns out that the answer to most of these questions is not what you would assume unless you know a lot about California’s water. Hey, this would make a great facebook quiz! “Only 50% of Californians can answer all of these questions correctly. Take the quiz now!”

Anyway, read this: Gleick: Is the drought over? Wrong question!

Boom: Julia; Karl?

Update (Mid day Wed):

The disturbance in the eastern Atlantic is now a depression, and it is reasonably likely that it will be a named storm by mid day tomorrow, Thursday.

The predictions for the next several days do not have this storm turning into a hurricane any time soon; it should remain a storm or a depression, possibly going back and forth between the two, for four or five days, but after that, perhaps it will turn into something. Or not. Keep an eye on Karl, if this becomes Karl.

Meanwhile Julia is annoying people in the Southeast, but not doing much. However, keep an eye out for flooding.

Original Post:
There was a disturbance in the Atlantic. And it very suddenly developed the attributes to be a named tropical storm, so suddenly we have TS Julia hosing down the East Coast, on land already. That was fast.

And, farther out in the Atlantic, a zone of disturbance is reasonably likely, but by no means certain, to become a named tropical storm, and it would be called Karl.

Julia is my daughter, and Karl was my best friend in high school (he died soon after), so this is a big week for me wrt Atlantic storms! Not that you care, but for me it is cool.

What you might be more interested in is this: The total number of named storms for this time in the Atlantic is normally close to about 10, and with Karl, we’ll be at eleven with several weeks more to go. So, this is becoming a somewhat more active hurricane season than average, as predicted.

Ian is still out there somewhere.

Explaining The Recent Extreme Weather: Global Warming

The human release of greenhouse gasses has ultimately caused changes in weather patterns so that major storm systems in the Northern Hemisphere get wetter and move along more slowly, causing significant rainfall events to occur at a much higher rate than previously. This has become a nearly ongoing phenomenon, with major floods in Canada, Colorado, Texas, Western Europe, Texas again, various places in Azia, more in Europe, Texas again, and so on.

The short version of the story: The jet stream is often fairly linear, traveling around the planet at a high speed, but it can also get all wavy and those waves can become “quasi resonant” meaning that they sit in the same place for a long period of time. Also, they go slower and thus move weather patterns along more slowly. This can cause the aforementioned major rainfall events, as well as persistent droughts. And we’ve had plenty of both of those.

I have written quite a bit about this, but especially this item (but see also this). And now we have more research confirming the findings.

The same (or overlapping) team of researchers that did this earlier work has a new paper out in PNAS. Here’s the summary material from the paper:


Weather extremes are becoming more frequent and severe in many regions of the world. The physical mechanisms have not been fully identified yet, but there is growing evidence that there are connections to planetary wave dynamics. Our study shows that, in boreal spring-to-autumn 2012 and 2013, a majority of the weather extremes in the Northern Hemisphere midlatitudes were accompanied by highly magnified planetary waves with zonal wave numbers m = 6, 7, and 8. A substantial part of those waves was probably forced by subseasonal variability in the extratropical midtroposphere circulation via the mechanism of quasiresonant amplification (QRA). The results presented here support the overall hypothesis that QRA is an important mechanism driving many of the recent exceptional extreme weather events.

In boreal spring-to-autumn (May-to-September) 2012 and 2013, the Northern Hemisphere (NH) has experienced a large number of severe midlatitude regional weather extremes. Here we show that a considerable part of these extremes were accompanied by highly magnified quasistationary midlatitude planetary waves with zonal wave numbers m = 6, 7, and 8. We further show that resonance conditions for these planetary waves were, in many cases, present before the onset of high-amplitude wave events, with a lead time up to 2 wk, suggesting that quasiresonant amplification (QRA) of these waves had occurred. Our results support earlier findings of an important role of the QRA mechanism in amplifying planetary waves, favoring recent NH weather extremes.

The paper is: Role of quasiresonant planetary wave dynamics in recent boreal spring-to-autumn extreme events, by Vladimir Petoukhov, Stefan Petri, Stefan Rahmstorf, Dim Coumou, Kai Kornhuber, and Hans Joachim Schellnhuber.

El Nino Effects For This Spring in the US

The US NOAA has this video summarizing what they expect for weather in the US as the result of the current, winding down, El Nino:

2016 Spring Climate and Flood Outlook

As a near-record El Niño begins to wind down, NOAA issued its spring seasonal outlooks for flooding, drought, precipitation, and temperature. Flood risk is highest in the lower Mississippi valley and along the Southeast coast. Learn more at:

Posted by NOAA Climate.Gov on Thursday, March 17, 2016

More’easter Jonas Looks Like The Real Deal (UPDATED Storm shifts to the north)

Friday AM Update: Overall the storm has shifted north. Washington DC is still on track to have something close to two feet of snow in the city, more to the west. The predicted snowfall for New York City, the city that eats meteorologists, is increasing, and The City may see a foot or more, with closer to two feet to the northwest. DC will have its most intensive snowfall during the night on Friday, while New York City will have most of its snow falling during the day on Saturday.

With this northward shift, Boston is likely to get more snow too, possibly over a foot. Snow will start there during the afternoon on Saturday and continue through Sunday AM and early PM.

Wave and storm surge erosion with winds gusting to 50 MPH along the coast is still expected, especially along coastal New Jersey, Long Island, southern New England, Cape Cod, and down south across the Delmarva Peninsula. Normal tides are strong this time of month. Expect power outages here and there.

Regardless of the apparently senseless and, frankly, mean spirited comments we see from some of the climate science denialists (i.e., that blizzards have happened before therefore…) it is simply true that most of the big storms that have hit this area since good record have occurred in just the last few years. That’s the observation. These storms are made worse by global warming enhanced sea surface temperatures. That’s part of the mechanism. Changes in jet stream patterns have also probably played a role in both the concentration of moisture and the length of storms, and their tracks. So, yes, this is a global warming enhanced storm that earns an extra merit badge for having a bit of extra energy from El Nino.

See THIS for more about the science behind the predictions and the storm itself.

