Extreme Drought to Flood in Georgia: Weather Whiplash Strikes Again

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 3:57 PM GMT on May 06, 2013

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The remarkable storm that brought record-breaking May snows and cold to the Midwest last week continues to spin over the Southeast U.S. The storm is unleashing flooding rains, bringing a case of "Weather Whiplash" to Georgia: flooding where extreme drought had existed just a few months ago. The storm formed when a loop in the jet stream of extreme amplitude got cut off from the main flow of the jet over the weekend, forming a "cutoff low" that is now slowly spinning down as it drifts east over the Southeast U.S. On Sunday, the storm dumped 3.4" of rain on Atlanta, Georgia--that city's sixth heaviest May calendar day rain storm since record keeping began in 1878. Remarkably, the rains were also able to bring rivers in Central Georgia above flood stage. This portion of the country was in "exceptional drought"--the worst category of drought--at the beginning of 2013.


Figure 1. The record May snowstorm that hit the Midwest U.S. on May 1 - 3, 2013, got cut off from the jet stream and was seen spinning over the Southeast U.S. on Sunday, May 5, in this image from NASA's MODIS instrument. The 3.4" of rain that fell on Atlanta, Georgia on May 5 was that city's sixth heaviest May calendar day rainfall since record keeping began in 1878.

Weather Whiplash
Weather Whiplash--a term originally coined by science writer Andrew Freedman of climatecentral.org to describe extreme shifts between cold and hot weather--is also a excellent phrase we can use to describe some of the rapid transitions between extreme drought and floods seen in recent years. I brought up a remarkable example in mid-April, when a 200-mile stretch of the Mississippi River north of St. Louis reached damaging major flood levels less than four months after near-record low water levels restricted barge traffic, forcing the Army Corp to blast out rocks from the river bottom to enable navigation. As the climate warms, the new normal in coming decades is going to be more and more extreme "Weather Whiplash" drought-flood cycles like we have seen in the Midwest and in Georgia this year. A warmer atmosphere is capable of bringing heavier downpours, since warmer air can hold more water vapor. But you still need a low pressure system to come along and wring that moisture out of the air to get rain. When natural fluctuations in jet stream patterns take storms away from a region, creating a drought, the extra water vapor in the air won't do you any good. There will be no mechanism to lift the moisture, condense it, and generate drought-busting rains. The drought that ensues will be more intense, since temperatures will be hotter and the soil will dry out more.


Figure 2. Weather Whiplash in Georgia, 2013: the center of the state was in exceptional drought as the beginning of the year, but heavy rains in February, March, and April busted the drought. Heavy May rains have now brought flooding. Image credit: U.S. Drought Monitor.

Weather Whiplash in the Southeast U.S. more likely due to an intensification of the Bermuda High
This year's "Weather Whiplash" in Georgia is the second time in the past decade the state has gone from exceptional drought to flood. In September 2007, Atlanta, Georgia was in the midst of a 1-in-100 year drought, and was just weeks away from running out of water. Yet just two years later, the drought had been busted, and a phenomenal 1-in-500 year flood ripped through the city, killing ten and causing $500 million in damage. According to a 2011 study by a Duke University-led team of climate scientists, "Changes to the North Atlantic Subtropical High and Its Role in the Intensification of Summer Rainfall Variability in the Southeastern United States", the frequency of abnormally wet or dry summer weather in the southeastern United States has more than doubled in recent decades, due to an intensification of the Bermuda High. The scientists found that the Bermuda High, which is centered several hundred miles to the east of the Southeast U.S., has grown more intense during summer and has expanded westwards over the past 30 years. Since high pressure systems are areas of sinking air that discourage precipitation, this has made abnormally dry summers more common over the Southeast U.S. However, in summers when the Bermuda High happens to shift to the east, so that high pressure is not over the Southeast U.S., the stronger winds blowing clockwise around the Bermuda High bring an increased flow of very moist subtropical air from the south to the Southeast U.S., increasing the incidence of abnormally wet summers. Thus, the intensification of the Bermuda High has made extreme droughts and extreme floods more likely over the Southeast U.S. Using climate models, the scientists determined that human-caused global warming was likely the main cause of the significant intensification in the Bermuda High. Thus "Weather Whiplash" between drought and flood will probably become increasingly common in the coming decades over the Southeast U.S.


