Dr. Jeff Masters' WunderBlog

Torrential rains of 40+ inches deluge Thailand

By: JeffMasters, 4:47 PM GMT on March 31, 2011

Torrential rains in excess of 40 inches (1.016 meters) deluged Thailand's Malay Peninsula this week, triggering floods that have killed at least 17 people. The floods submerged 61 major highways, affected 840,000 people, and forced the helicopter rescue of thousands of stranded tourists. Late March is usually a fairly dry time of year for Thailand, but near-record cold air settled in over the region this week, dropping temperatures to 5 - 10°C (9 - 18°F) below average. Heavy storms accompanied the cold air, and downpours with rainfall rates of up to 2 inches/hour affected the region for many days in a row. Sea surface temperatures of the waters surrounding the flood regions were near average, but were plenty warm enough to supply copious moisture to feed the storms. Flood recovery will slowed by additional moderately heavy rains of 3 - 5 inches expected to fall over the flooded region during the next week, according to the latest precipitation forecast from the GFS model.


Figure 1. The Multisatellite Precipitation Analysis (TMPA) analysis above was made using data that were calibrated using data from NASA's TRMM satellite. This analysis shows that rainfall for the past week over the Malay Peninsula was particularly extreme with totals of almost 1200 mm (~47 inches). TRMM satellite data revealed that rainfall in that area was frequently falling at a rate of over 50 mm/hr (~2 inches/hr). Image credit: NASA.

Jeff Masters

Flood

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Failure of Glory satellite a major loss for climate change science

By: JeffMasters, 3:47 PM GMT on March 30, 2011

As the Taurus XL rocket boosting the $424 million Glory climate change research satellite roared off the launch pad from California's Vandenberg Air Force Base just after 2am PDT on March 4, NASA scientists and engineers from the rocket's maker, Orbital Sciences Corporation, were optimistic. A similar Taurus XL rocket failed in February 2009, resulting in the loss of the $273 million Orbiting Carbon Observatory, which was designed to preform high-resolution measurements of emissions of carbon dioxide from Earth. The rocket's fairing, a nose cone designed to shield satellites as it traveled through Earth's atmosphere did not separate properly, dooming the Orbiting Carbon Observatory to a spot at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. Engineers redesigned the rocket, which did several successful launches over the past two years. But the rocket failed again for Glory's launch, and now the satellite lies useless beneath the South Pacific Ocean.


Figure 1. Climate responds to changes in the sun's radiation, dust (aerosol) particles, reflectivity of the surface (albedo) due to changes in land use, and concentrations of heat-trapping greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), and halocarbons. Changes in any of these quantities are called "forcings", and can force the climate to be warmer (red bars) or cooler (blue bars.) The word "radiative" arises because these factors change the balance between incoming solar radiation and outgoing infrared radiation (heat) within Earth's atmosphere. Since 1750, the changes in radiative forcing as estimated by the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) show that human activities, primarily due to increases in CO2 and other heat-trapping gases, have forced the climate to a warmer state. This forcing is equivalent to 1.6 watts per square meter of extra energy arriving everywhere on Earth's surface. However, there is a large uncertainty (LOSU = Level Of Scientific Understanding) on how much particles in the atmosphere (aerosols) affect Earth's climate. The uncertainty bars for the direct effect of particles in the atmosphere (where they scatter away more sunlight) and the indirect effects (where they increase the amount of sunlight-reflecting clouds, by acting as nuclei that cloud drops can form around) are very large compared to the uncertainty bars for other forcings.

The loss of the Glory satellite is a particularly bitter blow, since the satellite was designed to study the greatest unknown in climate change science--the emissions, composition, and distribution of dust particles in the atmosphere. Particles in the atmosphere (called aerosols by scientists) come from a variety of human-caused and natural sources. Black soot from fires can act to warm the climate, particularly if these black particles fall on ice and snow. However, most particles emitted into the atmosphere reflect sunlight back into space, and thus cool the climate. As seen in Figure 1, both the direct effects of dust particles (where they scatter away more sunlight) and the indirect effects (where they increase the amount of sunlight-reflecting clouds, by acting as nuclei that cloud drops can form around) are poorly known. It was hoped that data from the Glory satellite could significantly reduce these uncertainties. There is no replacement mission for Glory scheduled, and Congress' current budget-cutting appetite makes it unlikely a replacement satellite will be funded anytime soon. A replacement mission for the failed Orbital Carbon Observatory is scheduled for February 2013, but that mission may be delayed, since is it being launched by the same type of rocket that failed in Glory's launch.

As Gavin Schmidt notes in a post over at realclimate.org on Glory's demise, working from space is hard, expensive, and risky. Rocket failures resulting in the loss of hugely expensive satellites are not uncommon, and it takes years to procure funding and build new satellites. But, there is no substitute for satellites; the global coverage and detail of data they provide cannot be matched by surface- or aircraft-based observations. We must continue to hurl them into space, or risk plotting our course blindly into the future with only a fuzzy idea of how our planet is changing.

I'll be back on Friday with an April Fool's Day post.

Jeff Masters

Climate Change

Updated: 3:50 PM GMT on March 30, 2011

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Hurricanes Igor and Tomas get their names retired

By: JeffMasters, 8:19 PM GMT on March 27, 2011

The names Tomas and Igor will no longer be used to name hurricanes in the Atlantic, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) announced this March. Hurricane Igor made landfall near Cape Race, Newfoundland on September 21, 2010, and was that island's most damaging hurricane in 75 years, with $200 million in damage. Hurricane Tomas smashed through the Lesser Antilles Islands on October 30 - 31, 2010, dealing a particularly harsh blow to St. Lucia, where eight died and damage was estimated at $500 million. Tomas also killed 35 people on Haiti, and contributed to a cholera epidemic that killed thousands.


Figure 1. Little Barsway bridge 10 km north of Grand Bank, Newfoundland, after flood waters from Hurricane Igor swept it away. Image credit: George J.B. Rose.


Figure 2. MODIS satellite image of Tropical Storm Tomas taken at 10:30am EDT Saturday October 30, 2010, as the storm began lashing the Lesser Antilles. At the time, Tomas was a Category 1 hurricane with 75 mph winds. Image credit: NASA.

The retirement of hurricane names
The WMO maintains a list of hurricane names for the Atlantic and Eastern Pacific that repeats itself every six years. The names Igor and Tomas in the Atlantic would have appeared again in 2016, but will be replaced by Ian and Tobias. Each spring, the WMO meets to decide if any names should be retired from the list, due to notable death or destruction caused by one of the past season's storms. Any country that is a member of the WMO can request that a name be retired. If a country seriously affected by a hurricane does not request retirement of the name, then the name will not be retired. In the recent past, Mexico, in particular, has been reluctant to request retirement significant storms that have affected them. In 2010, two significant hurricanes affected the country, but Mexico chose not to request retirement of either: Hurricane Alex, which killed twelve people and did $1.5 billion in damage, and Hurricane Karl, which killed 22 and did $206 million in damage. Back in 2005, Mexico also did not request retirement of Hurricane Emily, which made two landfalls in Mexico as a major hurricane, destroying thousands of buildings, but not claiming any lives. A new storm named Emily will appear this year, as we are recycling the names from 2005 that were not retired (2005 holds the record for most retired names, with five.) Probably the best example of a hurricane that did not get its name retired, but deserved to, was Hurricane Gordon of 1994, which killed 1145 people on Haiti. Haiti did not send a representative to the 1995 WMO meeting when retirements for 1994 were decided. Gordon did not affect any other countries strongly enough to motivate them to request retirement, and the name Gordon will be used again in 2012.

Since Atlantic hurricanes began getting women's names in 1953, 76 names have been retired, an average of 1.3 retired names per year. The list includes one tropical storm, Allison of 2001, that caused billions in damage from its heavy rains. The storm with the most appearances so far is Arlene, which has appeared nine times: 1959, 1963, 1967, 1971, 1981, 1987, 1993, 1999, 2005. Arlene will make its tenth appearance this year. One exception to the retirement rule: before 1979, some storm names were simply dropped. For example, in 1966, Fern was substituted for Frieda, and no reason was given. Only three Eastern Pacific hurricanes have had their names retired--Hurricane Ismael of 1995, Hurricane Pauline of 1997, and Hurricane Kenna of 2002. All of these storms hit Mexico.

Cool Katrina animation
A new visualization created by Advanced Visualization Laboratory at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois shows Hurricane Katrina spinning over the Gulf of Mexico during a 36-hour period in August, 2005. The animation is part of a full-length planetarium film called Dynamic Earth screened at the Fulldome UK festival on March 12 - 13. You can see the video at the newscientist.com or DynamicEarth web sites. The video description: Trajectories follow moist air rising into intense "hot tower" thunderstorms, and trace strong winds around the eye wall; rapidly rising air is yellow, sinking air blue. The sun, moon, and stars show the passing of time. The visualization highlights Katrina's awesome power and fierce beauty.

I'll be back with a new post Tuesday or Wednesday.

Jeff Masters

Hurricane

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Spring snowstorm adds to flooding potential for the Midwest

By: JeffMasters, 4:52 PM GMT on March 24, 2011

A major spring snowstorm dumped heavy snow in excess of six inches over a wide swath of the Upper Midwest this week, adding to a snowpack that is already near or in excess of record levels over Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota. This is bad news for residents in flood-prone areas of the Upper Midwest, as the new storm added more than half an inch of melted rainfall equivalent to the record wet snowpack. When all that snow melts in April, we can expect major and possibly record flooding for North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, and the Upper Mississippi River north of St. Louis, according to the National Weather Service (NWS). Their March Spring Flood Outlook released last week warned: A large swath of the North Central United States is at risk of moderate to major flooding this spring. Heavy late summer and autumn precipitation have left soils saturated and streams running high before the winter freeze-up. National Weather Service models show this year's snowpack contains a water content ranked among the highest of the last 60 years, which is similar to the past two years. This threat area extends from northeastern Montana through Wisconsin and along the Mississippi River south to St. Louis. For the third consecutive year, forecasters predict major flooding along the Red River of the North, which forms the state line between eastern North Dakota and northwest Minnesota. Other areas of the Midwest primed for major flooding include Devils Lake in North Dakota, the Milk River in Northeastern Montana, the James and Big Sioux Rivers in South Dakota, the Minnesota River, and the Mississippi River from its headwaters near St. Paul, Minnesota, downstream to St. Louis.


Figure 1. U.S. spring 2011 flood risk. Image credit: NWS.


Figure 2. NOAA's latest significant river flood outlook shows that spring flooding is already occurring over South Dakota and on the Mississippi River near its junction with the Ohio River, but is not yet widespread across the Upper Midwest.

There is a huge amount of snow on the ground in North Dakota along the tributaries of the Red River, thanks to fall precipitation that was 150% - 300% of normal, and winter snows that have dumped up to 400% more precipitation than usual. If one were to melt this snow, it would amount to 4 - 6 inches of rain. If heavy rains occur at the same time that the snow melts, there is the potential for the greatest flood in history to affect the cities of Fargo and Grand Forks, the largest and third largest cities in North Dakota. NWS is giving a 35% chance that Fargo will see its greatest flood in history this spring, up from the 20% chance they gave in their February spring flood outlook.