A quick update (Thursday 10:30PM Central). Not much change in the overall pattern, but the “most likely” amount of snow for DC and environs has increased. You’all are likely to get way over a foot, possibly 20 inches or so, maybe more. The minimum is 9 inches. That’s not too likely. Overall, predicted snowfall amounts are increased. New York is expected to receive a half a foot or more, but as I note below this is hard to predict for that area. The estimate of snow for Boston has gone down, most likely an inch or so. But, that estimate has a fat tail, and it could be much more in the Boston area or East/Central Mass (up to 10 inches). Coastal flooding in New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and parts of Virginia are still expected.

I had previously mentioned Jonas, the storm about to bear down on the US East Coast. I cautioned that we should be open to a lot of possible outcomes, and to realize that prediction of exact snowfall amounts in a given area are very difficult with this sort of storm. Here, I’ll repeat that warning. If you see a big blob of predicted snow on a weather map, you can be pretty sure that if you are within or near that blob, you’ll get snow. But if you look at the exact locations of 12″ snow here, or 6″ snow there, and expect that to be accurate, than please contact me off line, I have nice bridge to sell you.

However, as the storm approaches the predictions get more reliable. In this case, multiple weather models have been in line with each other all along, and the convergence on a big storm with certain characteristics is emerging. The storm will affect land areas staring during the day Friday, and continue through the weekend, depending on your location.

What will happen in Washington DC?

One of the big questions is what will happen in DC. At the moment, some of the standard weather services are predicting five or six inches from between some time Friday and early Sunday in the DC metro. This is conservative, and if you are ramping up your expectations about this storm but are not going to be in the DC area, keep this in mind so later you can be all surprised at a larger amount. But if you are living or working in DC, you need to know that other highly reliable sources, such as the National Weather Service, are suggesting a larger amount.

Sticking with the idea that snowfall prediction is a game of probabilities, I offer this EXPERIMENTAL prediction method showing possible snowfall for a few spots in DC:

Screen Shot 2016-01-21 at 8.24.11 AM

It is pretty obvious how to read this. This information shows that there could be as little as 8 inches across the DC area, but as much as 30 inches. The chance of the snow on the ground adding up to over 18 inches is better than 50-50, meaning that the chances of there being a mere half of this large amount (the 30 inch apocalyptic number) is also 50-50. There is about a 20% chance that the total snow will be less than a foot. This means, of course, that the good money is on a total accumulation of over a foot, possibly a lot over a foot.

In a place like DC, over a foot and over two feet are not that different. Both are city-shutting amounts.

By the way, I’m hearing rumors that in the greater DC area, out in Virginia and such, there was some icing and snow over the last 24 hours that the authorities in charge decided not to plow or treat, so driving conditions in the area are currently very bad. Just rumors, but from credible sources. Maybe the snow plow people are saving up their resources for the big one. (See this!)

Will New York City get much snow?

Yesterday it was looking like New York might get a few inches. However, overnight, various model projections have started to show a big lump of snow on or near New York, suggesting that the storm might have a bigger impact there. Right now, the National Weather Service is saying that there may be 8-12 inches of accumulation in New York.

New York is tricky because it has a strong urban heat island effect. Also, it is adjacent to not one, but two seas, and can be quite windy. Also, while New York has a lot of people in it, and the “Greater New York Area” is huge, overlapping large portions of three states and several counties (at least a dozen), when people go and look at the snowfall in New York City, they look at downtown Manhattan, and that is a tiny area (comparatively) that happens to be situated in a way that makes weather prediction extra hard. It is very common for a substantial snowfall predicted for New York to end up being nothing, or an inch or two. So, expect the unexpected. It is not unreasonable to assume a better outcome for The City than the forecasters suggest. But it may not be wise to rely on that assumption.

Will Boston get much snow?

In a way, Boston is even worse than New York. At the larger scale, Boston has a sort of barrier island, Cape Cod, which can influence some of the weather that comes its way, but Cape Cod is very far away covers only part of the sea in that area. Most storms sneak around it from the northeast. Nor’easters are not named as such for no reason.

Boston is a very small city surrounded by many, many other cities, that are together called “Boston” as in “I lived in Boston” but actually lived in Somerville or Medford or something. Also, Boston is in a basin (the “Boston Basin”) snuggled up to the harbor and Mass Bay, and the highlands rise quickly (but not too much) around it, so it is not at all uncommon for Boston to get one inch of slush proceeded by some rain, while Lexington and Concord (commuting bedroom suburbs of Boston) get several times that.

And, in this case, the northern extent of More’Easter* Jonas is somewhere around Boston but nobody can say for sure yet.

The National Weather Service is suggesting that the worst case, but unlikely, scenario for the Greater Boston Area is 5-6 inches, the most likely 2-3 inches, but with a distinct possibility of zero. The Cape and Islands, and southern Rhode Island and SE Mass may get 6-8 inches. So, for that region, snowfall wise, just a typical winter snow but windy.

Where will the biggest accumulations be?

The biggest accumulations of snow are likely to be inland, at somewhat higher elevations, focusing around a couple of points. Here’s a map I cribbed from Paul Douglas’ blog:

No, wait, here is a more recent updated version, read the discussion below with that in mind:

Screen Shot 2016-01-21 at 11.45.21 AM

Technically, since over a foot of snow is a lot, the answer to this question is “everywhere form Long Island across most of New Jersey, half of Pennsylvania, Much of Virginia and West Virginia, and Maryland.” But, there seems to be two major centroids of heaviest accumulation being predicted, one in New Jersey south of New York City, and the other wet of Washington across Maryland and the Virginia-West Virginia border. But, as I’ve now said a half dozen times or more, these sorts of snowfall projections are notoriously inaccurate at any level of detail. If you live anywhere in the area of this map bounded by the yellow stripe, expect snow. If you are in or near the red and purple zones, there is a chance you will be snowbound. So, run out to the store now with all the other people and get stuff.

The big problem with Jonas may be the wind

But when you do get to the store, if you want to be a True Survivalist, don’t get frozen food or anything that requires electricity to prepare. And get extra batteries. And when you get home, do your laundry so you can get that done before your power goes out. The heavy snow amounts have the potential of knocking down power lines, of course, but there will also be windy conditions during this blizzard, and that will very likely knock a few wires off their poles. If this happens in many places over a large area, a simple outage that could be fixed in a few hours may take much longer. Between roads being closed because of snow and a high demand for repairs, some outages could last much longer than average, maybe even a day or a few days in the worst case. So be ready for that.