Figure 3. Observed June-July-August departure of precipitation from average over the SE United States for a 60-yr period (mm day−1). Horizontal dashed lines represent 1 standard deviation of the summer rainfall. Note that summer precipitation extremes exceeding one standard deviation have more than doubled during the most recent 30-year period compared to the previous 30-year period. Image credit: Li et al., 2011, Journal of Climate.

New climate change blog at The Guardian
In these days of steadily decreasing media coverage of climate change (and all science, in general), its good to see a fresh new source of good science appear in a major newspaper. The Guardian, a prominent UK news source, has a new blog called Climate Consensus – The 97%. The primary authors are Dana Nuccitelli of SkepticalScience and John Abraham, Associate Professor at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota. The first post at the new blog is titled “Why is Reuters puzzled by global warming’s acceleration?”

Related Links
Don't miss the summary post on last week's remarkable snow storm by wunderground's weather historian, Christopher C. Burt, The Phenomenal May Snowstorm of May 1-3, 2013

Extreme Drought to Extreme Flood: Weather Whiplash Hits the Midwest: my April 19, 2013 blog post.

Southeast U.S. drought: another Tropical Storm Alberto needed: my April 2012 post describing how 20% - 50% of all droughts in the Southeast U.S. are broken by tropical storms or hurricanes.

Study: Global warming is driving increased frequency of extreme wet or dry summer weather in southeast, so droughts and deluges are likely to get worse: October 2010 post by Joe Romm at climateprogress.org.

Jeff Masters

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Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 171 Comments: 53809
Quoting sunlinepr:


Cassini Gets Close-up Views of Large Hurricane on Saturns north pole

PASADENA, Calif. – NASA's Cassini spacecraft has provided scientists the first close-up, visible-light views of a behemoth hurricane swirling around Saturn's north pole.

In high-resolution pictures and video, scientists see the hurricane's eye is about 1,250 miles (2,000 kilometers) wide, 20 times larger than the average hurricane eye on Earth. Thin, bright clouds at the outer edge of the hurricane are traveling 330 mph (150 meters per second). The hurricane swirls inside a large, mysterious, six-sided weather pattern known as the hexagon.

"We did a double take when we saw this vortex because it looks so much like a hurricane on Earth," said Andrew Ingersoll, a Cassini imaging team member at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. "But there it is at Saturn, on a much larger scale, and it is somehow getting by on the small amounts of water vapor in Saturn's hydrogen atmosphere."

Scientists will be studying the hurricane to gain insight into hurricanes on Earth..............

Link


hit sky and telescope dot com for additional info and links. chao
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Cassini Gets Close-up Views of Large Hurricane on Saturns north pole

PASADENA, Calif. NASA's Cassini spacecraft has provided scientists the first close-up, visible-light views of a behemoth hurricane swirling around Saturn's north pole.

In high-resolution pictures and video, scientists see the hurricane's eye is about 1,250 miles (2,000 kilometers) wide, 20 times larger than the average hurricane eye on Earth. Thin, bright clouds at the outer edge of the hurricane are traveling 330 mph (150 meters per second). The hurricane swirls inside a large, mysterious, six-sided weather pattern known as the hexagon.

"We did a double take when we saw this vortex because it looks so much like a hurricane on Earth," said Andrew Ingersoll, a Cassini imaging team member at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. "But there it is at Saturn, on a much larger scale, and it is somehow getting by on the small amounts of water vapor in Saturn's hydrogen atmosphere."

Scientists will be studying the hurricane to gain insight into hurricanes on Earth..............

Link

Member Since: August 2, 2010 Posts: 21 Comments: 9814
Quoting Astrometeor:


Was the last one that bad?


It was terrible

... g'nite 11:30pm here on the eastern us coast...
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,
Member Since: April 23, 2011 Posts: 104 Comments: 14873
Quoting Grothar:


I have always hated these 50,000 year heat waves myself.


Was the last one that bad?
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Quoting PedleyCA:
Fro.....


