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Friday, September 8, 2017

THE SCIENCE OF SUPERSTORMS
IN A CHANGING CLIMATE
After Harvey and Irma, what's next?
Satellite Photo of Hurricane Harvey - Courtesy of NASA

Author: Paul H. Beckwith - Climate System Scientist

This article will give you an understanding of the Science of Superstorms, like Harvey and Irma, and also what's next. Where are we going from here?

So, by any means of measurement, Harvey was a massive superstorm. The precipitation, or rainfall, from Harvey was as much as 27 trillion gallons. To give you an idea, that's well over three times that from Superstorm Sandy which was much larger in area, 900 miles in diameter. Moody's Analytics has come up with a number, an estimate, of $125 billion for this storm. AccuWeather came up with a number of about $190 billion. That would be insured losses, uninsured losses, the effects on the economy, jobs lost, and all of the various cascading economic issues including food destroyed, farms destroyed, etc., etc.

Eighty percent of Texans apparently don't have any flood insurance. In the place that got the most rainfall, it measured 51.88 inches, which sets a record for the continental U.S. That was over a five day period.. There were two (some reports said three) landfalls of the storm, 185,000 homes damaged and destroyed, 17% of the U.S. refineries production went offline. Now, as bad as this storm was, while it was getting all of the news coverage, there were also massive storms and flooding in many other parts of the world, including India, Nepal, Bangladesh. For example, in Bangladesh, three quarters of the country is presently flooded out, with untold destruction and misery.

So why are these things happening? Why is our atmosphere different? How is it different? It seems to be turbocharged. It seems like the hydrological cycles are completely different. In a nutshell, they are.

So, the Earth is basically a heat engine. The equators are warm, the poles are cold. Heat gets transferred from the equators to the poles, about two thirds of the heat go into the atmosphere, setting up things like the jet streams, and about one third of the heat into the ocean currents, which, of course, are moving much slower, but carrying, you know, a heck of a lot of heat. So because we're losing Arctic sea ice and snow cover in the spring in the Arctic exponentially, the Arctic is getting a lot darker.

Therefore, it's absorbing a lot more sunlight, and so, it’s heating up a lot more. In fact, the rate of rise of temperature in the high Arctic is somewhere around five to eight times faster than the global average. So, because the Arctic is heating, the temperature difference to the equator is less. Therefore, the jet streams are slowing down and becoming much wavier.

And, consequently, we're having far more extreme weather events on the planet. The frequency of occurrence, the severity, and the duration of these extreme weather events is ramping up significantly, whether the extreme weather events be torrential rains leading to flooding, or to droughts. OK? So, this is the bottom line: Did climate change cause the hurricane? OK, that’s the wrong question to ask.

We're undergoing ‘Abrupt Climate Change’. We've changed the chemistry of the atmosphere and oceans, therefore, all weather events that are occurring are happening in this different climate. So the statistics of weather have changed, the severity of events, where they occur, when they occur, and the type of events. This has all changed because we've turbocharged the climate.

OK, so let me talk about the specific things that are key in the Science of Superstorms. What is different now from before? Why are these storms getting out of hand? So, the first thing is sea surface temperature. The temperature of the ocean water on the surface has to be greater than 26.5°C, which is 80°F, in order to have enough evaporation and enough energy to trigger tropical disturbances.

And when these disturbances move over warm water, they suck energy out of the ocean, and they become upgraded into hurricanes. As they proceed across warm water, they move up the scale, and can go up to different categories of hurricanes. As long as there's no shear winds to break apart the storms, then these storms can develop into massive storms.

So, the sea surface temperature in the Gulf of Mexico, which is where Harvey, where the tropical disturbance first started, is at least a few degrees Celsius warmer than normal. It's pushing 30°C, 31°C, 32°C (86-89F). It's like a sauna. That’s an ideal temperature to breed these storms.