The situation is similar in Minnesota, which has received about double its normal precipitation over the past 3 to 4 months, resulting in the 5th snowiest winter on record in Minneapolis. Snow depths are in excess of 20 inches over wide swaths of of the state, and this snow has a very high water content equivalent to 4 - 6 inches of rain. NWS is giving a 95% chance that the Mississippi River at St. Paul will exceed major flood stage this spring.

In South Dakota, heavy snows this winter have also left a snowpack with a high water content over the northeast corner of the state. The NWS is predicting a 25% chance that the the James River at Huron, SD will reach its highest flood height in history, and a 50% chance for the Big Sioux River at Brookings, SD.


Figure 3. The snow water equivalent of the Upper Midwest's snowpack as of March 24, 2011. Large sections of Minnesota and North Dakota have the equivalent of 3.9 - 5.9 inches of rain (purple colors) stored in their snowpack. Image credit: NWS/NOHRSC.

When will all this flooding occur?
The latest guidance from the GFS model predicts winter-like conditions will persist over the Upper Midwest for the next week, with no major storms for the region through early next week. Late next week, there is the potential for a snowstorm that could bring an additional 0.5 - 1" of melted equivalent snow, though this is very uncertain at this point. The first chance of a major thaw will not occur until Sunday, April 3. This will give some time for the current pulse of flood waters generated during last week's warm spell over South Dakota and southern Minnesota to move downstream, and makes the peak of this year's spring flood unlikely to occur until at least the second week of April. Looking back at past great floods in the Upper Midwest, the record 2009 Red River flood peaked on March 28 in Fargo. The great 1997 Red River flood that devastated Grand Forks, causing $3.5 billion in damage, crested on April 18. St. Paul's greatest flood in history crested on April 19, 1965. I expect this year's peak flood will most likely arrive during the 3rd week of April.

Mostly offshore winds expected over Japan for the next week
Radioactive plumes emitted from Japan's troubled Fukushima nuclear power plant will mostly head eastwards out to sea over the next week, thanks to high pressure that will dominate Japan's weather. Latest trajectory plots using NOAA's HYSPLIT model do not show air from the Fukushima plant heading towards Tokyo over the next four days.

Jeff Masters

Flood

Updated: 4:58 PM GMT on March 24, 2011

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La Niña becomes weak; February the globe's 14th-17th warmest on record

By: JeffMasters, 1:48 PM GMT on March 22, 2011

The equatorial waters of the Eastern Pacific off the coast of South America have steadily warmed during March, and it appears increasingly likely that the current La Niña event will be over by June. This week, sea surface temperatures (SSTs) over the tropical Eastern Pacific in the area 5°N - 5°S, 120°W - 170°W, also called the "Niña 3.4 region", warmed to 0.8°C below average, according to NOAA. This puts the current La Niña in the "weak" category for the first time since the event began in July 2010. If these SSTs continue to warm such that they are no more than 0.5°C below average, the La Niña event will be over, and we will be in "neutral" conditions. An animation of SSTs since late November shows this developing warmth nicely. Springtime is the most common time for a La Niña event to end; since 1950, half of all La Niñas ended in March, April, or May. The weakness displayed by the current La Niña event has prompted NOAA's Climate Prediction Center to predict that La Niña will be gone by June. As La Niña continues to wane, we can expect that rainfall over the drought regions of the southern U.S. will gradually return to normal levels by mid-summer.


Figure 1. Latest runs of the long-range El Niño models have 5 predictions for La Niña conditions during hurricane season, 7 for neutral conditions, and 5 for El Niño. Image credit: IRI.

Impact on hurricane season
It is well-known that when an El Niño event is in place, a significant reduction in Atlantic hurricane activity results due to an increase in wind shear. With La Niña likely gone by June, what are the chances of having El Niño in place by the August-September-October peak of hurricane season? Well, our long-range El Niño models do a poor job of making accurate predictions in the spring, a phenomena known as the "spring predictability barrier." True to form, the March predictions by these models are all over the place (Figure 1.) There are 5 predictions for La Niña conditions being present during the upcoming hurricane season, 7 predictions for neutral conditions, and 5 predictions for El Niño. If we look at past history, since 1950, there have been six La Niña events that ended in the spring. During the subsequent hurricane season, two of those years experienced El Niño conditions: 1951 (10 named storms, 8 hurricanes, and 5 intense hurricanes) and 1976 (10 named storms, 6 hurricanes, and 2 intense hurricanes.) The other four years had neutral conditions during hurricane season. These years were 1968 (8 named storms, 5 hurricanes, 0 intense hurricanes), 1989 (11 named storms, 7 hurricanes, 2 intense hurricanes); 1996 (13 named storms, 9 hurricanes, 6 intense hurricanes); and 2008 (16 named storms, 9 hurricanes, and 5 intense hurricanes.) An average hurricane season has 10 named storms, 6 hurricanes, and 2 intense hurricanes. So, three of these six analogue years had five or more intense hurricanes (including one of the El Niño years). Looking at sea surface temperature in the hurricane main development region (MDR), the stretch of ocean between the coast of Africa and Central America, including the Caribbean, February temperatures this year were 0.62°C above average, the 7th highest February anomaly since the late 1800s. Of the six analogue years since 1950 when La Niña ended in spring, only 1996 had a much above average February SST anomaly in the MDR (0.61°C.) Thus, I believe it is a reasonable speculation at this point to predict this year's hurricane season will be similar to 1996, with its 13 named storms, 9 hurricanes, and 6 intense hurricanes--assuming we end up with neutral and not El Niño conditions this fall.


Figure 2. Departure of temperature from average for February 2011. Image credit: National Climatic Data Center (NCDC).

February 2011: 14th - 17th warmest on record for the globe
February 2011 was the globe's 17th warmest February on record, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Climatic Data Center (NCDC). NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies rated February the 14th warmest on record. February 2011 global ocean temperatures were the 10th warmest on record, and land temperatures were the 28th warmest on record. Global satellite-measured temperatures for the lowest 8 km of the atmosphere were average, the 14th or 17th coolest in the 34-year record, according to Remote Sensing Systems and the University of Alabama Huntsville (UAH). The global cool-down from November, which was the warmest November on record for the globe, was due in large part to the moderate strength La Niña episode in the Eastern Pacific. The large amount of cold water that upwells to the surface during a La Niña typically causes a substantial cool-down in global temperatures. The coldest places on the globe in February, relative to average, were Eastern Europe and northeastern Siberia. Central Africa, central China, and western Greenland were exceptionally warm. For the contiguous U.S., February temperatures were near average, ranking the 51st coldest in the 117-year record, according to the National Climatic Data Center. Precipitation was also near average, ranking as the 41st driest February since 1895. February 2011 Northern Hemisphere sea ice extent was tied for the lowest on record in February, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center. Satellite records extend back to 1979. This is the third consecutive month of record low Arctic sea ice cover.

Mostly offshore winds expected over Japan through Thursday
Radioactive plumes emitted from Japan's troubled Fukushima nuclear power plant will mostly head to the south today, passing just east of Tokyo. Northerly winds wrapping around the back side of an area of low pressure moving out to sea to the east are responsible for this pattern. As high pressure builds in over the next few days, mostly offshore winds will carry radiation from the Fukushima plant out to sea. This should change on Friday, when an approaching low pressure system will once again bring northeasterly onshore winds to Japan, possibly blowing heightened levels of radioactivity into Tokyo.


Figure 3. One-day forecast movement of plumes of radioactive air emitted at 10 meters altitude (red line) and 100 meters (blue line) at 18 UTC (2pm EDT) Tuesday, March 22, 2011 from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. Mostly offshore winds are predicted to keep the plumes east of Tokyo. Image created using NOAA's HYSPLIT trajectory model.


Figure 4. One-day forecast movement of plumes of radioactive air emitted at 10 meters altitude (red line) and 100 meters (blue line) at 18 UTC (2pm EDT) Wednesday, March 23, 2011 from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. Offshore winds are predicted to carry radioactivity away from Japan. Image created using NOAA's HYSPLIT trajectory model.

Resources
The Miami Herald has an interesting article discussing how Japan's earthquake caused a 3-inch jump in ground water levels in South Florida 34 minutes after the quake struck on March 11.

Seven-day weather forecast for Sendai near the Fukushima nuclear plant

The Austrian Weather Service is running trajectory models for Japan.

Spring is here, and wunderground has set up an eCard to send messages to friends and family celebrating the arrival of spring.

My next post will probably be on Thursday.
Jeff Masters

Climate Summaries

Updated: 3:30 PM GMT on March 22, 2011

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Onshore winds push radioactivity towards Tokyo

By: JeffMasters, 1:54 PM GMT on March 21, 2011

Radioactive plumes emitted from Japan's troubled Fukushima nuclear power plant are headed to the southwest towards Tokyo today, carried by onshore northeasterly winds. An elongated area of low pressure is located off the southeast coast of Japan, and the counter-clockwise flow of air around this low may bring several periods of onshore northeasterly winds through Tuesday to northern Japan. According to the latest trajectory plots from NOAA's HYSPLIT model, air moving towards Tokyo today will be lifted by the ascending air associated with the low pressure system, and the radioactive particles may not make it all the way to Tokyo before getting lifted high enough that they get caught in a strong upper-level flow of air from the southwest and carried out to sea. Latest radar loops from the Japan Meteorological Agency show a wide region of light rain affecting Tokyo and surrounding regions, and this rain will tend to remove the great majority of the radioactive particles from the air in a few hours, so it is uncertain how much radioactivity might make it to Tokyo. High pressure will begin building in on Tuesday over Japan, and wind will gradually shift to blow out the north, which would carry radioactivity offshore just to the east of Tokyo. Offshore winds are expected on Wednesday, but onshore winds could re-develop late in the week as a new weak low pressure system affects the region. Radiation at the levels being reported coming from the troubled plant are not high enough to be of concern to human heath outside of Japan, so I will not be posting further plots showing the long-range path of the radioactivity unless there is a major explosion resulting in a significant release of radioactive emissions.


Figure 1. One-day forecast movement of plumes of radioactive air emitted at 10 meters altitude (red line) and 100 meters (blue line) at 18 UTC (2pm EDT) Monday, March 21, 2011 from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. The plumes get blown by northeasterly winds close to Tokyo, before getting lifted high enough to get caught in a strong flow of air from the southwest that carries the radioactive air out to sea. Image created using NOAA's HYSPLIT trajectory model.


Figure 2. One-day forecast movement of plumes of radioactive air emitted at 10 meters altitude (red line) and 100 meters (blue line) at 18 UTC (2pm EDT) Tuesday, March 22, 2011 from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. Northerly winds are predicted to carry radioactivity just to the east of Tokyo. A modest wind shift could bring the radioactivity to the city. Image created using NOAA's HYSPLIT trajectory model.

Resources
Seven-day weather forecast for Sendai near the Fukushima nuclear plant

The Austrian Weather Service is running trajectory models for Japan.

