‘Weather bomb’ hits Midwest with power of major hurricane
My dad was the biggest Republican that ever walked the earth. He always said: “Actions have consequences.” To pretend that a 38% increase in greenhouse gases isn’t going to have any impact, that we can have our cake and eat it too, and smear it all over our face, and maybe have our grandchildren deal with the hangover, I think it is immoral.
That’s Minnesota meteorologist Paul Douglas in an exclusive interview with Brad Johnson about the “weather bomb” that just hit and the global warming deniers that populate his state.
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.
But let’s start with meteorologist Jeff Masters, who puts this staggering superstorm in context and examines the climate change angle:
The mega-storm reached peak intensity late yesterday afternoon over Minnesota, 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. So far, it appears the lowest reading (not yet official) was a pressure of 28.20″ (954.9 mb) reduced to sea level reported from Bigfork, Minnesota at 5:13pm CDT. Other extreme low pressures from Minnesota during yesterday’s storm included 28.22″ (956 mb) at Orr at 5:34pm CDT, 28.23″ at International Falls (3:45pm), and 28.23″ at Waskuh at 5:52pm. The 28.23″ (956mb) reading from International Falls yesterday obliterated their previous record of 28.70″ set on Nov. 11, 1949 by nearly one-half inch of mercury–a truly amazing anomaly. Duluth’s 28.36″ (961 mb) reading smashed their old record of 28.48″ (964 mb) set on Nov. 11, 1998. Wisconsin also recorded its lowest barometric pressure in history yesterday, with a 28.36″ (961 mb) reading at Superior. The old record was 28.45″ (963.4 mb) at Green Bay on April 3, 1982. The previous state record for Minnesota was 28.43″ (963 mb) at Albert Lea and Austin on Nov. 10, 1998.
Yesterday’s records in context
Yesterday’s 28.20″ (955 mb) low pressure reading in Minnesota breaks not only the 28.28″ (958 mb) previous “USA-interior-of-the-continent-record” from Cleveland, Ohio during the Great Ohio Storm of Jan. 26, 1978 (a lower reading in Canada during this event bottomed out at an amazing 28.05″/950 mb), but also the lowest pressure ever measured anywhere in the continental United States aside from the Atlantic Coast. The modern Pacific Coast record is 28.40″ (962mb) at Quillayute, Washington on Dec. 1, 1987. An older reading, taken on a ship offshore from the mouth of the Umpqua River in Oregon during the famous “Storm King” event on January 9, 1880, is tied with yesterday’s 28.20″ (955 mb.)
The lowest non-hurricane barometric pressure reading in the lower 48 states is 28.10″ (952 mb) measured at Bridgehampton, New York (Long Island) during an amazing nor’easter on March 1, 1914 (see Kocin and Uccellini, “Northeast Snowstorms; Vol. 2., p. 324, American Meteorological Society, 2004.) The lowest non-hurricane barometric pressure reading from anywhere in the United States was a 27.35″ (927 mb) reading at Dutch Harbor, Alaska on Oct. 25, 1977. The lowest hurricane pressure reading was the 26.34″ (892 mb) recorded in 1935 during the Great Labor Day Hurricane….
… the famed storm that sank the ore carrier Edmund Fitzgerald in 1974, killing all 29 sailors aboard, was weaker than the current storm. Indeed, I wouldn’t want to be on a boat in Lake Superior today–sustained winds at the Rock of Ages lighthouse on Isle Royale were a sustained 68 mph, gusting to 78 mph at 3am EDT this morning!
Yet Another Remarkable Mid-latitude Cyclone so far this Year!
Yesterday’s superstorm is reminiscent of the amazing low pressures reached earlier this year (Jan. 19-22) in the West, where virtually every site in California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, southern Oregon, and southern Idaho–about 10 – 15% of the U.S. land area–broke their lowest on record pressure readings. However, the lowest readings from that event fell well short of yesterday’s mega-storm with 28.85″ (977 mb) being about the lowest recorded at any onshore site.
