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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ok divdog look on the two map that I just put there and look where I am looking and then elaborate on what you see got yes do ya
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Quoting StormPro:

LINK please


Link

Link
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I do not see a hurricane on the CMC's latest run. Care to enlighten me?
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What would be the new track of X-Tropical Depression #5?
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Quoting Jeff9641:


Wrong! All models seem to develope ex td5 as it re enters the Gulf later this weekend and early next week.
don't even get me started with you. bad forecasts all summer long.
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Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:
CMC - Develops the remnants of TD #5, turns it into a hurricane

GFS - Develops the remnants of TD #5, turns it into a hurricane, possible even a major.

ECMWF - Develops the remnants of TD #5, turns it into a Tropical Storm

NGP: Really confused...makes it do two loops.
We also have model support from the GFS, GEFS, CMC, ECMWF, and UKMET for a Cape Verde-type system.
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Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:
CMC - Develops the remnants of TD #5, turns it into a hurricane

GFS - Develops the remnants of TD #5, turns it into a hurricane, possible even a major.

ECMWF - Develops the remnants of TD #5, turns it into a Tropical Storm

NGP: Really confused...makes it do two loops.

LINK please
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Quoting NOLALawyer:


Keep us up to date with that. There is street flooding in NOLA right now too.
Westbank\Algiers too...not as bad as yesterday....YET
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Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:
CMC - Develops the remnants of TD #5, turns it into a hurricane

GFS - Develops the remnants of TD #5, turns it into a hurricane, possible even a major.

ECMWF - Develops the remnants of TD #5, turns it into a Tropical Storm

NGP: Really confused...makes it do two loops.
good luck with that forecast.. you are quoting the models ?? they have not exactly done a bang up job this year.
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Quoting scott39:
Tampa, Im in NW Mobile county. Rain is falling in buckets and starting to flood streets, how long is this XTD5 going to be over us? Its only been raining for 2 hours!


Keep us up to date with that. There is street flooding in NOLA right now too.
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Thanks for the update Dr. Masters

Pattern changes over Russia, hummmmmm, it will be interesting to see if the Atlantic season finally ramps up as a result.
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Quoting wunderkidcayman:
hey guys take a look at this and tell me why I am looking at the west coast of africa

06Z

12Z
sounds like a trick question.. why are you staring at the west coast of Africa??
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CMC - Develops the remnants of TD #5, turns it into a hurricane

GFS - Develops the remnants of TD #5, turns it into a hurricane, possible even a major.

ECMWF - Develops the remnants of TD #5, turns it into a Tropical Storm

NGP: Really confused...makes it do two loops.
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Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:


Wrong on both accounts
right on both counts
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Quoting divdog:
read dr masters blog and the answer will be revealed
Quoting divdog:
barely a chance of it happening


Wrong on both accounts
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Quoting gbreezegirl:
Barely a mention of TD5 reforming - hmmmm.
barely a chance of it happening
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Quoting redwagon:
Which models show ex-TD5 looping back into the Gulf, tia.
read dr masters blog and the answer will be revealed
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Thanks so much Dr.Masters for the explanation for these horrible heat waves. What about the heat wave we have had here in the U.S. this Summer? Is it being caused by the same weird jet stream kink too? Nothing much has been said about it i suppose because it's really not been record breaking like that one in Russia. But the one here has been prolonged and the departure from normal temperatures has been very apparent. I have been keeping daily temperature records for several years, and this Summer average has been hotter than any other year. Again, thanks you Dr. Masters..i finally know what is responsible for prolonged heat waves.
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hey guys take a look at this and tell me why I am looking at the west coast of africa

06Z

12Z
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Thanks Dr. M. very much. I love the world wide range of your information and sympathy.

Report from UK:
What explains the tight-fisted response to the Pakistan floods
The steady drip of negative 'terror'-obsessed media coverage has done Pakistanis a great disservice
More:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/aug/13/pakistan-labelled-bombs-burqas-unfair
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Happy Friday the 13th everyone!

