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 Stormchaser2007:


Hurricane Omar



Thanks...good looking hurricane. If my memory is correct, didn't this one head off to the north and east?
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Thank you for your answers StormW. i had to go and clean up an OREO fight, so i'm just getting back.
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823. xcool


Member Since: September 26, 2009 Posts: 2 Comments: 15618
Okay Levi32..I know its a long shot and that this system hasnt even emerged off Africa yet but could you explain the pattern set up that would have to occur if this system wants to threaten the Northeast/New England?
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Quoting MississippiWx:


Yeah, but I should have specified. I meant more like the Central Caribbean.


Omar was in the central Caribbean.
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Quoting MississippiWx:


Yeah, but I should have specified. I meant more like the Central Caribbean.


Hurricane Omar

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Quoting KoritheMan:


Omar and Paloma, too.


Thanks, I just couldn't remember and was being too lazy to look back. However, a major hurricane hasn't been through there in almost 2 years now.
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817. xcool
wdtcnewsonlinewx .13.6
Member Since: September 26, 2009 Posts: 2 Comments: 15618
Quoting JLPR2:


Wasn't Ida a hurricane there last year?


Yeah, but I should have specified. I meant more like the Central Caribbean.
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Quoting JLPR2:


Wasn't Ida a hurricane there last year?


Omar and Paloma, too.
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Quoting MississippiWx:
Am I correct in thinking that a hurricane hasn't churned the Caribbean waters since Gustav in 2008?


Ida 2009.
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813. xcool


18Z CMC
Member Since: September 26, 2009 Posts: 2 Comments: 15618
Quoting xcool:


Is that 15 see??
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810. JLPR2
Quoting MississippiWx:
Am I correct in thinking that a hurricane hasn't churned the Caribbean waters since Gustav in 2008?


Wasn't Ida a hurricane there last year?
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Quoting charlestonscnanny:

I was in Hurricane Hugo in Charleston, SC and it really was that scary.


Hugo was the big scare for SC. We are long overdue for one..
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808. xcool
Member Since: September 26, 2009 Posts: 2 Comments: 15618
Am I correct in thinking that a hurricane hasn't churned the Caribbean waters since Gustav in 2008?
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This is the latest run of the GFS on the Cape Verde storm..Can somebody say, kind of looks like a Bill from last year.

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803. JLPR2
Quoting palmasdelrio:


That is scary. I was in PR during Hurricane Hugo, but it was nothing like this.


Were were you in PR since it seemed similar to what Hugo was like? XD
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Quoting troy1993:
http://cimss.ssec.wisc.edu/tropic/real-time/atlantic/winds/wg8sht.html

Hey Levi32 check out the shear tendency around the tropical Atlantic..it seems as though wind shear overall especially around the Lesser antellies is decreasing..I am seeing more green and blue then yellows and red..does this mean that the TUTT is finally lifting out..what does this mean for the future enviorment of the central African tropical wave that many of the models develop into a tropical cyclone..do you think it will develop and could it threaten the U.S and become a powerful hurricane?


Too far out to say on any of that, but the pattern is maturing into one that is more favorable for tropical activity and landfalls on the US, so this one should be watched. It could recurve, and it could also threaten land, so it's something to keep an eye on.
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GFS much farther west and south this run with the Cape Verde storm. Also, ex-TD5 does come out over water, just not as quickly. Still deepens into a TS off the coast of Louisiana and Mississippi. I think the most alarming thing I've seen on the GFS is the A/B high being weaker than 1020mb.
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Quoting Stormchaser2007:
Here's why the 12z ECMWF didnt recurve it.

Bingo.
Member Since: September 2, 2009 Posts: 130 Comments: 21091
795. shhhh - I don't want to hear that, LOL. (goes back to counting canned goods)
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Quoting MiamiThrice:



not looking good for eastern seaboard


?

Your looking way too far down the road.