We’ve now had two remarkable extratropical storms this year in the U.S. that have smashed all-time low pressure records across a large portion of the country. Is this a sign that these type of storms may be getting stronger? Well, there is evidence that wintertime extratropical storms have grown in intensity in the Pacific, Arctic, and Great Lakes in recent decades. I discuss the science in detail in a post I did earlier this year. Here is an excerpt from that post:
General Circulation Models (GCMs) like the ones used in the 2007 IPCC Assessment Report do a very good job simulating how winter storms behave in the current climate, and we can run simulations of the atmosphere with extra greenhouse gases to see how winter storms will behave in the future. The results are very interesting. Global warming is expected to warm the poles more than the equatorial regions. This reduces the difference in temperature between the pole and Equator. Since winter storms form in response to the atmosphere’s need to transport heat from the Equator to the poles, this reduced temperature difference reduces the need for winter storms, and thus the models predict fewer storms will form. However, since a warmer world increases the amount of evaporation from the surface and puts more moisture in the air, these future storms drop more precipitation. During the process of creating that precipitation, the water vapor in the storm must condense into liquid or frozen water, liberating “latent heat”–the extra heat that was originally added to the water vapor to evaporate it in the first place. This latent heat intensifies the winter storm, lowering the central pressure and making the winds increase. So, the modeling studies predict a future with fewer total winter storms, but a greater number of intense storms. These intense storms will have more lift, and will thus tend to drop more precipitation–including snow, when we get areas of strong lift in the -15°C preferred snowflake formation region.
You can read more of the weather records smashed by this superstorm at Capital Climate.
Here is more of Brad Johnson’s Wonk Room post:
Fueled by fossil fuel pollution, an unprecedented, freak “land hurricane” swept through the continental United States, leaving a path of devastation from Saskatchewan to Texas “” while the Republican Party has been taken over by a hurricane of science denial. Our destabilized climate system, supercharged with billions of tons of manmade global warming pollution, is unlike anything in the historical record. “Welcome to the Land of 10,000 Weather Extremes,” Minnesota meteorologist Paul Douglas gasped. “The storm is huge,” Peter Kimbell, emergency preparedness meteorologist for Environment Canada, said. “Much of North America is being affected by this storm. It’s covering millions of square kilometers.” Douglas found intensity of the “weather bomb” something “hard to fathom”:
“Yesterday a rapidly intensifying storm, a ‘bomb’, spun up directly over the MN Arrowhead, around mid afternoon a central pressure of 953 millibars was observed near Orr. That’s 28.14″³ of mercury. Bigfork, MN reported 955 mb, about 28.22″³ of mercury. The final (official) number may be closer to 28.20-28.22″³, but at some point the number becomes academic. What is pretty much certain is that Tuesday’s incredible storm marks a new record for the lowest atmospheric pressure ever observed over the continental USA. That’s a lower air pressure than most hurricanes, which is hard to fathom.”
The storm front “” also dubbed the “Chiclone” for the bizarreness of having a cyclone-like system over Chicago “” drew its power from a sharp temperature contrast between record warmth in the southeastern United States and average cold in the north. Thus this record stormfront, though it exhibited hurricane-like power, is unlike actual hurricanes that derive their power directly from heat trapped in the ocean.
In an exclusive interview with the Wonk Room, Douglas “” a nationally renowned meteorologist from Minnesota “” discussed this “unprecedented, historic storm” and the consequences for our nation of our artificially altered climate. “We have to get acclimated mentally and physically for this kind of world where these kinds of supercharged storms are more frequent,” he said, as the atmosphere continues to warm. When asked about the numerous conservative global warming deniers in his own state “” gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer, incumbent Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN), Congressional candidates Chip Cravaack and Randy Demmer “” and across the nation, Douglas said he was “ashamed” of the Grand Old Party for ignoring the “writing on the wall”:
“I’m a recovering Republican, and I don’t recognize my party any more. I’m ashamed so many Republicans don’t recognize the science. The writing is on the wall.”
When asked if reducing global warming pollution is a moral challenge and not just an economic debate, he agreed strongly:
“My dad was the biggest Republican that ever walked the earth. He always said: “Actions have consequences.” To pretend that a 38% increase in greenhouse gases isn’t going to have any impact, that we can have our cake and eat it too, and smear it all over our face, and maybe have our grandchildren deal with the hangover, I think it is immoral.”
Douglas said that this election has “been corrupted with money,” as the “energy lobby is obviously well-funded and powerful, and nobody wants to make waves.”
