Causes of the Russian heat wave and Pakistani floods

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 2:56 PM GMT on August 13, 2010

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The Great Russian Heat Wave of 2010 is one of the most intense, widespread, and long-lasting heat waves in world history. Only the European heat wave of 2003, which killed 35,000 - 50,000 people, and the incredible North American heat wave of July 1936, which set all-time extreme highest temperature records in fifteen U.S. states, can compare. All of these heat waves were caused by a highly unusual kink in the jet stream that remained locked in place for over a month. The jet stream is an upper-level river of air, between the altitudes of about 30,000 - 40,000 feet (10,000 - 12,000 meters). In July over Europe and Asia, the jet stream has two branches: a strong southern "subtropical" jet that blows across southern Europe, and a weaker "polar" jet that blows across northern Europe. The polar jet stream carries along the extratropical cyclones (lows) that bring the mid-latitudes most of their precipitation. The polar jet stream also acts as the boundary between cold, Arctic air, and warm tropical air. If the polar jet stream shifts to the north of its usual location, areas just to its south will be much hotter and drier than normal. In July 2010, a remarkably strong polar jet stream developed over northern Europe. This jet curved far to the north of Moscow, then plunged southwards towards Pakistan. This allowed hot air to surge northwards over most of European Russia, and prevented rain-bearing low pressure systems from traveling over the region. These rain-bearing low pressure systems passed far to the north of European Russia, then dove unusually far to the south, into northern Pakistan. The heavy rains from these lows combined with Pakistan's usual summer monsoon rains to trigger Pakistan's most devastating floods in history.


Figure 1. Winds of the jet stream at an altitude of 300 millibars (roughly 30,000 feet high). Left: Average July winds from the period 1968 - 1996 show that a two-branch jet stream typically occurs over Europe and Asia--a northern "polar" jet stream, and a more southerly "subtropical" jet stream. Right: the jet stream pattern in July 2010 was highly unusual, with a very strong polar jet looping far to the north of Russia, then diving southwards towards Pakistan. Image credit: NOAA/ESRL.

What caused this unusual jet stream pattern?
The unusual jet stream pattern that led to the 2010 Russian heat wave and Pakistani floods began during the last week of June, and remained locked in place all of July and for the first half of August. Long-lived "blocking" episodes like this are usually caused by unusual sea surface temperature patterns, according to recent research done using climate models. For example, Feudale and Shukla (2010) found that during the summer of 2003, exceptionally high sea surface temperatures of 4°C (7°F) above average over the Mediterranean Sea, combined with unusually warm SSTs in the northern portion of the North Atlantic Ocean near the Arctic, combined to shift the jet stream to the north over Western Europe and create the heat wave of 2003. I expect that the current SST pattern over the ocean regions surrounding Europe played a key role in shifting the jet stream to create the heat wave of 2010. Note that the SST anomaly pattern is quite different this year compared to 2003, which may be why this year's heat wave hit Eastern Europe, and the 2003 heat wave hit Western Europe. Human-caused climate change also may have played a role; using climate models, Stott et al. (2004) found it very likely (>90% chance) that human-caused climate change has at least doubled the risk of severe heat waves like the great 2003 European heat wave.


Figure 2. A comparison of the departure of sea surface temperature (SST) from average just prior the the start of the great European heat waves of 2003 and 2010. Temperatures in the Mediterranean Sea were up to 4°C above average in 2003, which has been implicated as a major cause of the Western European heat wave of 2003. Image credit: NOAA/NESDIS.

References
Feudale, L., and J. Shukla (2010), "Influence of sea surface temperature on the European heat wave of 2003 summer. Part I: an observational study", Climate Dynamics DOI: 10.1007/s00382-010-0788-0

Stott, P.A., Stone, D.A., and M.R. Allen (2004), "Human contribution to the European heatwave of 2003", Nature 432, 610-614 (2 December 2004) | doi:10.1038/nature03089. (Here is a free version of the paper, presented at a conference.)

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has posted an analysis of the recent extreme weather events, concluding, "the sequence of current events matches IPCC projections of more frequent and more intense extreme weather events due to global warming."

