Human Hothouse Found to be California Drought Culprit as Ridiculously Resilient Ridge Reasserts

This is an event that is more extreme than any in the observed record, and our research suggests that global warming is playing a role right now. — Stanford Scientist Noah Diffenbaugh


Last week, a strong storm over-rode a powerful high pressure ridge that has been deflecting moisture-loaded weather systems northward and away from the US West Coast for the better part of two years. Though some precipitation did grace the northern and mountain stretches of the drought-stricken state of California, it is no-where near enough to alleviate an epic 21+ month long drought. A drought borne of a blocking pattern that began during the winter of 2012-2013 and now threatens to extend to the end of 2014 and, possibly, beyond.

In the wake of the storm, the powerful ridge reasserted — again delaying hopes that a parched California would at last begin to receive at least a normal allotment of rain.

Blocking Ridge Oct 6, 2014

(Euro Model forecast shows the ridiculously resilient ridge [RRR] strongly in place off the US and Pacific Northwest coasts in the October 6 run. Image source: ECMWF.)

It is a high pressure ridge based blocking pattern that has become so persistent that researchers at Stanford University have given it a new name — the ridiculously resilient ridge or Triple R. And the Triple R, according to those same researchers has climate change based origins.

For this week, Stanford scientists published a new study that found:

The atmospheric conditions associated with the unprecedented drought currently afflicting California are “very likely” linked to human-caused climate change.

Researchers used a combination of climate models and statistical techniques to determine that large, persistent high pressure systems of the kind that have been locking California into perpetual drought are more likely in the presence of high concentrations of greenhouse gasses. They found that the ridge, which has generated year-round wildfires in California and at its peak intensity during January of 2014 stretched from Hawaii all the way to coast of the Arctic Ocean north of Alaska, was a kind of new species of extreme weather far more likely to occur in a human-warmed world.


(January 23 of 2014 weather pattern showing a moisture flow diverted from Hawaii to Alaska by the Triple R west coast blocking pattern. Image source: NASA.)

The anomalous strength of the ridge also likely played a role in the powerful polar vortex disruptions that were commonplace throughout the winter of 2014. As the ridge shoved more warm air into the polar zone north of Alaska the cold core of the polar vortex was displaced south and eastward over the Canadian Archipelago and Hudson Bay — driving extreme weather events over the central and eastern US as well as across the Atlantic and on to the UK.

The Researchers found that ridging was the overall and anomalous tendency of the pattern in this region of the northeast Pacific. They observed that the ridge remained strong throughout the winter of 2013, weakened during the summer of that year, then flared into an extreme intensity by January of 2014. Since that time, the ridge has swelled and spluttered, occasionally letting a storm or two pass but still serving as a kind of brutal sentinel to weather systems that would typically make their way to California.

The results of such a human-caused disruption of the climate are all too visible in the most recent US Drought Monitor.

September 23 drought monitor

(Despite tropical storms and the occasional weakness in the Triple R allowing a brief influx of moisture, 100% of California is still suffering from drought conditions with 58% percent of the state under the most extreme level of drought. Image source: US Drought Monitor)

A drought event that is the most extreme in the observed record and that is now linked to climate change by at least three major studies.

From the Stanford Study’s authors:

“We’ve demonstrated with high statistical confidence that the large-scale atmospheric conditions, similar to those associated with the Triple R, are far more likely to occur now than in the climate before we emitted large amounts of greenhouse gases,” Rajaratnam said.

“In using these advanced statistical techniques to combine climate observations with model simulations, we’ve been able to better understand the ongoing drought in California,” Diffenbaugh added. “This isn’t a projection of 100 years in the future. This is an event that is more extreme than any in the observed record, and our research suggests that global warming is playing a role right now.”


Stanford Scientists: Causes of California Drought Linked to Climate Change



US Drought Monitor

Climatologist: Oklahoma is Burning. USDA Issues Dust Bowl Alert

Early May heat dome. A four word combination that may as well be a curse. And not something we would typically expect well before the height of summer. But that’s exactly what’s happened to the US from the southwest and on to its Heartland under a merciless regime of heat and drought fed by human-caused climate change.

