Firestorm devastating portions of Napa Valley, CA.

Sunday Night, major fires erupted in California’s Napa Valley under strong easterly winds and low relative humidity. This resulted in a conflagration engulfing communities and homes in flames and forcing thousands to make quick escapes in the early morning hours. One of the worse hit communities is Santa Rosa, where much of the city has been destroyed by fire. Over 1500 homes and businesses are believed to have been burned down in the Napa Valley region. The flames continue to grow at this time with over 75,000 acres burned.

Photos via the San Francisco Chronicle.

The fires are occurring in a region which is currently not in drought conditions hydrologically (as of last Thursday). However, after an unusually wet winter, an unusually hot, dry season followed. This allowed fuels, which grew in abundance following the wet season to dry out, leading to the massive fires in CA in this summer going into the Fall. Much of Western North America has been suffering significant fires in 2017 (year-to-date acreage burned in the US, as of Friday, was 3rd to 2012 and 2015). Intensifying wildfire seasons (on regional/continental scales) and increasing frequency of large fluctuations in extremes between very wet and very dry periods are predicted signals of climate change from global warming as well.

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Much above average to record precipitation in Northern California in January-March 2017.
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Much below average to record minimum precipitation (including NO measurable rain) in Northern California in August 2017. June-August 2017 saw much below average precipitation.
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Much above average and record warmth across the West Coast during August 2017. San Francisco Bay Area saw record highs over 100 degrees at the start of September.

So far the fires have killed 10 people (as of 10 pm PDT Monday Night), while more than 110 have been injured, some severely from burns, most from smoke inhalation. It’s being reported Monday Night that 100 missing persons reports have been called in to the Sonoma County, CA office.

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Region where fires are in progress in the San Rosa and Napa region far north of San Francisco and west of Sacramento.

Although relative humidity conditions will improve somewhat tomorrow, no rainfall is forecast for this region of Northern California for the next 7 days to dampen the fire situation. Winds Tuesday will likely gust over 20 mph and may be locally stronger near the fire, continuing the self-sustaining burn.

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11 pm PDT Monday Analysis by the High-Resolution Rapid Refresh (HRRR) showing the low dew point temperatures near and east of Santa Rosa. This area delineates a region of low relative humidity, allowing fires to burn and spread with little moisture on fuels to slow their extent.

 

For further updates see this updating page by the San Francisco Chronicle.

–Meteorologist Nick Humphrey

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Start of October Drought and Climate Update

Nearly 14% of the Continental US is in at least moderate drought conditions right now. The most highly afflicted areas are over the northern tier states west of the Mississippi River…the Dakotas, Montana, Idaho, Washington and Oregon.

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There are scattered areas of drought and abnormally dry conditions across other parts of the country. However, an isolated area of severe to extreme drought has been hitting south-central Iowa for much of the summer and there are also areas of moderate drought developing over the the Desert Southwest and eastern Maine.

The level of dryness, particularly over Western North America has promoted a significant fire season, which continues at this time. British Columbia is having its worst fire season on record and the Western US is having an unexpectedly destructive fire season. This even after much of the region had a wet winter, showing that a significant period of dryness following well-grown fuels from a wet season can still lead to a major fire season. As of October 4, 2017, nearly record 8.5 million acres have been burned in the United States in 2017.* While below the 2015 record of 10.12 acres, it should be noted that anthropogenic climate change is increasing the risk of fire seasons in the US over 3 million acres and there has been a significant increase in fire seasons of 3 million acres or more since the turn of the century. 2017 may rank in the Top 3 for fire seasons (along with 2015 and 2012). Temperatures across the West were well-above normal or record levels over the summer. Various records for heat (as well as persistence of warmth and dryness) were broken in places such as Western WA/OR, central and southern CA as well as the portions of the Interior West.

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Drought Outlook for October 2017. Drought is expected to dissipate in Western WA from the incoming wet season, and improve somewhat in northeast MT. However, much of the drought in the US will persist and in fact additional areas may develop over the central Midwest and Mid-Atlantic states.
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The Probabilistic Precipitation Outlook valid Oct 10-16, 2017. This suggest by mid-month, the atmospheric pattern will be favorable for drier than normal conditions over the center of the nation with near normal or wetter than normal conditions over the coastal regions. The Climate Prediction Center also shows above normal temperatures likely over the Southwest US and Eastern third of the country. Dryness will maintain or promote further development of drought conditions in portions of the nation’s interior.