Hi Ped
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Fro.....
Member Since: February 29, 2012 Posts: 0 Comments: 5803
Quoting Civicane49:


Will it go round in circles ;>)

Link
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Good Night People - Stay Safe - Stay Warm - Stay Dry - Get Well Baha
Member Since: February 29, 2012 Posts: 0 Comments: 5803
Quoting CosmicEvents:
It might have something to do with your age. Beyond the stats, which are pretty definitive, those of us who have 30-70 years on your experience with the weather can sense, as all animals can, a change in climate. I see species of birds migrating, as an example, that I've been able to track over decades. Whether this is a natural cycle, maybe lasting ONLY 500 or 50,000 years or so, is a matter of question. As is how much of it is caused by man. It's likely that we'll all be dead before that question is possibly answered.


I have always hated these 50,000 year heat waves myself.
Member Since: July 17, 2009 Posts: 71 Comments: 26118
Get well soon Baha!!
:)
Member Since: April 23, 2011 Posts: 104 Comments: 14873
Quoting Snowlover123:
If I may name three:

Bhattacharya et al. 2010

Wow. That was certainly... interesting. Did you catch in that paper how they brought in cosmic ray flux? On subsequent pages they basically suggested that during times of low solar activity (and thus, higher cosmic rays hitting earth), there would be more clouds and lower temperatures. Ignoring for a second the fact that the cosmic ray hypothesis is weak and has been heavily refuted (and the fact that temperature and cosmic ray intensity do not correlate), is it not interesting that its the sun causing the warming because solar activity is increasing, but it's also the sun causing the warming because solar activity is decreasing.
Oh, and another pesky thing... solar cycle length really doesn't work for explaining the warming either:
http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1029/2005GL 023621/abstract
Quoting Snowlover123:
Zhao et al. 2011

This one you really do not even have to read to clearly see the issue. You responded to a post about climatic warming. As in, a long term trend. The part you highlighted from the article is about comparing rainfall variability to solar variability. As in, not changes to the long term climate, changes to the noise. You need to re-educate yourself on the differences between climate variability and climate change.
Quoting Snowlover123:
Almleaky et al. 2005
A very good correlation has been found between the annual temperatures and the length of the Solar Cycle (in Jeddah)

I discussed this already above. Solar cycle length does not correlate with the warming. No reason to search for wavelengths and polynomial best fits, nor a ratio of pirates to global heat records. We already measure the total solar irradiance that is known to actually matter for climate, and it's stable, if not slightly cooling. We don't need a proxy to approximate solar irradiance if we can actually measure it, nor do we need to create some new timeseries, derived from the data we already have, in search for some correlation. We already have known physical mechanisms for what causes climate to change, and they are behaving as expected.
Quoting Snowlover123:
Really? [graphic appearing to show climate sensitivity estimates]

Once you source this information with actual papers, then we can discuss. We don't use graphics from serial disinformation blog sites at face value in science.

We're going to stop there for now, as there is no reason to fall for the whole gish gallop.
I sincerely hope you are enjoying your end to the hiatus from Weather Underground, however, this is going to get old quick. You really need to stop embarrassing yourself on both forums with these link & paragraph dumps from papers you don't fully read nor comprehend. If you have questions about these topics or think that there is uncertainty that needs elaborated on further, ask. That's what the climate change forum is for. But you are not doing yourself one favor by acting like your an expert in something that you aren't.
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Quoting Astrometeor:


Perhaps, but my parents, grandparents, and others whom I know as "old" have told me that the weather was much more extreme back then than today's events. The 50's heat waves, H. Agnes affected my mother's home state and others. Perspective I guess.


Personal perspective is not very trustworthy.

That's why if you would really like to know what is happening you look at the data.

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breath in breath O
ut
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Still raining in the southeast, the system is beginning finally to move on.

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Quoting wxchaser97:

Nope, Ike made landfall as a 110mph cat2. So officially, it will be 8 years since a major hurricane landfall.


yep by just 1 miserable mph!!