Coastal Erosion

My friend Paul Douglas referred to this storm as roughly like a “tropical storm with snow”.* It isn’t really a tropical storm, as he notes, but it is like one in the sense that there will be strong coastal winds and, owing to the winds and very low pressure, a storm surge in some areas.

The storm surge may be most severe between the central New Jersey coast and the Chesapeake. However, the effects of a storm surge are highly local. So, for instance, the Delaware coast, because of the shape of the coast line and its position in the maw of the fetch, may experience high water. Small embayments along the Jersey coast may see very high local surges. There will also be high water in the same areas where Superstorm Sandy rose up to flood New York City and nearby New Jersey, but the height of those waters will not be as bad as during that storm.

The other local phenomenon that determines the severity of a storm surge is, of course, local elevation. Areas with low relief behind the strandline facing the ocean may see several feet of water washing inland, and serious damage to property and natural areas. Places where the land rises quickly behind the beaches will still be affected by wind and spray (expect to see a lot of damaged or dead trees in some areas next spring form the salt) but structures and roads would be less affected. Pay close attention to what your local authorities are saying. At this point, though, the storm surges are expected to cause possibly record-book altering floods. From Paul:

Unseasonably warm water in the Gulf Stream will fuel rapid intensification and pressure falls, a partial vaccuum that will pull air into the core of this developing Nor’Easter, whipping up high winds and pounding surf; the rough equivalent of a wintertime tropical storm (without the warm core). Here’s an excerpt from WXshift: “…On Saturday, powerful winds in excess of 60 mph could whip up waves that could reach 30 feet. As they come ashore, beaches will take a pounding and face widespread erosion. Models also show a current storm surge of around 5 feet coming ashore with Saturday’s high tide. In Cape May, N.J., the current forecast high tide mark on Saturday evening would be the third-highest on record while Atlantic City would come in at 10th in the record books, according to Stephen Stirling at That could push water inland and cause widespread property damage…”

Bottom line: If you live or work in a place within the range of this storm that has been storm-flooded in the past, assume this is a possibility this time.

UPDATE: The storm surge and coastal flooding is starting to ramp up as one of the more likely negative outcomes here. Paul Douglas just sent me these words of warning: “I’m increasingly concerned about the threat of widespread coastal flooding from this super-sized Nor’easter. Blizzard and 50+ mph winds arriving during full moon with sustained onshore winds creating a 4-7 foot storm surge capable of lowland flooding and beach erosion. Facilities that were impacted by Sandy in 2012 may experience problems with this storm.”

The National Weather Service in New York is warning that this may be one of the top five flooding events on record in the area.



So, when Paul made mention of the “Tropical Storm with Snow” to some mutual colleagues, the idea came up that this sort of storm needed a new name (Snowicane, or something like this). I suggested that during the last two decades, there have been more Nor’easters, with more moisture and precipitation, covering more geographical areas (mainly to the south) than in the past. So, maybe the term “More’easter” would be appropriate. Paul anointed the idea, and now you can use the term as well, if you like. I don’t expect the meteorology textbooks to be updated any time soon, but who knows?

A quick word about climate change and El Niño

Yes, this storm is getting its extra moisture and power from climate change with a does of El Niño added in. The driver of this wetness (which will be snowness) is very high sea surface temperatures in the Atlantic. El Niño influences this, but frankly, the sea surface temperatures off shore right now are not a lot different than they were last January, when a huge More’easter blanketed New England in a big pile of snow. This is a global warming enhanced storm.

Jonas: The Giver Of Really Crappy Weather UPDATED


See below for update

Jonas, (and no, I do not condone naming of storms that are not tropical cyclones) is going to do bad things to the US East Coast and hinterland.

Imma let you get back to setting your hair on fire over this storm, but first I want to ‘splain something to you.

A big No’reaster like this is a big swirling fast moving low pressure system that is drawing potentially huge quantities of moisture off of a global warming and El Niño over-heated Atlantic ocean, driving that moisture inland where it will mix with cold air and turn into various forms of liquid and non-liquid precipitation.

Predicting where rain, sleet, freezing rain, or snow will fall, and how much, in such a storm is probably one of the hardest things to predict in weather. Even if the center of the storm’s track is accurately predicted, and the overall size of the storm is accurately predicted, values of actual precip will not be known until it is known from direct measurements after the fact.

Also, people will get this wrong, and some will use that wrongness for evil purposes. Remember when the Great New England Blizzard of 2015 (almost exactly one year ago, and it too had a name but I forgot it) was predicted to hammer New York City and didn’t? Climate science deniers and other morons went apoplectic over that. But what really happened is that a storm larger than most countries arrived as predicted, dropped about the amount of precip as predicted, but was about 10% offset to the North, sparing the greater New York City area, with it’s New York Ideals and all, from any major snowfall. In other words, that storm was actually very accurately predicted, but because one tiny bit of the landscape that happened to be occupied by 20 million people got several inches less than expected, the science of meteorology was declared dead by the usual nefarious anti-science yahoos. (See this for an account of that.)

Paul Douglas, who is my go-to source for sane commentary about big storms like this, suggests that there will be more rain and mixed precip east of I-95, and more snow west of I-95, and that travel and power and such are likely to be affected. This storm, like most Nor’easters, will be windy, and that may be the biggest problem for may in its path. That wind could also be a problem in coastal areas where winds can cause flooding.

The heaviest snow may fall north and west of DC and Baltimore, and there may be some places, here and there, that will have something close to 24 inches. New York City and Boston could get decent snowfalls as well, with New York likely to get more, Boston being spared more than the usual annoying few inches. But, again, the exact distribution of snow depends on the highly unpredictable mixture of moist air coming off the ocean and cold continental air turning rain to white matter.

So, if you live in Virgina, West Virgina, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, near New York City or the Southern Tier, keep an eye on the weather, you might anywhere from just under a foot to much more. This is all going to happen from Friday into the weekend.

It is not clear that Senator “Science is a hoax” Inhofe will have ready access to Global Warming Alarmist Killing Snowballs this time around.


As Jonas T. Storm approaches, weather forecasters are tightening up their predictions. There is now a blizzard watch (not warning, watch, not as certain as a warning) for Washington DC. This is the first blizzard watch for that location since 1986.

