Quantcast
An aerial view of the deadly landslide that followed heavy rains in Mocoa, in the Putamayo region of southwest Colombia, on April 1. Photo credit: Colombian Army

254 Dead in Colombia Mudslides

By Jeff Masters and Lee Grenci

At least 254 people were killed in the city of Mocoa (population 40,000) in southwest Colombia near the border of Ecuador early Saturday, when torrential rains triggered a debris flow on a nearby mountain that surged into the town as a huge wall of water carrying tons of mud and debris. The disaster is the fourth deadliest weather-related disaster in Colombia's recorded history.

Reports from Colombia indicate that 130 mm (5.1") of rain fell during a short period on Friday night and early Saturday morning, with the heaviest of the rain falling in just two hours, between 11 p.m. Friday, March 31 and 1 a.m. Saturday, April 1. The rains fell on soils that were already wet from unusually heavy rains during March; the Mocoa region received about 50 percent more precipitation than usual during the month of March. The heavy rains of Saturday morning triggered a debris flow down the Taruca ravine on the northwest side of Mocoa and this landslide, accompanied by floodwaters, poured into the Sangoyaco River and rampaged through the city of Mocoa.

According to a USA Today interview with Jonathan Godt, coordinator of the U.S. Geological Survey's landslide hazards program, "That mixture can move at 35-40 miles an hour and because it's so dense it has a lot more momentum and destructive power than water alone."

Contributing Causes to the Disaster

The fundamental cause of the disaster was that the city of Mocoa was situated in a vulnerable location—in a valley surrounded by steep slopes, close to the Mocoa, Mulato and Sancoyaco rivers. Deforestation on the surrounding slopes may have contributed to the landslide and flood. President Juan Manuel Santos blamed climate change for triggering the flood and he has a point—increased evaporation from warming oceans have caused a significant rise in atmospheric water vapor and very heavy rainfall events like the Mocoa event in recent decades.

The Mocoa rains were triggered by a very moist flow of air from the tropical Atlantic, where ocean temperatures were near average (see the meteorological analysis below), The rainy season in Colombia extends from March to mid June, so additional floods and landslides can be expected the next two months.

Colombia's History of Weather Disasters

According to EM-DAT, the international disaster database, Colombia's most expensive and second deadliest weather-related disaster occurred in 2010 - 2011, when almost non-stop heavy rains caused three separate billion-dollar flooding events, killing 418 people. EM-DAT lists one other flood that killed more than 200 people in Colombia: a December 1971 flood in Magdalena and Cauca Valsfive that killed 307. EM-DAT also lists five landslides in Colombia's history that have killed at least 200 people:

  • 640 killed in Villatina on Sep 27, 1987
  • 300 killed in Quebrada Blanca on June 28, 1974
  • 200 killed in Bogota on June 28, 1973
  • 200 killed on June 21, 1986
  • 200 killed in December 1971

Meteorology of the Disaster

Wunderblogger Lee Grenci looked in detail at the meteorology of the disaster and what follows is his analysis.

Below is the animation of enhanced satellite images from GOES-13. You can see a mesoscale convective system (MCS). This may more properly have been called a mesoscale convective complex, given the symmetry of the cirrus canopy toward the end of the loop. Needless to say, the MCS was slow-moving, if not stationary, for several hours. The cloud-top temperatures at the peak of deep, moist convection were as low as -90 degrees Celsius, indicative of heavy thunderstorms quite capable of producing very heavy rain.

The animation of enhanced infrared images from GOES-13 during the period, 0045 UTC to 0715 UTC on April 1.Penn State

Given the quasi-stationary nature of the MCS, it's pretty clear that the initiation of heavy thunderstorms was orographic in nature. Check out (below) the GFS model analysis of 700-mb streamlines (about 10,000 feet) at 00 UTC on April 2. Please note that I'm using 700 mb as a proxy for the lower troposphere, given the high elevations in this region (mountains to the west of Mocoa are as high as 15,000 feet). The analysis shows a strong easterly flow from the tropical Atlantic that moved upslope over the high terrain, paving the way for heavy thunderstorms. The rapid, extreme run-off from the lofty mountains set the stage for devastating flooding and mudslides.

The GFS model analysis of 700-mb streamlines at 00 UTC on April 2.Penn State

The GFS model analysis of 850-mb streamlines at 00 UTC on April 2. Lower-level winds come into South America from the tropical Atlantic and Caribbean. Penn State

Moisture from the Caribbean, where ocean temperatures were up to 1°C (1.8°F) above average might have played a role in the MCS, but I believe the mountains to the north probably blocked some of this low-level moisture. To support my claim, take a look at the GFS analysis of precipitable water (PWAT, Figure 7). In my opinion, the broad east-to-west band of high PWAT, with an embedded area of 2.5+ inches, was aimed (given the prevailing easterly flow) directly at the location of the MCS.

The GFS model analysis of precipitable water (PWAT expressed in inches) at 00 UTC on April 2. Larger image.Penn State

Reposted with permission from our media associate Weather Underground.