This might not even develop.
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http://cimss.ssec.wisc.edu/tropic/real-time/atlantic/winds/wg8sht.html

Hey Levi32 check out the shear tendency around the tropical Atlantic..it seems as though wind shear overall especially around the Lesser antellies is decreasing..I am seeing more green and blue then yellows and red..does this mean that the TUTT is finally lifting out..what does this mean for the future enviorment of the central African tropical wave that many of the models develop into a tropical cyclone..do you think it will develop and could it threaten the U.S and become a powerful hurricane?
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Quoting MiamiHurricanes09:
That track seems more plausible than the GFS (Telling from the 12z PSU e-WALL steering)...however it is far, and I mean way too far out to speculate.
Scratch that, meant to say the 12z GFS...not the 18z run (that looks similar to the ECMWF up to 240 hours).
Member Since: September 2, 2009 Posts: 130 Comments: 21091
Quoting Stormchaser2007:
Here's why the 12z ECMWF didnt recurve it.




not looking good for eastern seaboard
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Here's why the 12z ECMWF didnt recurve it.

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Quoting palmasdelrio:


That is scary. I was in PR during Hurricane Hugo, but it was nothing like this.

I was in Hurricane Hugo in Charleston, SC and it really was that scary.
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in other weather News...
Manahatten KS - Clocked a 93 mph wind gusts this afternoon!
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Quoting IKE:
It's a 1007mb low at day 10 on the ECMWF.....

That track seems more plausible than the GFS (Telling from the 12z PSU e-WALL steering)...however it is far, and I mean way too far out to speculate.
Member Since: September 2, 2009 Posts: 130 Comments: 21091
Quoting belizeit:
Can someone post the radar for EX TD5
Link
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model support from all major globals on this wave. Most likely will form into some sort of cyclone. Track and strength as of yet is speculative but interesting to note the sw shift in gfs. Reminds me with that it did with Dean in 2007. Started out developing a wave that would recurve, then brought it into east coast, then brought it into florida and GOM, and then finally caught on once development occured and brought it into carib. and eventually belize. IMO this future tropical system will head further south and west than the GFS is saying
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Quoting Neapolitan:


You are certainly free to post your opinions here; that's the way this works best, right? ;-) But I will say this: if one believes that an omnipotent creator made this world, they'd have to be naive to think that creator will be pleased with the way we've treated his creation. Junkyard outhouses get more respect than we've accorded earth...
I never said that the creator was pleased. "He" is only going to allow humans to do so much until "he" steps in. The creator may let the world end in weather related events because of mans actions--who knows? What bothers me is man thinks he can control or stop this! Good coversation thanks
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Despite the GFS operational recurving the future Cape Verde storm out to sea, many of the ensemble members still have it just off the Carolina coast in 2 weeks.

12z GFS ensemble mean MSLP Day 16:

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785. IKE
It's a 1007mb low at day 10 on the ECMWF.....

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782. IKE
NOGAPS at 144 hours takes the vorticity across the Cape Verdes....Link
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the ECMWF shows this as a monster. That should be a wake up call. The ECMWF is typically way conservative.
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780. IKE
TexasHoosier...they usually come out and go south of the Cape Verdes. Maybe this year is different in that the waves are coming off higher more often.

That's about all I can tell you that I know. If the vorticity is crossing right at the Cape Verdes it's usually a turn to the north somewhere east of the USA...if the system develops.

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Quoting StormW:


Maybe not too funny:


Link



I think this one gonna be an east coast threat
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Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:


Its over land, but close enough to where it can draw moisture from the GOMEX
can a system hold it together as long it has access to warm water with center over land for a period of days? how close would it need to stay to the water to continue tapping the water for energy.?it sure does look fairly good right now.
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Link

GFS Link
Check the animate box somthings strange with this??
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Quoting StormW:


Maybe not too funny:
Oh I didn't see that. A big ol' ridge parked over the Cape Verde islands would push it towards the north and then WSW/SW.
Member Since: September 2, 2009 Posts: 130 Comments: 21091

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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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