As of today, the NWS Climate Prediction Center indicates a 55-60% chance that a La Nina climate pattern will develop late in the Northern Hemisphere Fall and into the Northern Hemisphere winter. This is characterized by an intensified Walker Circulation (the east-west tropical Pacific wind circulation) and intensified cold water upwelling along and offshore the coast of South America.

Weather patterns common during La Nina events include abnormally wet, cool conditions in the western Pacific Northwest and TN/OH valleys, but abnormally dry and warm conditions across the southern tier of the United States. This is partially incorporated into the monthly and seasonal drought and temperature/precipitation outlooks.

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For those curious, the climate models are showing the US having a more than likely above normal winter throughout (including AK) with the La Nina-like distribution of precipitation (likely above normal Northwest, below normal Southeast). More on winter as we get closer.

*-I incorrectly stated that total acres burned in the US was around 3 million acres. (10/4/17)

Hurricane Harvey continuing its march toward Texas

My goodness…7-day rainfall forecast…and much of that in Texas and Louisiana is over 3-4 days…

The hurricane is still expected to make landfall somewhere over the south-central TX Coast near borderline Category 3/4 intensity tomorrow night. Evacuation orders are underway for many coastal locations and barrier islands for potential significant surge up to 12 ft above normal levels. Hurricane warnings are up from Port Mansfield to Sargent, Texas with a tropical storm warning from south  of Port Mansfield to the Mouth of the Rio Grande River at the US-Mexico Border.

This continues to be a potentially catastrophic storm. Incredible freshwater flooding will likely be the main story but storm surge and perhaps even wind damage could be additional impacts. Please tell anyone you know in these areas to take evacuation notices seriously. 

I’ll have frequent updates on Twitter and Facebook with occasional updates on WordPress. Visit www.nhc.noaa.gov for the latest updates from the National Hurricane Center.

Harvey Marching Across the Gulf Today

Very dangerous situation for TX and perhaps even LA! Hurricane intensity appears imminent for Harvey (60 mph at 7 am CDT and just found to have complete eyewall structure). It is primed for rapid intensification thanks to light shear, warm waters, and now a stable inner core structure. Look how it was now 24 hrs ago compared to now! It looked much the same last night compared to 24 hrs ago!

Oceanic Heat Content (Kilojoules)

This system will make landfall as a hurricane and an elevated risk exists of a major hurricane landfall. I’ll defer to the NHC for that as their updated forecast will be out very soon…2-4 ft of rain based on consistent model predictions and dangerous storm surge (increasing with increasing category) are a certainty. Be ready to evacuate and rush preparations to completion now!

Edit at 10:25 am:

Tropical Storm #Harvey is now forecast to become a major hurricane by landfall by the National Hurricane Center. At least at Category 3. It’s been 4322 days since Category 3 winds have impacted the US (Wilma in Florida) and 4352 days for the state of Texas (Rita). So destructive wind and saltwater coastal flooding is likely in addition to catastrophic freshwater flooding.

My view of the August 21, 2017 Total Eclipse.

 

What an amazing event! The moon’s shadow gave a big show across America today and at 1:02 pm CDT it rushed over Lincoln, NE at over 1500 mph. Day turned to night, the temperature dropped and a 360 degree twilight ruled the midday.

First…my video!

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Screen capture from video during totality in Lincoln, NE. Shows the “eclipse twilight” surrounding the city. Photo by me (Nick Humphrey).

The temperature in Lincoln dropped from 81 degrees around noon to 77 degrees after 1 pm and totality. Many locations along the eclipse path experienced temperature falls of 3-5 degrees as a result of the passage of the Moon’s shadow. Meteorologists also observed (both on the ground and with satellite imagery) the collapse of convective cumulus clouds dependent upon surface heating to “bubble”, which was lost during the advanced partial and total eclipses.

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Cumulus cloud field impacted by the eclipse. Cloud field (12:42 pm CDT) dissipates by 2:32 pm CDT as totality approaches. Photo courtesy of AccuWeather Meteorologist Becky DePodwin. Lowering of temperature weakens upward convection currents likely limiting maintenance of cumulus clouds and leading to their dissipation in the absence of other lifting mechanisms.

