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Tropical Storm Cindy Threatens 17 Million Along the Gulf Coast

By Bob Henson

A high risk of life-threatening flooding continues on Wednesday over parts of the central Gulf Coast as Tropical Storm Cindy lumbers toward shore. The greatest flood threat will be across low-lying areas of far southern Mississippi and Alabama, according to the NWS/NOAA Weather Prediction Center. A second area with a moderate flood risk lies across far southeast Texas and southwest Louisiana.

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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

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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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