Keep reading... Show less

Trump’s Executive Order Threatens to Wreck Earth as a Livable Planet

By Jeff Masters

Decades of progress on cleaning up our dirty air took a significant hit on Tuesday, along with hopes for a livable future climate, when President Trump issued his Energy Independence Executive Order. Most seriously, the order attacks the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Clean Power Plan, which requires a 32 percent reduction in CO2 emissions from existing power plants by 2030 (compared to 2005 emission rates).

Tuesday's blow was just the latest in a series of attacks that threaten our health and the planet's health. On March 15, Trump also ordered the EPA to review tough air pollution rules for cars and light trucks that were set to kick in between 2022 and 2025. Trump's proposed budget for fiscal year 2018, released earlier this month, slashed funding for the EPA by 31 percent and eliminated money for renewable energy programs and energy efficiency efforts such as the Energy Star program.

Trump's war on clean air will potentially kill tens of thousands of people annually and have health costs in the 10 of billions of dollars each year. Separate studies done in 2016 by the World Bank and by the Health Effects Institute (a U.S. non-profit corporation funded by the EPA and the auto industry) estimated that air pollution kills between 91,000 and 100,000 Americans each year—nearly double the number of U.S. combat deaths (58,000) in Vietnam or more than 30 times the death toll of the 9/11 terror attacks. The EPA estimated that tough air pollution regulations under the Clean Air Act that began in 1990 saved more than 164,000 lives in the year 2010 alone.

Damages from U.S. air pollution are extreme. The World Bank study estimated that in the year 2013 alone, the U.S. suffered $473 billion in health-related damages from air pollution—about 2.9 percent of the GDP. Health care consumes one-quarter of the $3.7 trillion federal budget and air pollution is a significant contributor to that bill.

Figure 1. Polling in 2016 by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication revealed widespread support among Americans for the key provision of the EPA's Clean Power Plan. Yale Climate Opinion Maps

Power plants are the single largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S.—about 31 percent of the total and are also a significant source of deadly air pollution—about 26 percent of all air pollution deaths in the U.S. according to a 2013 MIT study. The authority for the Clean Power Plan comes from the EPA's Clean Air Act, along with the Supreme Court's 2007 decision requiring the EPA to regulate carbon dioxide as a pollutant. The Clean Power Plan is a key component of America's commitment to reduce global warming under the 2015 Paris climate agreement and there is broad public support for reducing emissions of CO2 from existing coal-fired power plants (69 percent of Americans, including majorities in all 50 states and all 435 Congressional Districts, see Figure 1).

Figure 2. Weakening of U.S. air pollution regulations goes against widespread public support for clean air.John Mashey / DeSmogBlog

Benefits of the Clean Power Plan Far Exceed the Costs

The EPA estimates that annual costs to industry of the Clean Power Plan will be $1.4 - $2.5 billion in 2020, increasing to $5.1 to $8.4 billion per year in 2030. These estimates factor in the costs of investments in transitioning to lower-carbon electricity options and the savings that result from investments in energy efficiency. Electricity bills are predicted to rise modestly by 2.4 to 2.7 percent in 2020, but then decline by 2.7 to 3.8 percent in 2025 and 7 to 7.7 percent in 2030 as investments in energy efficiency pay off.

The public health and climate benefits of the Clean Power Plan are worth an estimated $34 billion to $54 billion per year in 2030, far outweighing the costs, the EPA estimates. Burning fewer fossil fuels will create less air pollution and air pollution from the power generation industry will fall about 25 percent by 2030 if the Clean Power Plan is adopted. The EPA projects that the reduction in pollution will prevent up to 3,600 deaths, 1,700 heart attacks, 90,000 asthma attacks and 300,000 missed work and school days per year by 2030 (note that a person who dies from air pollution-related causes typically dies about 12 years earlier than they otherwise might have, according to Caiazzo et al., 2013).

For every dollar Americans spend on the Clean Power Plan, four dollars worth of health benefits will result, said the EPA. The greatest benefits would come in the upper Ohio Valley and farther downwind, where pollution from power plants is highest: southeast Ohio, northwest West Virginia and western Pennsylvania—areas Trump carried in the 2016 election, including two swing states that pushed him over the top.

Figure 3. Levels of the deadliest pollutant, fine particles less than 2.5 microns in diameter (PM 2.5), have fallen by 37 percent and prevented tens of thousands of premature deaths since 2000, thanks to EPA Clean Air Act regulations.EPA

Opposition to the Clean Power Plan

As one should expect, lobbying groups who receive money from the fossil fuel industry are unhappy with the Clean Power Plan and criticize the plan's complexity and large number of regulations. They have a point—it would have been far simpler and more effective to achieve the plan's goals through a cap-and-trade system or through a cap-and-dividend approach or by having Congress adopt a simple carbon tax of $40 per ton (a version of which was proposed in February by a group of Reagan and Bush-era Republicans called the Climate Leadership Council). However, Congress failed to pass a cap-and-trade bill during Obama's first term. He was forced to use the regulatory power of the EPA to bring about the reduction in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions needed for the Paris climate agreement.