Nobody wants to make waves — except of course this superstorm, which, as Masters noted, was stronger than “the famed storm that sank the ore carrier Edmund Fitzgerald in 1974, killing all 29 sailors aboard.”
Here are two posts on the connection between human-caused global warming and superstorms that have been devastating the nation and the world during what is likely to be the hottest year on record:
“Given the association of extreme weather and climate events with rising global temperature, the expectation of new record high temperatures in 2012 also suggests that the frequency and magnitude of extreme events could reach a high level in 2012. Extreme events include not only high temperatures, but also indirect effects of a warming atmosphere including the impact of higher temperature on extreme rainfall and droughts. The greater water vapor content of a warmer atmosphere allows larger rainfall anomalies and provides the fuel for stronger storms driven by latent heat.”
- Exclusive interview: Keven Trenberth, head of NCAR’s Climate Analysis Section on the link between global warming and extreme deluges:
“I find it systematically tends to get underplayed and it often gets underplayed by my fellow scientists. Because one of the opening statements, which I’m sure you’ve probably heard is “Well you can’t attribute a single event to climate change.” But there is a systematic influence on all of these weather events now-a-days because of the fact that there is this extra water vapor lurking around in the atmosphere than there used to be say 30 years ago. It’s about a 4% extra amount, it invigorates the storms, it provides plenty of moisture for these storms and it’s unfortunate that the public is not associating these with the fact that this is one manifestation of climate change. And the prospects are that these kinds of things will only get bigger and worse in the future.”
The past 12 months have been the hottest on record, according to NASA. So perhaps it isn’t completely surprising that we are seeing these record-smashing deluges. But the number of these beyond-extreme events just in the United States alone ought to make people take notice:
- Coastal North Carolina’s suffered its second 500-year rainfall in 11 years
- We had Tennessee’s 1000-year deluge aka Nashville’s ‘Katrina’.
- Capital Climate wrote about Oklahoma City Paralyzed By Flash Floods.
- The Northeast was hit by record global-warming-type deluge (a piece which has links to the scientific literature).
- Weather Channel expert Stu Ostro discussed Georgia’s record-smashing global-warming-type deluge: “Nevertheless, there’s a straightforward connection in the way the changing climate “set the table” for what happened this September in Atlanta and elsewhere. It behooves us to understand not only theoretical expected increases in heavy precipitation (via relatively slow/linear changes in temperatures, evaporation, and atmospheric moisture) but also how changing circulation patterns are already squeezing out that moisture in extreme doses and affecting weather in other ways.”
And, of course, another part of the world has been even more devastated by deluges and flooding, albeit while receiving only moderate attention in this country (see Juan Cole: The media’s failure to cover “the great Pakistani deluge” is “itself a security threat” to America).
And then there was the devastation to Russia, a country that always thought it was going to benefit from climate change:
- Russian President Medvedev: “What is happening now in our central regions is evidence of this global climate change, because we have never in our history faced such weather conditions in the past.” NYT: “Russia Bans Grain Exports After Drought Shrivels Crop”
- Russian Meteorological Center: “There was nothing similar to this on the territory of Russia during the last one thousand years in regard to the heat.”
This is all one big coincidence for the anti-science disinformers. But for the rest of us, the really scary part is that we’ve only warmed about a degree Fahrenheit in the past half-century. We are on track to warm nearly 10 times that this century (see M.I.T. doubles its 2095 warming projection to 10°F “” with 866 ppm and Arctic warming of 20°F ).
In short, we ain’t seen nothing yet!
- Preparing For Frankenstorms: “The most powerful low pressure system in 140 years of record keeping” slams the Southwest.
- In other UK news: “Rain like this happens once every 1,000 years”
- Global boiling: Freak storms on every continent
- Why the “never seen before” Fargo flooding is just what you’d expect from global warming, as Obama warns
- An amazing, though clearly little-known, scientific fact: We get more snow storms in warm years!
- UK Prime Minister on “weather extremes” and climate change
- Australian Scientists: Contrary to media reports, “our paper does not discount climate change as playing a role in this most recent drought, the ‘Big Dry’. In fact, there are indications that climate change has worsened this recent drought.”
- President Obama explains the science behind climate change and extreme weather