As of Sunday, a high amplitude Jet Stream wave had formed over the Central US. The brief up-slope was enhanced by a number of unstable and powerful atmospheric dynamics. To the southwest, a warming Eastern Pacific lent energy from a growing pool of heat. To the north, from Arizona, to New Mexico, to Texas, to Oklahoma, lands baked by more than a decade of chronic drought provided almost no evaporative cooling as the atmospheric heat lens came into dangerous, greenhouse gas enhanced focus far overhead.

pressure anomaly

(ECMWF pressure anomaly graphic from Weatherbell Analytics showing a strong heat dome in place on Monday May 5, 2014.)

By Sunday and Monday, the heat dome was heavily entrenched and the result was a record flash heatwave for large swaths of Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado. In Oklahoma alone, temperatures rocketed to above 100 degrees Fahrenheit at over 17 separate locations. One location experienced a 103 degree F reading, also the highest ever recorded for the date.

To the North, Wichita Kansas shattered its all-time record high temperature by a whopping 8 degrees spiking to an extreme of 102 F. Not only was the heat far stronger than normal. It came far earlier. For Wichita, the earliest 101 F or greater reading came on June 4 of 1933 with most years waiting until late June or early July for 100 F + readings.

For the Heartland, this flash heatwave was very much like the heat of July coming far too early. Across Oklahoma, multiple wildfires erupted from lands ravaged by the most recent event in a long spate of ever-increasing heat and dryness. The rapid rash of burning occurred in regions near homes and businesses forcing more than a thousand to flee.

This sudden, extreme and profound heat prompted Gary McManus, Oklahoma’s state climatologist to write: ÔÇťOklahoma is burning, both literally and figuratively, as a combination of drought, record heat, high winds and low relative humidity created the perfect wildfire conditions yesterday,” in the Oklahoma Climatological Survey’s online Ticker.

By early Tuesday, more than 30 structures were destroyed, one soul was lost, and over 6,000 acres had been consumed throughout the state. Though the fires of Sunday and Monday were mostly contained, conditions throughout the state remained hot, dry and dangerous with many more high temperature records expected to fall by late Tuesday afternoon. Mid-morning temperatures in many locations had already risen to the mid to upper 80s and more daily highs in the 90s and 100s were expected throughout the region.

NASA Oklahoma fires

(NASA shot of Oklahoma fires on May 4 and 5. Image source: GCarbin. Note that though highly anomalous, these fires are nowhere near as extreme as the powerful early season blazes affecting large swaths of Siberia this spring.)

Oklahoma governor Mary Fallin issued burn bans for almost half the state as firefighters predicted continued extreme fire potentials for the state throughout the week.

USDA issues Dust Bowl Warning

Meanwhile, US Department of Agriculture officials issued a warning Tuesday that conditions in the US Heartland were rapidly deteriorating along lines last seen during the infamous 1930s Dust Bowl as expectations for the US domestic winter wheat crop again fell after the USDA’s most recent agricultural tour.

Even prior to the extreme early May heatwave emerging over the Central US Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, the percent of the US wheat crop in either good or excellent condition had fallen another 2% to 31% late last week. Meanwhile, crops listed as ‘very poor’ rocketed from an already abysmal 34% to 39% over the same period. The net result is that the US wheat crop is in its worst condition since at least 1996, according to findings by Commerzbank analysts.

For Oklahoma, at the epicenter of current agricultural harm and flash heatwaves, only 6% of the state’s entire wheat crop was listed as in either good or excellent condition.

Department of Agriculture crop scouts described the Oklahoma situation in, perhaps, the starkest possible terms during their most recent report stating:

“Producers in the Panhandle continued to experience high winds … and low moisture conditions similar to the Dust Bowl in the 1930s.”

Overall, analysts now expect a US wheat crop of just 762 million bushels, the third lowest in 15 years despite record areas planted.

Conditions in Context

For the US, weather patterns continue to put the entire southwest and central regions under the gun for severe-to-extreme drought throughout much of the summer. The West Coast blocking pattern is now again firmly entrenched resulting in a deepening of already record drought conditions for California. Sierra Nevada snow packs have now fallen to less than 18% of typical early May values resulting in severe hazard for farmers and communities relying on this dwindling water supply. Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico are also likely to suffer from an extension of this severe and extraordinarily long-lived drought pattern.