Current radar loops from the Japan Meteorological Agency

Jeff Masters

Air and Water Pollution Earthquake

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Winds over Japan on Sunday likely to blow radioactivity towards Tokyo

By: JeffMasters, 8:17 PM GMT on March 19, 2011

Radioactive plumes emitted from Japan's troubled Fukushima nuclear power plant will remain near the plant or move out to sea today, due to weak offshore winds blowing over the region. On Sunday, an elongated area of low pressure will develop off the southeast coast of Japan, and the counter-clockwise flow of air around this low may bring several periods of north to northeast winds Sunday through Tuesday to Tokyo and northern Japan. According to the latest trajectory plots from NOAA's HYSPLIT model, these winds may be able to transport radioactivity from the Fukushima power plant to Tokyo beginning at 18 UTC on Sunday. The low pressure system will also bring periods of rain to Japan Sunday through Tuesday, and these rains will tend to remove the great majority of the radioactive particles from the air in a few hours, and it is uncertain how much radioactivity might make it to Tokyo. Radiation at the levels being reported coming from the troubled plant are not high enough to be of concern to human heath outside of Japan, so I will not be posting further plots showing the long-range path of the radioactivity unless there is a major explosion resulting in a significant increase in radioactive emissions. From what I've been able to gather from official reports of radioactivity releases from the Fukushima plant, Tokyo will not receive levels of radiation dangerous to human health in the coming days, should emissions continue at current levels.


Figure 1. One-day forecast movement of plumes of radioactive air emitted at 10 meters altitude (red line) and 100 meters (blue line) at 18 UTC (2pm EDT) Sunday, March 20, 2011 from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. The plumes get caught in northeasterly winds, and move over Tokyo at the surface by 6 UTC on Monday, March 21. This is a low confidence forecast, as winds are expected to be light and somewhat variable on Sunday over Japan. Images created using NOAA's HYSPLIT trajectory model.


Figure 2. One-day forecast movement of plumes of radioactive air emitted at 10 meters altitude (red line) and 100 meters (blue line) at 18 UTC (2pm EDT) Monday, March 21, 2011 from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. The surface plume moves over Tokyo by 18 UTC on Tuesday, March 22, at an altitude of about 1000 meters, while the plume emitted at 100 meters altitude does not make it to Tokyo, getting caught in a upper-level jet stream of southwesterly winds. This is a low confidence forecast, as winds are expected to be light and somewhat variable on Monday over Japan. Images created using NOAA's HYSPLIT trajectory model.

Resources
Seven-day weather forecast for Sendai near the Fukushima nuclear plant

The Austrian Weather Service is running trajectory models for Japan.

Current radar loops from the Japan Meteorological Agency

I'll have a new post on Monday morning.

Jeff Masters

Air and Water Pollution Earthquake

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Trace radioactivity from Japan likely over the Western U.S. today

By: JeffMasters, 2:11 PM GMT on March 18, 2011

Traces of radioactive substances emitted by Japan's damaged Fukushima nuclear power plant will likely arrive over the Western U.S. today, carried by the prevailing west to east winds that have blown over the Pacific Ocean during the past week. Rainfall is expected over California this weekend, and it is likely that the rain will wash radioactive particles out of the air to the surface in quantities that will be detectable at several locations. I want to strongly emphasize that the radioactivity from Japan arriving over the U.S. over the next few days poses absolutely no threat to human health, and is present in only miniscule quantities. The radioactive plumes from Japan have had seven days to dilute over a 5000+ mile journey, and have been subject to deposition to the ocean due to gravity and rainfall along the way. Natural radiation is present in our environment every day, and the extra radiation from the Fukushima nuclear plant will cause much less than a 1% increase this background radiation. Radioactive particles from the Chernobyl disaster in 1986 were detected in North America ten days after that event, and caused no harmful effects. The radiation from Japan over U.S. during the next week should be at levels even lower than the Chernobyl fallout.


Figure 1. Backward trajectories for the air arriving at the surface (red line) and 300 meters altitude (blue line) in San Francisco, California on Saturday, March 19, at 11am PDT. According to the latest run of the GFS model, the air arriving in San Franciso tomorrow will have originated near the surface in northern Japan last Saturday, when radioactive emissions from the Fukushima nuclear plant began. The radioactive particles arriving in California will be in trace quantities, and will have no harmful effects on human health. Images created using NOAA's HYSPLIT trajectory model.

Radioactive plumes emitted from Japan's troubled Fukushima nuclear power plant continue to move offshore to the east over the Pacific Ocean today, thanks to predominantly west winds blowing at 5 - 15 mph. These winds are being driven by the clockwise flow of air around a surface high pressure system centered just southeast of Tokyo. As this high pressure system moves northeastwards, parallel to the Japanese coast, today through Saturday, winds will gradually shift to the southwest, keeping the radiation from the Fukushima plant blowing out to sea. As the winds shift to southwesterly, the sinking air over Japan will be replaced by rising air, and radioactive emissions will begin being lifted high in the atmosphere. Since there is less friction aloft, and the high speed winds of jet stream increase as the air moves higher in the atmosphere, this radiation will undergo long-range transport. Latest trajectory runs using NOAA's HYSPLIT model (Figures 2 - 4) show that radioactivity emitted today could wind up over Alaska after five days, and radioactive particles emitted on Saturday could make it to California by late next week. I've made trajectory plots for the next three days assuming two possible release altitudes--a surface-based release near 10 meters, which should be the predominant altitude in the current situation, and a higher release altitude of 300 meters, which might occur if there is an explosion and major fire. However, the 5-day trek to Hawaii and California is 4000 - 5000 miles, and a tremendous amount of dispersion and dilution of the radioactive plume will occur. Given the current levels of radiation being emitted, any radioactivity reaching Hawaii or the U.S. may be difficult to detect, and will not be a threat to human health. Keep in mind also that the most dangerous radionuclide to human health in the radioactive plume--Iodine-131--has a half life of eight days, so will be reduced by at least 30% after 5 days of travel time.

Of much greater concern is the possibility of dangerous level of radiation over Japan. The next period of onshore winds that will blow radioactivity inland over Japan may occur beginning on Saturday night (U.S. time), continuing through Sunday, according to the latest run of the GFS model. The latest HYSPLIT trajectories show winds on Sunday may carry radiation from the disaster site southwards over Tokyo. A low pressure system is expected to bring considerable rain to Japan on Sunday, and this rain is likely to remove most of the radioactivity from the air where rain and radioactivity are both present. The winds associated with this low are difficult to predict at this time, since the winds will be light and variable.


Figure 2. Five-day forecast movement of plumes of radioactive air emitted at 10 meters altitude (red line) and 300 meters (blue line) at 18 UTC (2pm EDT) Friday, March 18, 2011 from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. The plumes get caught in a southwesterly flow of air in advance of an approaching low pressure system. The plume emitted near the surface (red line) stays trapped near the surface for 4 days then lifted to 4 km, but the plume emitted at 300 meters is lifted to 5 km altitude after 2 1/2 days by the rising air associated with the approaching low pressure system. Images created using NOAA's HYSPLIT trajectory model.


Figure 3. Five-day forecast movement of plumes of radioactive air emitted at 10 meters altitude (red line) and 300 meters (blue line) at 18 UTC (2pm EDT) Saturday, March 19, 2011 from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. The plumes get caught in a southwesterly flow of air in advance of an approaching low pressure system and lifted to 4 - 5 km altitude. The plumes are predicted to move over California and Mexico at high altitude. Images created using NOAA's HYSPLIT trajectory model.


Figure 4. One-day forecast movement of plumes of radioactive air emitted at 10 meters altitude (red line) and 100 meters (blue line) at 18 UTC (2pm EDT) Sunday, March 20, 2011 from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. The plumes get caught northerly winds, and the two lower altitude plumes move over Tokyo by 6 UTC on Monday, March 21. This is a low confidence forecast, as winds are expected to be light and somewhat variable on Sunday over Japan. Images created using NOAA's HYSPLIT trajectory model.

Resources
Seven-day weather forecast for Sendai near the Fukushima nuclear plant

The Austrian Weather Service is running trajectory models for Japan.

Current radar loops from the Japan Meteorological Agency

Jeff Masters

Air and Water Pollution Earthquake

Updated: 2:14 PM GMT on March 18, 2011

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Favorable winds over Japan continue; all-time record heat in Mumbai, India

By: JeffMasters, 1:23 PM GMT on March 17, 2011

Favorable winds blowing at 10 - 20 mph out of the northwest continue over Tokyo, Japan today, and these winds will take radiation particles emitted by the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant immediately out to sea, without lingering over Japan. The northwesterly winds are blowing in response to the clockwise flow of air around a high pressure system approaching Japan from the southwest. Since high pressure systems are regions of sinking air, the radiation will stay close to the ocean surface over the next day or two as the air spirals clockwise over the Pacific.


Figure 1. Surface weather map for 8am EDT today, taken from the 6-hour forecast from this morning's 6 UTC run of the GFS model. A high pressure system to the southwest of Japan, in combination with a low pressure system to the northeast are driving strong northwesterly surface winds over the country. Image is from our wundermap with the "Model" layer turned on. The lines are sea-level pressure (blue contours, 4 mb interval) and 1000 to 500 mb thickness (yellow contours, 60 m interval). Thickness is a measure of the temperature of the lower atmosphere, and a thickness of 5400 meters is usually close to where the dividing line between rain and snow occurs.

As the high pressure system moves northeastwards and passes just east of Japan on Saturday, winds will gradually shift to the west and then southwest, keeping the radiation from the Fukushima plant blowing out to sea. As the winds shift to southwesterly, the sinking air over Japan will be replaced by rising air, and radioactive emissions will begin being lifted high in the atmosphere. Since there is less friction aloft, and the high speed winds of jet stream increase as the air moves higher in the atmosphere, this radiation will undergo long-range transport. Latest trajectory runs using NOAA's HYSPLIT model (Figures 2 - 4) show that radioactivity emitted today and Friday could wind up over Alaska and eastern Siberia after five days, and radioactive particles emitted on Saturday could make it to Hawaii and California by late next week. I've made trajectory plots for the next three days assuming two possible release altitudes--a surface-based release near 10 meters, which should be the predominant altitude in the current situation, and a higher release altitude of 300 meters, which might occur if there is an explosion and major fire. However, the 5-day trek to Hawaii and California is 4000 - 5000 miles, and a tremendous amount of dispersion and dilution of the radioactive plume will occur. Given the current levels of radiation being emitted, any radioactivity reaching Hawaii or the U.S. may be difficult to detect, and will not be a threat to human health. Keep in mind also that the most dangerous radionuclide to human health in the radioactive plume--Iodine-131--has a half life of eight days, so will be reduced by at least 30% after 5 days of travel time.

The next period of onshore winds that will blow radioactivity inland over Japan will occur beginning on Saturday night (U.S. time), continuing through Sunday morning, according to the latest run of the GFS model. The latest HYSPLIT trajectories show that regions of Japan north of the disaster site would be most at risk of receiving radioactive fallout on Saturday night. On Sunday and Monday, an approaching low pressure system is expected to bring considerable rain to Japan, and it is uncertain at this time what direction the wind might blow during this rain storm.