Critics also dispute EPA's cost estimates, saying the costs will be much higher. Several of these criticisms state only the costs, not the benefits, and also ignore the huge death toll of air pollution. And at least one study has found that the EPA underestimated the benefits and lives saved by the Clean Power Plan. This was an independent analysis by Energy Innovation: Policy and Technology LLC, an energy and environmental policy firm. In a 2017 study, they estimated that the cumulative savings to the U.S. economy (in reduced capital, fuel and operations and maintenance expenditures) of adopting the Clean Power Plan would exceed $100 billion by 2030 and reach almost $600 billion by 2050, assuming that pollution reductions continue to stay strong after 2030. Failure to adopt the Clean Power Plan would cause more than 40,000 premature deaths annually in 2030 and more than 120,000 per year by 2050. Energy Innovation came up with their estimates using the Energy Policy Simulator open-source computer model.

Figure 4. Costs and benefits of the Clean Power Plan as estimated by the EPA. EPA

Repealing the Clean Power Plan Won't Happen Quickly

The Clean Power Plan will be difficult to undo quickly. The plan was finalized by EPA in 2015 and is currently being reviewed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Under the new executive order, the Department of Justice will ask the court to suspend the case until the EPA can review and write a new version of the rule. (Before that happens, the court may still rule on the plan as written, which will influence how the EPA can rewrite the rule).

Once the case is removed from the court, the EPA will have to legally withdraw the existing rule and propose a new rule to take its place, a process that could take years, as the new rule will have to be justified in court and would likely be challenged in court by environmental groups, according to an in-depth analysis by Brad Plumer at Vox. In the meantime, nothing prevents states from continuing to reduce emissions by implementing renewable energy standards, efficiency programs or cap-and-trade programs like exist in California and the Northeast. Thus, some of the benefits of the Clean Power Plan will happen regardless of Trump's orders and 31 states are on track to be more than halfway toward their near-term Clean Power Plan emission reduction requirements (Figure 5).

Existing clean energy commitments already place 31 states on track to be more than halfway toward their near-term Clean Power Plan emission reduction requirements, with 21 states set to surpass them. Union of Concerned Scientists Analysis

New Executive Order Attacks the "Social Cost of Carbon"

The "social cost of carbon" is an estimate of how much human emissions of carbon dioxide cost society via damage to the climate. In 2015, this number was set at $36 per ton of carbon dioxide pollution and the social cost of carbon underpins at least 150 federal regulations. The "social cost of carbon" tries to answers the question, "how much should we be willing to pay to avert future climate damages?" This number is highly uncertain, but is definitely not zero. Trump's executive order calls for a reassessment of the social cost of carbon, with the aim of reducing it or entirely circumventing it. Carbon Brief has an excellent explainer on the "social cost of carbon."

Automobile Fuel Efficiency Standards to Be Reviewed

President Trump, speaking in Detroit this month to a group of autoworkers, said the EPA will take action to potentially relax tough air pollution rules for cars and light trucks that were set to kick in between 2022 and 2025. A review of the rules was completed in 2016, ahead of a 2018 deadline. "It was necessary (to resume the review) because the standards were set far into the future," Trump said. "If the standards threaten auto jobs, then common sense changes could have—and should have—been made." The review opens up the possibility that the strict fuel economy regulations for 2022 to 2025 will be significantly weakened; it is relatively easy for the EPA to undo the regulations, according to a New York Times analysis.

Once the 2017 review is finished, the EPA can withdraw the current rule for post-2021 emissions and put forth an alternative set of standards within a year. The EPA may also withdraw a waiver that allows California (and other states that have joined it) to enforce stricter auto emissions standards than the federal government imposes. Air pollution from vehicles in the U.S. is responsible for about 26 percent of all U.S. air pollution deaths, so weakening these regulations will likely result in thousands of premature deaths that would not have occurred otherwise—in addition to the thousands of deaths we can expect from a weakening of the Clean Power Plan.

U.S. Paris Climate Agreement Commitments Unlikely to Be Met

Trump's executive order and proposed budget make it clear that we can expect most of the efforts to reduce U.S. emissions of greenhouse gases under the Paris climate agreement to come under attack and it is unlikely the U.S. pledge will be met. In that landmark agreement, the U.S. promised a 26 to 28 percent reduction in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 2025, as its fair share of the effort to keep global warming no more than 2°C above preindustrial levels (the generally accepted goal for avoiding dangerous impacts).

According to an excellent analysis by Vox, the Clean Power Plan accounts for roughly one quarter of all the emission reductions promised by the U.S. as part of the 2015 Paris climate agreement. The other three-quarters of the reductions were to come primarily from stricter fuel economy stands for vehicles, tighter emission standards for new coal- and gas-fired power plants, new regulations to curtail methane leaks and limit methane from agriculture, energy efficiency measures and initiatives to curtail hydrofluorocarbons (another potent greenhouse gas).

Taken altogether, the numbers from these efforts don't quite add up to the promised 26 to 28 percent reduction in greenhouse gases by 2025, said a 2015 World Resources Institute analysis—and thus additional actions beyond what Obama proposed would be needed. According to a 2016 paper, Assessment of the climate commitments and additional mitigation policies of the United States and the Climate Action Tracker web site, current U.S. policies, including the Clean Power Plan, would only reduce emissions by nine percent below 2005 levels by 2025. A much more aggressive Clean Power Plan was being counted on, plus a whole host of "TBD" actions needed from President Obama's successor.