The 1-2 foot snowstorm region at present, according to well accepted models, now includes Washington DC and Philadelphia. It is possible that this amount of snowfall will extend to New York City. The heaviest snowfall may be in DC for Friday evening rush hour. Meanwhile, Boston is not likely to receive too much snow.

From Friday night through much of the day Sunday you might expect transportation systems including by air and by land to be seriously impacted in that region.

It is still the case that the most snow will likely fall west of the I-95 corridor, with perhaps 3 feet in areas on the Piedmont in western Virginia. But, again, these things are very hard to predict. If you live anywhere from a triangle running from Louisville/Cincinnati to New York and down to Asheville/Knoxville you are likely to see snowfall ranging from several inches to a foot or so, and in some areas more, according to NOAA.

Multiple models are putting more than 20 inches right on DC with more than 30 inches along the Virginia/West Virginia border. Again, your actual mileage will vary.

Meanwhile, the wind predictions are still indicating severe conditions, with winds over 35 mph all along the coast from the Chesapeake up through Gloucester, and a concentration of 50 mph winds offshore of Long Island and on the Delmarva coast.

But again, if you are on the edge of the predicted Great Blob of Snow and not much happens at your house, realize that this is a rough prediction, and don’t come complaining. Just be happy you dodged the bullet.

The biggest uncertainty is probably how far north (up to and beyond New York City) significant snow will fall. Also, all the areas near water, such as DC, New York, and Boston are probably harder to predict because interactions with the ocean may cause warmer conditions, more rain or wet snow instead of fluffy snow, etc.

The sea surface temperatures in the Atlantic are very high, and this is contributing significantly to the amount of precipitation this storm will bring. Notice the very high temps right where extra warm water would be feeding into this storm (hat tip, Paul Douglas):

Screen Shot 2016-01-20 at 12.04.01 PM

The sea surface temperatures in the Atlantic have been very high in this region for a long time now, since before El Niño started, though it is likely that El Niño has contributed to this a bit.

Weather, Climate Change, and Related Matters in 2015

I had considered writing an accounting of all the outlandish weather events of 2015, but that project quickly became a tl:dr list of untoward happenings which is both alarming and a bit boring, since it is so long. So, I decided to generate something less comprehensive, focusing more on the context and meaning of the diverse and impressive set of outcomes of anthropogenic global warming, an historically strong El Niño, and, well, weather which is already a pretty whacky thing.

See: Highlights of Climate Change Research in 2015

It should be noted right away that 2015 is the last year in which any human alive will see CO2 levels dip below 400 parts per million.

What is the biggest single weather related news of 2015?

Floods, probably. Around the world, there were a lot of floods, and a lot of them were very damaging and deadly. Also, many of these floods appeared with little warning, even in places like Texas, where the meteorology is pretty good. Those Texas floods were of special note, as were the floods in the Carolinas. But outside the US there were major floods in Asia, especially Vietnam and Myanmar, as well as Yemen. Alaska, Oklahoma, Atacama in South America, also saw severe floods.

Why were there so many floods?

I’m pretty sure it is accurate to say that there was more flooding, and more severe flooding, than typical for, say, 20th century climatology. We had many 1,000 year flood events, too many to assume that these events remain as 1,000 year events.

See: Global Warming Changing Weather in the US Northeast

There are probably two or three reasons for increased flooding, which of course is caused by increased and concentrated rainfall along with other factors such as land use changes that cause rainfall to result in more flooding. One is the simple fact that a warmer atmosphere, due to global warming, contains more water, and thus, we get more rain. How much more? Not a lot, but enough to make a difference. If you put together a bunch of weather data and plot the annual precipitation rate over the last century or so, and fit a line to the data, the line will look flat. It isn’t really flat, and in fact, a properly fitted line on good data will show a statistically significant upslope. But still, the total amount of extra precipitation is a small percentage of the usual amount of precipitation, so the slope is not impressive unless you draw it out using heavy-handed graphing methods.

A few other places are doing end of year reviews. Inside Climate is doing a series of 2015 retrospectives. Skeptical Science has an overview of the year. Environmental health news has a wish list pivoting on 2015 and a year in review. And Then There’s Physics summarizes 2015. Critical Angle takes a critical look at 2015 here. If you see any more out there in the wild, let me know. Media Matters has “The 15 Most Ridiculous Things Conservative Media Said About Climate Change In 2015.” Media Matters also has 5 New Year’s Resolutions For Reporting On Climate Change. HotWhopper has The Fake Sceptic Awards for 2015 here.

A second factor is a set of changes in how, when, and where the rain falls. Normally, in the temperate regions, rain storms move along with trade winds, guided or influenced by jet streams, fairly quickly. But if the jet streams slow down, the storms slow down, so we may see 4 inches of rain fall in one place that normally would have been spread out over a larger area, never exceeding half (or less) of that amount in any given area. The jet streams have slowed down and also become curvier, which both increases the amount of rain that falls in a give area but also may transfer moisture from and to places that are normally not involved as much in such a process. For example, the storm we are expecting today in the upper Midwest and Plains is not a typical Canadian Clipper, but rather a Gulf Coast storm related to the deadly blizzards and tornado swarms we’ve seen over the last few days to the south.

See: Does global warming destroy your house in a flood?

This clumping of rain in smaller areas also means that other areas that would normally have received some rain don’t, causing what my colleague Paul Douglas refers to as “flash droughts.” These are dry periods that don’t last long enough, and are not severe enough, to register on any official drought-o-meter, but nonetheless stress local water systems (such as farming) enough to be a nuisance.

A third factor is sea surface temperature. This really relates to, and is probably one of the main causes, of the first factor (increased precip overall), and feeds into the second factor (clumping of rain) but deserves its own consideration. Elevated sea surface temperatures in the Atlantic off the US coast last winter caused a lot more moisture than normal to feed into nor’easter storms, which in turn have become more common (because of increased sea surface temperatures and other factors), thus dumping large quantities of snow in the US Northeast. The same thing dumped lots of extra snow in a region that normally gets very little snow, the US Southeast, the winter before.