Figure 2. Five-day forecast movement of plumes of radioactive air emitted at 10 meters altitude (red line) and 300 meters (blue line) at 18 UTC (2pm EDT) Thursday, March 17, 2011 from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. The plumes initially spiral clockwise around the high pressure system to the southwest of Japan and stay near the surface. By Saturday, though, the plumes get caught in a southwesterly flow of air in advance of an approaching low pressure system. Ascending air lifts the plumes to high altitudes, where winds are stronger and rapid long-range transport occurs. Images created using NOAA's HYSPLIT trajectory model.


Figure 3. Five-day forecast movement of plumes of radioactive air emitted at 10 meters altitude (red line) and 300 meters (blue line) at 18 UTC (2pm EDT) Friday, March 18, 2011 from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. The plumes get caught in a southwesterly flow of air in advance of an approaching low pressure system. The plume emitted near the surface (red line) stays trapped near the surface for 4 days then lifted to 2 km, but the plume emitted at 300 meters is lifted to 5 km altitude after 2 1/2 days by the rising air associated with the approaching low pressure system. Images created using NOAA's HYSPLIT trajectory model.


Figure 4. Five-day forecast movement of plumes of radioactive air emitted at 10 meters altitude (red line) and 300 meters (blue line) at 18 UTC (2pm EDT) Saturday, March 18, 2011 from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. The plumes get caught in a southwesterly flow of air in advance of an approaching low pressure system and lifted to 4 - 5 km altitude. The plume emitted at 10 meters (red line) ends up getting caught in the clockwise circulation of air around a high pressure system situated north of Hawaii, and spirals down towards the surface in the high's sinking air. The plume emitted at higher altitudes (blue line) ends up escaping this high and making it over California at high altitude, getting caught in the southwesterly flow around a low pressure system predicted to affect California next week. Images created using NOAA's HYSPLIT trajectory model.

Resources
Seven-day weather forecast for Sendai near the Fukushima nuclear plant

The Austrian Weather Service is running trajectory models for Japan.

Current radar loops from the Japan Meteorological Agency

Mumbai hits its hottest temperature of all-time
The temperature in Mumbai (formerly Bombay), India skyrocketed to an all-time high of 107°F (41.6°C) yesterday, March 16, at the downtown Colaba observatory. Records at the observatory go back to 1847, which may be the longest time series of temperature observations at any location in Asia. Mumbai's previous all-time record temperature was 105°F (40.6°C) recorded on April 19, 1955. Mumbai's Santacruz Airport, located in the suburbs several miles inland, did not set an all-time high yesterday, hitting 41.3°C (all-time record: 42.2°C on April 14, 1952.) The record heat yesterday was due to an unusually hot and dry northeasterly flow of air from the center of India that kept the usual cooling sea breeze from establishing itself along the coast. Hot weather continued in Mumbai today, with the mercury hitting 102°F (39°C.) Thanks go to weather records researcher Maximiliano Herrera for supplying these statistics for me.

Jeff Masters

Air and Water Pollution Earthquake

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Favorable winds over Japan carrying radioactivity out to sea

By: JeffMasters, 2:16 PM GMT on March 16, 2011

If there is going to be a major nuclear disaster with massive release of radioactivity into the atmosphere from Japan's stricken Fukushima nuclear plant, today would be the best day meteorologically for this to occur. The low pressure system that brought rain and several inches of snow to Japan yesterday has moved northeastwards out to sea, and high pressure is building in. The clockwise flow of air around the high pressure system approaching Japan from the southwest is driving strong northwesterly winds of 10 - 20 mph over the region. These winds will continue through Thursday, and will take radiation particles emitted by the stricken reactors immediately out to sea, without lingering over Japan. Since high pressure systems are regions of sinking air, the radiation will stay close to the ocean surface as the air spirals clockwise over the Pacific. The contaminated air will remain over the ocean for at least five days, which is plenty of time for the radiation to settle out to the surface.


Figure 1. Surface weather map for 8am EDT today, taken from the 6-hour forecast from this morning's 6 UTC run of the GFS model. A high pressure system to the southwest of Japan, in combination with a low pressure system to the northeast are driving strong northwesterly surface winds over the country. Image is from our wundermap with the "Model" layer turned on. The lines are sea-level pressure (blue contours, 4 mb interval) and 1000 to 500 mb thickness (yellow contours, 60 m interval). Thickness is a measure of the temperature of the lower atmosphere, and a thickness of 5400 meters is usually close to where the dividing line between rain and snow occurs.

Thursday night and Friday morning (U.S. time), the high pressure system moves over Japan, allowing winds to weaken and potentially grow calm, increasing the danger of radioactivity building up over regions near and to the north of the nuclear plant. On Friday, the high departs and a moist southwesterly flow of air will affect Japan. These southwesterly winds will blow most of the radiation out to sea, away from Tokyo. Southwesterly winds will continue through Sunday, when the next major low pressure system is expected to bring heavy precipitation to the country. Beginning Thursday night, the sinking airmass over Japan will be replaced a large-scale area of rising air, and any radiation emitted late Thursday through Friday will be carried aloft towards Alaska and eastern Russia by this southwesterly flow of rising air.

Ground-level releases of radioactivity are typically not able to be transported long distances in significant quantities, since most of the material settles to the ground a few kilometers from the source. If there is a major explosion with hot gases that shoots radioactivity several hundred meters high, that would increase the chances for long range transport, since now the ground is farther away, and the particles that start settling out will stay in the air longer before encountering the ground. Additionally, winds are stronger away from ground, due to reduced friction and presence of the jet stream aloft. These stronger winds will transport radioactivity greater distances. I've made trajectory plots for the next three days assuming two possible release altitudes--a surface-based release near 10 meters, which should be the predominant altitude in the current situation, and a higher release altitude of 300 meters, which might occur from an explosion and fire from a Chernobyl-style incident. Given that the radioactivity has to travel 3000 miles to reach Anchorage, Alaska, and 5000 miles to reach California, a very large amount of dilution will occur, along with potential loss due to rain-out. Any radiation at current levels of emission that might reach these places may not even be detectable, much less be a threat to human health. A Chernobyl-level disaster in Japan would certainly be able to produce detectable levels of radiation over North America, but I strongly doubt it would be a significant concern for human health. The Chernobyl disaster only caused dangerous human health impacts within a few hundred miles of the disaster site, and the distance from Japan to North America is ten times farther than that.


Figure 2. Five-day forecast movement of plumes of radioactive air emitted at 10 meters altitude (red line) and 300 meters (blue line) at 18 UTC (2pm EDT) Wednesday, March 16, 2011 from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. The plumes spiral clockwise around the high pressure system to the southwest of Japan and stay near the surface. Images created using NOAA's HYSPLIT trajectory model.


Figure 3. Five-day forecast movement of plumes of radioactive air emitted at 10 meters altitude (red line) and 300 meters (blue line) at 18 UTC (2pm EDT) Thursday, March 17, 2011 from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. The plumes initially spiral clockwise around the high pressure system to the southwest of Japan and stay near the surface. By Saturday, though, the plumes get caught in a southwesterly flow of air in advance of an approaching low pressure system. Ascending air lifts the plumes to high altitudes, where winds are stronger and rapid long-range transport occurs. Images created using NOAA's HYSPLIT trajectory model.


Figure 4. Five-day forecast movement of plumes of radioactive air emitted at 10 meters altitude (red line) and 300 meters (blue line) at 18 UTC (2pm EDT) Friday, March 18, 2011 from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. The plumes get caught in a southwesterly flow of air in advance of an approaching low pressure system. The plume emitted near the surface (red line) stays trapped near the surface, but the plume emitted at 300 meters is lifted to 3.5 km altitude by the rising air associated with the approaching low pressure system. Images created using NOAA's HYSPLIT trajectory model.

Resources
Seven-day weather forecast for Sendai near the Fukushima nuclear plant

The Austrian Weather Service is running trajectory models for Japan.

Current radar loops from the Japan Meteorological Agency

Rare subtropical cyclone forms near Brazil
An unusual low pressure system that came close to becoming a tropical storm is in the South Atlantic, a few hundred miles east of the coast of Brazil. The Brazilian Navy Hydrographic Center has officially named the system Subtropical Storm "Arani", but I'm not sure the low would have been named by NHC, since Arani has somewhat of a loose circulation and limited heavy thunderstorm activity. The storm is expected to move slowly eastward out to sea, and does not pose a threat to South America. The latest run of the GFDL model shows little development of Arani, and the storm is now encountering a frontal system, which is bringing 20 - 30 knots of wind shear. It is unlikely that Arani will become a tropical storm. Some runs of the GFDL last weekend were predicting Arani would intensify into a Category 3 hurricane; that's the first time I've even seen such a prediction for a South Atlantic storm. The metsul.com blog has more info on Arani, for those of you who read Portugese.


Figure 5. During the daytime on Tuesday 15 March 2011 at 1820 UTC the TRMM satellite flew over a rare cyclone labeled Arani in the South Atlantic. Arani had the appearance of a tropical cyclone but has been classified as a subtropical cyclone. NOAA's Satellite and Information Service classified Arani as a T1 on the Dvorak intensity scale which would indicate an estimated wind speed of about 29 kt (~33 mph). TRMM's Microwave Imager (TMI) and Precipitation Radar (PR) data were used in the image above to show rainfall near Arani. Image credit: NASA.

Jeff Masters

Air and Water Pollution Earthquake

Updated: 2:30 PM GMT on March 16, 2011

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Rain in Japan threatens to contaminate ground with radioactivity

By: JeffMasters, 3:28 PM GMT on March 15, 2011

A low pressure system is located over Japan near Tokyo today, and the counterclockwise flow of air around this low is bringing easterly winds over the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, which lies to the north-northeast of Tokyo. These easterly winds are blowing radioactivity inland over Japan. As the low tracks northeastward along the coast of Japan today, winds at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant will gradually shift to northeast and then northwest, which will move radiation towards Tokyo for several hours, which may be long enough for some radiation to reach the city. NOAA's HYSPLIT trajectory model shows that for a release of radioactivity at 50 meters altitude beginning at 21 GMT on Monday (when an explosion at the #2 reactor was recorded), with repeat releases simulated to occur every 2 hours thereafter, the plumes will stay to the north of Tokyo (Figure 1.) However, a more detailed dispersion model being run by the Austrian weather service shows that the plumes may affect much of the Tokyo area today. Both models predict that by 18 GMT today (2pm EDT), the threat to Tokyo will be over, with more westerly winds blowing the radioactive cloud out to sea.


Figure 1. Forecast movement of a plume of radioactive plume of air emitted at 50 meters altitude at 21 UTC Monday, March 14, 2011 from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. Radioactivity is similated to be released every 2 hours thereafter, going out 24 hours. Images created using NOAA's HYSPLIT trajectory model.

As the low pressure system moves through Japan today, it will bring rain. Current radar loops from the Japan Meteorological Agency show a wide area of rain approaching Tokyo and the Fukushima nuclear plant. Rain is very efficient at removing radioactive particles from the air, and there is the threat of surface and ground water contamination where significant concentrations of radioactive material get rained out. By Wednesday, most of the rain will be gone, and predominately northwesterly winds will build in behind the departing low pressure system. This flow regime will stay in place for the remainder of the week, keeping radioactive emissions from the nuclear plant away from Tokyo, and headed out to sea at low altitudes near the surface.