You can watch the progression of the Moon’s shadow across North America below (video is only four seconds long so you’ll have to replay to see it more than once at a time):

All I can say is that this was one of most spectacular events of nature I’ve ever witnessed. I’ve witnessed multiple total lunar eclipses and while they are spooky (especially in the middle of the night), nothing can beat the powerful changes which a total solar eclipse can bring to the landscape.

The clouds, which were the most problematic for eclipse viewing in Nebraska ended up breaking enough to see totality itself, but also provided a canvas for the incredible glow of midday twilight. It was quite magical.

The next total solar eclipse in the Lower 48 is April 8, 2024. Totality in parts of Texas (which will include Austin and Dallas/Fort Worth Metro) could last nearly 4 1/2 min compared to the 2 min 40 sec max with today’s eclipse. If time and finances align, I definitely want travel for that one if I don’t live near it by then.

Anyone have any eclipse experiences they want to share? I’ll be checking out WordPress posts too! 🙂

PS-A view from a Omaha news station of the twilight colors with clouds HERE (video) within totality near Beatrice, NE, south of Lincoln.

2016 State of the Climate: The Sobering Data

Today The American Meteorological Society, in collaboration with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released their yearly peer-reviewed “State of the Climate” report detailing the state of the global climate. It is…not positive at all.

You can see the full report HERE. But here are the bullet points:

-The report confirms, via independent datasets that 2016 was the warmest year on record for human observations (most world observations go back to mid-1800s). Not only for Earth’s atmosphere but for the Earth’s oceans.

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-The Earth’s surface averaged 1.06-1.21 degrees C above pre-industrial levels (depending on datasets available). It is the second year in a row the global land and ocean temperature averaged over 1 degree C. The “danger” zone for destructive impacts on human society and ecosystems around the world according to climate scientists is 2 degrees C or higher. Even 1.5 C would begin to have very hazardous impacts.

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-Global carbon dioxide concentration in Earth’s atmosphere (the main greenhouse gas being added by human activity) exceeded 400 part per million on average for the first time ever in human history. Not only that…This is the highest level in Earth’s atmosphere in at least 800,000 years based on data taken from ice cores. For comparison, pre-industrial levels of carbon dioxide concentration was approximately 280 ppm (only 150 yrs ago).

-The increase in the yearly average of carbon dioxide by 3.5 ppm from 2015 to 2016 is the largest increase observed in the 58 year history of observations.

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-2016 featured significant portions of land areas suffering from “extreme heat”…heat above the 90 percentile compared to the 1961-1990 average temperature for the location.

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-2016 was the warmest year on record for the ocean, causing major stresses for ocean ecosystems, including coral reefs. Over 90% of global warming heating goes into the oceans (100+ zetajoules (1 x 10^23 joules) since 1993…it takes ~4 joules of heat to warm 1 gram of water by 1 degree C…it takes A LOT of energy to raise the temperature of water).

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-Sea levels are rising nearly everywhere, at different rates. Added water and thermal expansion by the heating of water are both factors. This is the 6th consecutive year of increase.

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-Severe drought impacted at least 12% of the planet’s land area each month of 2016 for the first time in history. (Note: The drought conditions in the Amazon Rain Forest in 2015-16 the third “100-year” event since 2005 with previous events in 2005 and 2010).

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-Arctic sea ice had its lowest winter maximum on record and second lowest summer minimum on record in 2016. The mass of the Greenland Ice Sheet, which has ice up to 110,000 yrs old and has the ability to contribute to up to 7 meters sea-level rise is at a record low value.

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-2016 was the 37th consecutive year of worldwide Alpine glacial retreat.

-Across the Northern Hemisphere, snow cover was the 4th least extensive in the 47-yr record.

-Record high temperatures at 20 meters were observed at depth in permafrost observatories in Alaska and Canada.

-The United States had the 2nd warmest year on record in 2016 and the 20th consecutive warmer than normal year.


