2010 - 2011: Earth's most extreme weather since 1816?

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 1:32 PM GMT on June 24, 2011

Share this Blog
26
+

Every year extraordinary weather events rock the Earth. Records that have stood centuries are broken. Great floods, droughts, and storms affect millions of people, and truly exceptional weather events unprecedented in human history may occur. But the wild roller-coaster ride of incredible weather events during 2010, in my mind, makes that year the planet's most extraordinary year for extreme weather since reliable global upper-air data began in the late 1940s. Never in my 30 years as a meteorologist have I witnessed a year like 2010--the astonishing number of weather disasters and unprecedented wild swings in Earth's atmospheric circulation were like nothing I've seen. The pace of incredible extreme weather events in the U.S. over the past few months have kept me so busy that I've been unable to write-up a retrospective look at the weather events of 2010. But I've finally managed to finish, so fasten your seat belts for a tour through the top twenty most remarkable weather events of 2010. At the end, I'll reflect on what the wild weather events of 2010 and 2011 imply for our future.

Earth's hottest year on record
Unprecedented heat scorched the Earth's surface in 2010, tying 2005 for the warmest year since accurate records began in the late 1800s. Temperatures in Earth's lower atmosphere also tied for warmest year on record, according to independent satellite measurements. Earth's 2010 record warmth was unusual because it occurred during the deepest solar energy minimum since satellite measurements of the sun began in the 1970s. Unofficially, nineteen nations (plus the the U.K.'s Ascension Island) set all-time extreme heat records in 2010. This includes Asia's hottest reliably measured temperature of all-time, the remarkable 128.3°F (53.5°C) in Pakistan in May 2010. This measurement is also the hottest undisputed temperature anywhere on the planet except for in Death Valley, California (two hotter official records, at Al Azizia, Libya in 1922, and Tirat, Zvi Israel in 1942, have ample reasons to be disputed.) The countries that experienced all-time extreme highs in 2010 constituted over 20% of Earth's land surface area.


Figure 1. Climate Central and Weather Underground put together this graphic showing the twenty nations (plus one UK territory, Ascension Island) that set new extreme heat records in 2010.

Most extreme winter Arctic atmospheric circulation on record; "Snowmageddon" results
The atmospheric circulation in the Arctic took on its most extreme configuration in 145 years of record keeping during the winter of 2009 - 2010. The Arctic is normally dominated by low pressure in winter, and a "Polar Vortex" of counter-clockwise circulating winds develops surrounding the North Pole. However, during the winter of 2009 - 2010, high pressure replaced low pressure over the Arctic, and the Polar Vortex weakened and even reversed at times, with a clockwise flow of air replacing the usual counter-clockwise flow of air. This unusual flow pattern allowed cold air to spill southwards and be replaced by warm air moving poleward. Like leaving the refrigerator door ajar, the Arctic "refrigerator" warmed, and cold Arctic air spilled out into "living room" where people live. A natural climate pattern called the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO), and its close cousin, the Arctic Oscillation (AO) were responsible. Both of these patterns experienced their strongest-on-record negative phase, when measured as the pressure difference between the Icelandic Low and Azores High.

The extreme Arctic circulation caused a bizarre upside-down winter over North America--Canada had its warmest and driest winter on record, forcing snow to be trucked in for the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, but the U.S. had its coldest winter in 25 years. A series of remarkable snow storms pounded the Eastern U.S., with the "Snowmageddon" blizzard dumping more than two feet of snow on Baltimore and Philadelphia. Western Europe also experienced unusually cold and snowy conditions, with the UK recording its 8th coldest January. A highly extreme negative phase of the NAO and AO returned again during November 2010, and lasted into January 2011. Exceptionally cold and snowy conditions hit much of Western Europe and the Eastern U.S. again in the winter of 2010 - 2011. During these two extreme winters, New York City recorded three of its top-ten snowstorms since 1869, and Philadelphia recorded four of its top-ten snowstorms since 1884. During December 2010, the extreme Arctic circulation over Greenland created the strongest ridge of high pressure ever recorded at middle levels of the atmosphere, anywhere on the globe (since accurate records began in 1948.) New research suggests that major losses of Arctic sea ice could cause the Arctic circulation to behave so strangely, but this work is still speculative.


Figure 2. Digging out in Maryland after "Snowmageddon". Image credit: wunderphotographer chills.

Arctic sea ice: lowest volume on record, 3rd lowest extent
Sea ice in the Arctic reached its third lowest areal extent on record in September 2010. Compared to sea ice levels 30 years ago, 1/3 of the polar ice cap was missing--an area the size of the Mediterranean Sea. The Arctic has seen a steady loss of meters-thick, multi-year-old ice in recent years that has left thin, 1 - 2 year-old ice as the predominant ice type. As a result, sea ice volume in 2010 was the lowest on record. More than half of the polar icecap by volume--60%--was missing in September 2010, compared to the average from 1979 - 2010. All this melting allowed the Northwest Passage through the normally ice-choked waters of Canada to open up in 2010. The Northeast Passage along the coast of northern Russia also opened up, and this was the third consecutive year--and third time in recorded history--that both passages melted open. Two sailing expeditions--one Russian and one Norwegian--successfully navigated both the Northeast Passage and the Northwest Passage in 2010, the first time this feat has been accomplished. Mariners have been attempting to sail the Northwest Passage since 1497, and have failed to accomplish this feat without an icebreaker until the 2000s. In December 2010, Arctic sea ice fell to its lowest winter extent on record, the beginning of a 3-month streak of record lows. Canada's Hudson Bay did not freeze over until mid-January of 2011, the latest freeze-over date in recorded history.