Ground level releases of radioactivity are typically not able to be transported long distances in significant quantities, since much of the material settles to the ground a few kilometers from the source. If there is a major explosion with hot gases that shoots radioactivity several kilometers high, that would increase the chances for long range transport, since now the ground is farther away, and the particles that start settling out will stay in the air longer before encountering the ground. Additionally, winds are stronger away from ground, due to reduced friction and presence of the jet stream aloft. These stronger winds will transport radioactivity greater distances.


Figure 2. Seven-day forecast movement of a plume of radioactive plume of air emitted at 8am EDT (12 UTC) today at 50 meters altitude from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. Flow of air in the warm and cold conveyor belts of the low pressure system affecting Japan are expected to loft radioactivity to 4 - 5 km altitude, where it will be transported thousands of miles over the coming week. Images created using NOAA's HYSPLIT trajectory model.

One case where a ground level release might get lofted to high altitudes is when the source region is located near an approaching low pressure system (extratropical cyclone), as is the case today. On the cold side of the approaching warm front, where the Fukushima nuclear plant is located today, lies a broad band of ascending air called the "cold conveyor belt." This conveyor belt can loft surface air to an altitude of several kilometers in a day, as seen in the trajectory plot in Figure 2. In addition, the "warm sector" of a low pressure system in front of the approaching cold front features a ribbon of ascending air about 100 - 200 km wide called a "warm conveyor belt", which is also capable of lofting surface air several kilometers high in a day. However, there is often considerable precipitation in both of these conveyor belts, which will tend to remove large quantities of radiation before it can be transported long distances. There will be some radiation from Japan lofted to high altitudes today by the low pressure system affecting the region, and if the radiation manages to escape being rained out, it could potentially be transported thousands of miles over the next week. A run of the HYSPLIT model following the path of a radioactive cloud emitted at 12 UTC (8am EDT) this morning shows the radioactivity being lofted 4 - 5 km in altitude and being transported over Alaska over the coming week. After a week of transport, this cloud will be considerably diluted, and I strongly doubt the radioactivity would be harmful to human health if rain or snow were to carry it to the ground over Alaska or Canada, assuming that the radiation levels currently being advertised at ground level in Japan are correct.

Jeff Masters

Air and Water Pollution Earthquake

Updated: 3:56 PM GMT on March 15, 2011

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Radiation from Japan not likely to harm North America

By: JeffMasters, 12:53 PM GMT on March 14, 2011

Radiation from Japan's stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant has been detected 100 miles to the northeast, over the Pacific Ocean, by the U.S. military. Westerly to southwesterly winds have predominated over Japan the past few days, carrying most of the radiation eastwards out to sea. The latest forecast for Sendai, Japan, located about 40 miles north of the Fukushima nuclear plant, calls for winds with a westerly component to dominate for the remainder of the week, with the exception of a 6-hour period on Tuesday. Thus, any radiation released by the nuclear plant will primarily affect Japan or blow out to sea. A good tool to predict the radiation cloud's path is NOAA's HYSPLIT trajectory model. The model uses the GFS model's winds to track the movement of a hypothetical release of a substance into the atmosphere. One can specify the altitude of the release as well as the location, and follow the trajectory for up to two weeks. However, given the highly chaotic nature of the atmosphere's winds, trajectories beyond about 3 days have huge uncertainties.One can get only a general idea of where a plume is headed beyond 3 days. I've been performing a number of runs of HYSPLIT over past few days, and so far great majority of these runs have taken plumes of radioactivity emitted from Japan's east coast eastwards over the Pacific, with the plumes staying over water for at least 5 days. Some of the plumes move over eastern Siberia, Alaska, Canada, the U.S., and Mexico in 5 - 7 days. Such a long time spent over water will mean that the vast majority of the radioactive particles will settle out of the atmosphere or get caught up in precipitation and rained out. It is highly unlikely that any radiation capable of causing harm to people will be left in atmosphere after seven days and 2000+ miles of travel distance. Even the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, which had a far more serious release of radioactivity, was unable to spread significant contamination more than about 1000 miles.


Figure 1. Forecast 7-day movement of a plume of radioactive plume of air emitted at 12 UTC Saturday, March 12, 2011 from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. Radioactivity emitted at 2 levels is tracked: 100 meters (red) and 300 meters (blue). Images created using NOAA's HYSPLIT trajectory model.


Figure 2. Forecast 7-day movement of a plume of radioactive plume of air emitted at 12 UTC Sunday, March 13, 2011 from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. Radioactivity emitted at 2 levels is tracked: 100 meters (red) and 300 meters (blue). Images created using NOAA's HYSPLIT trajectory model.


Figure 3. Forecast 7-day movement of a plume of radioactive plume of air emitted at 12 UTC Monday, March 14, 2011 from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. Radioactivity emitted at 2 levels is tracked: 100 meters (red) and 300 meters (blue). Images created using NOAA's HYSPLIT trajectory model.

I'll have an update Tuesday morning.

Jeff Masters

Air and Water Pollution Earthquake

Updated: 1:00 PM GMT on March 14, 2011

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Great Japan quake generates 8-foot tsunami in California

By: JeffMasters, 11:00 PM GMT on March 11, 2011

A great earthquake rocked the coast of Japan at 5:46 GMT on March 11, generating a dangerous tsunami that raced across the Pacific. The mighty earthquake was rated 8.9 on the Richter scale, making it the 7th most powerful tremor in world history. The world's 8th largest earthquake, a magnitude 8.8 event, hit Chile on February 27, 2010; never before have two top-ten earthquakes hit so close together in time. Today's quake was the strongest in Japanese history, and will likely be the most expensive natural disaster in world history, surpassing the $133+ billion dollar price tag from Hurricane Katrina.


Figure 1. Model-computed energy from the March 11, 2011 tsunami as visualized by the NOAA Visualization Lab.

In the U.S., the highest tsunami waves from the earthquake hit northern California and southern Oregon, with a wave height of 8.1 feet observed at Crescent City, CA, 8.6 feet at Port San Luis, CA, 8.7 feet at Arena Cove, CA, and 6.1 feet at Port Orford, OR. The tsunami swept four photographers out to sea in the Crescent City harbor, injuring three of them and leaving one missing. Extensive damage was done to the harbor and 35 boats. Up to $2 million in damage also occurred in the Santa Cruz harbor south of San Francisco.


Figure 2. Tide gauge at Crescent City, CA during the March 11, 2011 tsunami. The green line shows the height of the tsunami wave; the red line shows the observed water level. The highest tsunami wave came at at 17 UTC (9am PST), an hour and 10 minutes after the initial wave, and was 7 feet high. Image credit: NOAA.

Crescent City was hit by a devastating tsunami after the March 28, 1964 magnitude 8.8 earthquake in Alaska, which killed ten people in the city and destroyed much of the business district. The city is fortunate today that the tsunami hit at low tide, or else water levels would have been five feet higher in the city during the wave. The tide gauge at Crescent City, CA (Figure 2) shows that at least 18 separate tsunami waves have hit the harbor as of 2:45pm PST. The first wave came at about 15:50 UTC (7:50am PST), was about 2.5 feet high, and was not preceded by the ocean falling and water being sucked out to sea. After this initial wave, the ocean level dropped rapidly by 8 feet, and then a series of large waves began rushing in and out, with up to a 13 foot difference between low water and high water. The rapid speed of the in-rushing and outflowing waves were what did the damage to the harbor and its boats. The largest wave came at 17 UTC (9am PST), an hour and 10 minutes after the initial wave, and was 8.1 feet high. Fortunately, this wave came near the time of low tide, and the wave was only 2 feet above last night's high tide mark. Tidal range between low and high tide is about 5 feet at Crescent City. The tide is now rising, and new tsunami waves with height of 3 - 4 feet are still rushing in and out, with the one just before 21 UTC (1pm PST) reaching a height about 2 feet above high tide.


Figure 3. Propagation of the March 11, 2011 Honshu tsunami was computed with the NOAA forecast method using the MOST model with the tsunami source inferred from DART® data. From the NOAA Center for Tsunami Research, located at NOAA PMEL in Seattle, WA.

Portlight.org is mobilizing to provide financial assistance to people with disabilities affected by the disaster, and there will undoubtedly be a huge relief effort by numerous charities in the wake of the earthquake. Your financial contributions and prayers for those affected will be valuable.

Jeff Masters

Earthquake

Updated: 4:43 PM GMT on March 12, 2011

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Great quake rocks Japan, generating dangerous Pacific tsunami

By: JeffMasters, 1:56 PM GMT on March 11, 2011

We live on a dangerous planet. Earth's second great earthquake in thirteen months rocked the coast of Japan at 5:46 GMT this morning, generating a dangerous tsunami that is racing across the Pacific Ocean. The mighty magnitude 8.9 earthquake is the 7th most powerful tremor in world history (Figure 1), and the planet's second top-ten earthquake in the past two years. The world's 8th largest earthquake, a magnitude 8.8 event, hit Chile on February 27, 2010. Never before have two top-ten earthquakes hit so close together in time. Today's quake was the strongest in Japanese history, and may end up being the most expensive natural disaster in world history, surpassing the $133+ billion dollar price tag from Hurricane Katrina.


Figure 1. Wikipedia's list of strongest earthquakes of all-time.

Media reports put the height of the tsunami near the Japanese coast as high as 23 feet. The initial tsunami wave has already hit Hawaii, and so far wave heights have been less than six feet, with 2.1 feet measured at Honolulu and 5.7 feet on Maui. Hilo on the Big Island has had a wave of 4.6 feet thus far. The city is not going to suffer the kind of devastation wrought by the tsunami from the 9.5 Magnitude 1960 earthquake in Chile, killed 61 people in Hilo.

MEASUREMENTS OR REPORTS OF TSUNAMI ACTIVITY

BOSO JAPAN 02.5FT/00.75M
NAHA JAPAN 01.6FT/00.49M
OFUNATO JAPAN 10.7FT/03.25M
OMAEZAKI JAPAN 04.6FT/01.39M
TOKAI JAPAN 00.8FT/00.23M
TOSASHIMIZU JAPAN 03.0FT/00.91M
KWAJALEIN MARSHALL ISL 01.0FT/00.30M
MIDWAY IS. USA 05.1FT/01.55M
WAKE IS. USA 01.7FT/00.52M
LEGASPI PHILIPPINES 01.1FT/00.32M
DUTCH HARBOR AK 01.6FT/00.48M
NIKOLSKI AK 01.4FT/00.41M
FRENCH FRIGATE SHOALS 01.8FT/00.56M
ST PAUL IS. AK 02.0FT/00.61M
SAND POINT AK 00.7FT/00.22M
MANUS PAPUA NEW GUINEA 01.2FT/00.36M
NAWILIWILI KAUAI HI 01.6FT/00.48M
BARBERS POINT HI 02.3FT/00.70M
HONOLULU OAHU HI 02.1FT/00.64M
KAHULUI MAUI HI 05.7FT/01.74M
HILO HI 04.6FT/01.41M
KING COVE AK 02.1FT/00.64M
LANGARA POINT BC 00.8FT/00.23M

In the San Francisco Bay area, tsunami waves of 1.6 - 5.3 feet are expected near 8am local time. The highest waves are expected near Rio del Mar, in Monterey Bay near Santa Cruz. Fortunately, the expected time of arrival is near the time of low tide, and tidal range along the central California coast is about 5 feet. This means that in most locations, the initial tsunami wave will not reach above the high tide mark. However, a tsunami is usually a series of waves that occur over a period of hours, and the highest tsunami waves along the North American coast are expected to arrive 2 - 3 hours after the initial wave hits, according to the NOAA/NWS/West Coast and Alaska Tsunami Warning Center. These later waves could arrive as the tide is coming in, and cause flooding in low-lying areas. Northern California will see higher waves, with a tsunami of 7.9 feet expected at Crescent City. The waves will be hitting near the time of low tide at Crescent City, where tidal range is also about 5 feet between high and low tide.