See: A selection of books on climate change

These changes have been happening for decades, and are due to global warming. The warming caused by the human release of extra greenhouse gasses, and other human effects, increase the warmth, thus the evaporation, thus the precipitation. Part of this warming trend involved increasing the warmth of the Arctic at a much higher rate than most of the rest of the planet. This, in turn, seems to have caused the jet stream to become wavy and slow down. The jet streams and trade winds are ultimately caused and controlled by the Earth spinning, which has not changed, and the temperature differential between the warm equator and the cold poles, which has changed quite a bit.

See: Weather Whiplash Is Like My Old Broken Sprinkler

But what about El Niño?

Didn’t El Niño cause these changes, and thus, aren’t these weather events unrelated to global warming?

No, and for two reasons.

First, many of these events happened during the first half of the year, before the start of the current El Niño, which is in fact the strongest El Niño so far observed directly, and possibly the strongest El Niño in millennia.

The second reason is that the heat released by the El Niño (the release of heat stored in the Pacific Ocean is what an El Niño is, in functional terms) is added to an already warmed world. It may even be that the extra severity of this year’s El Niño is upscaled by anthropogenic global warming. In any event, any records we set during the current El Niño exceed earlier El Niño years because the El Niños we experience are shorter term warming events on top of a steadily increasing global warming phenomenon.

We had a lot of fires

Last year and this year, or really, the last few years, have seen excessive, above normal rates of forest and brush fires in various regions. We have seen major fires in Australia, North America, and Southeast Asia during this period, with North America breaking several recent records this year.

See: Forest fires in Indonesia choke much of south-east Asia

These fires are caused by a combination of factors, but ultimately heat increasing evaporation, prior rainy years increasing available fuel, and warm winters increasing tree death to parasites (thus increasing fuel), all have contributed.

North America, in the old days, had much more fire-heavy years than anything recent because we were busy cutting down the forest, piling up “slash” (left over tree parts) and running sparky old fashioned coal-driven railroad engines up and down between the slash piles, catching them on fire. In addition, just burning the slash on purpose contributed to the overall amount of fire, especially when the slash fires got out of control.

We also saw some pretty impressive fires a couple of decades ago because of what we now know were bad fire management practices, which had actually grown out of those earlier decades of logging related fires. In other words, the frequency and distribution of forest and brush fires is complex. During aridification, probably global warming related, in Africa during the 70s and 80s, vast areas started to burn more regularly than usual. In those days, I would fly at night over Libya, Chad and the Sudan a couple of times a year, and could observe the entire region was burning all the time, easily visible from 26,000 feet.

The bottom line: The frequency and extent of fires is variable and chaotic, but anthropogenic global warming seems to have contributed significantly to us having more of them.

Were there more storms in 2015?

Record breaking tropical storms occurred in 2015. All of the tropical cyclone/hurricane basins saw interesting activity, with the Atlantic being the most quiet, and the Eastern Pacific, possibly, being the strangest.

There were 22 Category 4 or 5 storms this year in the Northern Hemisphere, a record number. The last record year was recent, 2004. Studies have shown overall that the total energy that forms up in tropical cyclones has increased with global warming, though the actual total number of storms is highly variable.

It is reasonable to expect an increase in the frequency and severity of tropical storms with global warming, while at the same time, in some areas, smaller storms may become less common. This is partly because smaller storms are more readily abated by some of the global-warming related changes in weather systems such as increased wind shear and increased dust in the tropical atmosphere. At the same time, extremely high sea surface temperatures, and also, high water temperatures as depth (100–200 meters) increase the potential strength of storms that do get past that initial formation.

Hurricane Patricia, in the Eastern Pacific (landfall in Mexico) was an especially important storm. It was a physically small storm, but had more powerful winds than ever seen in a tropical storm. The storm went from nothing to a full hurricane in several hours (instead of several days).

The significance of this can not be underestimated. We have a situation where the conditions that might cause a hurricane to form are extreme, because of global warming (and this year, more so because of El Niño). So, when when these conditions are in place, a hurricane can form faster, and get more powerful, than normal. Consider the prospect of a land falling Category 5+ storm forming offshore from an area with low lying terrain (not like where Patricia struck land) with a high population density (not like where Patricia struck land) and moving on shore immediately. Like for instance, an Atlantic or Gulf of Mexico version of Patricia making landfall near Miami or NOLA.

Most of the really large hurricanes of this year were in the Pacific basin, distributed across the entire region, but Hurricane Joaquin, which was a very large and powerful storm in the Atlantic, did have us on the edge of our seats for a while when some of the better weather predicting models suggested it might make landfall. Also, nearly unprecedented tropical storms formed near the Arabian Pennensula.

This was a hot year

Other than February, which was merely hot rather than really hot, globally, every month so far this year has broken or nearly broken one or more records, depending on which database one uses. The running 12-month average of surface temperatures started to break records before El Niño kicked in, and continued to do so since. This will continue for several more months, even if the El Niño phenomenon itself stops soon, because it takes several months for surface temperatures to show the El Niño effect.

More specifically, there were killer heat waves in the Western Cape of South Africa, South Asia, and the Middle East. Australia recorded its hottest day ever. North America experienced numerous record breaking days, in the US and Canada. Cherry trees thought it was spring and bloomed last week in Washington. I saw birds building a nest outside my house in Minnesota two weeks ago, and our lawn was green(ish) through last weekend.

Ocean Oddness and Other Events

Let us not forget the Great Blob of Hot Water in the northern Pacific. This non El Niño phenomenon, which has been going for a couple of years no, has had El Niño like effects in the region, and probably relates to the non normal weather in along the western coast of North America, including record breaking heat in Alaska, major storms in or near Alaska, and of course, the California Drought.

A Haboob-Nado in China involved some of the strongest winds ever seen in the region, and may have, very unusually, contained an embedded tornado. We had a mild tornado season in the US, in Tornado Alley, until a few days ago when a not-very-seasonal tornado season sprung up and killed close to 50 people in just a few days. The American southeast does get winter tornadoes, but Michigan does not. But this year, there was a first ever recorded December tornado in that state.

The Arctic Sea ice has been diminishing in its minimum extent for a few decades now, and this year we saw the third lowest amount. The volume of Arctic sea ice continues to shrink.

