Monday, May 28, 2012

A Beryl of Trouble

Yes, this is a play on words, but I think you will understand as the story unfolds.  This is not just about the current tropical storm, but also about one of its past lives.  What?  You see, there are six lists of names for hurricanes and so the list are rotated every six years.  The only way that a name leaves the list is for it to be retired, like Hugo, Andrew, Katrina, and Irene.

Visible image at 6:45 p.m. EDT on May 27.  Image Credit: NEDIS.
Beryl transformed from a subtropical storm to a tropical storm Sunday afternoon.  By late afternoon the storm was getting better organized and strengthening.  It made landfall near Jacksonville Beach, FL, just after midnight (12:10 a.m. Monday).  Highest sustained winds were estimated at about 70 mph mainly in squalls over the open water.  This highest wind gust on land occurred at Mayport, FL, with a gust of 73 mph late in the evening.

The system is now a tropical depression and is likely to make a very slow turn to the northeast over southern Georgia.  This will likely take 12 to 24 hours which means that there will be a great deal of rain for some areas.  Rains are already causing some flood issues for northeast Florida.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Flood & Drought: Part 1

This is the first of a three parts examining changes in the hydrologic cycle, also known as the water cycle.  Our changing climate is changing the water cycle and the weather patterns that deliver precipitation.

Part 1 is a rewrite of a blog post that I published in 2009.  It is as important today as it was then.  Part 2 will be an update of the observed rainfall extremes in the Southeast and U.S.  Part 3 will look at drought and new research as to why drought is becoming more common across the southern U.S.

From 2009:

The idea for this blog came from two sources. The first source was a comment on an earlier story.

In the comment section, a reader wrote:

“By the way, the article above does not inform you that global warming does not cause droughts or dry weather. Global warming would mean MORE RAIN.
I would defer to Mr. Gandy on that though. Am I correct Mr. Gandy, wouldn't global warming mean more evaporation of surface water and snow and more evapotranspiration from plants, causing more rain?”

This seemed intuitive, more water vapor, more rain.  Just over a year ago I was at a panel discussion in Denver, Colorado, where Dr. Kevin Trenberth mentioned that water vapor had increased about 7% globally.  Dr. Trenberth was a lead author of the 2001 and 2007 IPCC Scientific Assessment of Climate Change and serves on the Scientific Steering Group for the Climate Variability and Predictability program.  He currently heads the Climate Analysis Section at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colorado.  This information has since been confirmed in several papers.

The top 10 daily rainfall totals for Columbia, SC.  Click on the image for a larger version.  Image Credit: Climate Central.

The second source came from a recent study (citation below) published 5 September 2009, in the Geophysical Research Letters (GRL).  It has changed my thinking after a careful review of the paper.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Living on a Planet with a Fever

You may have missed this over the weekend.  It was a commentary on CBS News by science and environment contributor M. Sanjayan.  If you don't want to read about climate change, this sums up the situation well.  This is a must see video:

Note: Those on IPads and IPhone may have to go to the following link to see the video .

M. Sanjayan is the lead scientist for The Nature Conservancy, where he specializes in human well-being and conservation, Africa, wildlife ecology and media outreach and public speaking on conservation issues.  In addition to being the Conservancy’s lead scientist, Sanjayan holds a doctorate from the University of California, Santa Cruz and has a research faculty appointment with the Wildlife Program at the University of Montana.  His scientific work has been published in journals including Science, Nature, and Conservation Biology, and he co-edited the book Connectivity Conservation (Cambridge University Press, 2006).

Dr. Sanjayan is correct in saying that this is our sink or swim moment.  The next 25 years are already baked into the cake.  If we want to affect the rate of climate change beyond that, we have to start now.  Many of the projections you see are for 2100, but the change will not stop there.  Change is already occurring and the changes will likely accelerate in the near future.

Recently the Heartland Institute in Chicago aroused the anger of many with a billboard trying to tie belief in climate change to the Unabomber Ted Kaczynski.  It was a poor attempt to associate such belief with murderers, tyrants, and madmen.

Peter Sinclair, the originator of the Climate Crock of the Week series, has put together an interesting rebuttal entitled "This is not Cool: Murderers, Tyrants, and Madmen.  It is part of the Yale forum on Climate Change and the Media series "This is not Cool".  I highly recommend watching the video.

Wake-Up! It's Hurricane Season

The official start of the 2012 hurricane season is not until June 1, but Mother Nature decided to start it a little early.  Tropical Storm Alberto formed Saturday afternoon off the coast of South Carolina.  It was centered at that time about 140 miles east-southeast of Charleston, South Carolina with maximum sustained winds of 45 mph.  A ship report indicated that it was a little stronger shortly after the official release and it was bumped up to 60 mph.