It’s interesting that this came out today because I was actually just beginning to write the draft to the next in the series of WxClimoEd “Understanding Global Climate Change“. But then this blew up my Twitter LOL. This pretty much gives me a good addition to what I would’ve discussed anyways. So let’s do just that…

It appears to me that we have crossed in the 2015-2017 period some crucial thresholds in the “era” of anthropogenic climate change. We are continuing to pump more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than Earth can remove through natural processes. We are essentially heavily polluting our atmosphere with CO2. Earth itself appears to have become a “1 degree C” world in terms of average temperature and major impacts expected to develop as a result. In addition, while our atmosphere is heating up, our oceans are also taking in incredible amounts of energy, slowly heating up and it’s quite literally cooking our marine life, all while the oceans undergo acidification from the CO2 they are taking in which is also causing harm to ecosystems. Coral reefs are facing this head on along with hundreds of thousands of species with depend on them. This is discussed is in the documentary Chasing Coral, which I reviewed HERE.

This year…2017…continues to see further signs of major problems which were predicted to be likely results of climate change.

-The first six months of 2017 (January-June) was the second warmest on record behind 2016. It is also the second warmest on record for the United States.

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-July saw record heat for the Western US and Alaska including record July or all-time record maximum monthly temps and sea ice within range of the Arctic Ocean coast. Other cities such as Reno, NV and Salt Lake City had their hottest July’s ever. Miami set an all-time record hottest month ever. Death Valley, CA took its wild heat to another level with an average July temperature of 107.4 degrees F making it the hottest month ever recorded in the United States historical record.

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-Arctic sea ice is headed for (yet again) one of its lowest extents in the observational record.

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-Boreal forests continue to burn at an unprecedented rate not seen in the past 10,000 yrs. Most notably significant fires have broken out in Canada and in the peat of the Arctic on the border of the ice sheet on Greenland.

I’ll write more about the IMPACTS of climate change…estimates of global and regional effects that I intended on writing about hopefully later this week in my regular post series. But in short…we really have no time to lose on this. Governments and citizens MUST do what they can…from individual efforts to industry…to get carbon emissions down. The more carbon dioxide goes into the atmosphere and higher temperatures rise, the greater the uncertainty as far as resulting phenomena such as climate feedbacks which could either hinder or enhance climate change, the latter of course worsening the situation faster. We as humans, we live our lives and we really have no idea how fragile how our world really is. We must realize how destructive a force we are so we can be constructive to ourselves and our world instead.

WxClimoEd Series, Post #1, Part 1: Understanding Global Climate Change

Hello Weather & Climate News readers! This post will be the first in what will be my ongoing education article series WxClimoEd. I hope to write educational posts on various topics related to weather and climate to help enhance your understanding of various phenomena and their impact on the environment, individuals and society. These posts will present key ideas and concepts and provide occasional linked sources to further, more detailed information.

Understanding Global Climate Change (Causes)

This article will deal with an introductory explanation of Global Climate Change as we currently understand it and the causes of it, specifically relating to human activity. Part 2 (in the next week) will discuss the known (and unknown) impacts on humanity and wildlife based on impacts on regional climates. Part 3 (in a couple weeks) will discuss mitigation efforts.

  1. Natural Climate Variability vs. Recent Global Climate Change

Earth’s climate has been evolving since the planet was born 4.6 billion years ago. These changes in Earth’s atmosphere have been largely the result of things such as biological modification of the atmosphere, volcanic eruptions, changes in ocean currents, movement of continents over tens of millions of years, variations in Earth’s orbit and other various phenomena. The most recent history of climate has featured periods of glaciation over much of the landmasses known as the Ice Ages.

Earth’s global climate has been in a “interglacial” period with a climate which warmed enough to end major continental glaciation around 11,000 yrs ago.

However, what scientists have seen in the recent climate records is a rate of change -both the climate conditions themselves and the atmospheric gases which can change the climate – at a rate accelerated and in some cases unprecedented in previous times.

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Carbon Dioxide (CO2) levels going back 450,000 yrs. There have been multiple periods of glaciation and interglacial periods as part of natural change (high/low CO2 = warm/cold), but CO2 has not exceeded much above 300 parts per million until the 20th century. (NASA)

What scientists in the second half of the 20th century discovered is that for the first time in the history of human civilization we are acting as a force influencing the climate. Human-induced climate change is real.

This has been found after accounting for the natural variability in climate cycles and from our understanding of how carbon dioxide works in the atmosphere. This extremely rapid change in global temperatures, a top signal of climate change, has been driven by CO2 pollution, beginning after 1850 and the during the Second Industrial Revolution.

