Earth Weather / Space Weather

What's to Blame for Wild Weather?

By: Susie77, 10:51 PM GMT on June 24, 2011

What's to Blame for Wild Weather? "La Nada"

Such sheets of fire, such bursts of horrid thunder,
Such groans of roaring wind and rain, I never

Remember to have heard; man's nature cannot carry

The affliction nor the fear
from Shakespeare's Tragedy of King LearJune 21, 2011:
Record snowfall, killer tornadoes, devastating floods: There’s no doubt
about it. Since Dec. 2010, the weather in the USA has been positively
wild. But why?

Some recent news reports have attributed the phenomenon to an
extreme "La Niña," a band of cold water stretching across the Pacific
Ocean with global repercussions for climate and weather. But NASA
climatologist Bill Patzert names a different suspect: "La Nada."

"La Niña was strong in December," he says. "But back in January it
pulled a disappearing act and left us with nothing – La Nada – to
constrain the jet stream. Like an unruly teenager, the jet stream took
advantage of the newfound freedom--and the results were disastrous."

La Niña and El Niño are opposite extremes of a great Pacific
oscillation. Every 2 to 7 years, surface waters across the equatorial
Pacific warm up (El Niño) and then they cool down again (La Niña). Each
condition has its own distinct effects on weather.
Wild Weather (La Nina, 558px)
The blue and purple band in this satellite image of the Pacific
Ocean traces the cool waters of the La Niña phenomenon in December 2010.
(from Ocean Surface Topography Mission (OSTM)/Jason-2 satellite,
Credit: NASA JPL)

The winter of 2010 began with La Niña conditions taking hold. A
"normal" La Niña would have pushed the jet stream northward, pushing
cold arctic air (one of the ingredients of severe weather) away from the
lower US. But this La Niña petered out quickly, and no El Niño rose up
to replace it. The jet stream was free to misbehave.

"By mid-January 2011, La Niña weakened rapidly and by mid-February it was adiosLa Niña,
allowing the jet stream to meander wildly around the US. Consequently
the weather pattern became dominated by strong outbreaks of frigid polar
air, producing blizzards across the West, Upper Midwest, and northeast
The situation lingered into spring -- and things got ugly. Russell
Schneider, Director of the NOAA-NWS Storm Prediction Center, explains:

"First, very strong winds out of the south carrying warm, moist
air from the Gulf of Mexico met cold jet stream winds racing in from the
west. Stacking these two air masses on top of each other created the
degree of instability that fuels intense thunderstorms."

Extreme contrasts in wind speeds and directions of the upper and
lower atmosphere transformed ordinary thunderstorms into long-lived
rotating supercells capable of producing violent tornadoes.2
In Patzert's words, "The jet stream -- on steroids -- acted as an
atmospheric mix master, causing tornadoes to explode across Dixie and
Tornado Alleys, and even into Massachusetts."
Wild Weather (La Nada, 558px)
This satellite image, taken in April 2011, reveals La Niña's
rapid exit from the equator near the US coast. The cool (false-color
blue) water was gone by early spring. (from Ocean Surface Topography
Mission (OSTM)/Jason-2 satellite, Credit: NASA JPL)

All this because of a flaky La Niña?

"La Niña and El Niño affect the atmosphere's energy balance
because they determine the location of warm water in the Pacific, and
that in turn determines where huge clusters of tropical thunderstorms
form," explains Schneider. "These storms are the main energy source from
the tropics influencing the large scale pattern of the jet stream that
flows through the US."

In agreement with Patzert, he notes that the very strong and
active jet stream across the lower US in April "may have been related to
the weakening La Niña conditions observed over the tropical Pacific."

And of course there's this million dollar question: "Does any
research point to climate change as a cause of this wild weather?"

"Global warming is certainly happening," asserts Patzert, "but we
can't discount global warming or blame it for the 2011 tornado season.
We just don't know ... Yet."3
What will happen next? And please don't say, "La Nada."