An excellent new analysis by the Rhodium Group predicts that Trump's current executive orders and proposed budget will most likely result in a 14 percent reduction in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions below 2005 levels by 2025—far below the promised 26 to 28 percent reduction of the Paris climate accord. The Rhodium Group's worst-case scenario—if further efforts to weaken greenhouse gas regulations occur, such as a rollback of automobile emission standards for the 2022 to 2025 period—was a nine percent reduction in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 2025; their best-case scenario was a 17 percent reduction.

Figure 6. U.S. greenhouse gas emissions as projected in 2008 for a "business as usual" scenario (gray dotted line) and under the pledge made as part of the Paris Agreement (orange and green dotted lines).Earth Institute / Columbia University

Assault on Methane Emission Rules

Methane is also a major greenhouse gas and Trump's executive order directs efforts to reconsider and rewrite rules on methane emissions. This follows the March 2 directive from the EPA to withdraw a 2016 Information Collection Request which directed existing oil and gas facilities to provide data needed to best reduce methane and other harmful emissions from the oil and natural gas industry. However, new methane rules will take years to rewrite and will have to suffer court challenges and one state—California—voted on March 23 to approve new methane regulations that are the strictest ever adopted in the U.S.

More Serious Attacks on Clean Air and Clean Water Likely Coming

Wunderground's climate change blogger, Dr. Ricky Rood, in a 2017 editorial in EOS warned that, "Following Trump's rhetoric, we must be prepared to face efforts aimed at weakening the Clean Air Act itself. Also in the crosshairs are many other environmental statutes passed in the 1970s, such as the National Environmental Policy Act, the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act. In terms of enduring impacts, weakening of these underlying statutes will be more consequential than scuttling the Clean Power Plan."

In an email to me, Dr. Rood said he believes that a rollback of auto emission standards will ultimately end up being more consequential to air pollution and the climate than a rollback of the Clean Power Plan. This will be because market forces are making it likely that the power generation industry will head towards renewable energy sources, but market forces are not acting that way on the auto industry—external regulation is needed to force emission reductions.

Links

The latest assault on climate science by House Republicans happens on March 29, when the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology holds a two-hour hearing titled Climate Science: Assumptions, Policy Implications and the Scientific Method. The Republicans have called three witnesses: Dr. Judith Curry, Dr. John Christy and Dr. Roger Pielke, Jr., all of whom are unfriendly to climate science. The Democrats got to call one witness, Dr. Michael Mann of climate "hockeystick" fame. The hearing is being live streamed here. The Democratic press team will be using the hashtags #defendscience and #ActonClimate during the hearing.

Brad Plumer of Vox has an excellent explainer on Trump's executive order.

Follow the Climate Deregulation Tracker website to monitor efforts undertaken by the Trump administration to scale back or wholly eliminate federal climate mitigation and adaptation measures.

March Madness: Trump Proposes 31% Cut to EPA and Big Cuts to Climate Change Programs, my March 16 post.

EPA Chief Denies Basic Climate Science, my March 10 post.

Commentary

"Together we are going to start a new energy revolution," Trump said, upon signing Tuesday's executive order. However, his order promotes dirty and deadly 19th century coal technology, instead of clean 21st century renewable energy solutions like wind and solar power, making his remarks sadly preposterous. The name of his order, the Energy Independence Executive Order, is also preposterous, since the U.S. doesn't import coal and the stated primary aim of the new order is to revive the coal industry (coal miners were on hand for the signing ceremony).

In his first speech to Congress, Trump promised that his administration would work to "promote clean air and clean water." This promise has been exposed as a blatant falsehood by his executive orders and proposed budget, which move us sharply in the opposite direction. By itself, a U.S. failure to make its emission reduction targets of the Paris climate agreement will not doom the world to a dangerous rise in temperature above the 2°C threshold. However, we'll be lucky to hold global warming to an extremely dangerous 3°C above pre-industrial levels, even if all of the promises made by the 195 nations that signed the Paris agreement are met. That agreement counted on strong additional actions and leadership by the biggest emitting nations to force additional cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.

Lack of inspirational American leadership, as glaringly evident in Mr. Trump's latest executive order, will hurt global efforts to meet even the grossly inadequate goal of keeping global warming below 3°C, increasing the odds that humanity will have to resort to desperate geoengineering efforts to keep climate mayhem from wrecking Earth as a livable planet for humans. We must resist and protest Trump's assault on clean air and a livable climate as if our lives depend upon it—because they do.

Contact your House Representative

Contact your Senator

Reposted with permission from our media associate Weather Underground.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

Calendar Says February, But Record Temps Feel Like August


By Bob Henson

The strong, recurrent Pacific jet stream that's been delivering massive amounts of rain to California has also been pushing mild Pacific air downslope off the Rockies and eastward, keeping the southern two-thirds of the U.S. absurdly warm for early February. From New Mexico to Virginia southward to the Gulf Coast, trees and shrubs are budding out en masse up to three weeks ahead of schedule (see Figure 1).