Figure 3. The Arctic's minimum sea ice extent for 2010 was reached on September 21, and was the third lowest on record. Image credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center.

Record melting in Greenland, and a massive calving event
Greenland's climate in 2010 was marked by record-setting high air temperatures, the greatest ice loss by melting since accurate records began in 1958, the greatest mass loss of ocean-terminating glaciers on record, and the calving of a 100 square-mile ice island--the largest calving event in the Arctic since 1962. Many of these events were due to record warm water temperatures along the west coast of Greenland, which averaged 2.9°C (5.2°F) above average during October 2010, a remarkable 1.4°C above the previous record high water temperatures in 2003.


Figure 4. The 100 square-mile ice island that broke off the Petermann Glacier heads out of the Petermann Fjord in this 7-frame satellite animation. The animation begins on August 5, 2010, and ends on September 21, with images spaced about 8 days apart. The images were taken by NASA's Aqua and Terra satellites.

Second most extreme shift from El Niño to La Niña
The year 2010 opened with a strong El Niño event and exceptionally warm ocean waters in the Eastern Pacific. However, El Niño rapidly waned in the spring, and a moderate to strong La Niña developed by the end of the year, strongly cooling these ocean waters. Since accurate records began in 1950, only 1973 has seen a more extreme swing from El Niño to La Niña. The strong El Niño and La Niña events contributed to many of the record flood events seen globally in 2010, and during the first half of 2011.


Figure 5. The departure of sea surface temperatures from average at the beginning of 2010 (top) and the end of 2010 (bottom) shows the remarkable transition from strong El Niño to strong La Niña conditions that occurred during the year. Image credit: NOAA/NESDIS.

Second worst coral bleaching year
Coral reefs took their 2nd-worst beating on record in 2010, thanks to record or near-record warm summer water temperatures over much of Earth's tropical oceans. The warm waters caused the most coral bleaching since 1998, when 16 percent of the world's reefs were killed off. "Clearly, we are on track for this to be the second worst (bleaching) on record," NOAA coral expert Mark Eakin in a 2010 interview. "All we're waiting on now is the body count." The summer 2010 coral bleaching episodes were worst in the Philippines and Southeast Asia, where El Niño warming of the tropical ocean waters during the first half of the year was significant. In Indonesia's Aceh province, 80% of the bleached corals died, and Malaysia closed several popular dive sites after nearly all the coral were damaged by bleaching. In some portions of the Caribbean, such as Venezuela and Panama, coral bleaching was the worst on record.


Figure 6. An example of coral bleaching that occurred during the record-strength 1997-1998 El Niño event. Image credit: Craig Quirolo, Reef Relief/Marine Photobank, in Climate, Carbon and Coral Reefs

Wettest year over land
The year 2010 also set a new record for wettest year in Earth's recorded history over land areas. The difference in precipitation from average in 2010 was about 13% higher than that of the previous record wettest year, 1956. However, this record is not that significant, since it was due in large part to random variability of the jet stream weather patterns during 2010. The record wetness over land was counterbalanced by relatively dry conditions over the oceans.


Figure 7. Global departure of precipitation over land areas from average for 1900 - 2010. The year 2010 set a new record for wettest year over land areas in Earth's recorded history. The difference in precipitation from average in 2010 was about 13% higher than that of the previous record wettest year, 1956. Image credit: NOAA's National Climatic Data Center.

Amazon rainforest experiences its 2nd 100-year drought in 5 years
South America's Amazon rainforest experienced its second 100-year drought in five years during 2010, with the largest northern tributary of the Amazon River--the Rio Negro--dropping to thirteen feet (four meters) below its usual dry season level. This was its lowest level since record keeping began in 1902. The low water mark is all the more remarkable since the Rio Negro caused devastating flooding in 2009, when it hit an all-time record high, 53 ft (16 m) higher than the 2010 record low. The 2010 drought was similar in intensity and scope to the region's previous 100-year drought in 2005. Drought makes a regular appearance in the Amazon, with significant droughts occurring an average of once every twelve years. In the 20th century, these droughts typically occurred during El Niño years, when the unusually warm waters present along the Pacific coast of South America altered rainfall patterns. But the 2005 and 2010 droughts did not occur during El Niño conditions, and it is theorized that they were instead caused by record warm sea surface temperatures in the Atlantic.

We often hear about how important Arctic sea ice is for keeping Earth's climate cool, but a healthy Amazon is just as vital. Photosynthesis in the world's largest rainforest takes about 2 billion tons of carbon dioxide out of the air each year. However, in 2005, the drought reversed this process. The Amazon emitted 3 billion tons of CO2 to the atmosphere, causing a net 5 billion ton increase in CO2 to the atmosphere--roughly equivalent to 16 - 22% of the total CO2 emissions to the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels that year. The Amazon stores CO2 in its soils and biomass equivalent to about fifteen years of human-caused emissions, so a massive die-back of the forest could greatly accelerate global warming.


Figure 8. Hundreds of fires (red squares) generate thick smoke over a 1000 mile-wide region of the southern Amazon rain forest in this image taken by NASA's Aqua satellite on August 16, 2010. The Bolivian government declared a state of emergency in mid-August due to the out-of-control fires burning over much of the country. Image credit: NASA.

