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Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards declared a state of emergency Wednesday for coastal Louisiana to highlight the state's need for more federal funding to address extreme weather events.

"We are in a race against time to save our coast, and it is time we make bold decisions," Edwards said. "The Louisiana coast is in a state of crisis that demands immediate and urgent action to avert further damage to one of our most vital resources."

More than half of Louisiana's 4.65 million residents live on the coast. "Parts of our state remain unprotected from or vulnerable to future hurricane and flood events," Edwards emphasized, and estimated that 2,250 square miles of coastal Louisiana will be lost in the next 50 years unless immediate action is taken.

Edwards attributed the problem to factors including climate change, sea level rise, subsidence, hurricanes, storm surges, flooding, disconnecting the Mississippi River from coastal marshes and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Louisiana is still reeling from last August's historic flooding, which killed 13 people and caused more than $8 billion in damage. The Shreveport Times reported in January that Edwards was vigorously seeking more federal flood recovery funding beyond the $1.6 billion, which was finally made available last week.

According to The Advocate, Edwards "is seeking $2.2 billion in additional federal flood aid, nearly half of which would go toward homeowner assistance programs."

Also on Wednesday, Louisiana's Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority approved the 2017 Coastal Master Plan and the 2018 Annual Plan, in which spending priorities for restoration and protection were identified.

America's Wetland Foundation praised Edwards' announcement and said it could expedite federal help needed to enact coastal restoration projects.

"This declaration of emergency could greatly speed up the process and eliminate delays in permitting for some of these crucial projects," said King Milling, the foundation's chairman. "We urge President Trump to act on this declaration now."

According to the state of emergency announcement:

"Louisiana and its citizens have suffered tremendously as a result of the catastrophic coastal land and wetlands loss, and the threat of continued land loss to Louisiana's working coast threatens the viability of residential, agricultural, energy, and industrial development, and directly affects valuable fish and wildlife production that is vital to the nation;

Louisiana continues to experience one of the fastest rates of coastal erosion in the world, and this complex and fragile ecosystem is disappearing at an alarming rate—more than 1,800 square miles of land between 1932 and 2010, including 300 square miles of marshland between 2004 and 2008 alone."

New Orleans Public Radio WWNO reported that Edwards has written letters to Trump and to Congress, and if Louisiana is to get more federal aid, it could take months.

Employees of the Matunuck Oyster Bar farm at work on Potters Pond in South Kingstown, Rhode Island, Photo credit: Sea Grant

By Mandy Sackett

As has been reported, the Trump administration is proposing massive cuts to the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), budget. Included in those cuts is the complete elimination of the Sea Grant program.

As a former California Sea Grant fellow with the California Natural Resources Agency, I take personal offense to this assault. The fellowship program has been invaluable to me, giving me a vital role in the state's efforts to address marine litter and waste management issues, teaching me to critically evaluate and craft policy solutions, as well as how to interpret and translate science for policy and communications.

Sea Grant's state and federal fellowships provide recent graduates with an opportunity to participate in research and policy using a science-based approach. The program trains the next generation of decision makers and policy professionals to ensure balanced management of our marine resources.

California Sea Grant and University of Southern California Sea Grant programs are both highly successful beyond the state fellowship program. Check out some of their accomplishments here:

Indeed, the fellowship program is only a small fraction of the vital work that the Sea Grant program contributes nationwide each year.

For 50 years, Sea Grant has been at the forefront of creating economic opportunities, enhancing food and water security, and reducing risks from natural hazards and extreme events facing coastal communities through research and outreach efforts. Sea Grant's research has been critical to making smart decisions about how we manage, protect, and use the resources from our nation's coastal, marine, and Great Lakes environments.

In fiscal year 2015-16 alone, Sea Grant used its $67.3 million federal appropriation to generate an estimated $575 million in economic impacts around the country; created or sustained nearly 21,000 jobs and almost 3,000 businesses; helped 534 coastal communities implement sustainable development practices or policies so they are more resilient to hazards like flooding and hurricanes; and helped more than 40,000 fishermen adopt sustainable harvesting techniques.

