Taking advantage of a teachable moment.

Climate Nexus:

While global temperatures are shaping up to make 2014 the hottest year on record, the U.S. has endured over a week of unseasonably wintry conditions due to atmospheric blocking – a large scale pressure pattern with little or no movement – that has led to a sustained outbreak of record cold mid-November Arctic air. The most eye-opening consequence of the cold streak has been the extreme amount of snowfall – made worse by lake-effect snow – in Buffalo, New York. According to the U.S. National Climate Assessment, climate change has already led to heavier-than-normal snowfalls in the Northeast with indications that wintertime atmospheric patterns are increasingly prone to blocking, or stagnation that locks in wintry conditions.

So how might the current Arctic outbreak and extreme lake-effect snowfall in Buffalo be connected to broader climate change trends?

  • Warm ocean waters strengthened Super Typhoon Nuri, which kicked off this event
  • Nuri, traveling further north than normal thanks to those warm waters, pushed the jet stream south into the U.S.
  • The jet stream may have slowed due to a warmed Arctic, making it easier for Nuri to drive the jet stream southward, bringing frigid sub-Arctic conditions with it
  • The unseasonably cold air intensified the lake-effect snowfall in Buffalo due to the extreme difference between water and air temperatures, which increased the amount of snowfall produced as cold winds moved across the warmer lake water

Unusual Atmospheric Patterns and Possible Climate Connections

Like the polar vortex of winter 2013-2014, the current Arctic air outbreak and extreme amount of lake-effect snowfall in Buffalo was triggered by a high-pressure system in the Pacific Ocean and western U.S. that has led to an extreme, southward sinking jet stream and atmospheric blocking. While the sinking of the jet stream this past week was fueled in part by the strong extra-tropical remnant of Typhoon Nuri, scientists have observed an unusual number of extreme jet stream patterns like this in recent years and are advancing two main theories that might help to explain why. One prominent theory links the unusual jet stream behavior to Arctic amplification, or enhanced warming in high northern latitudes relative to the northern hemisphere. The second leading theory suggests unusual atmospheric patterns may be tied to increased water temperatures in the Pacific Ocean. This latter theory, in addition to helping to explain unusual jet stream patterns, may also explain Typhoon Nuri’s intensity.

The next two sections highlight these theories in more depth before discussing how unusual jet stream patterns are linked to extreme lake-effect snowfall.

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Accuweather:

The start of the workweek will leave many in the Northern states swapping their snow boots and parkas for their ponchos and rain boots as springlike warmth and drenching rains will work into the region.

People from New York City to Boston will have to shed those extra layers, as temperatures climb well into the 60s on Monday. Temperatures may top 70 in Washington, D.C., on Monday.

Cities where extensive lake-effect snows fell, like Buffalo, New York, may experience urban flooding issues from rapid snow melt as temperatures rise and steady rain falls across the area early next week.

whiplash

 

University of Maine Climate Re-Analyzer here.

Watch out for flying biological debris as we get closer to making it official. As an arctic blast envelopes the eastern US, 2014 becomes, more and more obviously, the warmest year, globally, in the instrumental record.

CBC:

Despite a bitter cold snap in parts of North America, the globe is rushing hell-bent toward its warmest year on record with last month setting the fifth monthly heat record of the year.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced Thursday that last month was the hottest October on record worldwide. The 14.74 Celsius (58.43 degrees Fahrenheit) beat out October 2003.

“It is becoming pretty clear that 2014 will end up as the warmest year on record,” said Deke Arndt, climate monitoring chief for NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, North Carolina. “The remaining question is: How much?”

With only two months left in the year, 2014 has now surged ahead as the globe’s warmest year so far, beating 2010 and 1998. So far this year, the world is averaging 14.78 degrees Celsius (58.62 degrees Fahrenheit). If the last two months of the year are only average for the 21st century, it will still be the warmest year ever, Arndt said.

Pennsylvania State University climate scientist Michael Mann said in an email he hopes the new data will put to rest “the silly ongoing claims that global warming has ‘stopped’ or that there is a ‘hiatus’ in global warming.”

The world is approaching the warmest year “in spite of the U.S. being pretty cold,” Arndt said. That’s because the United States is only 2 per cent of the world’s area and the part that’s unusually cold is about 1.5 per cent of the entire globe, he said.

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This story obviously still developing, will update as I find out more..

Weather Channel’s Ari Sarsalari discusses video of the recent snow event near Buffalo NY.  The area has been smacked by 4 to 5 feet (1.2 to 1.5 meters) of heavy snow, with more on the way before it breaks.

Sarsalari pronounces the clip, “..one of the coolest videos I’ve ever seen..”.
With 2014 looking to break the warmest-in-the-record record,  and an El Nino setting up in the Pacific, we may be seeing some very, very cool video in the coming years.

Minnesota Public Radio:

Lake-effect snow and the climate change connection

Yes, it sounds counter-intuitive. How can you have more snow, earlier in the season with a warming climate?

An oversimplified explanation goes like this.

  • Warmer climate = warmer water in Lake Erie
  • Arctic warming = a wavier jet stream pushing unseasonably cold arctic air mass into the eastern U.S.
  • Unusually cold air masses and unusually warm lake water temps = extreme temperature contrast of 50 degrees between lake surface and air mass
  • Extreme temperature contrast = more intense lake effect snowfall rates of 3 to 5 inches per hour with 60-plus inch snowfall totals

Now a more thorough explanation with supporting data.