Author: Dauna Coulter | Editor: Dr. Tony Phillips | Credit: Science@NASA
End Notes(1)
Other atmospheric factors also contributed to the inflow of frigid
polar air, says Patzert. One of the most significant was a weakening in
the whirlpool motion of the air around the North Pole. As a result of
this weakening, more cold air flowed away from the pole and down toward
the states. Climatologists call this an "arctic oscillation."
(2) Imagine a paddle wheel oriented
like a Ferris wheel and placed in winds that that are much stronger at
the top than at the bottom. The wheel will spin in the direction of the
strong winds above. This spring, these strong, turning winds led to
ongoing rotation of the supercells themselves. So we ended up with
intense rotation and updraft close to Earth's surface -- conditions ripe
for strong tornadoes.
(3) On May 26, 2011, Patzert posted a
comment about this topic on Andrew Revkin’s The New York Times' DOT
EARTH Blog, "Demography, Design, Atom Bombs and Tornado Deaths." See
comment 6 at this URL.

Getting Ready for the Next Big Solar Storm

By: Susie77, 3:07 PM GMT on June 22, 2011

Getting Ready for the Next Big Solar Storm

June 21, 2011: In Sept. 1859, on the eve of a below-average1
solar cycle, the sun unleashed one of the most powerful storms in
centuries. The underlying flare was so unusual, researchers still aren't
sure how to categorize it.  The blast peppered Earth with the most
energetic protons in half-a-millennium, induced electrical currents that
set telegraph offices on fire, and sparked Northern Lights over Cuba
and Hawaii.

This week, officials have gathered at the National Press Club in Washington DC to ask themselves a simple question: What if it happens again?
SWEF (powerlines, 200px)
Modern power grids are vulnerable to solar storms. Photo credit: Martin Stojanovski

"A similar storm today might knock us for a loop," says Lika
Guhathakurta, a solar physicist at NASA headquarters. "Modern society
depends on high-tech systems such as smart power grids, GPS, and
satellite communications--all of which are vulnerable to solar storms."

She and more than a hundred others are attending the fifth annual
Space Weather Enterprise Forum—"SWEF" for short.  The purpose of SWEF is
to raise awareness of space weather and its effects on society
especially among policy makers and emergency responders.  Attendees come
from the US Congress, FEMA, power companies, the United Nations, NASA,
NOAA and more.

As 2011 unfolds, the sun is once again on the eve of a
below-average solar cycle—at least that’s what forecasters are saying. 
The "Carrington event" of 1859 (named after astronomer Richard
Carrington, who witnessed the instigating flare) reminds us that strong
storms can occur even when the underlying cycle is nominally weak.  

In 1859 the worst-case scenario was a day or two without telegraph
messages and a lot of puzzled sky watchers on tropical islands.

In 2011 the situation would be more serious. An avalanche of
blackouts carried across continents by long-distance power lines could
last for weeks to months as engineers struggle to repair damaged
transformers. Planes and ships couldn’t trust GPS units for navigation. 
Banking and financial networks might go offline, disrupting commerce in
a way unique to the Information Age.  According to a 2008 report from
the National Academy of Sciences, a century-class solar storm could have
the economic impact of 20 hurricane Katrinas.

As policy makers meet to learn about this menace, NASA researchers a few miles away are actually doing something about it:

"We can now track the progress of solar storms in 3 dimensions as
the storms bear down on Earth," says Michael Hesse, chief of the GSFC
Space Weather Lab and a speaker at the forum.  "This sets the stage for actionable space weather alerts that could preserve power grids and other high-tech assets during extreme periods of solar activity."

They do it using data from a fleet of NASA spacecraft surrounding
the sun.  Analysts at the lab feed the information into a bank of
supercomputers for processing.  Within hours of a major eruption, the
computers spit out a 3D movie showing where the storm will go, which
planets and spacecraft it will hit, and predicting when the impacts will
occur.  This kind of "interplanetary forecast" is unprecedented in the
short history of space weather forecasting.
SWEF (3D CME, 558px)
Analysts at the GSFC Space Weather Lab created this 3D
forecast-model of a coronal mass ejection (CME) heading for Earth on
June 21st. Click here to watch the CME sweep past our planet.

"This is a really exciting time to work as a space weather
forecaster," says Antti Pulkkinen, a researcher at the Space Weather
Lab.  "The emergence of serious physics-based space weather models is
putting us in a position to predict if something major will happen."

Some of the computer models are so sophisticated, they can even
predict electrical currents flowing in the soil of Earth when a solar
storm strikes.  These currents are what do the most damage to power
transformers.  An experimental project named "Solar Shield" led by
Pulkkinen aims to pinpoint transformers in greatest danger of failure
during any particular storm.

"Disconnecting a specific transformer for a few hours could forestall weeks of regional blackouts," says Pulkkinen.