In Texas, Dallas-Fort Worth recorded its last freezing temperature on Jan. 8. With no freezes expected into at least the last week of the month, there's a chance that the Jan. 8 reading of 20 degrees F will be Dallas-Fort Worth's last freeze of the winter. That would eclipse the earliest final freeze of the season (Feb. 5, 2000), in records extending back to 1899. The February warmth comes after a three-month span that was milder in Texas than any Nov/Dec/Jan period since the 1930s Dust Bowl, according to state climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon.

The warm, moist air prevailing along the South has been teaming up with occasional jet-stream intrusions to produce severe thunderstorms, including an unusually large number of tornadoes for the year thus far. This includes six confirmed tornadoes across southeast Louisiana on Feb. 7, with an EF3 twister causing more than 30 injuries and damaging or destroying more than 600 homes in and near East New Orleans (see the detailed National Weather Service survey report on all six tornadoes).

As of Feb. 13, theNational Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Storm Prediction Center (SPC) had tallied 163 U.S. tornadoes for the year thus far, not quite a record but far above average. On Tuesday morning, NOAA/SPC placed parts of the western and central Gulf Coast under a slight risk of severe weather, with a small enhanced-risk area along the central Texas coast near a large thunderstorm complex that had already produced several tornado reports west of Houston.

Figure 1. An index of the seasonal progress of leafy plants shows conditions 20 days or more ahead of schedule over large parts of the South and Southwest as of Sunday, Feb. 12.USA National Phenology Network / @TheresaCrimmins.

Close to the Century Mark in Oklahoma

While there's been quite a few ups and downs to the national temperature picture in recent days, with frequent frontal passages, the low temperatures haven't been all that low and the highs have been unusually high, as noted by Weather Underground blogger Steve Gregory. For the month to date through Feb. 12, NOAA had compiled a preliminary total of 1,207 daily record highs and 10 daily record lows, for a staggering ratio of more than 100 to 1. It's a picture in line with recent months: November 2016 had the largest ratio of record highs to lows of any month in modern records. It's also consistent with the inexorable effect of human-produced greenhouse gases in boosting temperatures to make record warmth more widespread and extreme than record cold.

One especially strong pulse of warm air jet pushed across the Southern Rockies and into the South from Friday into Sunday. As the already-mild air descended the Rockies, it warmed further due to downslope compression, leading to some eye-popping readings. Several stations in southwest Oklahoma soared into the upper 90s on Saturday. The town of Magnum hit an astounding-for-February 99°F, which tied the state record for any winter month (Dec/Jan/Feb) that was set at Arapaho on Feb. 24, 1918.

Here's a sampling of the all-time February heat records set over the past several days. In many cases, you have to go to mid-March to find comparable warmth!

Friday 2/10:

Wichita Falls, Texas: 94°F (next-earliest reading at least this warm was 98°F on 3/1/2006; records began in 1923)

Liberal, Kansas: 90°F (next-earliest 90° was 3/11/1989; records began in 1893)

Amarillo, Texas: 89°F (next-earliest 89° was 3/10/1989; records began in 1892)

Goodland, Kansas: 87°F (next-earliest 87 was 3/10/1989; records began in 1895)

Denver, Colorado: 80°F (next-earliest reading at least this warm was 81°F on 3/16/2015; records began in 1872). A cooperative observing station at the site of Denver's former Stapleton Airport, where official readings were taken until the mid-1990s, reported 83°F.

Saturday 2/11:

Lubbock, Texas: 91°F (next-earliest reading at least this warm was 95°F on 3/11/1989; records began in 1911)

Sunday 2/12:

Norfolk, Virginia : 82°F (ties all-time monthly high set on 2/4/1890 and other dates; records began in 1874)

High temperatures across Oklahoma on Saturday, February 11, were similar to readings one might expect in early July.Oklahoma Mesonet / @okmesonet

Temperature departures from average for the period February 1-12, 2017. The warm anomalies will likely persist, as models are calling for continued milder-than-average weather over most of the nation through late February.NOAA / CPC Climate Prediction Center

Avalanches Kill at Least 137 in Afghanistan

By Jeff Masters

Heavy snowfall in Afghanistan near the Pakistan border has triggered avalanches that have killed at least 137 people in recent days, The Guardian reported Monday. The death toll is expected to rise as rescuers reach remote areas where blocked roads and mountainous terrain were hampering rescue efforts.

Some villages in the worst-hit province of Nuristan, which received nearly 3m (10ft) of snow, have been cut off from communication. The latest Wunderground forecast for the region is calling for less than an inch of accumulating snow during the coming week, which should aid recovery efforts, fortunately.

Avalanches are common in Afghanistan's mountainous areas in winter. In February 2015, heavy snows triggered 40 avalanches in Panjshir Province in Afghanistan, killing at least 124 people, according to EM-DAT, the international disaster database. Insurance broker Aon Benfield put the death toll at 230.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Weather Underground.