Image Credit: NEXSA
Satellite photos showed a tight circulation yesterday morning with convection west of the center.  It stated that way much of the day and the photo to the left shows the storm as of early afternoon before the first advisory was released.  The center of the storm was just under the high clouds with good convection near the center.  Click on the image to see an enlarged view.

The system was drifting to the southwest at about 3 mph, but it began moving west-southwest at about 5 mph overnight.  The movement was largely the result of a high pressure system over the eastern U.S.

Most of the rain and higher winds were well offshore, but a Tropical Storm Watch was issued for the low country of South Carolina as a precaution due to the closeness of the storm.  There is some concern that the immediate coast could see tropical storm force winds.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Scientists to Study Impacts of Thunderstorms on the Upper Atmosphere

Our thunderstorm season is about to get underway.  Spring is known for severe weather, but summer is known for its afternoon and evening thunderstorms.  These storms build up in the heat and humidity of the day and provide most of the rain during the summer.  A study will be conducted from May 15 to June 30 to measure the impact of thunderstorms on the upper atmosphere.  The following is a press release from the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado.

Press Release:

Scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and other organizations are targeting thunderstorms in Alabama, Colorado, and Oklahoma this spring to discover what happens when clouds suck air up from Earth’s surface many miles into the atmosphere.

Thunderstorm in eastern Colorado. (Photo by Bob Henson.)
The Deep Convective Clouds and Chemistry (DC3) experiment, which begins the middle of this month, will explore the influence of thunderstorms on air just beneath the stratosphere, a little-explored region that influences Earth’s climate and weather patterns. Scientists will use three research aircraft, mobile radars, lightning mapping arrays, and other tools to pull together a comprehensive picture.

“We tend to associate thunderstorms with heavy rain and lightning, but they also shake things up at the top of cloud level,” says NCAR scientist Chris Cantrell, a DC3 principal investigator. “Their impacts high in the atmosphere have effects on climate that last long after the storm dissipates.”

Past field projects have focused on either the details of thunderstorms but with limited data on the atmospheric chemistry behind them, or on the chemistry but with little detail about the storms themselves. DC3 is the first to take a comprehensive look at the chemistry and thunderstorm details, including air movement, cloud physics, and electrical activity.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Drought Worsens in South Carolina

Droughts are hard to define.  Meteorological droughts are prolonged periods with less than average precipitation, but the prolonged period is nebulous.  How many weeks or months must go by before a drought is declared?  Again this depends on how much precipitation has occurred.  Obviously if no precipitation occurs then it doesn't take long to enter a drought.  Defining when a drought started can also be difficult.  Thus, you often do not know that you are in a drought until it gets serious.

Remember December 2009?  The precipitation total for that month in Columbia was 9.31 inches, almost three times the normal value.  It was a record wet December.  In addition the four month of September through December totaled 25.96 inches which was a record for that four month period.  What happened?  A strong El Nino was in progress and most of the rain that year came in just that four months.

Click on image for the larger version.
In the 28 months since that time there have only been four months of above normal rainfall.  So in retrospect we have been in a period of drought since January 2010.  The rainfall deficit has been enormous during this time.  The deficit in Columbia has reached 25.57 inches in the past 28 months.  However, it is much worse along the Savannah River where Augusta has amassed a deficit of 38.71 inches in the same time period.  Thus the western part of South Carolina is in worse shape than the northeastern part of the state and this is reflected in the USDA Drought Monitor.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Video: Extreme Weather and Rapid Arctic Warming

This is a repost of an article that appeared today at Climate Central.  It was originally published on the Yale Forum on Climate Change and the Media.  The video is produced by videographer Peter Sinclair who produces a series called Climate Denial Crock of the Week.  I have added a link to series under the Climate Links on the right-hand side of the blog.  There is more to this story and I will have a post on this soon.  In the meantime enjoy this video by Peter Sinclair.

By Andrew Freedman (Climate Central)

Recently I reported on a study showing links between rapid Arctic climate change and shifts in the jet stream throughout the Northern Hemisphere. The study, led by Jennifer Francis of Rutgers University, suggests that there may be an Arctic connection to some extreme weather events, particularly ones that result from stuck, or "blocked," weather patterns.

The study shows that by changing the temperature balance between the Arctic and mid-latitudes, rapid Arctic warming is altering the course of the jet stream, which steers weather systems from west to east around the hemisphere. The Arctic has been warming about twice as fast as the rest of the Northern Hemisphere, due to a combination of human emissions of greenhouse gases and unique feedbacks built into the Arctic climate system.