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Graph showing the correlation between global temperatures (anomaly relative to the 1881-1910 average) and CO2 concentration 1880-2016. CO2 is known physically to be capable of “trapping” heat in higher concentration. (Climate Central)

One of the first questions which many non-scientists have about global climate change is “Well hasn’t the climate always been changing?” The answer is yes, but with a caveat…it has NOT changed this rapidly in the history of humanity on Earth (Homo sapiens sapiens have been around ~200,000 yrs). Since Earth began the process out of the last glaciation 22,000 yrs ago, global temperatures have varied up to a 4 degrees C. But this process of variability has occurred over the course of centuries to a couple of millennia because of the long cycling of natural processes. Human activity in the form of burning fossil fuels since the latter 19th century has caused around 1 degree C of warming within a 100-150 yr period. This comic comparing the average temperature of Earth to the end of the Ice Age and achievements of human civilization across millennia strongly illustrate the climate stability we’ve come to flourish under. (zoom in at the top and scroll down…it’s long, but worth the read and look!). Humans have essentially acted as a continuously spewing ‘volcano’ of carbon products. And as a result, we have compressed warming which would take nature nearly a millennia to do in recent geologic time and accomplished it within a century.

We are transforming our world before our eyes.

2. How does the greenhouse effect work?

The greenhouse effect is a simple concept, but one with major implications for us all in this major environmental issue. In Earth’s atmosphere exists gases which are chemically capable of “trapping” heat in the lower atmosphere, heating the surface. The three most significant “greenhouse gases” are carbon dioxide, water vapor, and methane. These gases in higher concentrations are most effective in reflecting infrared (heat) radiation originally emitted by Earth’s surface back to the surface as opposed to allowing it to be lost to space. If it wasn’t for this greenhouse effect, Earth would be literally completely glaciated over and very cold.

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Example graphic showing the “radiation budget” and how the greenhouse effect impacts how much radiation is retained by Earth’s atmosphere. (By Wikipedia user ZooFari)

Methane is very potent, but short-lived without constant replacement as direct sunlight breaks the molecules apart. Water vapor varies seasonally with some balance because of the water cycle. Therefore carbon dioxide or CO2 ends up being the most important changing variable for warming/cooling the climate. Such changes, along with other variable cycles, have influenced previous periods of ice ages. But human “eruption” of CO2 since the 2nd half of the 19th century has led to clear changes in Earth’s atmosphere and climate.

This YouTube video shows 131 yrs of global warming (1880-2011). The “anomalous temperature” is relative to the average planetary temperature of 1880-1910. The average temperature of Earth has continued to warm above this average to record levels since 2011. The planet is known to have warmed by ~1 degree C (nearly 2 F) since the late 19th century. The most dramatic warming (as can be seen in the video) began to ramp up significantly since 1980. Depending on the scenario, human-induced warming of Earth may reach 1.5-2 degrees C (2.7-3.6 F) above pre-industrial levels by 2050 and (depending on human efforts to decrease CO2 pollution) the warming may hit 2-4+ degrees C (3.6-7.2+ F) by 2100.

3. The importance the rate of warming

Such rapid rates of warming are what alarms climatologists and those who understand the importance of climate stability for life and society on Earth. Remember the last time you saw a wholly mammoth, saber-toothed cat, wholly rhino, or an indigenous North American horse? Never because they all went extinct from the “rapid” climate change of the final end of the ice age glaciation 11,000 yrs ago. What’s “rapid”? Temperatures warmed more than 2.5 degrees C over the course of 1500 years. We may accomplish that in 150-200 yrs! Incredible. But yet the “rapid” natural changes were not non-consequential. Many more species than listed which couldn’t adapt died out over hundreds to a couple thousand years. And minor variations in global climate by 0.5 degrees C or less – or even significant regional variations which barely showed up on the global signature – have led to major losses in agriculture and economics producing stresses on some nations (poverty, famines, wars) and in some cases, isolated civilizations simply died out. Having such rapid, unprecedented warming is a cause for concern because too many species (and many socio-economic or geographically vulnerable peoples) may face significant harm in the face of an inability to adapt to transforming climate regimes.

In Part 2, later this week, I’ll discuss the effect climate change has on regional climates and likely impacts being faced by humans and wildlife as the climate continues to heat up extremely quickly.

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