You all know about the Syrian Refugee crisis. This is the latest chapter in the collapse of the Syrian state, which in turn happened because of long term drought in that country killing off the agricultural system and forcing farmers into the cities, where many became involved in the Syrian Civil War, which opened up the opportunity for the Islamic State to take a large amount of territory in the region. And so on. The Syrian refugee crisis is likely to be an early version of more of the same to come over future decades. And, I quickly point out, this is not likely to have been the first climate refugee situation, just much worse than prior events related to the spread of deserts in North Africa and drying out in West Asia.

Research on Climate Change

This year saw some interesting research in climate change.

One team studies major oscillations in climate that relate to oceans (of which El Niño is a shorter-term smaller part). This research suggests that the last couple of decades have seen less warming than we might expect over the long term, and further suggests that an uptick in the rate of warming is in our medium term future.

Related research also shows that accelerated melting of northern glaciers, especially Greenland, could alter Atlantic currents, so while the Earth generally warms due to increased greenhouse gasses, weather may change to a colder regime in Europe, some time over the next few dedades.

We are seeing an increased rate at which climate and weather experts are attributing bad weather to global warming. This is partly a shift in thinking and methods among the experts, and partly because of an actual increase in such events.

There has been interesting research in the Antarctic. We are seeing increased concern about, and evidence for, destabilization of huge inland glaciers that could start to fall apart and contribute to sea level rise at any time in the next several years. At the same time we saw one study that seemed to suggest that Antarctic is gaining ice, rather than losing it. If that is true, than recent decades of sea level rise are partly unexplained. Alternatively, the research, which has some known flaws, may simply be wrong. Look for some interesting results related to Antarctic glacier during 2016.

The famous #FauxPause in global warming, claimed by many climate change deniers to be a real thing (no warming in X years, etc.) was already known to be Faux, but this year saw several independent nails being driven into that coffin. Rather than a pause that disproves global warming, we have a better understood series of changed in the long term warming in the planet’s surface temperature.

See: In a blind test, economists reject the notion of a global warming pause

Sea floor biotic diversity was shown to be threatened by warming, coral bleaching is more likely and in fact happening at a higher rate, and probably mostly due to El Niño, there has been some odd ocean animal migrations.

The planting zones, the gardening and agricultural zones we use to decide which crops to plant and when, have over the last several years shifted in most places in North America by one or two zones. This year, the people who make the zone maps came out with a new one.

Sea levels continue to rise, and the rate of rise is rising. Rare nuisance flooding in coastal areas, most famously but not only Miami, have become regular events. Sales in waterproof shoes are expected to increase.

Communication and Politics

Across meteorology we see the graph and chart makers scrambling to find new colors for their maps showing heat. Y-axes are being stretched everywhere. We seem to be stuck with a five level category system for tropical cyclones/hurricanes, but we are seeing so many storms that are way stronger, bigger, more destructive than earlier Category 5 storms that talk of adding a category is no longer being responded to with angry mobs of pitchfork wielding weather forecasters who came of age with the older system.

See: How to not look like an idiot

There has been a great deal of significant climate change related activism, and COP happened, with a strong message to address the human causes of climate change sooner than later. Climate change has actually become an issue in US elections. For the first time a major world leader, President Obama, has faced off with the deniers and told them to STFU. Major news outlets such as the Washington Post and the Guardian have started to take climate change seriously. The idea that reporters must give equal weight to the “two sides of the story” (science is real, vs. science is not real) is disappearing.

Denial of climate change and climate change science reached its high water mark over the last 12 months. It will now fade away.

And that is a short and incomplete summary of weather and climate in 2015.

A note for my regular readers: Yes, I chose the burning Earth graphic to annoy the denialist. Check the comments below to see if that annoyed anyone.

What happened to the Blizzard of 2015?

What happened to the Blizzard of 2015? Well, it happened. Despite breathless complaining about how the forecasters got it all wrong, they didn’t. As the storm was predicted, there should have been close to about two feet of snow in the New York City metropolitan area, but as it turns out, there was between 8 and 12 inches. That means that New York City experienced a typical winter month’s worth of snow in one day. Also, most snow that falls on The City falls a few inches at a time and melts more or less instantly, as few cities can match New York in its heat island effect. So, 8-12 inches of snow all at once is a meaningful, crippling snow storm. Two feet would have been much worse, but it is not like The City did not experience a memorable weather event.

More importantly, the forecast was for a huge blizzard with up to three feet of snow across a blob shaped region of the Northeast approximately 475 miles along its longest dimension (see graphic above). The blob ended up being off, on the southwest end, by about 40 or 50 miles. So the spatial extent of the storm was misestimated, days in advance, by about 10%. An object the size of a country was off by the distance a healthy adult can walk in a long day. That was, ladies and gentleman, an excellent, accurate prediction.

nyt-march-29-1976But, since the storm’s outcome was different than predicted in the world’s most inward looking city (you’ve seen the self-effacing maps produced now and then by the New Yorker magazine), it is assumed by many that the forecast was bad, that forecasting was bad, that weather models are bad, and so on.

As meteorologist Paul Douglass told me yesterday when I asked him if he was going to be kneeling on any carpets today over the difference between prediction and reality, “No kneeling, Greg. Just because we tap supercomputers and Doppler radar doesn’t mean we can predict snowfall down to the inch. Models are good and getting better, but they’re not perfect and never will be. People expect perfection in an imperfect world. Boston picked up 20-30” snow, Long Island saw 15-23”, so did much of Connecticut. There was an 8 foot storm surge on Cape Cod where winds gusted to 78 mph.”

Paul also told me something he shared later that day on the Ed Show. “Over 30 years I’ve worked with a series of anchormen in the Twin Cities and Chicago. When they invariably gave me a hard time for busting a forecast I reminded them that a monkey in a sport coat could report on what happened yesterday. Look at the trends and predict tomorrow’s news headlines!” He indicated that when sportscasters started to routinely predict tomorrow’s scores rather than report today’s scores, they would be on a level playing field with the meteorologists.

Here is that Ed Show piece:

The Blizzard of 2015 was in some ways comparable to the Blizzard of 1978, which was one of the first storms of the modern era of increased storminess. The snowfall totals may have been greater for 2015, but coastal winds were greater for 1978. But, in 1978 over 100 people died, and most of them died of exposure because they were caught in the snow. So, in terms of cost of human lives, the two storms are very comparable despite the differences in winds.