Global tropical cyclone activity lowest on record
The year 2010 was one of the strangest on record for tropical cyclones. Each year, the globe has about 92 tropical cyclones--called hurricanes in the Atlantic and Eastern Pacific, typhoons in the Western Pacific, and tropical cyclones in the Southern Hemisphere. But in 2010, we had just 68 of these storms--the fewest since the dawn of the satellite era in 1970. The previous record slowest year was 1977, when 69 tropical cyclones occurred world-wide. Both the Western Pacific and Eastern Pacific had their quietest seasons on record in 2010, but the Atlantic was hyperactive, recording its 3rd busiest season since record keeping began in 1851. The Southern Hemisphere had a slightly below average season. The Atlantic ordinarily accounts for just 13% of global cyclone activity, but accounted for 28% in 2010--the greatest proportion since accurate tropical cyclone records began in the 1970s.

A common theme of many recent publications on the future of tropical cyclones globally in a warming climate is that the total number of these storms will decrease, but the strongest storms will get stronger. For example, a 2010 review paper published in Nature Geosciences concluded that the strongest storms would increase in intensity by 2 - 11% by 2100, but the total number of storms would fall by 6 - 34%. It is interesting that 2010 saw the lowest number of global tropical cyclones on record, but an average number of very strong Category 4 and 5 storms (the 25-year average is 13 Category 4 and 5 storms, and 2010 had 14.) Fully 21% of 2010's tropical cyclones reached Category 4 or 5 strength, versus just 14% during the period 1983 - 2007. Most notably, in 2010 we had Super Typhoon Megi. Megi's sustained winds cranked up to a ferocious 190 mph and its central pressure bottomed out at 885 mb on October 16, making it the 8th most intense tropical cyclone in world history. Other notable storms in 2010 included the second strongest tropical cyclone on record in the Arabian Sea (Category 4 Cyclone Phet in June), and the strongest tropical cyclone ever to hit Myanmar/Burma (October's Tropical Cyclone Giri, an upper end Category 4 storm with 155 mph winds.)


Figure 9. Visible satellite image of Tropical Cyclone Phet on Thursday, June 3, 2010. Record heat over southern Asia in May helped heat up the Arabian Sea to 2°C above normal, and the exceptionally warm SSTs helped fuel Tropical Cyclone Phet into the second strongest tropical cyclone ever recorded in the Arabian Sea. Phet peaked at Category 4 strength with 145 mph winds, and killed 44 people and did $700 million in damage to Oman. Only Category 5 Cyclone Gonu of 2007 was a stronger Arabian Sea cyclone.

A hyperactive Atlantic hurricane season: 3rd busiest on record
Sea surface temperatures that were the hottest on record over the main development region for Atlantic hurricanes helped fuel an exceptionally active 2010 Atlantic hurricane season. The nineteen named storms were the third most since 1851; the twelve hurricanes of 2010 ranked second most. Three major hurricanes occurred in rare or unprecedented locations. Julia was the easternmost major hurricane on record, Karl was the southernmost major hurricane on record in the Gulf of Mexico, and Earl was the 4th strongest hurricane so far north. The formation of Tomas so far south and east so late in the season (October 29) was unprecedented in the historical record; no named storm had ever been present east of the Lesser Antilles (61.5°W) and south of 12°N latitude so late in the year. Tomas made the 2010 the 4th consecutive year with a November hurricane in the Atlantic--an occurrence unprecedented since records began in 1851.


Figure 10. Hurricane Earl as seen from the International Space Station on Thursday, September 2, 2010. Image credit: NASA astronaut Douglas Wheelock.

A rare tropical storm in the South Atlantic
A rare tropical storm formed in the South Atlantic off the coast of Brazil on March 10 - 11, and was named Tropical Storm Anita. Brazil has had only one landfalling tropical cyclone in its history, Cyclone Catarina of March 2004, one of only seven known tropical or subtropical cyclones to form in the South Atlantic, and the only one to reach hurricane strength. Anita of 2010 is probably the fourth strongest tropical/subtropical storm in the South Atlantic, behind Hurricane Catarina, an unnamed February 2006 storm that may have attained wind speeds of 65 mph, and a subtropical storm that brought heavy flooding to the coast of Uruguay in January 2009. Tropical cyclones rarely form in the South Atlantic Ocean, due to strong upper-level wind shear, cool water temperatures, and the lack of an initial disturbance to get things spinning (no African waves or Intertropical Convergence Zone.)


Figure 11. Visible satellite image of the Brazilian Tropical Storm Anita.

Strongest storm in Southwestern U.S. history
The most powerful low pressure system in 140 years of record keeping swept through the Southwest U.S. on January 20 - 21, 2010, bringing deadly flooding, tornadoes, hail, hurricane force winds, and blizzard conditions. The storm set all-time low pressure records over roughly 10 - 15% of the U.S.--southern Oregon, California, Nevada, Arizona, and Utah. Old records were broken by a wide margin in many locations, most notably in Los Angeles, where the old record of 29.25" set January 17, 1988, was shattered by .18" (6 mb). The record-setting low spawned an extremely intense cold front that swept through the Southwest. Winds ahead of the cold front hit sustained speeds of hurricane force--74 mph--at Apache Junction, 40 miles east of Phoenix, and wind gusts as high as 94 mph were recorded in Ajo, Arizona. High winds plunged visibility to zero in blowing dust on I-10 connecting Phoenix and Tucson, closing the Interstate.


Figure 12. Ominous clouds hover over Arizona's Superstition Mountains during Arizona's most powerful storm on record, on January 21, 2010. Image credit: wunderphotographer ChandlerMike.

Strongest non-coastal storm in U.S. history
A massive low pressure system intensified to record strength over northern Minnesota on October 26, 2010, resulting in the lowest barometric pressure readings ever recorded in the continental United States, except for from hurricanes and nor'easters affecting the Atlantic seaboard. The 955 mb sea level pressure reported from Bigfork, Minnesota beat the previous low pressure record of 958 mb set during the Great Ohio Blizzard of January 26, 1978. Both Minnesota and Wisconsin set all time low pressure readings during the October 26 storm, and International Falls beat their previous low pressure record by nearly one-half inch of mercury--a truly amazing anomaly. The massive storm spawned 67 tornadoes over a four-day period, and brought sustained winds of 68 mph to Lake Superior.