Estimated time of arrival (PST) of possible tsunami at:
7:23 am for Crescent City
8:08 am for San Francisco
8:17 am for Santa Barbara

The latest forecast wave heights as of 5:20 am:
7.9 feet for Crescent City
6.5 feet for Port Orford
6.3 feet for Brookings
5.3 feet for Rio del Mar
4.5 feet for Reedsport
4.2 feet for Arena Cove
2.0 feet for Point Reyes
2.4 feet for Fort Point
2.8 feet for Pacifica
3.0 feet for Half Moon Bay
3.3 feet for Santa Cruz
2.9 feet for Point Sur


Figure 2. NOAA's preliminary forecast of tsunami wave energy for today's earthquake. Image credit: NOAA Tsunami Warning Center.

Portlight.org is mobilizing to provide financial assistance to people with disabilities affected by the disaster, and there will undoubtedly be a huge relief effort by numerous charities in the wake of the earthquake. Your financial contributions and prayers for those affected will be valuable.

Jeff Masters

Earthquake

Updated: 4:15 PM GMT on March 11, 2011

Permalink

Russian heat wave of 2010 due to natural causes: NOAA study

By: JeffMasters, 2:11 PM GMT on March 10, 2011

The deadliest heat wave in human history--the 2010 Russian heat wave, which killed approximately 56,000 people last summer--was due to a natural atmospheric phenomenon often associated with weather extremes, according to a new NOAA study. The study, titled "Was There a Basis for Anticipating the 2010 Russian Heat Wave?" was accepted for publication in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, and used observations and computer climate models to evaluate the possible roles of natural and human-caused climate influences on the severity of the heat wave.


Figure 1. Daily Moscow temperature record from November 1 2009 to October 31 2010. Red and blue shaded areas represent departures from the long-term average (smooth curve) in Moscow. Temperatures significantly above the long-term average scorched Moscow for much of July and August. Image credit: NOAA.

Here's the body of the NOAA Press Release on the study:

"Knowledge of prior regional climate trends and current levels of greenhouse gas concentrations would not have helped us anticipate the 2010 summer heat wave in Russia," said lead author Randall Dole, deputy director of research at NOAA's Earth System Research Laboratory, Physical Science Division and a fellow of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES). "Nor did ocean temperatures or sea ice status in early summer of 2010 suggest what was to come in Russia."

Temperatures in the upper 90s to above 100°F scorched western Russia and surrounding areas from July through mid-August, 2010. In Moscow, the long-term daily average temperatures for July range from 65-67°F; in 2010, daily average July temperatures soared up to 87°. Daily average temperatures include the night. The exceptional heat over such a long duration, combined with poor air quality from wildfires increased deaths by at least 56,000 in Moscow and other parts of western Russia, according to Munich Reinsurance, and led to massive crop failures in the region.

While a contribution to the heat wave from climate change could not be entirely ruled out, if it was present, it played a much smaller role than naturally occurring meteorological processes in explaining this heat wave's intensity.

The researchers cautioned that this extreme event provides a glimpse into the region's future as greenhouse gases continue to increase, and the signal of a warming climate, even at this regional scale, begins to emerge more clearly from natural variability in coming decades. Climate models evaluated for the new study show a rapidly increasing risk of such heat waves in western Russia, from less than one percent in 2010, to 10 percent or more by the end of this century.

"It appears that parts of Russia are on the cusp of a period in which the risk of extreme heat events will increase rapidly," said co-author Martin Hoerling, a research meteorologist, also from ESRL.

Dole called the intensity of this heat wave a "climate surprise," expected to occur only very rarely in Russia's current climate. With the possibility of more such events in the future, studying the Russian event better prepares scientists to understand climate phenomena that will affect the U.S. and other parts of the globe.

The team--led by Dole, Hoerling, and Judith Perlwitz from the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado in Boulder--sifted through long-term observations and results from 22 global climate models, looking for trends that might help explain the extraordinarily high temperatures in western Russia during the 2010 summer. They also ran atmospheric models that used observed global sea surface temperatures, Arctic sea ice conditions and atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations in 2010 to assess whether such factors might have contributed to the heat wave.

The heat wave was due primarily to a natural phenomenon called an atmospheric "blocking pattern," in which a strong high pressure system developed and remained stationary over western Russian, keeping summer storms and cool air from sweeping through the region and leading to the extreme hot and dry conditions. While the blocking pattern associated with the 2010 event was unusually intense and persistent, its major features were similar to atmospheric patterns associated with prior extreme heat wave events in the region since 1880, the researchers found.

They also found that western Russia has not experienced significant climate warming during the summer season over the 130 years from 1880-2009, despite significant warming of globally averaged temperatures during that time. Such a "warming hole" is not unique to that region and is not entirely unexpected, as the Earth is not uniformly warming and experiences distinct geographic areas that may be warmer or cooler than the average trend.

"We know that climate change is not taking place at the same rate everywhere on the globe," said Hoerling. "Western Russia is one of the parts of the world that has not seen a significant increase in summertime temperatures. The U.S. Midwest is another."

Dole compared his team's findings to trying to hear a quiet conversation underneath the roar of a noisy fan: a summertime signal due to climate change over western Russia was drowned out by the much larger climate "noise," or variability, resulting from natural processes.

Authors of the new paper, Was There a Basis for Anticipating the 2010 Russian Heat Wave? are Randall Dole1, Martin Hoerling1, Judith Perlwitz2, Jon Eischeid2, Philip Pegion2, Tao Zhang2, Xiao-Wei Quan2, Taiyi Xu2, and Donald Murray2. The team is part of a NOAA effort to better understand the underlying causes of high-impact weather and climate events, with the ultimate goal of better anticipating them.

NOAA Climate Attribution: http://www.esrl.noaa.gov/psd/csi/



Figure 2. Smoke from fires in Russia on August 4, 2010 covered an area over 3,000 km (1860 miles) across. If the smoke were in the United States, it would have extended from San Francisco to Chicago. Visibility in Moscow dropped to 20 meters (0.01 miles) on August 4, and health officials warned that everyone, including healthy people, needed to take preventative measures such as staying indoors or wearing a mask outdoors. Image credit: NASA.

Commentary
Climate change has fundamentally altered Earth's atmosphere in significant ways; the additional heat and moisture in the atmosphere alters global sea surface temperature and atmospheric circulation patterns, making it difficult to disentangle to what degree an extreme weather event may be natural. The new NOAA attribution study on the Russian Heat Wave of 2010 is a reminder that the atmosphere is capable of generating extreme events on its own, without the aid of climate change. Attribution studies are difficult and take many months or years to complete. When an extreme weather event such as a great flood or deadly heat wave occurs, all we can say at the time is that climate change is loading the dice in favor of such extreme events. At the time of the Russian heat wave, I suspected that human-caused climate change was likely a significant factor, since a study of the world's previous deadliest heat wave, the 2003 European heat wave (Stott et al., 2004), found that human-caused climate change had increased the odds of that event occurring by a factor of four.

An important question to ask is if this type of natural atmospheric blocking event--where the jet stream gets "stuck" in particular contorted shape that contributes to extreme weather events--will increase or decrease in a future warmer climate. I asked climate modeling expert Dr. Ricky Rood, who writes our Climate Change blog, what the models say. His view was, "the physical basis, process, and cause and effect of blocking events are poorly understood in theory and observations and less well understood in models. It is very difficult problem, where the state-of-the-art understanding is low." So, we don't really know what will happen to blocking events in the future climate. Barnes and Hartman (2010) found that the computer models used in the 2007 [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report generally showed a decrease in the frequency of blocking events in a future climate. This occurs because the jet stream moves poleward in a future warming climate, and the jet stream is less prone to getting "stuck" in a blocking event when it is closer to the pole. The paper summarizes previous studies on the subject thusly: "Previous studies have found evidence for blocking frequency to decrease with global warming, although they disagree on whether the duration of extreme blocking events will increase or decrease [Sillmann and Croci-Maspoli, 2009; Matsueda et al., 2009]." So, the models give us reason to hope that blocking events leading to extreme weather will decrease in the future, though the uncertainty in this prediction is high. However, the climate models used in 2010 Russian heat wave study showed a rapidly increasing risk of heat waves in western Russia, from less than one percent in 2010, to 10 percent or more by the end of this century. The authors conclude that warming attributable to increasing greenhouse gas concentrations "is very likely to produce more frequent and extreme heat waves later this century," a central finding of the 2007 IPCC report.

References
Barnes, E.A., and D.L., Hartmann, 2010, "Influence of eddy-driven jet latitude on North Atlantic jet persistence and
blocking frequency in CMIP3 integrations", GRL 37, L23802, doi:10.1029/2010GL045700, 2010

Stott, P.A. , D.A. Stone, and M.R. Allen, 2004: Human Contribution to the European heat wave of 2003. Nature, 432(7017), 610-614

I'll have a new post on Saturday at the latest.

Jeff Masters

Climate Change

Updated: 5:15 PM GMT on March 10, 2011

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A cool and snowy winter for the U.S.; severe weather hits Louisiana

By: JeffMasters, 2:45 PM GMT on March 09, 2011

The winter of 2010 - 2011 is in the history books, and ranks as the 39th coldest winter for the U.S. in the 116-year historical record, according to statistics released this week by the National Climatic Data Center. The cooler-than-average weather was primarily due to Arctic air spilling southwards over the eastern 2/3 of the nation due to an unusually weak Arctic Oscillation. This natural pattern in the atmosphere (whose North Atlantic version is called the North Atlantic Oscillation) allows cold air to spill southwards over the Eastern U.S., Western Europe, and East Asia when low pressure over the Arctic weakens, and high pressure over the North Atlantic also weakens. The state most affected by this unusual winter pattern was Florida, which recorded its 10th coldest winter. No other states had a top-ten coldest or warmest winter.


Figure 1. The winter of 2010 - 2011 featured colder than average temperatures over many states in the eastern 2/3 of the country, with Florida suffering its 10th coldest winter in the 116-year record. Image credit: National Climatic Data Center.