Another SWEF speaker, John Allen of NASA's Space Operations
Mission Directorate, pointed out that while people from all walks of
life can be affected by space weather, no one is out on the front lines
quite like astronauts.

"Astronauts are routinely exposed to four times as much radiation
as industrial radiation workers on Earth," he says.  "It's a serious
occupational hazard."

NASA keeps careful track of each astronaut's accumulated dosage
throughout their careers.  Every launch, every space walk, every solar
flare is carefully accounted for.  If an astronaut gets too close to the
limits ... he or she might not be allowed out of the space station!
 Accurate space weather alerts can help keep these exposures under
control by, e.g., postponing spacewalks when flares are likely.

Speaking at the forum, Allen called for a new kind of forecast: "We could use All Clear
alerts. In addition to knowing when it's dangerous to go outside, we'd
also like to know when it's safe.  This is another frontier for
forecasters--not only telling us when a sunspot will erupt, but also
when it won't."

The educational mission of SWEF is key to storm preparedness. As
Lika Guhathakurta and colleague Dan Baker of the University of Colorado
asked in a June 17th New York Times op-ed: "What good are space weather alerts if people don’t understand them and won’t react to them?"

By spreading the word, SWEF will help.

More information about the meeting, including a complete program of speakers, may be found at the SWEF 2011 home page.

Farewell, Commander Kelly

By: Susie77, 8:21 PM GMT on June 21, 2011


June 21, 2011

Joshua Buck
Headquarters, Washington

Nicole Cloutier-Lemasters
Johnson Space Center, Houston

RELEASE: 11-198


HOUSTON -- NASA astronaut and U.S. Navy Capt. Mark Kelly has announced
his plans to retire from the agency on Oct. 1. He is a veteran of
four space shuttle missions.

"We salute Commander Mark Kelly and his contributions to NASA as an
extremely accomplished member of the astronaut corps and the final
commander of the space shuttle Endeavour," said NASA Administrator
Charles Bolden. "We deeply respect his achievements and his decision
to focus on his family. We continue to send out our thoughts and
prayers to Mark and his wife, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, as she makes a
remarkable recovery. We know that Mark will continue to do great
things for his country no matter what he chooses to do next. He has
helped us build a space program poised to take advantage of the many
opportunities in our bright future."

Kelly announced his retirement Tuesday on Facebook and via his Twitter
account. On Facebook, he wrote, "This was not an easy decision.
Public service has been more than a job for me and for my family." He
added, "I know that as our space program evolves, there are those who
will question NASA's future. I am not among them. There isn't a group
more dedicated to its mission or more capable than the outstanding
men and women of NASA."

Kelly commanded the STS-134 flight in May and STS-124 in 2008. He
served as the pilot on STS-121 in 2006 and STS-108 in 2001. He joined
NASA as an astronaut candidate in 1996.

For Kelly's complete biography, visit: l

To follow Kelly on Twitter and Facebook, visit:


Summer Solstice Solar Storm

By: Susie77, 12:49 PM GMT on June 21, 2011

Space Weather News for June 21, 2011

SOLSTICE SOLAR FLARE: The first day of northern summer began with a solar flare. Magnetic fields above sunspot complex 1236 erupted during the early hours of June 21st, hurling a coronal mass ejection (CME) almost directly toward Earth. The incoming CME does not appear to be particularly potent; nevertheless, the cloud could trigger polar geomagnetic storms when it reaches Earth on or about June 23rd. Check for movies and updates.

HANG AN EXPLOSION ON YOUR WALL: The solar super-explosion of June 7, 2011, is now available from the Space Weather Store as a unique metallic wall hanging. Take a look: .aspx

Lunar Eclipse Web Cams

By: Susie77, 5:38 PM GMT on June 15, 2011

Lunar Eclipse cams

(Eclipse not visible in western hemisphere but you can still see it via the above webcams.)

Controversial? Why?

By: Susie77, 6:26 PM GMT on June 14, 2011

Global warming/climate change should not be the controversy that it is in the U.S. I do not understand why a particular political party in the U.S. insists that scientific evidence (and scientists) are not to be believed. Whether or not it is human-caused is moot. Rather than fighting over this, we should all be working *together* to find solutions for the coming displacement of large populations, famines, and tropical diseases moving north. When will this happen?


The Perils of Ignoring Science
Friday 10 June 2011
by: Michael Winship, Truthout | Op-Ed

I heard a remarkable thing on the radio the other day and it had nothing to do with a congressman’s nether regions.