Sea Grant is a key partner in:

  • developing sufficient capabilities to sustain ocean-based economies;
  • growing our marine food sector;
  • diversifying our energy sources;
  • protecting critical ocean and coastal infrastructure and related natural resources;
  • and training the next generation of scientists, managers, and stakeholders.

These are all necessary components of a more resilient ocean, coastal and Great Lakes. For more information, check out some of Sea Grant's national-level accomplishments.

Let's make our voices heard and make sure Sea Grant is here to stay! Here are four simple steps you can take to help save this important program:

1. Spread the word—share this blog with your friends and family on social media.

2. Join the Surfrider Foundation and support our efforts to #SaveNOAA.

3. Volunteer at a local chapter and get involved!

4. Contact your representatives—a quick phone call is best! Find your representative's contact information here. Here are a few talking points you can use:

  • I'm calling today to let (elected official) know that I oppose the president's proposed cuts to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), specifically the elimination of the Sea Grant program.
  • Sea Grant directly contributes to job creation and economic development, the core functions of the Department of Commerce.
  • Federal funding of Sea Grant goes a long way. Each dollar Sea Grant receives in federal funds is multiplied threefold through strategic partnerships with academic and grant funders.
  • I personally value (name Sea Grant program or service that is important to you). (Click here for more information about Sea Grant's workshops, trainings and programs in your area.)
  • Again, I urge (elected official) to maintain funding for Sea Grant in NOAA's 2017 and 2018 budgets. Thank you for your time.
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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

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.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported that carbon dioxide levels in 2016 broke records for the second year in a row with an increase of 3 parts per million (ppm).

The measurements are coming from the Mauna Loa Baseline Atmospheric Observatory in Hawaii and were confirmed by NOAA's Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder, Colorado. The numbers show that the rate of CO2 in the atmosphere is now at 405.1 ppm, the highest it has been in more than 10,000 years. Pieter Tans, lead scientist of NOAA's Global Greenhouse Gas Reference Network, said the findings are accurate and disturbing.

"The rate of CO2 growth over the last decade is 100 to 200 times faster than what the Earth experienced during the transition from the last Ice Age," Tans said in a press release. "This is a real shock to the atmosphere."

A shock, indeed. An atmosphere of 400 ppm is dubbed the "carbon threshold," a point of no return. To sum it up, levels this high throw the whole balance of the climate cycle into chaos, making it more difficult to predict climate changes and causing sea level rise, severe tropical storms, drought and flooding.

This graph shows the annual mean carbon dioxide growth rates observed at NOAA's Mauna Loa Baseline Atmospheric Observatory. Further information can be found on the ESRL Global Monitoring Division website.NOAA

Emissions from fossil-fuel consumption have remained at historically high levels since 2011, and according to Tans, these emissions are contributing to the dramatic spike in atmospheric CO2 levels, which, up until the industrial revolution in 1760, averaged about 280 ppm.

Even if humans were to stop burning fossil fuels today, the carbon will continue to be trapped for at least the next few decades. Back in October 2016, when levels finally reached the 400 ppm threshold, Tans said, "It's unlikely we'll ever see CO2 below 400 ppm during our lifetime and probably much longer."

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Photo credit: Climate Council

A hot air mass parked over central Australia is delivering the second brutal heat wave this month. January is quickly approaching a record-breaking month Down Under.

These heat waves are being driven by warmer ocean temperatures, in turn heating-up central Australia and spilling across the eastern half of the continent.

"The heat waves were likely driven by warmer sea temperatures combining with the unusual spread of a 'reservoir of hot air' that had been building in central Australia over the past several weeks," said Phil King of the Bureau of Meteorology.

The Tuesday overnight temperature for Sydney, New South Wales (NSW), a city of 4.3 million people, registered 77F. By 6 a.m. the mercury read 88F and later in the afternoon, in the western suburbs, it reached a scorching 109F.

It was the hottest sticky night in five years. Thousands of people appeared at Sydney's Bondi Beach just after sunrise to cool off.