As the hurricane moves across this warm water, normally what happens is the energy is sucked from the surface, and there's an upwelling of colder water to displace the evaporated water and the warmer water. And there's a lot of churning in the ocean, and that cools the temperature at the surface after the hurricane passes. Or, if the hurricane is moving, very, very slowly, it can kind of self-extinguish itself, or at least not gain in strength.

But the problem is that in the Gulf of Mexico, the water is very, very warm deeper down, too. So it's not just the sea surface temperature that's important, it's the water below the surface that is very warm. So, as Harvey was moving across, it could gain strength. The temperature of the surface water in the wake of Harvey was still very, very strong.

So, this is a key factor. The oceans are absorbing about 93% of the heat. You know, as humans living on the land, we're experiencing the air temperatures and the surface temperatures on land. And what a lot of people don't realize is, that about 93% of the heating is going into the oceans, raising these sea surface temperatures. The air temperature is also much warmer. So with the greenhouse gasses, we've changed the chemistry of the atmosphere with anthropogenic, or human-caused, emissions.

The warming, since the turn of the century, the previous century, is over 1°C now. Okay, it's over 1°C warmer than normal. We're setting records each year in terms of warmth. During the El NiƱo year, last year, we had record high temperatures, because a lot of heat was coming out of the oceans.

There's a simple, basic physical relation, that when the air is warmer, it can hold more water vapor. Also, when the sea surface temperature is warmer, there's more evaporation. And when there's more evaporation, that water vapor will get into the air. And because it's hotter than the surrounding air, it's buoyant. It will rise up. You'll get convective lift. And the water vapor will condense into clouds, into water droplets and clouds, and all that energy is released to fuel these massive storms.

So for every degree Celsius increase in warming, there's about 7% more water vapor in the atmosphere. So this water vapor turbocharges the storms. And it's why the extreme weather events that we're seeing around the planet seem to be a lot more intense than they used to be. Now, another key factor, is that those two things, sea surface and air temperature, are both increasing as a direct result of climate change/global warming.

Parts of Harvey were over the land, parts of Harvey were over the ocean. The parts over the ocean were gaining strength. So the strength of Harvey was maintained when it was ashore, because it was basically sucking energy, heat energy, from the ocean. It acted as a fire hydrant or a conduit, directly from the surface of the ocean, if you like, over the land of Texas, near Houston.

Now, the other key factor is that the storm guidance is changing. The jet streams, which circle the earth, normally pull storms along. They guide storms. But because of the warming that's going on, the jet streams were pushed further north than they would normally be. So they were not there to pull Harvey away from the coast once Harvey went ashore. So the problem is, that Harvey stalled out in forward motion, because the jet streams were so far north, and Harvey just circled around, and meandered, and stayed in place, day after day after day, depositing huge amounts of water on the same areas.

You'll remember, maybe, that when Hurricane Sandy came ashore in New York it was a complete surprise, because it did a left turn, which is odd, because storms always veer right in the northern hemisphere (because of the Earth's rotation). Sandy couldn't move north or east because of blocking patterns, high pressure weather systems that get stuck in the jet stream configuration. Also called 'high pressure ridges', the best metaphor would be 'mountains' of dry air preventing storms (always low pressure) from going into this space of high pressure. So Sandy couldn't move north or east, and had to move ashore. The guidance of these two storms, Sandy and Harvey, was very different.

Another factor is the ‘brown ocean effect’, as I call it. When the ground is saturated with water, in other words, when the soil pores are completely filled with water, there's no air, and there can be no more water absorbed into the ground, so any additional rain water becomes all runoff, or is pooled. So when the water pooled, as the storm proceeded, as Harvey proceeded to dump huge amounts of water and caused massive flooding, now, instead of the hurricane seeing normal land, and dissipating in strength, it saw water on top of the land. It could suck up that water vapor from the evaporation of the water over the land, and maintain its strength. So, that’s s why I call it the ‘brown ocean effect’.