Sponsored
View of the debris left after a forest fire destroyed the town of Las Corrientes, El Maule, Chile, on Thursday. Photo credit: Elvis Gonzalez / EPA

'Dante's Inferno' in Chile: Temps Reach 113 F

By Jeff Masters

The first all-time national heat record of 2017 was set in spectacular fashion on Thursday in Chile, where at least 12 different stations recorded a temperature in excess of the nation's previous all-time heat record—a 41.6 C (106.9 F) reading at Los Angeles on Feb. 9, 1944.

According to international weather records researcher Maximiliano Herrera, the hottest station on Thursday was Cauquenes, which hit 45.0 C (113 F). The margin by which the old record national heat record was smashed: 3.6 C (6.1 F), was extraordinary and was the second largest such difference Herrera has cataloged (the largest: a 3.8 C margin in New Zealand in 1973, from 38.6 C to 42.4 C).

Herrera cautioned, though, that the extraordinary high temperatures on Thursday in Chile could have been due, in part, to the effects of the severe wildfires burning near the hottest areas and the new record will need to be verified by the weather service of Chile.

Fires (red squares) in Chile spread smoke over the Pacific Ocean, as seen at 10:35 a.m. EST Thursday Jan. 26. This MODIS image is from NASA's Terra satellite.NASA

Here are some of the high temperatures from Jan. 26 in Chile:

Maule Region (near the area affected by wildfires):

Cauquenes, 45.0 C
Coronel de Maule, 41.8 C
Los Despachos, 42.8 C
Santa Sofia, 43.1 C
Sauzal, 41.8 C

Maule Region (outside the area affected by wildfires):

Linares, 41.8 C
Longavi Sur, 42.3 C
Parral, 40.8 C

Bio Bio Region (near the area affected by wildfires):

Bulnes, 42.5 C
Quillon, 44.9 C
Ninhue, 43.0 C

Bio Bio Region (outside the area affected by wildfires):

Portezuelo, 41.2 C
Chillan, 41.4 C (DMC station)
Chillán Quinchamalí, 43.0 C
San Nicolas, 41.1 C
Los Angeles Maria Dolores Airport, 42.2 C

Record Heat and Extreme Drought Lead to Deadly Chile Wildfires

Record heat and extreme drought in Chile are contributing to their worst wildfires in decades. On Thursday, the entire town of Santa Olga was destroyed by fire, with more than 1,000 building consumed including schools, nurseries, shops and a post office.

As reported in The Guardian, Carlos Valenzuela, the mayor of the region, said: "Nobody can imagine what happened in Santa Olga. What we have experienced here is literally like Dante's Inferno." Authorities declared a state of emergency in Chile due to wildfires on Jan. 20 and as of Jan. 26, more than 100 fires were burning throughout O'Higgins and Maule regions.

At least ten people have been killed by the fires, including four firefighters and two policemen. According to insurance broker Aon Benfield, the fires had consumed 578,000 acres of land as of Jan. 26 and damages to the timber industry alone were estimated at $40 million. Hot, dry weather with high temperatures in the 90s are expected to continue for the next week in the Santiago area.

Chile's Ongoing Megadrought Partially Attributed to Human-Caused Climate Change

Central Chile is enduring a decades-long megadrought that began in the late 1970s, with precipitation declines of about 7 percent per decade. According to a 2016 study by Boisier et al., Anthropogenic and natural contributions to the Southeast Pacific precipitation decline and recent megadrought in central Chile, this drought is unprecedented in historical records.

While at least half of the change in precipitation can be blamed on natural causes, primarily due to atmospheric circulation changes from the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, the authors estimated that a quarter of the rainfall deficit affecting this region since 2010 was due to human-caused climate change.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Weather Underground.

Keep reading... Show less

19 Dead Amid Winter Tornado Outbreak

By Bob Henson

After the least-deadly year for U.S. tornadoes in three decades, 2017 is off to a troublesome start. At least 19 people died over the weekend in two consecutive nights of tornadoes across the Deep South, compared to the total of 17 fatalities recorded for the entire year of 2016. Although midwinter outbreaks don't happen every year in the U.S., they're most likely to be across the South when they do occur. Many of the deadliest tornadoes in these outbreaks happen overnight, when residents may be caught asleep or otherwise unaware and when getting to shelter can be difficult. The high proportion of manufactured/mobile homes across the South adds to the vulnerability of residents.

Winds at jet-stream level (250 mb or about 34,000 feet) show a strong upper-level trough over the lower Mississippi Valley at 7:00 p.m. EST Sunday, Jan. 22 (00Z Monday). An unusually strong surface low of 989 mb was located over far north Georgia.Tropicaltidbits.com

This past weekend's activity was fed by a powerful disturbance rolling through the polar jet stream atop very sultry air for midwinter at ground level. Jacksonville, Florida, set a record high of 84 F on Saturday and air with dew points well above 70 F streamed onshore through the weekend.

The severe weather occurred in three distinct rounds, as shown in the satellite loop embedded at bottom.


