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:
Drak or Storm, what are your thoughts on the potential system that the major global models have emerging/developing in 96 hours?



Two of our best model the GFS and ECMWF are showing respectable development in the Eastern Atlantic. The Wave right now is located near 7E as indicated by the cimss 850mb vorticity product, satellite low level winds, and 700hpa curvature vorticity plots from SUNY Albany. A wave currently located near 10W is projected to move northwest and clear out the SAL and increase the instability in the region for our wave to go ahead and develop. The forerunning wave is very high in amplitude as indicated by the TCWV GFS 12z analysis. Upper level conditions are exspected to be conducive for development.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30213
Quoting StormW:


Oh...I don't know...I don't do any forecasting.

LOL
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Quoting StormW:


Oh...I don't know...I don't do any forecasting.


lol!
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Quoting StormW:


Oh...I don't know...I don't do any forecasting.


LMAO

I don't care who you are, that s@#t's funny
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12z ECMWF 500mb height anomalies.

Member Since: June 9, 2007 Posts: 4 Comments: 15880
Quoting StormW:


Oh...I don't know...I don't do any forecasting.


Are you confusing opposites day with Friday the 13th?
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Quoting Jeff9641:


Hi Drak, The Euro is much south on this run with the CV system is this trend we can expect?


I would like to see the GFS come further south before considering that.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30213
Drak or Storm, what are your thoughts on the potential system that the major global models have emerging/developing in 96 hours?

Member Since: June 9, 2007 Posts: 4 Comments: 15880
Negative NAO:

Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30213
Quoting StormW:
Good afternoon!

Afternoon, Storm!
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Quoting StormW:
Good afternoon!

Hey Storm.. How u doing today?? What are ur thoughts on 05L and the disturbance in the Southern Caribbean..?
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Quoting StormW:
Good afternoon!


Good afternoon storm. What do you think about TD5 redeveloping?
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Quoting Stormchaser2007:
12z ECMWF has the NAO going into a strengthening negative phase while the CV system is strengthening in the CATL. That would make for a very interesting scenario if it comes to fruition.



That's interesting considering it has a positive NAO-type trough at the end of the run. Maybe it will lift out...


Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30213
Quoting DestinJeff:
I won't be around much this weekend ... plan to go to the magical, mythical place where the weather happens. Some know it as Outside.

Before I go, let me pass on something handed down to me through the generations regarding how hurricane activity can be expected to play out in a typical season.



My analysis suggests that heed the signals in the peaks. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!


This is getting way past annoying. You are warned that you are put on permanent ignore. bye bye
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3 days out Drak. A possibility but I'll wait to see this happen before I believe it.
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Quoting Tropicsweatherpr:


That graphic is at 120 hours not 240.


No, 120 hours is this, a system in the GOMEX.
Member Since: July 8, 2005 Posts: 259 Comments: 23892
Everyday he says the same thing,he's not even original,can you say booorrrring.
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UKMET 12z low south of the FL Panhandle:

Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30213
12z ECMWF has the NAO going into a strengthening negative phase while the CV system is strengthening in the CATL. That would make for a very interesting scenario if it comes to fruition.



Member Since: June 9, 2007 Posts: 4 Comments: 15880
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ECMWF 12z closed low south of the FL Panhandle:

Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30213
486. xcool
Member Since: September 26, 2009 Posts: 2 Comments: 15648
Quoting weathermanwannabe:


I do not recall any prediction from you yesterday with regard to a rather large pertubation developing in the SW Caribbean today..............What are you talking about?

The FLUSH model is working well. ;)
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Quoting weathermanwannabe:


I do not recall any prediction from you yesterday with regard to a rather large pertubation developing in the SW Caribbean today..............What are you talking about?

Falling is a troll.. She is trying to get ppl to focus on her then we talk about weather.. Just ignore her..
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wind shear is low
Member Since: May 21, 2006 Posts: 5091 Comments: 114954
Quoting CybrTeddy:
ECMWF 12z really ramps up the CV wave. 240 hours out..


That graphic is at 120 hours not 240.
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Quoting Tazmanian:



LOL your asking him ??? lol


Just having some fun on Friday afternoon...... :)
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Quoting NCHurricane2009:


I am, and I am wondering why on earth the hurricane center is not mentioning it in the outlook.
Did u check the discussion? [TWOs are on the left, TWDs on the right hand when you look at the NHC page.]

TROPICAL WAVE EXTENDS FROM THE SE BAHAMAS NEAR 22N71W TO THE SW
CARIBBEAN NEAR 10N80W MOVING W NEAR 15 KT. TOTAL PRECIPITABLE
WATER IMAGERY INDICATES AN AREA OF ENHANCED MOISTURE ACROSS THE
CENTRAL AND WRN CARIBBEAN IN WHICH THE WAVE IS EMBEDDED. BROAD
CYCLONIC FLOW COVERS THE SW CARIBBEAN IN THE VICINITY OF THE
WAVE AXIS. ISOLATED SHOWERS/THUNDERSTORMS ARE FLARING UP ACROSS
JAMAICA AND ERN CUBA. SCATTERED MODERATE/STRONG CONVECTION IS S
OF 15N BETWEEN 73W-85W. SOME OF THIS ACTIVITY IS FURTHER
ENHANCED BY SURFACE CONVERGENCE NEAR AN EXTENSION OF THE E
PACIFIC ITCZ ACROSS COSTA RICA TO NRN COLOMBIA.
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Quoting StSimonsIslandGAGuy:


Actually, Charlie is tied as the 19th strongest hurricane to hit the USA in our records (page 10). Yes it was a very severe hurricane, but there have been many stronger landfalling hurricanes.

And many much more destructive in terms of damage and lives lost.
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Quoting weathermanwannabe:


I do not recall any prediction from you yesterday with regard to a rather large pertubation developing in the SW Caribbean today..............What are you talking about?



LOL your asking him ??? lol
Member Since: May 21, 2006 Posts: 5091 Comments: 114954

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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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