Figure 13. Visible satellite image of the October 26, 2010 superstorm taken at 5:32pm EDT. At the time, Bigfork, Minnesota was reporting the lowest pressure ever recorded in a U.S. non-coastal storm, 955 mb. Image credit: NASA/GSFC.

Weakest and latest-ending East Asian monsoon on record
The summer monsoon over China's South China Sea was the weakest and latest ending monsoon on record since detailed records began in 1951, according to the Beijing Climate Center. The monsoon did not end until late October, nearly a month later than usual. The abnormal monsoon helped lead to precipitation 30% - 80% below normal in Northern China and Mongolia, and 30 - 100% above average across a wide swath of Central China. Western China saw summer precipitation more than 200% above average, and torrential monsoon rains triggered catastrophic landslides that killed 2137 people and did $759 million in damage. Monsoon floods in China killed an additional 1911 people, affected 134 million, and did $18 billion in damage in 2010, according to the WHO Collaborating Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED). This was the 2nd most expensive flooding disaster in Chinese history, behind the $30 billion price tag of the 1998 floods that killed 3656 people. China had floods in 1915, 1931, and 1959 that killed 3 million, 3.7 million, and 2 million people, respectively, but no damage estimates are available for these floods.


Figure 14. Paramilitary policemen help evacuate residents from Wanjia village of Fuzhou City, East China's Jiangxi province, June 22, 2010. Days of heavy rain burst the Changkai Dike of Fu River on June 21, threatening the lives of 145,000 local people. Image credit: Xinhua.

No monsoon depressions in India's Southwest Monsoon for 2nd time in 134 years
The Southwest Monsoon that affects India was fairly normal in 2010, bringing India rains within 2% of average. Much of the rain that falls in India from the monsoon typically comes from large regions of low pressure that form in the Bay of Bengal and move westwards over India. Typically, seven of these lows grow strong and well-organized enough to be labelled monsoon depressions, which are similar to but larger than tropical depressions. In 2010, no monsoon depressions formed--the only year besides 2002 (since 1877) that no monsoon depressions have been observed.

The Pakistani flood: most expensive natural disaster in Pakistan's history
A large monsoon low developed over the Bay of Bengal in late July and moved west towards Pakistan, creating a strong flow of moisture that helped trigger the deadly Pakistan floods of 2010. The floods were worsened by a persistent and unusually-far southwards dip in the jet stream, which brought cold air and rain-bearing low pressure systems over Pakistan. This unusual bend in the jet stream also helped bring Russia its record heat wave and drought. The Pakistani floods were the most expensive natural disaster in Pakistani history, killing 1985 people, affecting 20 million, and doing $9.5 billion in damage.


Figure 15. Local residents attempt to cross a washed-out road during the Pakistani flood catastrophe of 2010. Image credit: Pakistan Meteorology Department.

The Russian heat wave and drought: deadliest heat wave in human history
A scorching heat wave struck Moscow in late June 2010, and steadily increased in intensity through July as the jet stream remained "stuck" in an unusual loop that kept cool air and rain-bearing low pressure systems far north of the country. By July 14, the mercury hit 31°C (87°F) in Moscow, the first day of an incredible 33-day stretch with a maximum temperatures of 30°C (86°F) or higher. Moscow's old extreme heat record, 37°C (99°F) in 1920, was equaled or exceeded five times in a two-week period from July 26 - August 6 2010, including an incredible 38.2°C (101°F) on July 29. Over a thousand Russians seeking to escape the heat drowned in swimming accidents, and thousands more died from the heat and from inhaling smoke and toxic fumes from massive wild fires. The associated drought cut Russia's wheat crop by 40%, cost the nation $15 billion, and led to a ban on grain exports. The grain export ban, in combination with bad weather elsewhere in the globe during 2010 - 2011, caused a sharp spike in world food prices that helped trigger civil unrest across much of northern Africa and the Middle East in 2011. At least 55,000 people died due to the heat wave, making it the deadliest heat wave in human history. A 2011 NOAA study concluded that "while a contribution to the heat wave from climate change could not be entirely ruled out, if it was present, it played a much smaller role than naturally occurring meteorological processes in explaining this heat wave's intensity." However, they noted that the climate models used for the study showed a rapidly increasing risk of such heat waves in western Russia, from less than 1% per year in 2010, to 10% or more per year by 2100.


Figure 16. Smoke from wildfires burning to the southeast of Moscow on August 12, 2010. Northerly winds were keeping the smoke from blowing over the city. Image credit: NASA.

Record rains trigger Australia's most expensive natural disaster in history
Australia's most expensive natural disaster in history is now the Queensland flood of 2010 - 2011, with a price tag as high as $30 billion. At least 35 were killed. The Australian Bureau of Meteorology's annual summary reported, "Sea surface temperatures in the Australian region during 2010 were the warmest value on record for the Australian region. Individual high monthly sea surface temperature records were also set during 2010 in March, April, June, September, October, November and December. Along with favourable hemispheric circulation associated with the 2010 La Niña, very warm sea surface temperatures contributed to the record rainfall and very high humidity across eastern Australia during winter and spring." In 2010, Australia had its wettest spring (September - November) since records began 111 years ago, with some sections of coastal Queensland receiving over 4 feet (1200 mm) of rain. Rainfall in Queensland and all of eastern Australia in December was the greatest on record, and the year 2010 was the rainiest year on record for Queensland. Queensland has an area the size of Germany and France combined, and 3/4 of the region was declared a disaster zone.