A pre-dawn supercell tore across southeast Mississippi and southwest Alabama early Saturday. Five tornadoes were reported. The most extensive damage occurred in and near Hattiesburg, Mississippi, around 4:00 a.m. CST by a long-track tornado (31 miles), a half-mile wide at its peak, that was rated EF3 on the enhanced Fujita intensity scale. This tornado produced 4 deaths and 56 injuries, according to the National Weather Service office in Jackson, Mississippi. Insured damages are likely to top $200 million in Hattiesburg alone, Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney said. Just four years ago, on Feb. 10, 2013, Hattiesburg was extensively damaged by an EF4 twister that caused more than 80 injuries in two counties.

A more extended, widespread round of 31 tornadoes occurred from midday Saturday into Sunday morning. The main culprits were two long-lived supercell storms, the first of which rolled from extreme eastern Alabama across central Georgia to extreme western South Carolina from about 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. EST. The second supercell tore across southern Georgia after midnight. Eight people were killed when a tornado ripped through a mobile home park southeast of Adel, Georgia, around 3:45 a.m. EST Sunday. Two others died in the same storm a few minutes later.

Conditions became increasingly volatile by midday Sunday, leading the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Storm Prediction Center to issue a rare "high risk" outlook (its first anywhere since 2014) for parts of southeast Georgia and northern Florida. Instability was more than adequate for severe weather and wind shear was at extreme levels, with very high storm helicity (the amount of rotation imparted to a storm by winds at various levels). By early afternoon, thunderstorms were sweeping from the Gulf of Mexico into the Florida Panhandle with well-developed rotation evident on radar, a rare occurrence along this coast. The worst storm of the day produced a tornado that ravaged a mobile home park in Albany, Georgia, killing at least 4 people.

The afternoon's other thunderstorms developed so quickly and vigorously that they competed with each other, reducing the odds that another long-lived tornadic supercell would emerge. Four other tornadoes were reported on Sunday afternoon and evening, but none of them produced widespread destruction.

WU radar depiction from 6:35 p.m. EST Sunday, Jan. 22, shows a broken line of intense thunderstorms extending from coastal South Carolina and Georgia well into the eastern Gulf of Mexico.

A Noteworthy January for Tornadoes

All told, NOAA/SPC logged more than 40 tornado reports from early Saturday through early Monday, scattered from western Louisiana to far southeast Georgia. Loosely speaking, this whole event might be considered a single outbreak, since it emerged from the same overall weather pattern. However, experts often define an outbreak as a string of tornadoes with no more than six hours of tornado-free conditions. By that standard, we could label the early-Sunday tornadoes (round #2 above) as an "outbreak" and all three periods above as a "sequence."

Only a few Januarys since 1950 have produced outbreaks or sequences topping this one, according to a compilation from ustornadoes.com. The reigning champion is the outbreak of Jan. 21-23, 1999, which led to nine deaths and produced 129 tornadoes from east Texas to southern Illinois. There was one F4 tornado in that event in far northeast Arkansas and 11 other tornadoes were given F3 ratings on the original Fujita tornado intensity scale that was in use at the time.

The nation's deadliest individual tornadoes on record in January, as noted by weather.com, were two Arkansas twisters that each led to 55 fatalities: one in Fort Smith on Jan. 11, 1898 and the other in Warren on Jan. 3, 1949.

Echoes of Another El-Niño-to-La-Niña Winter

Through early Monday, the Storm Prediction Center had logged a total of 91 preliminary tornado reports for the month so far. The upcoming pattern will be much less conducive to severe weather throughout the week and perhaps all the way to the end of the month. Even so, if all or most of these reports are confirmed, this could end up as the second most active January for tornadoes since comprehensive records began in 1950, according to ustornadoes.com. The clear record-holder is January 1999, when a total of 212 tornadoes were notched.

Interestingly, the twister-packed January of 1999 occurred during a moderately strong La Niña event that was in place one year after the record-setting 1997-98 El Niño event. Similarly, we're now one year past the comparably strong 2015-16 El Niño event and again experiencing La Niña, albeit a weak one. The only other "super El Niño" on par with these was in 1982-83; the following January of 1984 was very quiet tornado-wise, with only one confirmed twister. That year as a whole was quite active, though, with a devastating tornado outbreak in the Carolinas on March 28, 1984, killing 57 people and injuring more than 1000. In general, La Niña years appear to be a bit more favorable than El Niño years for early-spring tornado outbreaks, but this applies mainly to La Niña events that are at least moderately strong, which the current one isn't. Recent work led by John Allen (now at Central Michigan University) has bolstered the idea that La Niña is more favorable than El Niño for springtime hailstorms and tornadoes.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Weather Underground.

Sponsored
The Great Smog of Delhi.

Top 10 Weather Events of 2016 (#2 Will Surprise You)

By Jeff Masters

The top weather story of 2016: Earth had its warmest year on record (again)! While the final numbers are not officially tabulated, 2016 appears certain to be the warmest year in every major dataset scientists use to track global warmth.

The previous warmest year on record for Earth's surface was set in 2015, which in turn broke the record set in 2014. The three-year string of warmest years on record is the first time such an event has happened since record keeping began in 1880. One official record has already been announced: Earth's warmest year in the 38-year satellite-measured lower atmosphere temperature record was 2016, beating a record had stood since 1998, according to the University of Alabama-Huntsville.