Why did over 100 people die in New England’s 1978 storm, but either zero or one person died (depending on attribution of a single sledding accident related death to the storm) in 2015?

Weather forecasting. It got better because the science and technology behind it got better. And, frankly, that is partly a result of storms like the ’78 storm and various hurricanes, which prompted an interest in advancing this technology, which includes on one hand satellites producing piles of data and on the other hand advanced computer and software producing powerful models.

You should buy your local meteorologist a beer.

The image comparing 1978 and 2015 is a chimera of images that come from NOAA and the Boston Globe.

The Hottest Year: 2014

NOAA will announce today that 2014 was the warmest year during the instrumental record, which begins in 1880. The announcement, which addresses findings of both NOAA and NASA, will be made today at 11:00 Eastern. Below is the press release from NOAA.

I talked about this and other climate matters in a radio interview at Green Divas:

Michael Mann has made the following statements regarding this news:

2014 Was Earth’s Warmest Year On Record
Three major climate organizations (JMA, NASA, and NOAA) have now released their official estimates for the 2014 Global Mean Surface Temperature. Both JMA and NOAA conclude that 2014 was substantially higher, i.e. outside the margin of error, of previous contenders (1998, 2005, and 2010) while NASA finds 2014 to be warmest, but within the margin of error of 2005 and 2010 (i.e. a “statistical tie”).

Based on the collective reports, it is therefore fair to declare 2014 the warmest year on record. This is significant for a number of reasons. Unlike past record years, 2014 broke the record without the “assist” of a large El Niño event. There was only the weakest semblance of an El Niño and tropical Pacific warmth contributed only moderately to the record 2014 global temperatures. Viewed in context, the record temperatures underscore the undeniable fact that we are witnessing, before our eyes, the effects of human-caused climate change. It is exceptionally unlikely that we would be seeing a record year, during a record warm decade, during a multidecadal period of warmth that appears to be unrivaled over at least the past millennium, were it not for the rising levels of planet-warming gases produced by fossil fuel burning.

The record temperatures *should* put to rest the absurd notion of a “pause” (what I refer to as the “Faux Pause” in Scientific American in global warming. There is a solid body of research now showing that any apparent slow-down of warming during the past decade was likely due to natural short-term factors (like small changes in solar output and volcanic activity) and internal fluctuations related to e.g. the El Nino phenomenon. The record 2014 temperatures underscore the fact that global warming and associated climate changes continue unabated as we continue to raise the concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

See also:

  • this post by Laurence Lewis
  • <li><a href="">Explainer: How do scientists measure global temperature?</a></li>
    <li><a href="">Global warming made 2014 a record hot year – in animated graphics</a></li>
    <li><a href="">Scientists react to warmest year: 2014 underscores ‘undeniable fact’ of human-caused climate change</a></li>
    <li><a href="">There is less than a 1-in-27 million chance that Earth's record hot streak is natural</a></li>
    <li><a href="">NOAA, NASA: 2014 Is Officially Hottest Year On Record, Driven By Global Warming</a>
    <li><a href="">2014 Was The Hottest Year Since At Least 1880, Government Finds</a></li>
    <li><a href="">Interesting graphic at Bloomberg</a></li>
    <li><a href="">Born after 1976? You’ve Lived Your Entire Life on a Hotter Planet</a></li>
    <li><a href="">2014 a Record Hot Year</a></li>
    <li><a href="">2014: ONE FOR THE RECORD BOOKS</a></li>
    <li><a href="">It’s Official, 2014 Hottest Year</a></li>

    The Press Release

    NOAA: 2014 was Earth’s warmest year on record
    December 2014 record warm; Global oceans also record warm for 2014

    The globally averaged temperature over land and ocean surfaces for 2014 was the highest among all years since record keeping began in 1880, according to NOAA scientists. The December combined global land and ocean average surface temperature was also the highest on record.

    This summary from NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center is part of the suite of climate services NOAA provides to government, business, academia and the public to support informed decision-making.

    In an independent analysis of the data also released today, NASA scientists also found 2014 to be the warmest on record.


        <li>During 2014, the average temperature across global land and ocean surfaces was 1.24°F (0.69°C) above the 20th century average. This was the highest among all years in the 1880-2014 record, surpassing the previous records of 2005 and 2010 by 0.07°F (0.04°C).</li>
        <li>Record warmth was spread around the world, including Far East Russia into western Alaska, the western United States, parts of interior South America most of Europe stretching into northern Africa, parts of eastern and western coastal Australia, much of the northeastern Pacific around the Gulf of Alaska, the central to western equatorial Pacific, large swaths of northwestern and southeastern Atlantic, most of the Norwegian Sea, and parts of the central to southern Indian Ocean.</li>
        <li>During 2014, the globally-averaged land surface temperature was 1.80°F (1.00°C) above the 20th century average. This was the fourth highest among all years in the 1880-2014 record.</li>
        <li>During 2014, the globally-averaged sea surface temperature was 1.03°F (0.57°C) above the 20th century average. This was the highest among all years in the 1880-2014 record, surpassing the previous records of 1998 and 2003 by 0.09°F (0.05°C).</li>
        <li>Looking above Earth’s surface at certain layers of the atmosphere, two different analyses examined NOAA satellite-based data records for the lower and middle troposphere and the lower stratosphere.</li>
    <li>The 2014 temperature for the lower troposphere (roughly the lowest five miles of the atmosphere) was third highest in the 1979-2014 record, at 0.50°F (0.28°C) above the 1981–2010 average, as analyzed by the University of Alabama Huntsville (UAH), and sixth highest on record, at 0.29°F (0.16°C) above the 1981–2010 average, as analyzed by Remote Sensing Systems (RSS).</li>
                <li><li>The 2014 temperature for the mid-troposphere (roughly two miles to six miles above the surface) was third highest in the 1979-2014 record, at 0.32°F (0.18°C) above the 1981–2010 average, as analyzed by UAH, and sixth highest on record, at 0.25°F (0.14°C) above the 1981–2010 average, as analyzed by RSS.</li>
                <li><li>The temperature for the lower stratosphere (roughly 10 miles to 13 miles above the surface) was 13th lowest in the 1979-2014 record, at 0.56°F (0.31°C) below the 1981–2010 average, as analyzed by UAH, and also 13th lowest on record, at 0.41°F (0.23°C) below the 1981–2010 average, as analyzed by RSS.  The stratospheric temperature is decreasing on average while the lower and middle troposphere temperatures are increasing on average, consistent with expectations in a greenhouse-warmed world.</li></ul>

    According to data from NOAA analyzed by the Rutgers Global Snow Lab, the average annual Northern Hemisphere snow cover extent during 2014 was 24.95 million square miles, and near the middle of the historical record. The first half of 2014 saw generally below-normal snow cover extent, with above-average coverage later in the year.