Figure 17. The airport, the Bruce Highway, and large swaths of Rockhampton, Australia, went under water due to flooding from the Fitzroy River on January 9, 2011. The town of 75,000 was completely cut off by road and rail, and food, water and medicine had to be brought in by boat and helicopter. Image credit: NASA.

Heaviest rains on record trigger Colombia's worst flooding disaster in history
The 2010 rainy-season rains in Colombia were the heaviest in the 42 years since Colombia's weather service was created and began taking data. Floods and landslides killed 528, did $1 billion in damage, and left 2.2 million homeless, making it Colombia's most expensive, most widespread, and 2nd deadliest flooding disaster in history. Colombia's president Juan Manuel Santos said, "the tragedy the country is going through has no precedents in our history."


Figure 18. A daring rescue of two girls stranded in a taxi by flash flood waters Barranquilla, northern Colombia on August 14, 2010.

Tennessee's 1-in-1000 year flood kills 30, does $2.4 billion in damage
Tennessee's greatest disaster since the Civil War hit on May 1 - 2, 2010, when an epic deluge of rain brought by an "atmospheric river" of moisture dumped up to 17.73" of rain on the state. Nashville had its heaviest 1-day and 2-day rainfall amounts in its history, with a remarkable 7.25" on May 2, breaking the record for most rain in a single day. Only two days into the month, the May 1 - 2 rains made it the rainiest May in Nashville's history. The record rains sent the Cumberland River in downtown Nashville surging to 51.86', 12' over flood height, and the highest level the river has reached since a flood control project was completed in the early 1960s. At least four rivers in Tennessee reached their greatest flood heights on record. Most remarkable was the Duck River at Centreville, which crested at 47', a full 25 feet above flood stage, and ten feet higher than the previous record crest, achieved in 1948.


Figure 19. A portable classroom building from a nearby high school floats past submerged cars on I-24 near Nashville, TN on May 1, 2010. One person died in the flooding in this region of I-24. Roughly 200 - 250 vehicles got submerged on this section of I-24, according to wunderphotographer laughingjester, who was a tow truck operator called in to clear out the stranded vehicles.

When was the last time global weather was so extreme?
It is difficult to say whether the weather events of a particular year are more or less extreme globally than other years, since we have no objective global index that measures extremes. However, we do for the U.S.--NOAA's Climate Extremes Index (CEI), which looks at the percentage area of the contiguous U.S. experiencing top 10% or bottom 10% monthly maximum and minimum temperatures, monthly drought, and daily precipitation. The Climate Extremes Index rated 1998 as the most extreme year of the past century in the U.S. That year was also the warmest year since accurate records began in 1895, so it makes sense that the warmest year in Earth's recorded history--2010--was also probably one of the most extreme for both temperature and precipitation. Hot years tend to generate more wet and dry extremes than cold years. This occurs since there is more energy available to fuel the evaporation that drives heavy rains and snows, and to make droughts hotter and drier in places where storms are avoiding. Looking back through the 1800s, which was a very cool period, I can't find any years that had more exceptional global extremes in weather than 2010, until I reach 1816. That was the year of the devastating "Year Without a Summer"--caused by the massive climate-altering 1815 eruption of Indonesia's Mt. Tambora, the largest volcanic eruption since at least 536 A.D. It is quite possible that 2010 was the most extreme weather year globally since 1816.

Where will Earth's climate go from here?
The pace of extreme weather events has remained remarkably high during 2011, giving rise to the question--is the "Global Weirding" of 2010 and 2011 the new normal? Has human-caused climate change destabilized the climate, bringing these extreme, unprecedented weather events? Any one of the extreme weather events of 2010 or 2011 could have occurred naturally sometime during the past 1,000 years. But it is highly improbable that the remarkable extreme weather events of 2010 and 2011 could have all happened in such a short period of time without some powerful climate-altering force at work. The best science we have right now maintains that human-caused emissions of heat-trapping gases like CO2 are the most likely cause of such a climate-altering force.

Human-caused climate change has fundamentally altered the atmosphere by adding more heat and moisture. Observations confirm that global atmospheric water vapor has increased by about 4% since 1970, which is what theory says should have happened given the observed 0.5°C (0.9°F) warming of the planet's oceans during the same period. Shifts of this magnitude are capable of significantly affecting the path and strength of the jet stream, behavior of the planet's monsoons, and paths of rain and snow-bearing weather systems. For example, the average position of the jet stream retreated poleward 270 miles (435 km) during a 22-year period ending in 2001, in line with predictions from climate models. A naturally extreme year, when embedded in such a changed atmosphere, is capable of causing dramatic, unprecedented extremes like we observed during 2010 and 2011. That's the best theory I have to explain the extreme weather events of 2010 and 2011--natural extremes of El Niño, La Niña and other natural weather patterns combined with significant shifts in atmospheric circulation and the extra heat and atmospheric moisture due to human-caused climate change to create an extraordinary period of extreme weather. However, I don't believe that years like 2010 and 2011 will become the "new normal" in the coming decade. Many of the flood disasters in 2010 - 2011 were undoubtedly heavily influenced by the strong El Niño and La Niña events that occurred, and we're due for a few quiet years without a strong El Niño or La Niña. There's also the possibility that a major volcanic eruption in the tropics or a significant quiet period on the sun could help cool the climate for a few years, cutting down on heat and flooding extremes (though major eruptions tend to increase drought.) But the ever-increasing amounts of heat-trapping gases humans are emitting into the air puts tremendous pressure on the climate system to shift to a new, radically different, warmer state, and the extreme weather of 2010 - 2011 suggests that the transition is already well underway. A warmer planet has more energy to power stronger storms, hotter heat waves, more intense droughts, heavier flooding rains, and record glacier melt that will drive accelerating sea level rise. I expect that by 20 - 30 years from now, extreme weather years like we witnessed in 2010 will become the new normal.