Sea level rise, of course, is happening mostly because of the rising temperature of the water, and warm water expands. So because of the extremely high sea surface temperatures, and water temperatures deep below surface in the Gulf, the water expands. So, that raises the local sea level in the Gulf. Add that to the global sea level rise, about 3.5 millimeters per year on average right now, and that figure is rapidly accelerating. Then, when you get a storm surge, on top of this, and then a high tide and wave action associated with a huge storm , all of these things add up, and you get more flooding, and the risk from hurricanes becomes much greater. Now, this was more of the case in Sandy, and less of the case in Harvey, because in Harvey, most of the damage was from the torrential precipitation.

There's also ‘Dead Zones’ in the ocean, each year in the Gulf of Mexico and other places. You know, what's going to happen off Texas and Louisiana? I mean, that water that is on land can cause a temporary dip or stalling of the global sea level rise, because you're transferring huge amounts of water from the ocean to land. We saw this a few years ago when there was huge rainfall over Australia and parts of Asia, and the sea level rise had a temporary stalling and drop; and then it accelerated at an even higher rate afterwards, sort of, to make up for that.

The Dead Zone in the Gulf of Mexico was the largest it's been in a long time this year, in 2017. It's caused by industrial and farming runoff. So imagine all that water sitting on the land in Texas, carrying oil, carrying chemicals, carrying pesticides, carrying fertilizer, nutrients, etc. It's going to run off into the Gulf; it has to go there. And the size of the dead zone next year, you know, watch out! It could be phenomenal.

Another thing about Houston is that in the media you'll see there was a ‘1 in 500 year event’ two years ago, a flooding event, another ‘1 in 500 year event’ last year, and now, a ‘1 in 1,000 year event’. OK, those numbers are just statistics, sort of return intervals of these storms. They show how rare they are. But the climate system has changed, so those statistics are no longer valid. Obviously, what used to be a ‘1 in 1,000 year event’ in the old familiar climate, perhaps it's a 1 in 30 year event now.

And, as we get further warming, perhaps it will become a 1 in 5 year event. Eventually, you know, if it's so frequent, it means that recovery from one event to the next is basically impossible. So we've lost our climate stability. Weather extremes are increasing in frequency, severity, and duration. It's going to affect global food supply very soon. We're now in an ‘age of consequences’.

The appeasement of the governments and politicians is not acceptable. Lip service is not acceptable. Fossil fuel subsidies of $5 trillion a year by governments of the world must be removed, otherwise, you know, we're in for a world of hurt. 

Woodstock Earth Commentary

Having begun to research and write an update on Superstorms, Weather Extremes, the Jet Stream, the Warming Arctic, Floods, Wildfires, and Abrupt Climate Change, we were able to realize the opportunity of publishing an article written by Paul H Beckwith, a climate scientist and sessional instructor at the University of Ottawa, and Carleton University in Canada. Rather than offer our interpretation of the Science, we are fortunate to be able to offer our readers the benefit of hearing it directly from a climate scientist, a physicist and renowned expert on these subjects, and one with a knack for explaining very complicated scientific phenomena to non-scientists.

Paul has been one of our most valued sources on many subjects, including the Jet Streams. We recommend you read an article we wrote in 2014, where Paul is mentioned, ‘Weather Extremes and the Jet Stream’, where you can gain an understanding of the mechanics of the Jet Stream in the New Normal of Climate Change, resulting in Extreme Weather events. But the Jet Stream has changed a bit since this article was published, and though it is still meandering North and South causing the same storms and droughts described, Paul Beckwith has shown us that it’s now meandering even further and has been seen more than once this past winter to shoot warm air all the way to the North Pole (in 24 hour darkness of winter) and, all the way South to the Equator, and has even been found to have crossed the Equator, joining into the Southern Hemispheric Jet Stream.

The New Normal is not normal. The climate has already changed, and is still changing, and the changes are accelerating. The Permafrost of the Arctic Tundra and the Boreal Forests and under the Arctic Shelf is melting rapidly, bubbling up and releasing tons of Methane gas, a greenhouse gas over 100 times worse over a 10 year period in warming potential, then CO2.This was the case on the Ides of March 2012, when we wrote, ‘Global Warming on Steroids’, and now in 2017, after years more of Arctic Warming, these releases are ramping up. We predicted this story, on which Paul Beckwith is known as one of the foremost experts, might end up being one of the biggest stories of this century.