"We're not used to seeing that many people, normally it's crickets [this early in the morning] ... but there's a lot of people in the water, it makes it difficult to see them with the sun glaring in our face," said Bondi lifeguard Andrew Reid.

Along with stifling heat, the levels of smog in Sydney are very high. This prompted the NSW Health agency to issue a warning for people with respiratory conditions like asthma. High temperatures exacerbate toxic ozone created by automobiles.

"When it's really hot and quite still, we can get a built up of some pollutants, and in this case it's ozone," said David Berry, Bureau of Meteorology forecaster. "It's from the burning of fuels and having lots of air-cons on and that sort of thing."

The latest heat wave created an extreme fire emergency elsewhere in NSW and into the Australian Capital Territory near the nation's capital city, Canberra. A fast moving wildfire charred 5,500 acres of eucalypt forests.

While temperatures are beginning to relax in Sydney, the deadly heat wave is moving north into the state of Queensland and its capital city of Brisbane with 2.1 million people.

Last week, a vicious heat wave claimed the life of Matthew Hall, a fit and healthy 30-year-old man, while dirt bike riding along the Sunshine Coast.

"People need to be really aware that heat can affect especially the elderly and young children, but [also] people with previous medical conditions can really suffer a great deal," paramedic Lara King said. "Also young healthy fit people who don't think they have got any concerns need to be really cautious."

Last week, 200 other Queenslanders were treated for heat stroke and dehydration.

Two key findings on heat waves from Australia's Climate Council report Silent Killer highlighted that:

  • Heat waves are a silent killer. Major heatwaves have caused more deaths since 1890 than wildfires, cyclones (hurricanes), earthquakes, floods and severe storms combined.
  • Extreme heat increases the risk of heat illness and can also exacerbate pre-existing illnesses such as heart and kidney conditions. Children, the elderly, the disabled and outdoor workers are among those most at risk.

In addition to fierce heat waves, new research from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science warned that as Earth's temperatures approach 2C, the upper limit of the Paris climate agreement, Australia will see an 11.3-30 percent intensification of rainfall from extreme precipitation events, while some areas will increase in drought.

"There is no chance that rainfall in Australia will remain the same as the climate warms," said Professor Steve Sherwood, an author of the research from University of New South Wales.

Another report, The Heat Matches On, warned that "as Australians continue to suffer from more frequent and worsening extreme heat events, the path to tackling climate change is becoming more urgent: no new coal mines can be built, existing coal mines and coal-fired power stations must be phased out and renewable energy must be scaled up rapidly."

2016 was the hottest year ever recorded, smashing records set in 2014 and 2015. This marks the third consecutive year of record-breaking heat, a first in the modern era. 2016 is the hottest year on record by a wide margin, 1.69 F (0.94 C) warmer than the 20th century average.

Deke Arndt, chief of global climate monitoring at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), said of the announcement, "The fact that we're punching at the ceiling every year now, that is the real indicator that we're undergoing big changes."

Including last year, 15 of the hottest 16 years on record have occurred since 2001, according to NOAA. The only year from the 20th century to break into the top 16 is 1998 and that year ranks 7th.

"For the first time in recorded history, we have now had three consecutive record-warm years for both the globe and the Northern Hemisphere," Dr. Michael Mann, director of the Earth Science Center at Pennsylvania State University, said.

"The likelihood of this having happened in the absence of human-caused global warming is minimal. As we have shown in previously published work the spate of record-warm years that we have seen in the 21st century can only be explained by human-caused climate change. The effect of human activity on our climate is no longer subtle. It's plain as day, as are the impacts—in the form of record floods, droughts, superstorms and wildfires—that it is having on us and our planet."

This announcement coincides with Scott Pruitt's U.S. Environmental Protection Agency confirmation hearing and comes just two days before Donald Trump takes office. Trump has called climate change a "hoax" and pledged to dismantle U.S. climate regulations.

"No part of the world can now avoid the fact that climate change is striking harder and faster than many scientists predicted, and that its impacts are taking a higher toll on the most vulnerable communities," 350.org climate impacts program coordinator Aaron Packard said. "As important as marking that the record is yet again broken, we need to loudly mark what needs to be done to hold back such destruction: we need to keep fossil fuels in the ground.