Finally, I'll leave you with a quote from Dr. Ricky Rood's climate change blog, in his recent post,Changing the Conversation: Extreme Weather and Climate: "Given that greenhouse gases are well known to hold energy close to the Earth, those who deny a human-caused impact on weather need to pose a viable mechanism of how the Earth can hold in more energy and the weather not be changed. Think about it."

Related blog posts
U.S. had most extreme spring on record for precipitation in 2011
Is the U.S. climate getting more extreme?

Jeff Masters

Reader Comments

Comments will take a few seconds to appear.

Post Your Comments

Please sign in to post comments.

or Join

Not only will you be able to leave comments on this blog, but you'll also have the ability to upload and share your photos in our Wunder Photos section.

Display: 0, 50, 100, 200 Sort: Newest First - Order Posted

Viewing: 448 - 398

Page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20 | 21 | 22 | 23 | 24 | 25 | 26 | 27 | 28 | 29 | 30 | 31 | 32 | 33 | 34 | 35 | 36 | 37 | 38 | 39 | 40 | 41 | 42 | 43 | 44 | 45 | 46 | 47 | 48 | 49 | 50 | 51 | 52 | 53 | 54 | 55 | 56 | 57 | 58 | 59 | 60Blog Index

Because of the recent changes in the Gulf of Mexico, I do not believe the ridge will be as strong as the models are saying. If it isn't whatever is left of the system as it moves over the Yucatan, I believe it could develop into a depression (possible TS) and move a little more North than the models are presently showing. There appears to be a strong ULL off the coast of Florida which may come into play.

Link
Member Since: July 17, 2009 Posts: 71 Comments: 26494
Quoting Patrap:
Atmospheric CO2 for May 2011

Preliminary data released June 1, 2011 (Mauna Loa Observatory: Scripps CO2)



394.35ppm


...and the increase in CO2 observed matches rather nicely with the calculated volume of CO2 produced from the combustion of fossil fuels since the start of the industrial revolution.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting Patrap:
800,000 Year Record of Carbon Dioxide (CO2) Concentrations


Over the last 800,000 years, natural factors have caused the atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration to vary within a range of about 170 to 300 parts per million (ppm). The concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere has increased by roughly 35 percent since the start of the industrial revolution. Globally, over the past several decades, about 80 percent of human-induced CO2 emissions came from the burning of fossil fuels, while about 20 percent resulted from deforestation and associated agricultural practices. In the absence of strong control measures, emissions projected for this century would result in the CO2 concentration increasing to a level that is roughly 2 to 3 times the highest level occurring over the glacial-interglacial era that spans the last 800,000 or more years.






Carbon dioxide concentration (parts per million) for the last 800,000 years, measured from trapped bubbles of air in an Antarctic ice core. More information: Climate Change Impacts on the U.S.


Can you go back even further? Like last couple billions of years?
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting ColoradoBob1:
The last week in the US there are 1007 new daily precep. records, with 23 ties.
4 were all time records
37 were new monthly records.


The entire month to date
Dailies -
Out of a possible 260,865 records: 1,901 (Broken) + 61 (Tied) = 1,962 Total
Monthly -
Out of a possible 260,865 records: 90 (Broken) + 2 (Tied) = 92 Total
All Time -
Out of a possible 264,752 records: 10 (Broken) + 1 (Tied) = 11 Total

http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/extremes/records/all-tim e/prcp/2011/06/00?sts[]=US#records_look_up
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
caribbean disturbance showing signs of weak circulation near13N 78W looking at the RGB sat pics, it appears to be a mid level circulation
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting NRAamy:
Poor Hot Pocket...

I suppose you guys have something against Toaster Struedel as well?


Dear Toaster Struedel,

The fact that you so obviously try and decorate your outside rather than just be happy for who you are on the inside really shows your lack of self esteem.

Sincerely,
Hot Pocket
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting sammywammybamy:


Its just thundering here in South Palm Beach County....

The rain is stationary to the west.....

Crawling slowly east.


Wow, Sammy, can you post a link to that radar? LIKe it :)
Member Since: September 16, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 1493
Quoting DocBen:


HAS is the correct word. Just like with the new cigarette warnings.


Prove it.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
CO2 Data Set:


Original data file posted by Scripps on Wednesday June 1, 2011



Measuring Location:


Mauna Loa Observatory, Hawaii




Data Source:

Scripps CO2 Program UCSD / Scripps Institution of Oceanography




Why is CO2 significant?

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the chief greenhouse gas that results from human activities and causes global warming and climate change. To see whether enough is being done at the moment to solve these global problems, there is no single indicator as complete and current as the monthly updates for atmospheric CO2 from the Mauna Loa Observatory.





What is the current trend?

The concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere are increasing at an accelerating rate from decade to decade. accelerating from decade to decade. The latest atmospheric CO2 data is consistent with a continuation of this long-standing trend.




What level is safe?

The upper safety limit for atmospheric CO2 is 350 parts per million (ppm). Atmospheric CO2 levels have stayed higher than 350 ppm since early 1988.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting Neapolitan:

You are aware, aren't you, of the differences between weather and climate? I ask only because your comment makes it appear as if you've confused the two. If you'd like, I can direct you to some resources that might help you better understand.
*Checks watch; tap, tap, tap*
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting CajunTexan:


Well I never, in all my 35 years!!! Read it again young lady. You think I, Mr. CajunTexan, would go through all that trouble and NOT be sure and throw in a hot pocket reference? You disappoint me, oh ye' of little faith. You simply missed it apparently :-)


You had us scared that for a bit Cajun. We thought you were going over to the dark side.