Record low sierra nevada snowpack

(Greatly diminished Sierra Nevada snow pack as seen from satellite on May 4, 2014. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

In addition, a developing El Nino in the Eastern Pacific is likely to enhance already dry conditions over the US Heartland through the summer months. Together with the firmly re-entrenched west coast blocking pattern, conditions associated with El Nino set in place an extreme risk for a highly damaging return to drought for large sections of the United States this summer.

Globally, droughts continue to impact a number of the world’s previously most productive agricultural regions. In particular, both Brazil and India are currently suffering from extreme heat and/or drought. Argentina, one of the world’s top wheat producers is also hard-hit. Another one of the world’s largest grain exporters — the Ukraine — has recently been destabilized by a series of ills including east-west geopolitical tensions, internal division, and by Russian invasion. In this context, it is also worth noting that drought, fire, and flood have reduced Russian wheat production from 61 million tons in 2009 along a declining scale to 38 million tons in 2012.

Damages and risks to US crops are, therefore, not simply a national phenomena, but part of a much larger global context of ongoing and increasing crop damage due to extreme weather set off by human-caused climate change.


Oklahoma is Burning

Oklahoma Climatological Survey’s online Ticker

USDA Warns of Dust Bowl

Sierra Nevada Snow Pack Falls to 18% of Typical Values



Weatherbell Analytics

Hat tip to:

Colorado Bob


Jay M.





The Price of Climate Change Denial: Drought to Cost $50 Billion, Increasingly Extreme Weather in Our Future.

The drought currently affecting the heartland is having a wide range of economic impacts. It is constraining river traffic, slowing trade and increasing shipping costs even on America’s largest waterways. Impacts to crops continue, with US production likely to significantly fall even after a growing season that included the greatest land area ever planted. Wells have run dry in many counties across the central US, forcing many to pay for water to be shipped in.

But in the end, those who will pay most are the American people. Food prices will continue to increase and fuel prices will likely be pushed higher due to constraints on US ethanol production.

In all, some sources are estimating that this drought could cost the US as much as $50 billion dollars. And if we are making a tally for climate change we can add in the cost of fires and extreme weather like the Derecho earlier this year. We can also add in the cost of invasive species, like the pine and ash bore beetles. In total, we will likely see impacts this year alone, without any other unforeseen impacts, around the $100 billion mark. This is a hefty price to pay for an already expensive fossil fuel addiction.

In context, this is the second severe drought in as many years. Last year’s drought impacted Texas and Oklahoma, killing 500 million trees and 100,000 cattle. And in the middle of the last decade, the southeast experienced a historic drought that lead to a water war between Georgia and Florida. In 2006, the US experienced a deadly heatwave only to be struck again by a much more intense heatwave this year. Internationally, Russia experienced a terrible drought and heatwave in 2010 that killed 56,000 people and resulted in epic fires raging across that country. Australia suffered from a years-long drought that finally broke at the end of the last decade. In 2003, Europe experienced a heatwave that killed over 70,000 people.

According to NASA scientists, these are the kinds of extreme events that we can expect as a result of global warming. In fact, James Hansen has noted that the events we are experiencing now would not have happened with such frequency and intensity without the added forcing provided by global warming.

“But I have a confession to make: I was too optimistic,” Hansen stated in a recent editorial to the Washington Post. “My projections about increasing global temperature have been proved true. But I failed to fully explore how quickly that average rise would drive an increase in extreme weather.”

Hansen is often derided by global warming deniers as being the most alarming of the global warming alarmists. But if Hansen, by his own admission, was being too optimistic, then we are likely in for much more drastic, powerful, and damaging changes than current climate models seem to indicate.

Though scientists have been rightly conservative and cautious when making these predictions, in an attempt to provide a solid basis for a rational response, climate change deniers and the agencies that support them have been the very definition of irresponsibility, imprudence, callousness, blindness, bull-headedness, rank stupidity, ignorance, greed, and ill-conceived risk-taking. Their arguments consistently have been proven false and yet they still speak as if they hold a monopoly on both righteous authority and truth.