A local NPR reporter was talking with Joseph Nicholson, CEO of Red Jacket Orchards in Geneva, New York, up in the neck of the upstate woods where I was born and raised. There’s been a lot more rain than usual, he said. Produce hasn’t been exposed to sufficient "heat units" - in other words, the sun.

"We're going to be at least two weeks behind in harvest or ripening," he said, and if the skies don’t brighten up soon, yields could be down 30 to 35 percent. That’s a lot of lost apples - and cherries, peaches and plums (although the rhubarb is doing just fine, thanks for asking).

As upstate kids we were told - apocryphally - that the only part of the world more overcast than us was Poland, so the idea that all these years later it’s cloudier than ever is startling. Is this part of manmade climate change?

Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum sure doesn’t think so. The other day he told Rush Limbaugh "the idea that man... is somehow responsible for climate change is, I think, just patently absurd." He went on to call it a left-wing conspiracy, "just an excuse for more government control of your life… I’ve never been for any scheme or even accepted the junk science behind the whole narrative."

Better you should listen to Ram Khatri Yadav, a rice farmer in northeastern India, who recently complained to The New York Times, "It will not rain in the rainy season, but it will rain in the nonrainy season. The cold season is also shrinking." He’s experiencing climate change as a life or death reality. In a June 4 article headlined "A Warming Planet Struggles to Feed Itself," the Times reported, "The great agricultural system that feeds the human race is in trouble... Many of the failed harvests of the past decade were a consequence of weather disasters, like floods in the United States, drought in Australia and blistering heat waves in Europe and Russia. Scientists believe some, though not all, of those events were caused or worsened by human-induced global warming."

For years, scientists believed that the carbon dioxide produced by greenhouse emissions were at least in part beneficial for crops, acting as a fertilizer that helped counterbalance the deleterious effects of climate change. But according to the Times, new research indicates "extra carbon dioxide does act as plant fertilizer, but that the benefits are less than previously believed - and probably less than needed to avert food shortages."

The World Bank estimates that there may be as many as 940 million hungry people this year. The international relief agency Oxfam projects already high food prices more than doubling by 2030 with perhaps half of that spike due to climate change. With those increases could come hoarding, gouging, panic buying and food riots like those that led to the overthrow of the Haitian government in 2008.

Nor is it just our food supply that has climate change breathing hot and heavy down our collective necks. City and state planners also are examining its impact on urban centers and preparing for the worst. A May 22 Times article notes, "Climate scientists have told city planners that based on current trends, Chicago will feel more like Baton Rouge than a Northern metropolis before the end of this century... New York City, which is doing its own adaptation planning, is worried about flooding from the rising ocean."

In Chicago’s case, scientists project that if global carbon emissions continue at their current pace, the Second City would have summers "like the Deep South, with as many as 72 days over 90 degrees before the end of the century. For most of the 20th century, the city averaged fewer than 15...

"The city could see heat-related deaths reaching 1,200 a year. The increasing occurrences of freezes and thaws (the root of potholes) would cause billions of dollars’ worth of deterioration to building facades, bridges and roads. Termites, never previously able to withstand Chicago’s winters, would start gorging on wooden frames."

Conservatives like Santorum may scoff but the insurance industry - no knee-jerk advocate of liberal dogma - is telling cities and states they had better adapt to reality or face ever higher premiums: "The reinsurance giant Swiss Re, for example, has said that if the shore communities of four Gulf Coast states choose not to implement adaptation strategies, they could see annual climate-change related damages jump 65 percent a year to $23 billion by 2030."

Of course, it’s the science that right-wingers dismiss as "junk" that could help save us, not that they want to hear that. Researchers are developing strains of rice and wheat more resistant to heat, drought, flood and rising levels of carbon dioxide.

That takes cash, another notion to which conservatives are especially adverse. Over the last five years, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has spent $1.7 billion to feed the world but private philanthropy isn’t enough.

A year ago, the State Department and the US Agency for International Development began Feed the Future, a global hunger and food security initiative to boost agriculture in 20 desperately poor countries. President Obama has pledged $3.5 billion; so far, Congress has come up with a little more than half of it.

We live on a planet where, New York Times reporter Justin Gillis wrote, "Little new land is available for farming, where water supplies are tightening, where the temperature is rising, where the weather has become erratic and where the food system is already showing serious signs of instability." But last month, the House appropriations subcommittee on agriculture, headed by Georgia Republican Jack "I Came from God, Not from a Monkey" Kingston, cut Feed the Future’s budget by thirty percent. How do you like them apples?