*edit, well by 5 mph really.
Member Since: April 23, 2011 Posts: 104 Comments: 14873
Quoting CosmicEvents:
Whether this is a natural cycle, maybe lasting ONLY 50,000 years or so, is a matter of question.
No, not really. In fact, not at all. The evidence is overwhelmingly in agreement that what we're seeing now is unprecedented (in at least the planet's recent history), and it's because of us. This:

gw

...is not natural.
Member Since: November 8, 2009 Posts: 4 Comments: 13526
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 171 Comments: 53809


Link WV Loop
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Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 171 Comments: 53809
Quoting Skyepony:


There is actually three. 94S in the huge blob southern Hemisphere. 92B is north of it, feeling some effects of the monster 94S. Then just west of the tip of India is 91B, far enough from 94S to be thriving a little & close enough to land to be hampered.



Baha~ Feel better!


For sure the MJO is already causing upward motion in the area.
Member Since: April 29, 2009 Posts: 75 Comments: 14250
Quoting CosmicEvents:
It might have something to do with your age. Beyond the stats, which are pretty definitive, those of us who have 30-70 years on your experience with the weather can sense, as all animals can, a change in climate. I see species of birds migrating, as an example, that I've been able to track over decades. Whether this is a natural cycle, maybe lasting ONLY 50,000 years or so, is a matter of question. As is how much of it is caused by man.


Perhaps, but my parents, grandparents, and others whom I know as "old" have told me that the weather was much more extreme back then than today's events. The 50's heat waves, H. Agnes affected my mother's home state and others. Perspective I guess.
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Quoting BobChecks:


I , Watt is know who Kenneth Watt is but he's as wrong as George Bush about Saddam having weapons of mass destruction.



Actually , an ecologist, is alleged to have said that at the first earthday. A quick Google search shows no evidence that he ever did, other than unsourced claims at the likes of Goddard, Limbaugh and Freerepublic. I feel confident, given the infinite capacity for wrongness at those 3 sources that Dr, Wattdid not say it.
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Quoting allancalderini:
Would be cool if we get triplets instead of twins.Have there ever in the Atlantic or eastern pacific get three systems at the same time from the MJO without taking in account Irwin,Jova and td 12 or 2011?


you mean simultaneous storms in a basin?...

well in 2010 we had Igor, Julia and Karl all at some point in September as major hurricanes..
Idk if MJO did anything

I loved adding ACE those days, jumping by 3 units every time
Member Since: April 23, 2011 Posts: 104 Comments: 14873
Quoting hurricane23:


Heat rusty from week rest. Bulls are grinders, ballers, and leave it all on the court. Still doupt they or anyone for that matter can beat the heat in a 7 game series


Adrian,don't panic as Heat will win series.
Member Since: April 29, 2009 Posts: 75 Comments: 14250
Quoting bjrabbit:
C'mon Doc. I like your blog a lot more when you just stick to the physics of weather...

The physics of weather and climate are inseparable.
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Quoting Skyepony:


There is actually three. 94S in the huge blob southern Hemisphere. 92B is north of it, feeling some effects of the monster 94S. Then just west of the tip of India is 91B, far enough from 94S to be thriving a little & close enough to land to be hampered.



Baha~ Feel better!
Would be cool if we get triplets instead of twins.Have there ever in the Atlantic or eastern pacific get three systems at the same time from the MJO without taking in account Irwin,Jova and td 12 or 2011?
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385. Skyepony (Mod)
Quoting stormchaser19:
Something is tricky with the twins in Indian Ocean, the North storm is suppose to be the stronger one...right now the convection is suppressed...



Check out the OSCAT I left #370. The north one doesn't show much at the surface either.
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Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:
I'm not sure what weather events have been extreme the past few years. Yes, the tornado season of 2011 was certainly extreme, but it was likely due to natural variation given a rather constant wind shear, water vapor, and instability profile across the Mississippi Valley over the past few decades. Yes, there was -- and remains to be -- a large drought across the central United States. However, as NOAA stated in their report last month, it was, again, just natural variation. And yes, we have seen a below-average winter and spring across the United States. While that may be attributed to global warming (increased blocking events across the Arctic, displaced polar vortex, cooler temperature across the USA), it's too early to tell for certain. Other than that, it's not been too bad.
It might have something to do with your age. Beyond the stats, which are pretty definitive, those of us who have 30-70 years on your experience with the weather can sense, as all animals can, a change in climate. I see species of birds migrating, as an example, that I've been able to track over decades. Whether this is a natural cycle, maybe lasting ONLY 500 or 50,000 years or so, is a matter of question. As is how much of it is caused by man. It's likely that we'll all be dead before that question is possibly answered.
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Something is tricky with the twins in Indian Ocean, the North storm is suppose to be the stronger one...right now the convection is suppressed...

