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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1575. tkeith
1565. Patrap 10:08 AM CDT on August 14, 2010

I dont trust my eyes Pat. But from that loop it seemed the remnant Low is either stationary or beginning the SE turn some have been forecating.

I cant tell...
Member Since: November 1, 2004 Posts: 25 Comments: 8937
Quoting TexasHurricane:
Hi All, what are the models suggesting for TD5? Is it suppose to still go back in the GOM and go back to LA?


Almost all models suggest that, yes.
Member Since: July 8, 2005 Posts: 259 Comments: 24477
1573. IKE
Quoting HurricaneDanielle:
potential threaters, stormy?


Dead giveaway.
Member Since: June 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37860
Hi All, what are the models suggesting for TD5? Is it suppose to still go back in the GOM and go back to LA?
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1571. pottery
Quoting KBH:
Given changing weather patterns e.g floods in Pakistan and elsewhere without strom and cyclone activity perhaps noaa should be (if they are not already) monitor this activity. lots of the islands in our region have problems with flooding and landslides as a result of prolong rains

Well, the heavy rains in this region were predicted by just about everyone.
All the conditions are in favour of more rains this season than in the recent past.
The La Nina in the Pacific is known to coincide with heavier rainfall in the Atlantic region.
There are other factors as well.
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1570. WxLogic
Quoting StormW:
Double Barrel upper level anticyclones:



Ouch... that reminds me of IKE
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Quoting StormW:
Double Barrel upper level anticyclones:



Two very large and powerful tropical cyclones. Impressive.
Member Since: July 8, 2005 Posts: 259 Comments: 24477
1567. breald
I have a question for anyone that can answer. In the summer, how can a temperature be 72 degrees but the feel like temp is 66 degrees. I understand wind chill in the winter but how does this happen in the summer?
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We have PG130L. That's going to be the guy to watch.
Member Since: July 8, 2005 Posts: 259 Comments: 24477
1565. Patrap
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 129093
1564. KBH
Given changing weather patterns e.g floods in Pakistan and elsewhere without strom and cyclone activity perhaps noaa should be (if they are not already) monitor this activity. lots of the islands in our region have problems with flooding and landslides as a result of prolong rains
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I wonder what the Weather Channel Storm Alert will be like this year
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1562. pottery
Quoting KBH:

thanks, one challenge we have here is rainfall amounts are measured at the airport (South) but with the increasing the itcz activity parts of the west and central are flooded while no rain in south

Put a rain guage in your garden.
Even plant-shops have some that will record rainfall up to about 2".
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Cool and cloudy day in Goose Creek, SC today. We had a wicked thunderstorm come through yesterday with the works, was pretty much like a mini TS with hail!

Link
GFS and some other models hinting at some strong systems on the horizon. The system begins in ernest here shortly.
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Boy I see my forecast for the SW Caribbean was as usual. That's why I put the not behind the name.Oh well it's still fun being here.Good morning all.
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Quoting Drakoen:
The GFS shows the Cape Verde System becoming very large. The ROCI looks to be around 6-7 degrees indicating a large cyclone.


get ur popcorn ready
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1557. Drakoen
The GFS shows the Cape Verde System becoming very large. The ROCI looks to be around 6-7 degrees indicating a large cyclone.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30615
1556. KBH
Quoting pottery:

There is a good site out of Barbados

www.brohavwx.com

Not sure where to find rainfall potential. Although there is a Weather Radar in T&T but I cannot access it. Will look for the address...