Michael Winship is senior writing fellow at Demos, president of the Writers Guild of America, East, and former senior writer of Bill Moyers Journal on PBS.


By: Susie77, 2:15 AM GMT on June 05, 2011

New Supernova Spotted in Whirlpool Galaxy

Posted by Andrew Fazekas June 3, 2011 Comments (10)

Hubble Space Telescope image shows off the Whirlpool galaxy as it looked before this week's supernova eruption. credit: STScI/AURA

Space Telescope image shows off the Whirlpool galaxy as it looked
before this week's supernova eruption. credit: STScI/AURA

A cosmic celebrity gets some superstar treatment! This week while
patrolling the night sky with their telescopes two French backyard
astronomers independently managed to snag digital images of  a supernova
explosion caught in the act – with all the action occurring within the
Whirlpool galaxy 31 million light years away.
Newly discovered supernova appears to blink in before and after photos of the Whirlpool galaxy. credit: Stéphane Lamotte Bailey
On May 31st one amateur noticed a new star embedded within one of the
spiral arms of the distant galaxy where there wasn’t any before. By the
next evening other amateur stargazers and robotic supernova patrol
telescopes clued in as well and the alarm was sounded to the worldwide
observing community.  Sky and Telescope website is reporting that professional
astronomers are scouring through images of the Whirlpool from
international observatories including the Hubble space telescope taken
weeks and even years before the supernova became visible to see what the
precursor star might have looked like before it blew up. This will help
us gain critical insight into the inner clockwork of these titanic
event that are ranked as some of the most powerful forces in the
Called a Type II Supernova, this new discovery is a member of an
elite stellar club of heavyweights -supergiant stars at least 10 times
larger than our sun that completely destroy themselves when they reach
the end of their lives. Astronomers believe that a supernova explosion
occurs about once a century in all spiral galaxies. However this galaxy
appears to be testing that theory since this will be the third such
stellar detonation to occur in the same galaxy in just 17 years!
The Whirlpool lives up to its name as a real showpiece in large
aperture telescopes under dark skies. Known also as M 51, it was first
observed by comet sleuth Charles Messier back in 1773 and was the first
galaxy where a definite spiral structure was seen.  
Sky chart showing M 51 is located just off the Big Dipper handle; Credit: YourSky software
While you shouldn’t expect picturesque views of those spiral arms – a
la Hubble – it’s just about visible  through suburban binoculars which
will pick up the nucleus as a faint, tiny smudge. Meanwhile hints
of sweeping spiral arms hugging a bright central core can be
glimpsed with medium sized telescopes (6 to 8 inches)  under dark sky
conditions. Careful observation also reveals a much smaller and dimmer
companion galaxy that appears to be interacting with one of the
Whirlpool’s spiral arms.
Being relatively bright and within reach of the average telescope
owner -  it’s no wonder that the 60,000 light year wide
Whirlpool is a popular ‘must-see’ deep- sky target for  stargazers. 
Even though detailed views may be challenging, the ’wow’ moment for
observers is simply the fact that this distant object can be glimpsed
with the human eye.
For those in the Northern Hemisphere, its perfectly positioned in the
evening night sky to hunt down this time of the year. You’ll find the
galaxy located just off the handle of the famous Big Dipper pattern of
stars within the constellation Canes Venatici.
What about seeing the supernova? The star is way too faint  (14th
magnitude) to be spotted with anything less than a medium to large sized
telescope – at least ones with primary mirrors of 8 to 16 inches. On
the other hand it should be a fairly easy target for backyard digital
astroimagers with the right setup even in light polluted suburbia.  But
because this supernova was caught early on, it may still have a surprise
in store and continue to brighten a bit in the next week or so.  No
guarantees but the only way to know for sure is for us to keep an eye on
it. i know where I will be pointing my telescope the next clear night!
Andrew Fazekas, aka The Night Sky Guy,
is a science writer, broadcaster, and lecturer who loves to share his
passion for the wonders of the universe through all media. He is a
regular contributor to National Geographic News and is the national
cosmic correspondent for Canada’s Weather Network TV channel, space
columnist for CBC Radio network, and a consultant for the Canadian Space
Agency. As a member of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Andrew
has been observing the heavens from Montreal for over a quarter century
and has never met a clear night sky he didn’t like.

The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.