    Recent polar sea ice extent trends continued in 2014. The average annual sea ice extent in the Arctic was 10.99 million square miles, the sixth smallest annual value of the 36-year period of record. The annual Antarctic sea ice extent was record large for the second consecutive year, at 13.08 million square miles.

    December 2014

        <li>During December, the average temperature across global land and ocean surfaces was 1.39°F (0.77°C) above the 20th century average. This was the highest for December in the 1880-2014 record, surpassing the previous record of 2006 by 0.04°F (0.02°C).</li>
        <li>During December, the globally-averaged land surface temperature was 2.45°F (1.36°C) above the 20th century average. This was the third highest for December in the 1880-2014 record.  </li>
        <li>During December, the globally-averaged sea surface temperature was 0.99°F (0.55°C) above the 20th century average. This was also the third highest for December in the 1880-2014 record.</li>
        <li>The average Arctic sea ice extent for December was 210,000 square miles (4.1 percent) below the 1981-2010 average. This was the ninth smallest December extent since records began in 1979, according to analysis by the National Snow and Ice Data Center based on data from NOAA and NASA.</li>
        <li>Antarctic sea ice during December was 430,000 square miles (9.9 percent) above the 1981-2010 average. This was the fourth largest December Antarctic sea ice extent on record.</li>
        <li>According to data from NOAA analyzed by the Rutgers Global Snow Lab, the Northern Hemisphere snow cover extent during December was 130,000 square miles below the 1981-2010. This was the 20th smallest December Northern Hemisphere snow cover extent in the 49-year period of record.</li>

    A more complete summary of climate conditions and events can be found at:

    Typhoon Hagupit (Ruby): Update and what you can do to help

    The outer reaches of Typhoon Hagupit are already affecting the target region in the Philippines. Hundreds of thousands of people have fled the areas most under the gun, but the potential for serious problems covers a very large area. The storm has gone through quite a few changes over the last couple of days, but is probably strengthening somewhat right now. No matter what happens, it is going to hit the Philippines as a very serious storm.

    Jeff Masters has an update here.

    This is the same area that was hit with Typhoon Haiyan last year. Haiyan was a bigger storm. But, Haiyan was also one of the biggest typhoons ever observed (I think people are still arguing over whether it was the biggest, second biggest, etc.). There is potential for very high storm surges, serious winds, very heavy rains (over two feet in some places) which could cause devastating mudslides and flooding.

    When this sort of storm hits people often want to know what they can do to help. I’ve learned about a recent project that you may be interested in. This is by Direct Relief. As background, let’s look at a relatively objective source of information about Direct Relief, Wikipedia:

    Direct Relief (formerly known as Direct Relief International) is a private humanitarian nonprofit organization based in Santa Barbara, California, with a mission to “improve the health and lives of people affected by poverty or emergency situations by mobilizing and providing essential medical resources needed for their care.”[1] Founded in 1948 by Estonian immigrant William D. Zimdin, the organization is headed by President and CEO Thomas Tighe and a 31-member Board of Directors.[5] Direct Relief has received a 100% fundraising efficiency rating by Forbes,[6] been ranked by the Chronicle of Philanthropy as California’s largest international relief organization,[7] and topped Charity Navigator’s 2014 list of “10 of the Best Charities Everyone’s Heard Of.[8]” Direct Relief is the first nonprofit organization in the United States to be designated by The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) as a Verified-Accredited Wholesale Distributor licensed to distribute pharmaceutical medicines to all 50 U.S. States and Washington, D.C.[9]

    So it is an experienced organization, gets the money you give it out into the field efficiently, and is secular. All things I’m sure you want to see in an organization you make a donation to.

    But the Hagupit situation offers an additional opportunity because Direct Relief has a new project in the field there, which looks promising. I was planning on talking to someone at Direct Relief about it, to find out more, but I think he got stuck in a meeting at the UN or something, so we’ll probably talk later (and I’ll report on that to you). Meanwhile, check this out:

    Direct Relief’s Emergency Response Team is monitoring Typhoon Hagupit (locally known as Ruby), as it approaches the Philippines. On its current trajectory, the typhoon is expected to make landfall in the Eastern Visayas in the next 72 hours and could affect 4.5 million people.

    Direct Relief already has staff on the ground ready to respond in the event of a disaster and has reached out to local partners and health officials located in high-risk regions 5, 6, 7 and 8.

    There are also three strategically pre-positioned typhoon modules ready to be rapidly utilized in the event of an emergency. These modules contain enough medicines and supplies supplies to treat 5,000 people for a month following a disaster.

    Philippine authorities are currently in the process of evacuating vulnerable communities. Vice Mayor of Tacloban city, Jerry Yaokasin, stated that “we will now strictly enforce forced evacuation.” Yaokasin said that “we have no more excuses, we have gone through Yolanda, and to lose that many lives, it’s beyond our conscience already.”

    Direct Relief’s staff on the ground will be maintaining contact with partners and monitoring the situation as it develops in the next 72 hours.

    There are three things you will find at Direct Relief’s web site.

    <li>First, there is <a href=",-1.6963,144.8076,27.1137">a monitor of the storm's path</a>, an interactive googly mappy think which is very cool.</li>
    <li>Second, there is more information about <a href="">Direct Relief and the situation in the Philippines</a>; they have one of the better organized web sites for disaster relief non profits. </li>
    <li>Third, and most importantly, <a href="">there is a way to donate money</a>. </li>

    When donating, frankly, I’d suggest the “wherever it is needed most” or “disaster relief” options. They are already there, on the ground; they will be relieving people as it happens. I have a feeling they know best where to spend the money.