Here HAPPY NOW!!!!!! Look at this

Member Since: July 17, 2009 Posts: 71 Comments: 26494
433. DEKRE
Off Topic!

Link
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Caribbean - Rainbow Loop
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting Minnemike:
umm... that is precisely the kind of statement and comparison Nea was referring. the comparison is fallacy when considering the difference between weather and climate. that is his point, and an education of the two as distinctions from one another will reveal the nature of the fallacy.
Soooo, you are assuming that climactic parameters do not exhibit any of the chaotic variability, nor cyclical behavior or simple short-term weather?

I say they are different, but the same.

Temperature has a diurnal cycle on a 24 hour time scale. Globally, average temperature has multidecadal and longer cycles. Same.

Just as a record high or low temperature in weather, multidecadal cycles, themselves, can be variable, I'd expect (though we haven't thoroughly measured any whole multidecadal cycles). One PDO shorter than any other in the last 1000 years, or an AMO of stronger amplitude than any other, etc. More same.

Now if you guys want to claim that an AMO, or PDO cycle, or any single 100 year period isn't climate, I can probably agree with you on that. 1000 years is climate. 100 years is somewhere in between weather and climate. Problem: Then we'll have to agree that we've yet to directly measure our climate with any decent quantity of quality observations, which leads to all sorts of tough questions about what sort of climate would be optimum, etc.

So, now where did I confuse weather and climate? I wasn't discussing the temperature in one place in the future, or one particularly cold day, one decade, etc...
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting NRAamy:
Cajun,

throw a Hot Pocket reference into that poem and I give it a thumbs up.....


Well I never, in all my 35 years!!! Read it again young lady. You think I, Mr. CajunTexan, would go through all that trouble and NOT be sure and throw in a hot pocket reference? You disappoint me, oh ye' of little faith. You simply missed it apparently :-)
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
The last week in the US there are 1007 new daily precep. records, with 23 ties.
4 were all time records
37 were new monthly records.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
800,000 Year Record of Carbon Dioxide (CO2) Concentrations


Over the last 800,000 years, natural factors have caused the atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration to vary within a range of about 170 to 300 parts per million (ppm). The concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere has increased by roughly 35 percent since the start of the industrial revolution. Globally, over the past several decades, about 80 percent of human-induced CO2 emissions came from the burning of fossil fuels, while about 20 percent resulted from deforestation and associated agricultural practices. In the absence of strong control measures, emissions projected for this century would result in the CO2 concentration increasing to a level that is roughly 2 to 3 times the highest level occurring over the glacial-interglacial era that spans the last 800,000 or more years.






Carbon dioxide concentration (parts per million) for the last 800,000 years, measured from trapped bubbles of air in an Antarctic ice core. More information: Climate Change Impacts on the U.S.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
RAINING in North Miami yippeeeeeee!!! gonna go stand in it cause it's not lightening and thundering yet..
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting Some1Has2BtheRookie:


Are you going someplace, Grothar? Where, may I ask?


No, but this is getting to look interesting:

Member Since: July 17, 2009 Posts: 71 Comments: 26494
Chances of rain in se florida today !!!! Hope so , we need a good sloshing :)
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting Minnemike:


we have a lot more than 200yrs of data to work with. it comes in many forms, and the story is quite clear about warming. apparently there is a lot more needed to convince folks of the human-induced relationship... but i'm seeing quite a clear correlation when given all we currently know.


We also use geology - look at ice cores - and lots of other methods to get climate data millions of years ago.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
While ocean heat content varies significantly from place to place and from year-to-year (as a result of changing ocean currents and natural variability), there is a strong trend during the period of reliable measurements. Increasing heat content in the ocean is also consistent with sea level rise, which is occurring mostly as a result of thermal expansion of the ocean water as it warms.


Time series of seasonal (red dots) and annual average (black line) of global upper ocean heat content for the 0-700m layer since 1955. More information: BAMS State of the Climate in 2009.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
("Ahhh, there's just one more thing...")
RIP died aged 83 on June 23, 2011
Columbo

Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting Grothar:


Are you speaking from experience? :)

Are you kidding? I suffer from PTSD because of those things.:(
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
415. SoAl
Great blog today! I am a little scared for the future.
This info, with pics, should be put into book form, I think the facts are very compelling.

Here on the Northern Plains (Southern Alberta) it is another below average day with a chance of rain. Not as cold and rainy as last year but if it doesn't warm up soon, and dry out, we will have another lost summer.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting atmoaggie:
Check out how well XTRP performs with TC track forecasts 5 days out, then, since we are apparently in the business of extrapolating a known-to-be cyclical and variable parameter into the distant future and making the same mistake over and over again.
If you're referring to the future impacts and implications of global warming (which is the purpose of global climate models), then yes I agree that modeling is poor and that we really don't know for sure what will happen.

Earth is warming, and we are undoubtedly contributing to the warmth of the planet. To what extent we are contributing and what future impact warming will have on earth is a subject of much debate.

And also, remember that whether or not earth will continue to warm is not entirely dependent on our actions. While we must admit we are somewhat responsible for present warming, we could see global cooling in the near future if say a massive volcano blew up. So to say what the future climate has in store for us and whether or not the earth will continue to warm is a poorly put statement since anything could happen.
Member Since: August 24, 2010 Posts: 19 Comments: 4358
Quoting Neapolitan:

You are aware, aren't you, of the differences between weather and climate? I ask only because your comment makes it appear as if you've confused the two. If you'd like, I can direct you to some resources that might help you better understand.
Well?
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting atmoaggie:
?