"Decades of progress from scientists and engineers has made renewable energy the cheapest and cleanest source of energy in the world, creating the technological momentum that is matched by the millions of people in all parts of the world demanding climate action."

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Louisiana—which faces faster levels of sea-level rise than any other land on Earth—could lose as many as 2,800 square miles of its coast over the next 40 years and about 27,000 buildings will need to be flood-proofed, elevated or bought out, the New Orleans Advocate reported.

These dire predictions were pulled from a new rewrite of the state's Coastal Master Plan for 2017 released Tuesday by the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority.

The plan, first introduced in 2007 post- Hurricane Katrina, acts as a 50-year blueprint for restoring the Pelican State's rapidly disappearing coastal wetlands and protecting the state's natural resources and communities. Louisiana's Legislature unanimously approved the 2007 and 2012 versions.

The new plan, which is now out for public review and must be voted up or down by the Legislature, calls for 120 new projects, including a $6 billion proposal to protect or vacate properties in areas that are at risk of experiencing a 100-year storm. The plan also aims to restore 800 to 1,200 square miles of wetlands and build new levees and flood walls to protect against hurricane storm surges.

The plan was authored by state coastal scientists and engineers and several federal agencies. Stakeholders from the shipping and fishing industries also provided input.

The most significant details are the grim edits made to the 2012 plan. As the Advocate detailed, "the worst-case scenario for human-caused sea-level rise in the 2012 plan, 1.48 feet, has become the best-case scenario in the 2017 edition. In fact, the National Climate Assessment now estimates sea levels on U.S. coastlines could rise 4 feet by 2100."

Not only that, "the new worst-case scenario projects that 4,000 square miles of the coast would be lost if the state stops all efforts to restore its coastal landscape. That's double the loss projected in the same scenario in the 2012 plan," the Advocate explained.

The plan's original investment was $50 billion, but an evaluation from Tulane University determined that its actual inflation-adjusted cost is now around $92 billion.

The report does not shy away from pointing fingers at natural disasters and human-caused climate change that have contributed to the state's alarming coastal erosion.

"Between 1932 and 2010, Louisiana's coast lost more than 1,800 square miles of land. From 2004 through 2008 alone, more than 300 square miles of marshland were lost to Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Gustav, and Ike," the report states. "The culprits to this land loss include the effects of climate change, sea level rise, subsidence, hurricanes, storm surges, flooding, disconnecting the Mississippi River from coastal marshes, and human impacts."

Earlier reports have described how Louisiana's wetlands are disappearing at a rate of approximately one football field every hour and coastal communities are already washing into the Gulf of Mexico.

In June, reports emerged of the first American climate refugees. Residents from a Louisiana island called Isle de Jean Charles were forced off the land they have lived on for generations due to encroaching water. The island, which used to be the size of Manhattan, has lost 98 percent of its land over the last 60 years.

Additionally, NPR reported on Wednesday that it's not just land that's being swallowed up by the Gulf of Mexico, but also important ancient archaeological sites dating 300 to 500 years back.

By Bob Henson

Between a record-strong El Niño and catastrophic floods, fires and drought, 2016 was a memorable year for weather and climate in North America as well as globally. What can we expect as we roll into 2017? A precise weather forecast is asking too much, but there is already a lot we can say about some key factors. Here are six developments to watch for in 2017. They're presented in rough order of increasing confidence, followed by details on each prediction.

1. Better Odds of El Niño Than La Niña, but a Neutral Pacific Still Favored

The biggest single driver of year-to-year atmospheric variations around the globe is the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO), including El Niño and its counterpart, La Niña. A year ago, it was virtually certain that the record-strong El Niño of 2015-16 would continue through at least the first few months of 2016, as it indeed did. This time around, the ENSO signal is far less clear-cut. Sea surface temperatures (SSTs) in the benchmark Niño 3.4 region of the eastern tropical Pacific have been inconclusive in recent months, hovering close to the La Niña threshold (at least -0.5 C below the seasonal average) since late July.