I am really concerned about ex-TD5. If the NAM, GFS, and ECMWF (which you guys claim it supports) all support ex-TD5 redeveloping and looping back into the Gulf and hitting Tx/LA for the second time, then we might have trouble. I am worried about the amounts of rainfall the Southeast will see. I live in Athens, GA, and the GFS model is showing at least 5 inches of rain easily for this weekend alone. If the 2nd version of td5 redevelops, the models are showing it pushing back into the SE and GA. I am very worried about a flooding event.
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Quoting ElConando:


The real JFV hasn't been on the blog in a long long time.


You don't think the "HappyBirthdayJFV" dude was him? Writing style seemed eerily similar but then again it doesn't take a genius to write that way...maybe you're right...
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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.


Actually, both the GFS and ECMWF this morning have a similar path of the system coming slightly offshore MS/AL and moving westward inland into LA. The GFS is aggressive w/ intensity.
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Thank You Dr.; really nice explanation of the heat wave issue.....Mother Nature does not distinguish between borders.
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Morning all - got caught in a major downpour in Destin this morning, could not see to drive. Does it really look like TD5 is going to do the loop-de-loo and re-enter the GOM & form??? Seems a bit unlikely, but stranger things have happened.
It is weather, after all! LOL
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Quoting btwntx08:

he had to go already anyaways to answer ur question probably most of the day off and on
Thanks
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Quoting Hardcoreweather2010:


It's bone dry down here in South AL and my grass is almost dead. The drought rolls on in Southern Mobile :(
I havent seen this much rain drop this fast in a long time! Its 79 degrees right now and thats a good thing.
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They gave the area an 80% chance of development at the 8:00 pm TWO, even saying that tropical storm advisories were likely. So, I figured they'd classify it at 11. Nope, they never did.
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Which models show ex-TD5 looping back into the Gulf, tia.
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Quoting btwntx08:
i believe allstar is talking about this


Yep. It looked better last night.
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Quoting scott39:
Tampa, Im in NW Mobile county. Rain is falling in buckets and starting to flood streets, how long is this XTD5 going to be over us? Its only been raining for 2 hours!


It's bone dry down here in South AL and my grass is almost dead. The drought rolls on in Southern Mobile :(
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Quoting SQUAWK:

May not be him.


The real JFV hasn't been on the blog in a long long time.
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Quoting TampaSpin:


Nearly every single model has TD5 looping back into the GOM and redeveloping.....i swear its Fred again! LOL
Tampa, Im in NW Mobile county. Rain is falling in buckets and starting to flood streets, how long is this XTD5 going to be over us? Its only been raining for 2 hours!
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I know why GFS has this system going so far north and not far west it's because GFS start the low level invest too far north starts it off near 18/19N I think it will start at like near 10/11N
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Quoting reedzone:
Funny to see JFVs new handle, includes me...

May not be him.
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No tropical systems in the Northern Hemisphere. Kinda odd to see that early the middle of August. I hope that heat energy is used up in that Atlantic or there is gonna be one hell of a winter for Levi lol. Prob get a one way to Miami afterwards.
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Quoting reedzone:
Funny to see JFVs new handle, includes me...


LOL! You know imitation is the most sincere form of flattery...
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Quoting ElConando:


Are you talking about in the EPAC?


Yep
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Funny to see JFVs new handle, includes me...
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Quoting AllStar17:
I really do believe a tropical depression/weak tropical storm made landfall in Mexico last night. However, nobody would know, because the NHC never classified it.


Are you talking about in the EPAC?
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Quoting gbreezegirl:
Barely a mention of TD5 reforming - hmmmm.


I think it would be too early to Dr. Masters to be considering it. Models have have been on board with tracks like this before before diverging after a few runs. If TD 5's energy comes back into the GOM then he would prob start to talk about it.
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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.