Yet their failure is visited upon us with increasing pain, harm, loss of life and damage with each passing year. So one wonders why there are even still a sad few who listen to their nonsensical, mangled, and twisted claims. If they are to hold the wheel of our ship and continue to force its turn toward climate change disaster, then they should bear the blame for our misguidance and loss.

But stepping away from those who would have us continue to allow our situation to deteriorate, it is worth noting what the climate models, what the prudent, conservative, often overly-optimistic scientists predict. In short, it is nothing less than a horrendous drying out of the American heartland within the next 50-100 years. The drought models show worsening droughts occurring with greater and greater frequency. The coming decade will be worse than the last. The decade after that worse than the one before. By the end of this sad story, US agriculture would be a mere ghost of its past greatness, existing only on the fringes of a once-fertile land.

This is, likely, the ‘optimistic’ forecast. Events could happen much faster than scientists predicted. And single, catastrophic events, worthy of the term ‘natural disaster’ are certainly possible.

This summer’s drought was the worst since 1956. It happened in a land that has been made more resilient against drought by some of the best farming, resource conservation, soil use, and land management practices in the modern industrial world. We learned the terrible lessons of the dust bowl and, as a result, turned America into a fortress against future drought. Our vegetation growth and land use encourage rain and help to prevent moisture loss. But even these revolutionary practices have not prevented the current drought. Climate change has besieged America’s drought fortress and some of the gates have been breached. And far in the distance we can see the forces of climate change massing for another, more powerful, assault.

With each passing year, we add to the growing climate change horde. With each passing year, we add more to that monster force through our burning of fossil fuels. And if we do not decide to reduce that burning, it will be we who will be over-run, who will suffer the most terrible consequences. The consequences our optimistic, faithful, diligent, accurate, and cautious scientists are trying to warn us away from.

As for the climate change deniers. Their opinions are worth nothing more than a bowl full of dust.

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Global Warming Induced Heat, Fires, and Floods Ravage US


The mainstream media isn’t saying it. But the truth is obvious to anyone with a clear pair of eyes and a mind unadulterated by ideology: the US is getting pummeled by the effects of global warming induced fires and floods. Over the past week, scores of fires have burned through Colorado and California, leaving hundreds of square miles burned, hundreds of homes lost, injuries and at least one death. In Florida, the fourth named storm of a hurricane season that began far earlier than usual slammed into Florida, dumping over 30 inches of rain in some locations.

The combined one, two punch comes after the hottest spring on record in the United States and during a period of time when dust bowl era temperature records are being smashed one after another. In the mid-west, temperatures ranging from 105 to 115 degrees shattered old records, in some cases by as much as 12 degrees.

It is only June. So the early onset of high temperatures, wildfires, and tropical storms doesn’t bode well for the rest of 2012. Both wildfire and hurricane seasons usually peak during the months of August through October. The onset of record storms and fires in June is an unprecedented beginning and hopefully not a forerunner to even worse weather and fires to come.

Hellish afterglow

Victims of wildfires in Colorado, after being forced to evacuate their homes, described some of the unreal scenery as they drove through the state Tuesday night. One observer said that the sky was lit with the red glow of fires raging all over the state, comparing the scene to ‘hell on Earth.’


Unfortunately, Wednesday morning saw one of the most threatening of the many fires ravaging Colorado double in size. The exploding Colorado Springs fire has now forced more than 30,000 people to flee their homes. With only 5% of the blaze contained, officials are now rushing more than a thousand firefighters to the scene. Pre-evacuation orders have also been issued in counties adjacent to the blaze and it appears that even more people may be displaced before the expanding fire is contained.

Warnings from climate scientists ignored, under-reported

Over the past three decades, climate scientists have been warning that increased global temperatures caused by human emissions of greenhouse gasses would result in more heatwaves, fires, and extreme weather events. Over the past five years, with about 1.5 degrees of warming, these kinds of events have been growing in scale and intensity. With business as usual climate estimates predicting another six degrees of warming over this century, unless greenhouse gas emissions are substantially curbed, one can only expect the extreme weather, temperatures and fires to worsen.



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