See also my posts, The Great Russian Heat Wave of 2010: 102°F in Moscow and, Over 15,000 likely dead in Russian heat wave; Asian monsoon floods kill hundreds more.

Moscow sees real relief from the Great Russian Heat Wave of 2010
For the first time in more than a month, temperatures at Moscow's Domodedovo airport failed to exceed 30°C (86°F) today. Clouds and thunderstorms blew into the city this morning, keeping the high temperature down to just 29°C (84°F). This breaks a string of 35 straight days when the temperature reached 30°C. At Moscow's official observing site, the Moscow Observatory, this string was 30 days. Moscow's average high temperature for August 13 is 20°C (68°F), so today's temperatures were still well above normal. However, today's cool-down marks the beginning of the end for Russia's great heat wave. The latest forecast for Moscow calls for high temperatures below 30°C for the coming week, and Moscow may not exceed that threshold for the remainder of summer. Long range forecasts from the ECMWF and GFS models continue to suggest that a series of troughs of low pressure will attack the ridge of high pressure anchored over Russia, bringing cooler temperatures just 5°C (8°F) above average to Russia late next week. By ten days from now, the ECMWF model shows a strong trough of low pressure over Moscow, and a end to the Great Russian Heat Wave of 2010. Moscow still has to concern itself with smoke from the wildfires burning southeast of the city; winds are expected to shift early next week and bring the smoke towards the city again. However, the cooler weather should aid fire-fighting efforts, so the smoke problems should not be as bad as last week's nightmare.


Figure 2. Image from NASA's Aqua satellite of smoke from wildfires burning to the southeast of Moscow yesterday, August 12, 2010. Northerly winds were keeping the smoke from blowing over the city. Image credit: NASA.

The tropics are quiet
The remnants of Tropical Depression Five continue to bring heavy rain to portions of Southeast Louisiana today. Up to five inches of rain has fallen in regions near New Orleans. The GFS model predicts that the remains of TD 5 could move off the coast of Mississippi by the middle of next week and regenerate, but none of the other models is making this forecast. Both the GFS and ECMWF models are predicting that a tropical storm will develop off the coast of Africa by next Friday, August 20.

Donations urgently needed in Pakistan
The devastation wrought by the worst flooding in Pakistan's history requires a huge response by the international community. Wunderblogger Dr. Ricky Rood, author of our Climate Change Blog, has a friend working in Pakistan who underscored the desperate situation there:

This is the worst natural disaster in the history of Pakistan in terms of number of people and area affected. Although not as many people have been killed as in the 2005 earthquake, we have already nearly 900,000 displaced persons thus far just in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Crops are destroyed; shops, hotels, and other business have simply been swept away in Swat, which had just this year been cleared of Taliban and was on the way to recovery; and districts closer to Peshawar and parts of Peshawar district are still, or perhaps again after yesterday/today, under water. After the immediate emergency response, it will be years of rebuilding to replace what has been lost and to start to develop again. I know you have the power to control the weather, so if you cold give us a week or two without more rain at least we could keep the helicopters flying and give people a chance to go to their homes, recover what might still be there, set up tents if we can get enough to them, and start to clean up."

She gave the following recommendations for charities that do work in the flood-ravaged zone, and are effective at getting aid to those who need it the most:

Doctors Without Borders

The International Red Cross

MERLIN medical relief charity

The mobile giving service mGive allows one to text the word "SWAT" to 50555. The text will result in a $10 donation to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) Pakistan Flood Relief Effort.

She mentioned that it is better to send money to the organizations doing the relief work than to try to organize shipments of goods.

Jeff Masters

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Quoting CybrTeddy:


Actually, it has alternated from a US landfall to a fish storm. If the ECMWF's track verifies.. she'll be heading much more west.



Everyone i looking at the big one.....there is also a smaller scale one that models are also showing in the Caribbean. That just might be a GOM bound system.
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Quoting MiamiHurricanes09:
192 hours, 991mb cyclone, part 2 near, if not at TD status.




looks like it heading for Bermuda ouch
Member Since: May 21, 2006 Posts: 5091 Comments: 114718
2723. Drakoen
Quoting Stormchaser2007:
At 360 hours theres one system east of the Bahamas and one east of the Lesser Antilles.