The first seven months of 2016 all set new monthly records for global heat in the the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) database, giving the planet an unprecedented streak of 15 consecutive record-warm months. February 2016 had the warmest departure from average of month in recorded history and July 2016 was the warmest month in recorded history in absolute terms.

According to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), 2016's global temperatures were approximately 1.2 C above pre-industrial levels. About 0.2 C of this warming was due to the strong El Niño event that ended in May 2016 and the remainder was due to the long-term warming of the planet from human-caused emissions of heat-trapping gases like carbon dioxide. Assuming that all nations who agreed to the Paris climate accord in 2015 fulfill their pledges, Earth is on track to see 2.3 C of warming over pre-industrial levels by 2050. This is above the "dangerous" 2 C level of warming considered likely to greatly increase the risk of hunger, thirst, disease, refugees and war.

Figure 1. Departure of the global surface temperature from average for the period January—November, for all years from 1880 to 2016. The year 2016 will easily beat 2015 as the warmest year on record. NOAA

Renewable Energy

Here's How We Can Power 100% of the World With Renewable Energy

By Jeff Masters

Here's a 2017 New Year's resolution I'd like to see the nations of the world adopt: an immediate international effort to invest in a world where 100 percent of our electricity will be generated by wind, water and solar power by 2050.

Such an effort is technically and economically feasible and has been championed by Stanford professor Mark Jacobson since 2009. His latest research on the subject was laid out in a series of talks last month in San Francisco at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union—the world's largest conference on climate change.

During his talks, Jacobson outlined a plan to power 139 nations of the world for all purposes—including electricity, transportation, heating/cooling, industry and agriculture/forestry/fishing—using a mix of approximately 37 percent wind, 58 percent solar, 4 percent hydropower, and 1 percent geothermal, wave and tidal power. He argued that his plan would:

1. Replace 80 percent of business-as-usual power by 2030, and 100 percent by 2050.

2. Reduce power consumption by 42.5 percent because of electricity's better work:energy ratio, efficiency and lack of mining needed.

3. Create 24.3 million more jobs than lost.

4. Eliminate 3.5 million premature air pollution deaths per year and save $23 trillion (7.6 percent of GDP) in air pollution health costs per year by 2050 (for comparison: the World Bank estimated in 2016 that air pollution in 2013 killed 5.5 million people, with non-health care costs of more than $5 trillion).

5. Save $28.5 trillion per year in avoided climate change costs by potentially keeping global warming 1.5 C below pre-industrial levels.

6. Reduce war by creating energy-independent countries.

7. Decentralize energy production, thereby reducing power outages, terrorism threats to energy installations and energy poverty.

Dr. Mark Jacobson of Stanford addresses an audience in San Francisco at the annual meeting of The American Geophysical Union on Dec. 17, 2016.

Ok, this New Year's resolution does not come cheap. The up-front cost of such an energy system is $124.7 trillion for converting the 139 nations of the world Dr. Jacobson studied. However, it's critical to consider the savings, not just the costs. He estimates that by 2050, a $85 per person per year savings in electricity costs will be realized using a 100 percent wind, water and solar powered world compared to the current business-as-usual system. This does not include the savings due to reduced air pollution and reduced climate change costs, which would be an additional $5,800 per person per year.

Figure 2Dr. Mark Jacobson / Stanford

Figure 2: The total surface area (in square kilometers) of the Earth including oceans (large blue circle) and land surface area of the 139 countries studied (pink circle) are compared to the areal footprint of the renewable energy systems (beyond what was installed as of 2015) needed to provide 100 percent of power by 2050 in Dr. Jacobson's road map. The plan requires approximately 653,200 square km offshore wind turbines, 1,105,000 square km of onshore wind turbines, 87,410 square km of rooftop solar photovoltaic panels and 260,500 square km of photovoltaic and concentrated solar power systems run by utility companies. For hydropower, no new installations are proposed, so the additional footprint is zero. About 1 percent of the world's land area would be needed for the power systems proposed.

His road map to a 100 percent renewable energy future uses existing generator technologies, along with existing electrical transportation, heating/cooling and industrial devices and appliances. Electricity storage is done using existing storage technologies—concentrated solar power with storage, pumped hydroelectric storage and existing heat/cold storage technologies (water, ice and rocks). No stationary storage batteries, biomass, nuclear power, carbon capture or natural gas are required. No new dams would be needed, but existing dams would by made more efficient. Aircraft flying less than 600 km would be electric and those flying longer distances would be powered by hydrogen fuel cells.

He modeled the seasonal and daily variation in solar energy and wind power in the 139 countries, with storage and was able to show that the power grid was stable—the load on the grid matched the electricity supply. The 2.5 million wind turbines required would cause approximately a 0.6 percent reduction in world's average wind speed, which he argued should not cause major disturbances to the weather. Dr. Jacobson acknowledged that political obstacles would make his plan difficult to implement, but stressed that a solution to global warming is technically and economically feasible.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Weather Underground.

mail-copy

Get EcoWatch in your inbox