Figure 1. Departures from average sea surface temperature for this time of year as of mid-December show a diffuse, borderline La Niña signal across the central and eastern tropical Pacific. NOAA Climate Prediction Center

It's now become less likely that the ocean and atmosphere will commit to a well-defined La Niña event for early 2017. There's almost no telling what will happen later in the year, on the other side of the infamous "spring predictability barrier" that often separates one El Niño or La Niña event from another. One clue we do have is the unusual persistence this year of a belt of warmer-than-average SSTs from the central tropical Pacific to the west coast of North America. This warm phase of what's called the Pacific Meridional Mode may herald a new El Niño event in 2017-18, as niftily explained by Dan Vimont (University of Wisconsin Center for Climatic Research) in a recent climate.gov post.

In their joint probabilistic outlook issued in early December, NOAA's Climate Prediction Center (CPC) and the International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI) called for decreasing odds of La Niña over the next few months, dropping to just 18 percent by late spring. Neutral conditions are deemed most likely by CPC/IRI, with 65 percent odds by spring and 53 percent by summer. And the odds of El Niño are expected to steadily rise throughout the first half of 2017, reaching 29 percent by summer. Strong El Niño events like the one we just had are usually followed by a significant La Niña event. If the atmosphere instead ends up cueing El Niño for 2017-18, it would reinforce the notion that we've entered a positive phase of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation—a sign that we might expect more El Niño than La Niña events for as long as a decade or two.

Figure 2. Probabilities of El Niño (red), La Niña (blue) and neutral conditions (green), for each overlapping three-month period from November-January 2016-17 (left) to July-September 2017 (right).NOAA / IRI

2. Wide Range of Possibilities for Atlantic Hurricane Action

The well-predicted demise of the 2015-16 El Niño boosted confidence in 2016's largely successful seasonal hurricane outlooks for the Atlantic, where wind shear was down from 2015 and sea-surface temperatures saw a spike atop their long-term warming trend. (See our roundup post from Dec. 27 on global tropical cyclones in 2016 and their connections to climate change.) Because ENSO is one of the biggest shapers of Atlantic hurricane seasons, our current uncertainty about next year's ENSO state means we can't say much yet about whether the 2017 Atlantic tropical season will be hectic, sedate or somewhere in between.

Forecasters at Colorado State University no longer issue formal seasonal hurricane outlooks as early as December, but CSU's Dr. Phil Klotzbach laid out his thoughts for us last week in a qualitative discussion. Along with monitoring ENSO, Klotzbach also keeps close tabs on the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation and Atlantic thermohaline circulation, which are cyclic natural variations in SST, surface air pressure, and oceanic flow across the North Atlantic. When the AMO is positive (warm) and the THC is strong, the Atlantic pumps out more hurricanes over periods that can range from 25 to 35 years. At other times, unusually cold waters prevail in the far North Atlantic, typically a sign of a slowdown of the THC and a ramp-down in Atlantic hurricane action.

Figure 3. Warmer-than-average waters covered most of the Atlantic Ocean from the equator northward for the period Dec. 1-18. NOAA / ESRL Physical Sciences Division, courtesy Phil Klotzbach

With cold waters widespread across the far north Atlantic in 2014 and 2015, Klotzbach hypothesized in a 2015 Science article that the active Atlantic period that began in 1995 may have already drawn to a close. Now he's not so sure. "I was generally thinking we had moved into a cold AMO, but we haven't yet seen the re-emergence of the cold anomalies in the far North Atlantic like we have the past couple of winters (at least not yet!)," Klotzbach told me in an email. For this analysis, Klotzbach typically uses SSTs across a box roughly bounded by 50 N-60 N latitude and 10 W-50 W longitude. Figure 3 shows that only part of this area currently has below-average SSTs. "We're just now moving into the height of winter, though, so we may still see some reemergence and anomalous cooling in the far North Atlantic this winter," said Klotzbach. "I decided to hedge with the outlook so far, and hopefully we'll have a better idea of what is coming up by the time the April forecast rolls around." Here are the five possibilities (with odds) put forth by Klotzbach in his December update:

40 percent chance: AMO/THC is above average and no El Niño occurs (resulting in a seasonal average Accumulated Cyclone Energy (ACE) activity of ~ 130).