Cyclone train starting.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 29886
Sorry when I posted that link if forgot to say what it was.

This is an Image off the coast of Africa.

Link
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Quoting JRRP:

super hyper extra mega hurricane


I would be pumped to see it as long as it stays way out there!
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Quoting Stormchaser2007:
I think some of you will find the later part of the 00z run most interesting.
Yup. 336 hours:

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At 360 hours theres one system east of the Bahamas and one east of the Lesser Antilles.
Member Since: June 9, 2007 Posts: 4 Comments: 15776
2717. JRRP

super hyper extra mega hurricane
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Quoting Kristina40:
I can't find any current tracks for ex TD 5 so any info on it is appreciated.


Most of the models take it back out into the northern Gulf in about 24-36 hours, then move it generally W toward Louisiana.
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Link
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I think some of you will find the later part of the 00z run most interesting.
Member Since: June 9, 2007 Posts: 4 Comments: 15776
192 hours, 991mb cyclone, part 2 near, if not at TD status.

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2712. xcool
btwntx08 HA
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Bermuda needs too watch
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Out to hour 300 on StormVista

The first storm is way OTS and part 2 is heading WNW just east of the islands.


Another weak system behind it.
Member Since: June 9, 2007 Posts: 4 Comments: 15776
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Quoting F4PHANTOM:
That's what GFS has been showing for the past 3 days.


Actually, it has alternated from a US landfall to a fish storm. If the ECMWF's track verifies.. she'll be heading much more west.

Member Since: July 8, 2005 Posts: 259 Comments: 23568
if it hits Bermuda, dead on then its not a fish
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Quoting TampaSpin:


It really would not be wrong to designate an Invest while on land. They have done it before. Would be nothing wrong for them to do so with this one with such great model support.


I can't remember for sure but wasn't 95L an invest while still over land? (the one that everyone argued so much about that started over the Florida PH and hit NOLA)
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Quoting Kristina40:
I can't find any current tracks for ex TD 5 so any info on it is appreciated.


As far as I know, there aren't any spaghetti model charts for it. Most of the models take it south of the Panhandle and then have it making landfall in SE Louisiana as a minimal to moderate tropical storm.
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2701. Drakoen
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Quoting MississippiWx:
168 hours out...200mb chart shows upper-level ridging over the CV system. If all of this happens, this hurricane could be quite intense and will most likely recurve.



Correct, will be a very interesting storm to track. Hopefully it stays out to sea but its best to remain vigilant, especially so far out.
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Quoting Stormchaser2007:
Hopefully the NHC isn't too hesitant to designate this potential wave an invest once it emerges so we can get some models running on it from the start.



It really would not be wrong to designate an Invest while on land. They have done it before. Would be nothing wrong for them to do so with this one with such great model support.
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I can't find any current tracks for ex TD 5 so any info on it is appreciated.
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Ok.....for days now the models have shown a big cyclone. Again, like last night I put out there...isn't this what we expect at this time of the year?
.
.
There's been enough continuity in the models and historically I'd also expect a storm in the next 2 weeks. The question is.....where is it going?
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168 hours out...200mb chart shows upper-level ridging over the CV system. If all of this happens, this hurricane could be quite intense and will most likely recurve.

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2694. Levi32
Quoting VAbeachhurricanes:


Levi stop sending me all this bad news! hahaha have it out for the east coast?? :p


Naturally the scenario where the storm hits land is the one which I should be looking out for and warning about, although recurvature is also strongly on the table.
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Quoting kramus:


We're not interested in your house guests. Please stay on topic. (Although I'm sure they're wonderful people.)


LOL
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Quoting F4PHANTOM:
How old is this? Models haven't shown this track for at least 24 hrs.


Not sure. I was trying to look up about EX-TD5 and this is what I found. I think it was posted this morning.
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Heading NW

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174 hours, much quicker recurvature along with a more intense cyclone (992mb). Part 2 begins to take shape.