Wet in the Upper Midwest, dry in the South
The winter of 2010 - 2011 featured very heavy precipitation over the Upper Midwest, with South Dakota and Montana recording top-ten wettest winters. The South and mid-Atlantic were very dry, with eight states experiencing top-ten driest winters. This pattern is a typical one for a La Niña winter, since the cooler than average waters off the Pacific coast of South America act to deflect the jet stream so that the preferred track for winter storms takes them to the north over the Upper Midwest. However, the Ohio Valley typically gets above average precipitation during a La Niña winter, and that did not happen this year. This is fortunate, since very heavy rains the past two weeks have inundated Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, and Illinois, leading to moderate flooding on many rivers.


Figure 2. The winter of 2010 - 2011 featured very heavy precipitation over the Upper Midwest, with South Dakota and Montana recording top-ten wettest winters. Image credit: National Climatic Data Center.

A snowy winter for the U.S.
It was a very snowy winter for the contiguous U.S., with December, January, and February having the 7th, 5th, and 9th greatest snow extents in the 45-year record, respectively, according to the Rutgers Snow Lab. This is the 2nd consecutive very snowy winter in the U.S.; during the winter of 2009 - 2010, December, January, and February had the 1st, 7th, and 3rd greatest snow extents on record. However, an unusually early onset of spring over North America in 2010 led to April and May 2010 having the 4th lowest and 1st lowest snow extents on record for the U.S., and the snow extent numbers for North America were near average for the calendar year 2010 (Figure 3.)


Figure 3. Twelve-month running anomalies of monthly snow cover extent over Northern Hemisphere lands (including Greenland) as a whole and Eurasia and North America separately between November 1966 and December 2010. Anomalies are calculated from NOAA snow maps. Mean hemispheric snow extent is 25.0 million sq. km. for the full period of record. Monthly means for the period of record are used for 9 missing months between 1968 and 1971 in order to create a continuous series of running means. Missing months fall between June and October, no winter months are missing. Image credit: Rutgers Snow Lab.

Flooding concerns continue in the Upper Midwest
The heavy winter precipitation that hit the Upper Midwest primarily fell as snow, and recent snow water equivalent charts show that a wide swath of North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, and Wisconsin have the equivalent of 4 - 6 inches of rain locked into their snowpack. If a sudden spring thaw with heavy rain occurs later this month or in early April, record or near-record flooding is likely. The latest long-range forecasts from the G FS model do not show such an event is likely to occur over the next two weeks, though. A continuation of winter-like weather over the region with below-average temperatures and light snow is expected during the coming week, with a several-day period of thawing the week of March 20. Significant melting the massive snowpack will not begin to occur until the week of March 20, at the earliest.

Tornadoes, severe thunderstorms hit the South
A strong cold front pushing across the nation's southern states has brought severe thunderstorms, and tornado warnings have been issued for Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama this morning. A tornado touched down in Bush, LA at 5:20am CDT today, injuring one person and destroying one trailer. High winds from a thunderstorm hit Slidell, LA, causing roof damage, downed trees, and power outages in the city. NOAA's Storm Prediction Center has placed the region in its "Slight Risk" region for potential severe weather. You can track the action today on our severe weather page.

Jeff Masters

Severe Weather Climate Summaries Winter Weather

Updated: 9:09 PM GMT on March 09, 2011

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Senate committee proposes less drastic budget cuts for NOAA

By: JeffMasters, 10:16 PM GMT on March 07, 2011

Last month, the U.S. House of Representatives proposed a new budget (HR 1) for the remainder of the fiscal year that would slash funding of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) by $454 million. This would mean a draconian 28% cut for the National Weather Service, the agency entrusted to protect us from natural hazards such as hurricanes, tornadoes, and floods. Monday, the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee released a proposed alternative to HR 1 that would make a $110 million reduction to NOAA operations for the remainder of the fiscal year. Of the $110 million cut, $104 million was from earmarks that are no longer funded. This effectively only cuts the NOAA budget by $6 million, and would allow NOAA to continue its efforts through the coming tornado, flood, and hurricane seasons to help protect lives and property without suffering from crippling budget cuts.

Now is the time to mobilize to ensure adequate funding for NOAA, and the National Weather Service Employees Organization issued these recommendations in a letter posted on their website today:

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Assuming the Senate adopts this proposal, the effort goes to convincing House Leadership of the important work of the NWS and fully funding NOAA. At this important stage, we ask you to contact Congressmen John Boehner and Eric Cantor and respectfully request that they support the Senate's proposal for NOAA's budget. These congressmen hold the key to the future of the NWS.

To email or call Speaker John Boehner
http://www.speaker.gov/Contact/

To email or call Representative Eric Cantor
http://cantor.house.gov/contact/

You can also join the Protect the National Weather Service Facebook group, which was created for this cause. Our fan count is growing rapidly but we need more. We want Congress to take notice of how much support our fans have shown. Please share this message with your friends and ask them to click "like" directly on our page. We will have more information, some cool photos and interesting tidbits to share in the coming days.

Sample letters and talking points are available below. Please feel free to use these letters and also tailor them to the particular types of weather for your geographic area. The links below provide email addresses and phone numbers to help you in this effort.

Your support of the National Weather Service is greatly appreciated. You are making the difference in helping the agency continue their mission of saving lives and property. Thank you.


Dear Mr. Speaker (for Speaker John Boehner) OR
Dear Mr. Cantor (for Rep. Eric Cantor)

I am writing to ask you to support the Senate's proposal for NOAA's budget. This proposal will help NOAA and the National Weather Service continue the mission of saving lives and property.

The Senate's proposal includes responsible funding levels in stark contrast to the draconian cuts included in HR1. HR1 would have resulted in the following impacts on the National Weather Service:

* Reduced staffing at Weather Forecast Offices and River Forecast Centers would result in incomplete forecast production which could prove disastrous in a significant weather event. Even in the best of cases, it will still mean incomplete forecast production at WFOs that have major product workloads for aviation, marine, tropical and public services.

* This is going to have a negative impact on the economy and on almost every aspect of our daily lives. There will be a large scale economic impact on aviation, agriculture, and the cost shipping food and other products.

* Service backup of 24 Weather Forecasting Offices has never been tested and runs a very significant risk of a missed tornado, flood or severe weather warning. It is risking lives at the onset of both tornadoes and hurricane season. This is also doubling the area of responsibility for operations and adds the risk of degraded service delivery.

* The National Hurricane Center is not immune to these cuts as furloughs and staffing cuts will add strain to the program. The Hurricane Hunter Jet, which provides lifesaving data and helps determine a hurricane.s path, could also be eliminated.

* Information that is vital for weather modeling and accurate tornado watches and warnings will be reduced and in some cases lost. Reduced upper air observations currently made twice a day could be reduced to once every other day. Buoy and surface weather observations, the backbone of most of the weather and warning systems, may be temporarily or permanently discontinued.

Recent advances in aviation weather forecasting have resulted in as much as a 50 percent reduction in weather related flight delays. The Senate.s proposal for funding will help progressive programs such as these continue and may, in turn, prove beneficial to strengthening the economy.
For the safety of our citizens, the protection of property, and the large scale economic impact on aviation, agriculture, and commerce, I am asking you to vote in support the Senate.s proposal for NOAA's budget.

Sincerely,
Your Name

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I encourage all of you to make your voices heard and help preserve funding for NOAA and the National Weather Service.

You can call or email your U.S. Senator using this link: http://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information /senators_cfm.cfm

You can call or email your U.S. House of Representatives member using this link: https://writerep.house.gov/writerep/welcome.shtml

The National Weather Service Employees Organization web site has talking points and sample letters (printable) you can use to contact your Senators and Representative.

Climate Science and EPA’s Greenhouse Gas Regulations
The U.S. House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power, chaired by Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-KY), will hold a hearing on Tuesday, March 8, 2011, at 10:00 a.m. in room 2123 of the Rayburn House Office Building. The hearing is entitled, “Climate Science and EPA’s Greenhouse Gas Regulations.” Full Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) and Rep. Whitfield have joined Democratic leaders in the U.S. House in authoring the Energy Tax Prevention Act (H.R. 910), a bill to block EPA’s controversial backdoor climate change agenda that would further drive up the price of energy for American consumers and job creators at a time when gas prices are already spiking and job creation remains weak.

The hearing is open to the public and press. Opening statements, witness testimony, and a live webcast will be available online at http://energycommerce.house.gov

Jeff Masters

Politics

Updated: 10:51 PM GMT on October 21, 2011

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Greenland update for 2010: record melting and a massive calving event

By: JeffMasters, 2:31 PM GMT on March 04, 2011

No humans were present on the morning of August 4, 2010, in a remote fjord in Northwest Greenland, when the air vibrated with a thunderous crack as one of the largest icebergs in world history calved from the Petermann Glacier, the island's second largest ocean-terminating glacier. Where the glacier meets the sea, a 43 mile-long tongue of floating ice existed at the beginning of 2010. On August 4 2010, a quarter of this 43 mile-long tongue of floating ice fractured off, spawning a 100 square mile ice island four times the size of Manhattan, with a thickness half that of the Empire State building. According to Andreas Muenchow, associate professor of physical ocean science and engineering at the University of Delaware's College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment, the freshwater stored in this ice island could have kept the Delaware or Hudson rivers flowing for more than two years, or kept all U.S. public tap water flowing for 120 days. There was speculation that the ice island could find its way into the open Atlantic Ocean in two years, and potentially pose a threat to oil platforms and ships. However, as the ice island made its turn to get from the narrow Petermann Fjord to enter Nares Strait between Greenland and Canada, the mighty iceberg split into thousands of small icebergs that will not pose an unusual threat to shipping when they emerge into the Atlantic.


Figure 1. The 100 square-mile ice island that broke off the Petermann Glacier heads out of the Petermann Fjord in this image taken by NASA's Aqua satellite on August 21, 2010. Image credit: NASA. I've constructed a 7-frame satellite animation available here that shows the calving and break-up of the Petermann Glacier ice island. The animation begins on August 5, 2010, and ends on September 21, with images spaced about 8 days apart. The images were taken by NASA's Aqua and Terra satellites.

Petermann Glacier spawned smaller ice islands in 2001 (34 square miles) and in 2008 (10 square miles). In 2005, the Ayles Ice Shelf, about 60 miles to the west of Petermann Glacier, disintegrated and became a 34 square-mile ice island. The August 2010 Petermann Glacier calving event created the largest iceberg observed in the Arctic since 1962, when the Ward Hunt Ice Shelf on the north coast of Canada's Ellesmere Island calved off a massive 230 square mile chunk. The Ward Hunt Ice Shelf also calved off a huge 21 square mile ice island a few days after the August 2010 Petermann Glacier calving event. According to an article in livescience.com, "Driftwood and narwhal remains found along the Ellesmere coast have radiocarbon dates from roughly 3,000 to 6,800 years ago, implying that the ice has been intact since those remains were deposited." All of the these calving events are evidence that the ice sheets in the Arctic are responding as one would expect to significantly warmer temperatures.