First the warm water. An unusually warm bubble of water for November at the eastern end of Lake Erie helped fuel this extreme lake-effect event.

lake_erie_snow

Average Lake Erie water temp for November 19th is 47 degrees. You can see the bubble of 50 to 54 degree water just west (upstream) of Buffalo in the image above

Longer-term trends show Lake Erie has become measurably warmer. The reduction in winter ice cover actually produces an increase in lake-effect snow as more moisture is available for incoming arctic air to tap and wring out onshore in intense lake-effect driven snow plumes.

Lake-effect snowfall in the Great Lakes is increasing, even as non lake-effect snowfall is steady to falling in a warming climate.

Long-term trends show an increase in winter totals from these extreme precipitation events.

Slate’s Eric Holtahus connects the dots on how the State of New York has recognized that increased lake-effect snowfall is part of a warming climate for now.

Earlier this year, New York state updated its assessment of statewide climate change impacts, essentially giving a forecast of the future of lake-effect snowfall in the state:

Annual ice cover has decreased 71 percent on the Great Lakes since 1973; models suggest this decrease will lead to increased lake-effect snow in the next couple of decades through greater moisture availability (Burnett et al. 2003). By mid-century, lake-effect snow will generally decrease as temperatures below freezing become less frequent (Kunkel et al. 2002).

The high ice extent of the 2013-2014 winter highlights the fact that natural variability is expected to continue, even as long-term trends gradually shift the statistics in favor of low-ice winters.

Bottom line? There is increasing evidence to show that Buffalo’s lake-effect mega storm is another example of an extreme weather event with a climate change connection.

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Hunters and Anglers, some of our keenest and most experienced observers of the natural world, are increasingly freaked out by climate change.

Above, trailer for a new movie about climate impacts on sport fishing.

National Wildlife Federation:

Growth rates may increase in warmer waters, but so too would stress from excessively high temperatures. Northerly lakes may become more suitable for warm-water species, but fish may have no means to move into these areas
unassisted. Warming may also affect prey species or the broader ecosystem.

Warmer air could also lead to earlier stratification of lakes and ponds in the spring, causing increases in summer fish kills due to oxygen depleted waters. Seasonal temperature stratification is a normal process for temperate zone lakes wherein the steep temperature gradient between shallow warm water and cold deep water during the summer prevents mixing of the water layers.17 This inhibits delivery of oxygen-rich water from the surface to the lower depths, leading to fish kills in deep waters.18,19 In states like Minnesota where early stratification is becoming an issue, lakes may someday be unable to support lake trout and other species that live in the deepest, coldest zones.

Rising temperatures threaten to compromise the success of restoration efforts underway in many freshwater systems. For example, the restoration of a diverse fish community to Ohio’s lower Black River is at risk due to rising stream temperatures
projected with climate change.21 The maximum temperature thresholds22 for 12 of 22 of the river’s fish species assessed would be exceeded by mid-century based on projected increases in water temperature. Especially vulnerable are the river’s cool-water species, such as the white sucker, as well as popular sport fish such as pumpkinseed, yellow perch, rock bass, and
smallmouth bass.

National Geographic:

Fish are sensitive to temperature, explained Jack Williams, a senior scientist with the conservation group Trout Unlimited and a co-author of the NWF report, who describes a massive geographical shift in fish species already underway. “Already, native trout have been pushed around,” Williams wrote in an email.

“Non-native species are pushing up from downstream and have sent the native trout into the higher elevation streams,” Williams explained. “Unfortunately, these streams are going to be hard hit as wildfire, drought, and increased storm intensities hit these isolated high-elevation areas hard.” (See “Amid Drought, Explaining Colorado’s Extreme Floods.”)

“In the Southwest,” said Williams, “the evidence is in your face each time you survey a stream.” Small streams in New Mexico, home to Rio Grande cutthroat, Gila, and Apache trout, are particularly susceptible to temperature increases.

Making things even worse are the wildfires, which Williams says the Southwest is seeing “at scales that we have not seen before.” Wildfires rip through trout habitat, and the increased runoff that results when the riparian areas burn eventually leads to siltation effects. “It’s a killer one-two punch in these small streams,” said Williams

My friend Todd Tanner is founder and President of Conservation Hawks, an organization of Hunters and Anglers that seeks to raise awareness on climate change.

Todd Tanner interviewed in Syracuse.com:

You talk about walking outside and observing. Talk about what you see outside of your home in Montana.

Our snows come later than they use to, the run-off in the spring comes earlier. Our forests are dying here – millions of acres of trees. As the climate has warmed, it’s dried. Trees are stressed by the lack of precipitation and that allows insects like pine bark beetles to attack the trees. You don’t get the cold snaps like you use to, which used to hold the insect numbers down. In addition, our forest fire season is about two months longer than it used to be.

Also, we’re getting more stream closures. With things getting warmer, and the run-off (snow melt) coming earlier, the trout stream temperatures are getting unnaturally hot here in the later part of the summer. As a protection for the fish, a number of trout streams are being shut down later in the summer to fishing. That never used to happen when I first moved here.

Finally, we’re losing access to hunting areas. With the colder winters, the snow would push the elk, white-tailed deer and mule deer down from the mountains. Now, since it doesn’t get cold as quick, they’re staying up at the higher elevations, and are coming down later in the hunting season – or not at all.

My video on Hunters, Anglers, and Climate Change, is below.

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