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Quoting Levi32:
This is what you want to watch out for. The closed height line at 500mb near the Bahamas represents the hurricane on the ensemble mean, sitting right underneath the big positive 500mb height anomaly which is centered north of New York State. That pattern means the hurricane makes landfall on the US east coast. If the trough gets out of there in time for the ridge to build in like that, we'll have to look out. At this point it's too far out to really say and it could go either way, but it should definitely be watched.

18z GFS ensemble mean 500mb height Day 12:



Levi stop sending me all this bad news! hahaha have it out for the east coast?? :p
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Quoting Levi32:


Ya and this storm will more than likely be coming in way too far north to get into the gulf.


The thingy behind this could be the southern route system....could the the stinker?
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It would be great for the newbies if you guys would tag your posts with what system you are referring to. BTW, great discussion!
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Hopefully the NHC isn't too hesitant to designate this potential wave an invest once it emerges so we can get some models running on it from the start.

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Quoting nolacane2009:


I was not sure of that I apologize. I am new and found the information thought it would be helpful. I will keep close eye on the model run next time. Thanks for the heads up


No no it's very helpful! I was just referring to the author's comment on the EURO only showing a TD. That's a very good article...thanks for posting.
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Quoting GPTGUY:
The heart of the hurricane season for the North Central Gulf Coast basically begins today and runs thru about Oct. 15...here are some notable storms that affected the area...

1947 Hurricane Sept. 19
Hurricane Betsy Sept. 9
Hurricane Camille Aug. 17
Hurricane Frederic Sept. 12
Hurricane Elena Sept. 2
Hurricane Andrew Aug. 26
Hurricane Opal Oct. 4
Hurricane Georges Sept. 28
Hurricane Ivan Sept. 16
Hurricane Katrina Aug. 29
Hurricane Gustav Sept. 1


Hey! It's the YouTube guy! :D

I hope you stay safe this year. I'll be PMing you on YouTube in the event your area gets threatened.
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2682. Levi32
Very strong development early would greatly increase the chances of recurvature.
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200mb Wind Chart from the GFS shows a perfect poleward outflow channel for the developing CV system.

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Good amount of 850 mb vorticity associated with PG130L.

Member Since: July 8, 2005 Posts: 259 Comments: 23568
156 hours.

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2678. Levi32
Quoting hurricane23:
Twinkster,

Based on the synoptic upper air pattern being layed out by the models i'd say this disturbance makes to atleast 50-55w before any trough influence takes place. Just have to wait & see if the trough that is progged to move through the northeast US and then offshore, is stronger or weaker than progged and then also if it is slower or faster. The U.S. is hit by a mere one in six that become TD's east of 50W and S of 20N. Moreover, this looks to form well east of 50W. (Of course, some of those either dissipate in mid-ocean or go too far south, but most recurve.) So, it isn't as if the U.S. needs much luck in getting a properly timed trough to keep it protected. Rather, that is usually what happens. The anomaly is when it isn't protected. However, with it being a solid La Nina and with the prime formation period for U.S. CV storm hits during La Ninas being next week (8/15-21), one should be more vigilant than normal.



Good post.
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2677. GPTGUY
The heart of the hurricane season for the North Central Gulf Coast basically begins today and runs thru about Oct. 15...here are some notable storms that affected the area...

1947 Hurricane Sept. 19
Hurricane Betsy Sept. 9
Hurricane Camille Aug. 17
Hurricane Frederic Sept. 12
Hurricane Elena Sept. 2
Hurricane Andrew Aug. 26
Hurricane Opal Oct. 4
Hurricane Georges Sept. 28
Hurricane Ivan Sept. 16
Hurricane Katrina Aug. 29
Hurricane Gustav Sept. 1
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Quoting Drakoen:
Big system. ROCI around 10 degrees:



SAL won't be a problem in that case.
Member Since: July 8, 2005 Posts: 259 Comments: 23568
Quoting MississippiWx:


This was also written before the EURO's 12z run which brings the system to weak Tropical Storm strength. We'll see what the 00z run shows. The NAM and GFS have shown that they believe in a stronger system.

I was not sure of that I apologize. I am new and found the information thought it would be helpful. I will keep close eye on the model run next time. Thanks for the heads up
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Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.

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