And Paul has shown us that the Jet Stream is becoming even weaker and less defined. In fact, in the case of Harvey, the Jet Stream was trapped further North on top of two clockwise high pressure systems, one to the West, one to the East, leaving Harvey to spin like a top, virtually in place, for five days, dropping torrents of rain over the same areas.

In this article on Superstorms, Paul is so comprehensive, he even included Dead Zones and Algae Blooms, Oil and Chemical Pollution, Agrochemical Pollution and Erosion from the torrential rains of Harvey flooding Houston, as well as floods in many parts of the world, subjects we’ve covered for years.

When Paul Beckwith attended the Climate Talks in Paris and Climate Talks in other cities over the years, where he spoke as an expert, we felt that we actually had a representative at the Talks, for those of us who understand how drastically the climate is changing, and, like Naomi Klein, know that the answer is not appeasement to the fossil fuel industry and building more pipelines, while making lofty speeches about Climate Change, and patting ourselves on the back for the nonbinding Paris Climate Agreement. Drastic measures, not incremental changes, are what’s required to make any real impact at all, and recognizing this, and, mostly at his own expense, Paul attended these conferences to advocate our view.

Instead, in the US, we embarrassingly have a government that denies Climate Change, and restricts its very mention. We have an administration that actually denies Science, as if it were Propaganda. Meanwhile, our governmental leaders’ constituents have been harmed in devastating “500 Year Floods” just in 2017 in California, West Virginia, Maryland, Colorado, Kentucky, Florida, Nevada, Louisiana, Texas, Arizona, New York, Pennsylvania, Arkansas, Missouri, Indiana, Tennessee, North Carolina, Washington, Utah, Idaho, Alabama, and possibly more. (This is beyond the thousands of deaths from floods all over the world, with similar deluges, months’ worth of rain in hours.)

Even so, many Republican leaders and constituents, while their countrymen and the world suffer the adverse effects of the Heat, the Wildfires, the Floods of Climate Change, resolutely believe that the whole notion of Climate Change is no more than ‘Fake News’ and amounts to nothing more than a ‘Left Wing Conspiracy’.

Climate Scientists and Climates Communicators, Paul Beckwith, Michael Mann, James Hansen, , Jennifer Francis, Catherine Hayhoe (‘Global Weirding’), Joe Romm (Climate Progress), Al Gore, Peter Sinclair, Robert Scribbler, Eric Holthaus, Bill McKibben, Mark Ruffalo, Tom Steyer, Leonardo DiCaprio, Naomi Klein, and many of us, more than I can mention, have all been accused of being Climate Alarmists. But I’d say each one of us is proud to sound the alarm, if it might, somehow, someday, help our family members and fellow human beings, not to mention pets and wildlife.

It’s clear the answer is not to build more pipelines, and to continue to have taxpayers all over the world pay taxpayer subsidies to  big oil, gas, coal, and pipeline companies, and lock ourselves into decades more of fossil fuel emissions, thereby hastening our demise and robbing our children’s and grandchildren’s futures.  (And we need to stop subsidizing Big Ag with their staggering Carbon emissions, their Agro-poisons, Erosion, and Algae Blooms and Dead Zones.) And even if we are able to remove the current US administration (and similar others around the world), with their anti-environmental attitudes, it will not avail us to just pay lip service to changing our direction. This is a full scale emergency, and our only hope for slowing it down is to respond accordingly. It may prove uncomfortable and may to some degree cost the economy, but it’ll be less uncomfortable, and less costly, in real dollars in catastrophic losses and recovery aid, and in human suffering, than blindly living in a world where we continue the unabated massive fossil fuel emissions and change nothing, full speed ahead into a brick wall.