Member Since: June 20, 2012 Posts: 0 Comments: 2159
Quoting Tropicsweatherpr:
Off Topic= The defending champions Miami Heat were stunned by Chicago Bulls 93-86 in game 1 of Eastern Conference Semifinal.


Heat rusty from week rest. Bulls are grinders, ballers, and leave it all on the court. Still doupt they or anyone for that matter can beat the heat in a 7 game series
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381. Skyepony (Mod)
Quoting Tropicsweatherpr:


Yes,the Southern one looks like will be the stronger of the two future Cyclones in that part of the world.


There is actually three. 94S in the huge blob southern Hemisphere. 92B is north of it, feeling some effects of the monster 94S. Then just west of the tip of India is 91B, far enough from 94S to be thriving a little & close enough to land to be hampered.



Baha~ Feel better!
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Evening all. Just a 3-minute look-in before bed... I've got a headsplitter going on, and think I will medicate and go to bed...
Quoting CybrTeddy:
Coldest May day in Florida that I can remember today.
Was thinking a similar thought as I left work tonight. I almost pulled out a jacket, it was so much cooler than I expected. Evening temps in particular feel considerably more like mid-March than early May. Wonder if the cooler than average temps will last into JJA....
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Quoting BobChecks:


Cool.

Now tell us what our lives will be like if we force our planet back to that warmer temperature.

You can start with how massive amounts of our infrastructure will be under water, how most of the food crops we depend on won't grow, how we'll loose a lot of our most productive crop land and be forced to try growing on rocky areas with very thin top soil, how we'll get smashed and mashed by storms more violent that anything we've experienced....


This is basically what I'm getting at. I hope people reallize the significance of these small changes on large scale agricuture and desertification, etc. Things are changing.
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The GFS says the southern low may get classified quicker:



but the northern low will end up stronger ultimately:

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376. Skyepony (Mod)
Cloudsat of the far east side of 94S.
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Quoting louisianaboy444:
Remember earth has actually been warmer than present day through about half of its existence...long-term we are still in a warmer episode of an ice age


Cool.

Now tell us what our lives will be like if we force our planet back to that warmer temperature.

You can start with how massive amounts of our infrastructure will be under water, how most of the food crops we depend on won't grow, how we'll loose a lot of our most productive crop land and be forced to try growing on rocky areas with very thin top soil, how we'll get smashed and mashed by storms more violent that anything we've experienced....
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Quoting GatorWX:


did Ike get upgraded or no?
Quoting GatorWX:


did Ike get upgraded or no?
Nop it was a high end cat 2.
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Quoting Skyepony:
OSCAT of 94S..it is overwhelming 92B.



Yes,the Southern one looks like will be the stronger of the two future Cyclones in that part of the world.
Member Since: April 29, 2009 Posts: 75 Comments: 14250
372. Skyepony (Mod)
94S Click pic for loop.


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Quoting GatorWX:


did Ike get upgraded or no?

Nope, Ike made landfall as a 110mph cat2. So officially, it will be 8 years since a major hurricane landfall.
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370. Skyepony (Mod)
OSCAT of 94S..it is overwhelming 92B.

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Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:
I'm not sure what weather events have been extreme the past few years. Yes, the tornado season of 2011 was certainly extreme, but it was likely due to natural variation given a rather constant wind shear, water vapor, and instability profile across the Mississippi Valley over the past few decades. Yes, there was -- and remains to be -- a large drought across the central United States. However, as NOAA started in their report last month, it was, again, just natural variation. And yes, we have seen a below-average winter and spring across the United States. While that may be attributed to global warming (increased blocking events across the Arctic, displaced polar vortex, cooler temperature across the USA), it's too early to tell for certain. Other than that, it's not been too bad.


No, and you are certainly correct, but it's these blocking patterns in particular that worry me. They have the abilty to drive these lows down into the mid lats with very cool temps and draw abundant moisture from the gulf and gulfstream.
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Remember earth has actually been warmer than present day through about half of its existence...long-term we are still in a warmer episode of an ice age
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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.