Ocean Heat Spikes and Atmospheric Rivers: Two Thousand Homes Destroyed in North Afghanistan Floods

The ocean-atmosphere system might well be described as an intricate pirouette between the forces of heat and moisture. Warming and cooling over the ocean and atmosphere alter the rate at which rains fall or lands dry. This interplay, called the hydrological cycle, is a primary governor the world’s weather, playing an integral part in both storm formation and dry spells alike.

As the Earth has warmed by about .8 degrees Celsius since 1880, this cycle of evaporation and precipitation, of drought and deluge at the extremes, intensified by about 6% on average. But this increase was uneven, pushed to even greater abnormalities when both the Earth’s atmosphere and ocean surface experienced periods of either strong warming or relative cooling. It was from this combined uneveness and overall warming trend which arose a number of increasingly severe and dangerous weather events.

Most recently, on April 22nd, global ocean surface temperatures hit a very high +1.12 degrees Celsius above average temperature anomaly (vs the 1979 to 2000 average). This warm pulse pumped both heat and moisture into the world climate system. During recent years, major ocean warming episodes have coincided with intense periods of extreme rainfall and drought around the globe. So when anomalies hit severe levels last week, risks rose that atmospheric rivers of moisture and related extreme rainfall events would intensify.

By April 24, two entrained storm systems had erupted from the much hotter than normal Mediterranean Sea casting their long, dark shadows over Western and Central Asia as they began a tortuously slow march toward North Afghanistan:

Afghanistan Floods

(Entrained storm systems which produced the Afghanistan Floods on April 24, 2014. Afghanistan is beneath the hurricane-like swirl of cloud in the lower right image frame. Note the second entrained storm system just west of the Black Sea. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

The result was a three-day-long rain event that destroyed over 2,000 homes in North Afghanistan impacting 10,000 families and resulting in the loss of 180 souls. Severe losses also extended to crops and livestock over a broad region of this Central Asian state as victims were forced to abandon farms and villages.

The inundation left many besieged by a violent swirl of raging waters spurring Afghanistan security forces to activation as helicopters were used to ferry stranded people to higher ground. Jawzjan provincial police chief Faqer Mohammad Jawzjani made this plea as the most recent Afghanistan weather disaster stretched resources to their limits:

“We have carried 1,500 people to safe areas of neighboring districts by helicopter. We need emergency assistance from the central government and aid agencies.”

Jawzjani’s pleas for assistance were echoed by local government officials throughout the stricken region as many more people remained isolated and without immediate help.

Afghanistan’s rugged terrain is particularly vulnerable to intense rain events. High volumes of rainfall channel through steep ravines and build up into large, wave-like flood pulses in Afghanistan’s heavily populated valleys. Low-lying homes constructed of mud and rock also often lack resiliency and are in danger of either collapse or inundation during severe storms.

As the Earth continues to warm under a relentless human greenhouse gas forcing, it is likely that both severe drought and rainfall events will continue to grown in frequency and intensity. Unfortunately, it is those who are most vulnerable — the poor and those who have contributed the least to the rapidly intensifying climate shock — who will bear the first and heaviest impacts.

Links:

Flash Floods Kill More Than 100 in Northern Afghanistan

How Global Warming Mangles the Jet Stream and Amps Up the Hydrological Cycle

Ocean Temperatures Hit Extraordinary +1.12 C Temperature Anomaly on April 22

LANCE-MODIS

Hat tip to the ever-vigilant Colorado Bob

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19 Comments

  1. Very well written and informative.
    When I read that a .8 celsius temperature increase had led to a 6% intensification of the hydrological cycle, I was wondering how this would scale up to the predicted 2-6 degree rise int he next 100 years. Following your link, I found in another post that “predicted rises in temperatures of 2, 4, 6 or more degrees Celsius would result in a catastrophic amplification of the hydrological cycle by 15, 30, 40 percent or greater.”
    That kind of a world is hard to imagine. The social disruption and displacement caused by those levels of draught and flooding would be catastrophic. Yes, the poorest and least responsible will be hit first, but we’re all headed for a disaster of enormous proportions.

    Reply
  2. synaxis

     /  April 28, 2014

    This is an excellent and very necessary integration of the physical and ethical dimensions of global warming. I saw the story about this flood on the BBC and Guardian several days ago and was appalled.

    Reply
  3. Tom

     /  April 28, 2014

    So much for the meek inheriting the Earth (or what’s left of it). We’re supposed to get 3″ – 5″ of rain here tomorrow (and for the next 3 days) from the big storm moving east and producing tornado and severe t-storms. Thankfully we don’t get many tornados here (but that may change too, who knows?), but high winds do a lot of damage too. There’s a lot of lightening associated with this storm too, so power outages are to be expected.

    Thanks Robert, for the update and report on the calamity in Afghanistan.

    Reply
    • I recall that when I was a kid, multi inch rainfall events were very rare. Now they seem to be as common as multi-inch snowfall. Over recent years, I’ve seen numerous reports of 2+ inch per hour storms worldwide.