Message to our Readers

Before we get into the videos, we urge you to look at one of our most personal articles, ‘Superstorm Sandy – Storm of the Century or Just a Wake Up Call?’ In this article, besides telling the story (many, to this day, still have not recovered, mostly poor and elderly), we explore the subjects of Sea Level Rise and Climate Denial. We delve into the subject of ‘Abrupt Climate Change’ in an article called, ‘Closer to the Tipping Point’, where we predicted 3 years ago (based on Science and Scientists’ predictions, not us) all the adverse effects of unabated Climate Change that we are experiencing today, the Heat, the Drought (millions in Africa and parts of India dying of starvation right now), the Wildfires, the Floods, resulting in lots of suffering. As we mentioned in our Commentary section, the story, ‘Weather Extremes and the Jet Stream’ will give you a clue as to why and how our weather is becoming weirder, and how it can become the engine for disasters. 12Tips for Living in a Toxic World’ is extremely relevant for survivors of Harvey and Irma, and for anyone in toxic flooding disasters, which have been happening with greater frequency and severity all over this country and the world.

Our 1st, 2nd, and 3rd videos are tutorials by Paul H. Beckwith, the author of the lead article in this post.
If you read the article thoroughly, you’ll note that it is a lightly edited transcription of the video, ‘Science of Superstorms – After Harvey, what’s next?’, our 1st video, so you’ll be familiar with most of the content. The 2nd and 3rd videos are the subsequent 2 videos on his website, paulbeckwith.net entitled, ‘Will Irma be a Superstorm like Harvey?’, parts 1 and 2. We encourage you to keep up with his website, and to support Paul, as he continues to support the Science and us.

The 4th video is, ‘The Perfect Tide: Sea Level Rise and the Future of South Florida’, beautifully produced by Peter Sinclair for Yale Climate Connections. Let’s hope Irma doesn’t hasten these predictions based on scientific observations.

The 5th video is about how, ‘What happens in the Arctic Does Not Stay There.’ Again, this video was produced by Peter Sinclair, this time for the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme. The melting of the Poles is the engine changing our Climate with Extreme Weather events all the way to the Equator, so this video is very relevant.

The 6th video is lots of fun. In this one, we celebrate,’Nerd Power, in Praise of Science and Scientists’. After all, what could be more nerdy than weather? This is a very clever talk by Dr. Joe Romm of Climate Progress, at the ‘March For Science’ – DC on Earth Day, 2017. Paul, Joe, and I, and many of us, have been accused of being nerds, but in an environment caused by the current administration, where they want to lay off the nerds in the National Weather Service, in NOAA, in FEMA, in our regulatory agencies, and in our State Department, we must insist that Science and Nerds should be elevated and not ignored. We need them and Science, now more than ever.

This post is dedicated to Tom (@climatehawk1), who died suddenly last week. Tom dedicated much of his life to sounding the alarm on Climate Change. He had  77,400 followers on Twitter, and many of us depended on his every Tweet with links to source articles. He will be deeply missed. May he rest in peace, satisfied he did all he could.

We thank all of our US and international readers (from over 150 nations). We really do appreciate you taking the time to read our articles. And we extra-appreciate when you refer them to friends. That’s where our readers can really make a difference. If we can make people aware of the Science behind what they obviously see happening, and they gain an understanding, and share that understanding with enough friends, we’ll have more of a chance to take #ClimateAction,and actually do something about it.  We love getting feedback. Our email address is: woodstockearthblog@gmail.com, or if you prefer Twitter, you can use: @Mikethemikeman1. For the sake of our people, our families, and Mother Earth, we encourage all of you, as charter members of Woodstock Earth, to spread the word and help get these stories out.

VIDEOS


Science of Superstorms 
After Harvey, what’s next?


Will Irma be a Superstorm like Harvey?
Two Video Tutorial
1 of 2


2 of 2


The Perfect Tide: Sea Level Rise
and the Future of South Florida
Yale Climate Connections



What happens in the Arctic
Does Not Stay There
Arctic Monitoring and
Assessment Programme



Nerd Power!!!
In Praise of Science and Scientists
Joe Romm of Climate Progress
At the March For Science – DC
Earth Day, 2017

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