My comment was about the similarities between an XTRP TC forecast and a 100 year extrapolation of long term trends showing cooler or warmer temps to an ice age or people-boiling, though we know very well that just as a mesoscale 5 day system is complex, the climate is even moreso. (So complex, in fact, that we currently cannot claim that our climate models have any skill beyond either extrapolation or simple persistence.)

Yes, one is weather, the other climate. Are you guys saying that climate modelers should not be modeling long term temperatures?
umm... that is precisely the kind of statement and comparison Nea was referring. the comparison is fallacy when considering the difference between weather and climate. that is his point, and an education of the two as distinctions from one another will reveal the nature of the fallacy.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
SRGRAM hot pockets I will have you know can sustain life and help preserve it. I also believe they may cause extensive rain over SE fla today and tomorrow.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting Patrap:


pssst,,dey have dis stuff called pollen,,and other tracers,that we as Humans can detect in samples of known geologic layers that scientists extrapolate and show the climate they lived in and easily find the temps from eons ago.

But I digress..

Carl



color wasn't even invented 'till '40s....how did chlorophyll even work before then?
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
My goodness at the nasty turn the blog can take,
All because the tropics decided to take a long break,
When no invests to follow or discuss seems strange,
Some folks fall back on old faithful: Global Climate Change,
Always sure to spark some heated debate,
About who's right or wrong and the earths ultimate fate,
Just when you wondered how much more you can take,
Never fear bloggers the Carribean is awake,
Lots of moisture and heat and long story short,
Theres plenty of hope with good model support,
So lets stop with the nonsense because as earlier mentioned,
Theres a storm a brewin' that deserves our attention,
I'm a seasoned Grothar basher as much as any of you are,
But when hot pockets are referenced its simply gone too far,
So lets all be friends and watch and stay focused,
Or else Arlene will be born and nobody will notice.



Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting PrivateIdaho:


And don't bite into a freshly microwaved Hot Pocket! You'll end up with 3rd degree burns from the molten magma they call filling.


Are you speaking from experience? :)
Member Since: July 17, 2009 Posts: 71 Comments: 26494
Quoting Minnemike:
that brand of microwaveable wings almost destroyed my insurmountable joy for the buffalo wing... while rethinking everything else, i'd also rethink that move.


And don't bite into a freshly microwaved Hot Pocket! You'll end up with 3rd degree burns from the molten magma they call filling.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting seflagamma:
HOT POCKETS are total grossness, I cannot believe anyone can eat them! LOL




same thing happens here in Broward...
bills never gets rain and she lives east of I95, which I live west of Turnpike out by the Sawgrass and we get rain a lot more often than she does...
that is just the way it goes.. the storms build out over the 'Glades and just dry up before reaching the coast..

it is thundering here in Weston right now where I am working.




I am in Coral Ridge on the Intracoastal. No rain except a little this morning. Don't think it will ever rain again.
Member Since: July 17, 2009 Posts: 71 Comments: 26494
Quoting myway:
Earth is approx. 4 billion years old.

Thermometers were invented approx. 500 years ago.

Seems to me that we are looking @ a very small sampling of a very long time.

I do believe that part of the issue is our use of resources, however, I also believe that we do not really have a clue how much.

Just my opinion.....Back to lurking....

I learn something new here every day
Thank you to all.


pssst,,dey have dis stuff called pollen,,and other tracers,that we as Humans can detect in samples of known geologic layers that scientists extrapolate and show the climate they lived in and easily find the temps from eons ago.

But I digress..

Carl

Member Since: Posts: Comments:
At its height, the storm dumped 2 inches of rain in an hour.

From 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., New City received 3.4 inches; Hillburn and Spring Valley got nearly 3.3 inches; and Thiells had 2.2.

The storm was so heavy that the Hackensack River rose from 3 feet Wednesday night to 9 feet Thursday afternoon.

http://www.lohud.com/article/20110624/NEWS03/1062 40342/Rockland-flooding-might-worst-since-1999-mor e-thunderstorms-expected-today?odyssey=tab|topnews |text|News
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting FtMyersgal:
#367 That was funny.


My world history teacher showed the entire set to us on the last day of my freshman year of high school. Every little bit of it was funny.
Member Since: October 8, 2008 Posts: 14 Comments: 4553
Quoting Minnemike:
everybody plays the fool... sometimes
but ur foolin no one.. i see the same text 'between your lines'
?

My comment was about the similarities between an XTRP TC forecast and a 100 year extrapolation of long term trends showing cooler or warmer temps to an ice age or people-boiling, though we know very well that just as a mesoscale 5 day system is complex, the climate is even moreso. (So complex, in fact, that we currently cannot claim that our climate models have any skill beyond either extrapolation or simple persistence.)

Yes, one is weather, the other climate. Are you guys saying that climate modelers should not be modeling long term temperatures?
Member Since: Posts: Comments:

Viewing: 448 - 398

Page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20 | 21 | 22 | 23 | 24 | 25 | 26 | 27 | 28 | 29 | 30 | 31 | 32 | 33 | 34 | 35 | 36 | 37 | 38 | 39 | 40 | 41 | 42 | 43 | 44 | 45 | 46 | 47 | 48 | 49 | 50 | 51 | 52 | 53 | 54 | 55 | 56 | 57 | 58 | 59 | 60Blog Index

Top of Page

About

Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.

Local Weather

Heavy Rain
68 °F
Heavy Rain Mist