      The storm system predicted for you guys is a slow moving system born of the strong dipole event that is still in place. The ridge west, trough east pattern has now lasted for 14 months. As an example of fixed weather, a low pressure currently over the Alutians has been parked there for 8 days.

      Hope you dodge the bullet where you are, Tom. Best to you.

      Reply
  4. Ocean Heat Uptake: The Apparent Hiatus in Global Warming and Climate Sensitivity – Prof. Kevin Trenberth

    Reply
  5. Kevin Trenberth on Coming El Nino

    Reply
  6. Aqua/MODIS
    2014/118
    04/28/2014
    05:00 UTC

    Fires in eastern Russia

    Reply
  7. Dried Up: Lakes, Rivers and Other Bodies of Water Disappearing Fast
    By: By Eric Zerkel
    Published: April 26, 2014

    Mankind’s insatiable thirst for water resources in recent decades has pushed our most precious natural resource to the brink. Bodies of water, stressed by human consumption, are disappearing quicker than we ever imagined. Many of the world’s largest rivers have become victimized by water demand. In fact, as the slideshow above shows, 18 of the world’s mightiest rivers are undergoing “extremely high” water stress, meaning more than 80 percent of their flow is withdrawn each year.

    Couple water demand with a grim forecast for more severe droughts due to climate change, and the stress on some bodies of water becomes too much to bear. Ancient shorelines are retreating and leaving behind death and decay in the place of once thriving wetland ecosystems.

    Click through for a look at just a few of the world’s water sources that are dying out at record pace.

    http://www.wunderground.com/news/dried-lakes-rivers-and-other-bodies-water-disappearing-fast-20140425?pageno=1

    Reply
  8. Gerald Spezio

     /  April 28, 2014

    Robert, your statement is pregnant with triplets. “Unfortunately, it is those who are most vulnerable — the poor and those who have contributed the least to the rapidly intensifying climate shock — who will bear the first and heaviest impacts.”
    Especially the phrase, “… those who have contributed THE LEAST to the rapidly intensifying climate shock.”
    For the last five decades we have been routinely bamboozled by well meaning “writers” into accepting the false premise that it was over population by the poor in the third world that would cause our planet’s unraveling & eventual destruction.
    The overpopulation premise has been proven – blatently false, but confident prognosticators like Paul Ehrlich & others have NOT come forward with humble recantations.
    Ehrlich’s logic was impeccable, & he meant well; but his premise was egregiously false.
    Ehrlich is still givng science a black eye by not coming forward & admitting how drastIcally wrong he was.

    Reply
  9. Swell and sea in the emerging Arctic Ocean†

    Ocean surface waves (sea and swell) are generated by winds blowing over a distance (fetch) for a duration of time. In the Arctic Ocean, fetch varies seasonally from essentially zero in winter to hundreds of kilometers in recent summers. Using in situ observations of waves in the central Beaufort Sea, combined with a numerical wave model and satellite sea ice observations, we show that wave energy scales with fetch throughout the seasonal ice cycle. Furthermore, we show that the increased open water of 2012 allowed waves to develop beyond pure wind seas and evolve into swells. The swells remain tied to the available fetch, however, because fetch is a proxy for the basin size in which the wave evolution occurs. Thus, both sea and swell depend on the open water fetch in the Arctic, because the swell is regionally driven. This suggests that further reductions in seasonal ice cover in the future will result in larger waves, which in turn provide a mechanism to break up sea ice and accelerate ice retreat.

    http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/2014GL059983/abstract

    Another feedback loop.

    Reply
  10. Spooky Atmospheric ‘Teleconnections’ Link North and South Poles

    Long-distance atmospheric connections between the North and South poles are linking weather and climate in distant parts of the globe, according to data from a NASA spacecraft.

    These so-called “teleconnections” explain why the winter air temperature in Indianapolis, Ind., during the so-called polar vortex correlated with a reduction in high-altitude clouds over Antarctica, thousands of miles away, researchers say.

    “Changes in the polar regions in the North were ‘communicated’ all the way over to the other side of the globe,” said Cora Randall, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Colorado, Boulder and a member of the Aeronomy of Ice in the Mesosphere (AIM) spacecraft’s science team. [Video of Teleconnections Between Opposite Hemispheres]

    Link

    Reply
    • Excellent, excellent research.

      I wonder if they’ll decipher the teleconnections between the emerging El Nino and extreme Arctic melt conditions? Observation seems to uncover a rather warped El Nino pattern as a result.

      Reply
  11. Extremes in wet, dry spells increasing for South Asian monsoons

    When the team members analyzed the Indian monsoon data using their statistical methods, they discovered that although the average total rainfall during the monsoon season has declined, the variability of rainfall during the peak monsoon months has increased. In particular, the researchers observed increases in the intensity of wet spells and in the frequency of dry spells.

    “The statistical techniques show that the changes in these characteristics are robust and that these changes are unlikely to happen purely by chance,” Singh said.

    Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2014-04-extremes-south-asian-monsoons.html#jCp

    Reply

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