Warmer ocean temperatures cause significant melting of Greenland's glaciers
At a talk last December at the world's largest conference on climate change, the American Geophysical Union (AGU) meeting in San Francisco, glacier expert Eric Rignot of UC-Irvine implicated ocean warming as a key reason for the calving of the Petermann Glacier's ice island. The ocean waters near the glacier have warmed by 1 - 2°C over the past three years, he said, and all of the periphery of Greenland has seen ocean heat increases in recent years, with the result that 20 - 80% of all the mass lost by Greenland's glaciers in recent years could be attributed to melting of the glaciers by warmer waters attacking them from beneath. Ocean temperatures along the southwest coast of Greenland (60N to 70N, 60W to 50W) computed from the UK Hadley Center data set during 2010 were 2.9°C (5.2°F) above average--a truly remarkable anomaly, and far warmer than the previous record of 1.5°C above average set in 2003. Sea surface temperature records for Greenland began in the 1920s. A study earlier this year published in the journal Science (Spielhagen et al., 2011) found that ocean temperatures on the east side of Greenland are now at their warmest levels in at least 2,000 years. The researchers studied a sediment core containing fossil remains of planktic foraminifers, which vary as a function of water temperature. The study noted that not only have the waters flowing northward on the east side of Greenland warmed significantly, the volume of water flowing north has also increased, resulting in a large transport of heat into the Arctic. "Such an increased heat input has far-reaching consequences," they wrote.


Figure 2. Departure of sea surface temperature from average for 2010 from the NOAA Daily Optimum Interpolation SST Anomaly data set for October 2010. Areas colored red are warmer than the 1971-2000 average, areas colored blue are cooler than that average. A large region of record warm water temperatures extended along the west coast of Greenland, leading to record warm air temperatures and record melting along the western portion of Greenland in 2010. Ocean temperatures along the southwest coast of Greenland (60N to 70N, 60W to 50W) computed from the UK Hadley Center data set during 2010 were 2.9°C (5.2°F) above average--a truly remarkable anomaly, surpassing the previous record of 1.5°C set in 2003. Sea surface temperature records for Greenland began in the 1920s. Image credit: NOAA Visualization Lab.

Record warmth and melting in Greenland during 2010
Greenland's climate in 2010 was marked by record-setting high air temperatures, the greatest ice loss by melting since accurate records began in 1958, and the greatest mass loss of ocean-terminating glaciers on record. That was the conclusion of the 2010 Arctic Report Card, a collaborative effort between NOAA and European Arctic experts that comes out each year. Was 2010 the warmest year in Greenland's history? That is difficult to judge. We know it was also very warm in the late 1920s and 1930s in Greenland, but we only have two stations, Godtahab Nuuk and Angmagssalik, with weather records that go back that far (Figure 3.) Godtahab Nuuk set a record high in 2010, but temperatures at Angmagssalik in 2010 were similar to what was observed during several years in the 1920s and 1930s. Marco Tedesco of the City College of New York's Cryosphere Processes Laboratory remarked that last year's record warmth and melting in Greenland began when an unusually early spring warm spell reduced and "aged" the snow on the surface of the ice sheet, so that the snow became less reflective, allowing it to absorb more heat from the sun. This accelerated snow melt even further, exposing the bare ice, which is less reflective than snow and absorbs more heat. This feedback loop extended Greenland's record melting season well into the fall.


Figure 3. Historic temperatures in Greenland for the six stations with at least 50 years of data, as archived by NASA. Three of the six stations set record highs in 2010. However, only two of the six stations (Godtahab Nuuk and Angmagssalik) have data going back beyond the 1930s, which was a period of warmth in Greenland similar to the warmth of the current decade. Godtahab Nuuk set a record high in 2010, but 2003 still ranks as Angmagssalik's hottest year on record.


Figure 4. The 2010 summer melt season was lasted more than 40 days longer (purple colors) than the mean melt season from 1979 - 2007. Image credit: Arctic Report Card.

Why Greenland matters: sea level rise
The major concern with a warming climate in Greenland is melting of the Greenland ice sheet, which currently contributes about 25% of the observed 3 mm/year (1.2 inches per decade) global rise in sea level. Higher sea levels mean increased storm surge inundation, coastal erosion, loss of low-lying land areas, and salt water contamination of underground drinking water supplies. Greenland ice mass loss is accelerating over the long term, according to independent estimates using three different techniques (Figure 5), with more mass being lost each year than the previous year. According to Rignot et al., 2011, ice mass loss is also accelerating in Antarctica, and "the magnitude of the acceleration suggests that ice sheets will be the dominant contributors to sea level rise in forthcoming decades, and will likely exceed the IPCC projections for the contribution of ice sheets to sea level rise in the 21st century." As I discussed in a 2009 blog post, How much will global sea level rise this century?, the IPCC in 2007 estimated that global sea level would rise 0.6 - 1.9 feet by 2100, but several studies since then predict a higher range of 1.6 - 6.6 feet.

During the warm period 125,000 years ago, before the most recent ice age, roughly half of the Greenland ice sheet melted. This melting plus the melting of other smaller Arctic ice fields is thought to have caused 7.2 - 11.2 feet (2.2 - 3.4 meters) of the 13 - 20 foot (4 - 6 meter) sea level rise observed during that period. Temperatures in Greenland are predicted to rise 3°C by 2100, to levels similar to 125,000 years ago. If this level of warming occurs, we can expect sea levels to rise 13 - 20 feet several centuries from now. There's enough water locked away in the ice sheet to raise sea level to rise 23 feet (7 meters), should the entire Greenland ice sheet melt.


Figure 5. Loss of mass from Greenland's ice sheet in gigatons per year from 1992 through 2009, as computed from satellite gravity measurements from the GRACE satellites (red line) and from a mass balance method. The mass balance method computes the amount of snow on the surface, the amount of ice mass lost to wind and melt, and the amount of ice lost computed from glacier velocity and ice thickness. Adding together these terms gives the total amount of ice lost or gained over the ice sheet. The acceleration is given in gigatons per year squared. Another paper by Zwally et al. (2011) used a third method, laser satellite altimetry, to determine Greenland mass loss. Between 2003 to 2007, the ice sheet lost 171 gigatons of mass per year. Between 1992 to 2002, Greenland was only losing only 7 gigatons per year. Image credit: Rignot et al., 2011, Geophysical Research Letters.

References
Rignot, E., et al., 2011: Acceleration of the contribution of the Greenland and Antarctic Ice Sheets to sea level rise, Geophysical Research Letters, in press, doi:10.1029/2011GL046583.

Spielhagen, et al., 2011, Enhanced Modern Heat Transfer to the Arctic by Warm Atlantic Water, Science 28 January 2011: Vol. 331 no. 6016 pp. 450-453 DOI: 10.1126/science.1197397

Zwally, J., et al., 2011, Greenland ice sheet mass balance: distribution of increased mass loss with climate warming; 2003 - 07 versus 19922 - 2002, Journal of Glaciology, Vol. 57, No. 201, 2011.

Wunderground's climate change section has a Greenland web page with detailed information and references.

Jeff Masters

Climate Change Glaciers

Updated: 6:22 PM GMT on April 19, 2011

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Fire season is here: wildfires scorch Florida, Texas

By: JeffMasters, 1:58 PM GMT on March 02, 2011

It's March in the Southern U.S., and that means it's wildfire season. Strong winds and tinder-dry conditions in Northeast Florida near St. Augustine fanned a 10,000-acre fire that forced closure of I-95 yesterday morning. Other fires are burning in Texas and New Mexico, and a fire in West Texas earlier this week burned over 120,000 acres and caused a fatal traffic accident that killed one person. It promises to be an active fire season across the entire southern tier of states this spring due to a very dry winter. Dry winters in the Southern U.S. are common when unusually cold water is present in the Equatorial Pacific Ocean--La Niña conditions. This occurs because the unusually cold waters act to deflect the jet stream, keeping wintertime storm systems from traveling over the Southern U.S. La Niña is gradually weakening, but is expected to last through the spring months, meaning that drought conditions will continue into the summer. There is some relief in sight this weekend for Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and the Florida Panhandle, where a storm system and associated cold front are expected to bring rains of 1/2 to 1 inch. However, Texas and most of the Florida Peninsula will miss the heaviest rains, and NOAA's Climate Prediction Center is predicting much above average chances of dry weather across the Southern U.S. for the remainder of March.


Figure 1. NASA's Aqua satellite detected three large fires burning in eastern Florida on February 28, 2011. According to the National Interagency Fire Center, all three wildfires burned out of control and threatened homes. The largest of the fires is the Iron Horse Fire, burning in northern Brevard County. The 10,000-acre fire produced dense clouds of smoke that forced officials to close parts of US Highway 1 and Interstate 95, said news reports. As of March 1, the fire had destroyed one home and was burning towards more densely populated areas, reported CNN. In the north, the Keller Fire also closed roads, including Highway 1 and Interstate 95. The smaller Ferry-7 fire burned primarily in National Forests. Image credit: NASA Earth Observatory.


Figure 2. U.S. drought conditions as of February 22, 2011, showed large regions of drought over the southern tier of states, with the extreme drought conditions over portions of Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Georgia, and Florida. Image credit: U.S. Department of Agriculture.

I'll have a new post on Thursday or Friday.

Jeff Masters

Updated: 3:33 PM GMT on March 02, 2011

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The winter of 2010 - 2011 officially over, but winter-like weather continues

By: JeffMasters, 3:01 PM GMT on March 01, 2011

It's March 1, and meteorological winter--the 3-month December, January, February period--is officially over. However, below-average temperatures and winter-like conditions will continue to affect most of the U.S. through the middle of March, and the groundhog definitely messed up his end-of-winter forecast when he failed to see his shadow on February 2 and predicted an early end to winter. While the latest computer forecast models are not showing any new Nor'easters will affect coastal New England in the coming ten days, Chicago and Detroit may see a major winter storm on Saturday, and additional significant snows are likely next week over the Upper Midwest. The potential for additional heavy snows over the Upper Midwest next week is a major concern for North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, where winter snows 200% - 400% of average have piled up a snowpack that is among the wettest on record. December-January precipitation ranked in the top ten over the past 116 years. If you take all the snow that is piled up an melt it all at once, it would amount to more than six inches of rain over large swaths of the region. The NWS is predicting a 10 - 30% chance that Fargo, Grand Forks, St. Paul, and portions of South Dakota will see their highest floods in history this spring when that massive snowpack melts.


Figure 1. The amount of water locked in the current snowpack if one were to melt all the snow on the ground. Snow depths in excess of 18 inches with a very high water content lie across much of the Upper Midwest. Image credit: NOAA/NOHRSC.

Severe weather, floods hit Midwest, Southeast
Severe weather swept through the Midwest and Southeast yesterday, with six reports of tornadoes in Tennessee, South Carolina, and North Carolina. One tornado-related death was reported in Franklin County, Tennessee. NOAA's Storm Prediction Center logged 154 reports of high winds, and 24 reports of large hail. Heavy rains of 2 - 3 inches fell over a large swath of Indiana and Ohio, leading to moderate to major river flooding.


Figure 2. Severe weather reports logged by NOAA's Storm Prediction Center on February 28, 2011.

I'll have a new post on Wednesday.

Jeff Masters

Winter Weather

Updated: 6:54 PM GMT on January 05, 2012

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About

Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.

JeffMasters's Recent Photos

Carrot Nose in Danger
Deep Snow in Brookline, MA
Sunset at Fort DeSoto
New Years Day Sunset in Death Valley