thanks, one challenge we have here is rainfall amounts are measured at the airport (South) but with the increasing the itcz activity parts of the west and central are flooded while no rain in south
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1555. scott39
Quoting wunderkidcayman:
good morning guys after I looked at the models I am starting to get this strong feeling that pre-95L/pre-Earl will not make it north of the northern leeward Islands but into the Caribbean maybe being a W Caribbean major
Really Kid! Im not picking on you, but dont you think all possible TCs developements in the eastern and Central Atlantic are coming in the Carribbean? Give time to develope and get closer son!
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Quoting wunderkidcayman:
good morning guys after I looked at the models I am starting to get this strong feeling that pre-95L/pre-Earl will not make it north of the northern leeward Islands but into the Caribbean maybe being a W Caribbean major


it is possible but still far out, The GFS Ensemble for next week indicates that there would be just enough of a weakness between the azores and bermuda high that would enable this to go either over the northern islands or north of them. Remember this could change
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Wave has been introduced as a test invest PGI-30L.

Link
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1550. pottery
Quoting KBH:
I find this itcz is shifting further north and flooding is causing more damage and problems than hurricanes - ever notice how some insurance companies have a special definition of 'floods'- "floods caused by burricanes and storms"

The Insurance people are a trip...
A friend of mine had a large portion of hillside come through his house.
The Insurer said "Ah! This is a 'LandSlip' and you only have 'LandSlide' insurance" !!!
He took them to court and won.
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1548. Patrap
"Pre"-cognition ?
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 129093
good morning guys after I looked at the models I am starting to get this strong feeling that pre-95L/pre-Earl will not make it north of the northern leeward Islands but into the Caribbean maybe being a W Caribbean major
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1544. scott39
Quoting PensacolaDoug:



I read his blog daily. He's not afraid to go out on limb with his forecast. That's for sure!
Yes, Very outspoken in what he believes.
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1543. Drakoen
Quoting IKE:
New MJO charts as of today....













MJO sticking our basin
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30615
1542. pottery
Morning, SLU.
Can you help answer the question at post 1530?
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1540. KBH
I find this itcz is shifting further north and flooding is causing more damage and problems than hurricanes - ever notice how some insurance companies have a special definition of 'floods'- "floods caused by hurricanes and storms"
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1538. msphar
108 days till season end after today.
Member Since: August 20, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 289
1537. pottery
Quoting KBH:
does noaa provide info on itcz activity such as expected rainfall levels, flood alerts etc? Looks of lots of activity in that zone for a the next few days - flooding seems to be likely for the C'bean island in the near future

There is a good site out of Barbados

www.brohavwx.com

Not sure where to find rainfall potential. Although there is a Weather Radar in T&T but I cannot access it. Will look for the address...
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Quoting scott39:
Did you see Joe Bastardi on accuweather today concerning XTD5? LOL, I like Joe and his excitement over possible TCs. He said XTD5 should have never been an EX!



I read his blog daily. He's not afraid to go out on limb with his forecast. That's for sure!
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1534. SLU
Looks like the season is about to start.
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1533. IKE
New MJO charts as of today....











Member Since: June 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37860
Quoting StormW:


Yes, shows the switch basically...gets better farther out...note the almost textbook upper level anticyclone, west of the Cape Verde Islands:



Your right, pretty impressive. What's more impressive is that anti-cyclone, stronger systems usually produce one.
Member Since: July 8, 2005 Posts: 259 Comments: 24477
1530. KBH
does noaa provide info on itcz activity such as expected rainfall levels, flood alerts etc? Looks of lots of activity in that zone for a the next few days - flooding seems to be likely for the C'bean island in the near future
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Morning everyone dew point here in SWFL is 77. Humidity is 74. Kinda gross outside. Yesterday was 6 years since Charley, kinda surreal, even to this day to me. Almost feels like a bad dream or something.
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1527. scott39
Quoting btwntx08:

yes it would then it should move west once it reaches the gom but how far south in the gom is question we need to watch
Did you see Joe Bastardi on accuweather today concerning XTD5? LOL, I like Joe and his excitement over possible TCs. He said XTD5 should have never been an EX!
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Quoting StormW:


???


Wait, its showing favorable conditions?
Member Since: July 8, 2005 Posts: 259 Comments: 24477

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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.