20 percent chance: AMO/THC becomes very strong in 2017 and no El Niño occurs (ACE ~ 170).

20 percent chance: AMO/THC is below average and no El Niño occurs (ACE ~ 80).

10 percent chance: AMO/THC is above average and El Niño occurs (ACE ~ 80).

10 percent chance: AMO/THC is below average and El Niño develops (ACE ~ 50).

3. More Tornadoes and Tornado Deaths in 2017 Than 2016? Probably So

It's been a blessedly quiet year for U.S. tornadoes, climatologically speaking. According to Patrick Marsh (NOAA Storm Prediction Center), the year 2016 delivered a preliminary total of 1060 tornado reports through Dec. 28, with few or none expected through the rest of the year. This may sound like a very high total, but the number of final tornado reports typically drops from the preliminary total by about 15 percent after duplicate reports have been weeded out. The annual number drops even further relative to prior years when it's adjusted for "inflation" against earlier decades, when fewer people were watching and reporting every twister. Using a linear trend adjustment, Marsh estimates that the final, inflation-adjusted tornado total for 2016 will be around 888, which would be the lowest for any year going back to at least 1954 assuming that the database is normalized (inflation-adjusted) through 2015. "Four of the last five years—2016, 2014, 2013 and 2012—have been the quietest years on record when report inflation is accounted for," said Marsh.

This year did produce a few dramatic outbreaks during peak tornado season, but these played out mostly in open country, where few structures were damaged and few people were hurt. The deadliest events of 2016 were "off-season": seven people died in a Southeast and East Coast tornado outbreak on Feb. 23-24--the nation's second-largest February outbreak on record--and five deaths occurred across the South during an overnight outbreak on Nov. 29-30.

All told, tornadoes have killed only 17 people in the U.S. in 2016, well below the average toll of 46 per year over the three prior years. Assuming we make it to Dec. 31 without any additional tornado deaths, which looks almost certain, we'll have been graced with the least-deadly U.S. year for twisters since 1986, when only 15 people were killed. In data going back to 1875 provided by Harold Brooks (National Severe Storms Laboratory), the only other year with fewer than 20 deaths was 1910, with just 12 fatalities.

Figure 5. During El Niño events (top), the frequency of U.S. tornadoes typically drops. When a La Niña phase prevails (bottom), tornado frequency goes up (indicated by red areas). The effect is strongest in the boxed area.Nature Geoscience 2015, courtesy IRI

The strong El Niño of 2015-16 likely helped tamp down tornado activity this year, at least in the heart of Tornado Alley. Researchers at IRI/Columbia University have shown that the most active spring seasons for tornado and hail over the central U.S., especially the Southern Plains, are linked to strong La Niña events, while the very quietest seasons are related to strong El Niño events. In January 2015, the researchers, led by John Allen (now at Central Michigan University), called for better-than-even odds (54 percent) of a below-average number of tornadoes this year, as opposed to the 33/33/33 percent split (below, above, and near average) one would otherwise expect. (See more details at this conference presentation).

As with Atlantic hurricanes, even a mostly quiet season can still produce deadly mayhem if one destructive event, such as a major landfalling hurricane or a family of violent tornadoes, happens to hit the wrong place at the wrong time. "It's an ongoing challenge to think about how to convey this information," Allen told me. "I think it's also worth noting that we still don't have a lot of other climate signals for improving our forecasts when we don't have ENSO-driven predictability." It's thus hard to tell how tornado counts will evolve in 2017, since the ENSO signal is so weak. However, given the very low activity this year, there's a good chance that we will see more twisters prowling the nation in 2017 than we did in 2016.

Figure 6. The U.K. Met Office predicts that the 2017 global temperature (forecast range shown in green at right) will likely fall below the record value expected to be set in 2016. The dark line shows global temperature since 1850. UK Met Office

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