Hurricane Lorenzo Defies Forecasts, Strengthening Into a Monster and Setting an All-time Record

By Tom Yulsman | September 29, 2019 1:43 pm
Hurricane Lorenzo, howling in the North Atlantic on the evening of Saturday September 28, 2019 and into Sunday the 29th, as seen by the GOES-16 weather satellite. (Note: The video cycles through several times. Source: CIRA/RAMMB)

On Thursday, Sept. 26, the National Hurricane Center described Hurricane Lorenzo as “one of the largest and most powerful hurricanes of record for the central tropical Atlantic, with the only comparable hurricane [near there] in recent times being Gabrielle of 1989.”

Moving into the weekend, it was forecast to weaken. But then it shocked hurricane experts.

While churning over abnormally warm waters on Saturday evening, Lorenzo defied forecasts and strengthened even further. Howling with winds as high as 160 miles per hour, it became a Category 5 storm.

That makes it the single strongest hurricane ever observed that far north as well as that far east in the Atlantic Ocean.

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A Possibly Historic Snow Storm in the West, Plus a Heat Wave in the East — What’s Going On?

By Tom Yulsman | September 28, 2019 4:18 pm
A possibly historic snow storm and a heat wave have been shaping up, thanks to a loopy jet stream.
The National Weather Service is warning that “a significant, very early-season winter storm will enter the Northern Rockies Saturday. A host of potentially dangerous impacts will result from this type of early winter storm.”

Historic snow and a heat wave? That’s what a downright loopy jet stream pattern is bringing to large parts of the United States.

Parts of the Northern Rockies are bracing for what the National Weather Service in Missoula, MT is describing as an “historic winter storm this weekend,” with up to five feet of snow forecast. (Click on the graphic above for details.)

Although this part of the United States is no stranger to early autumn snow, it’s not usually measured in feet.

Meanwhile, parts of the U.S. East Coast are continuing to experience temperatures well above normal for this time of year — and conditions are forecast to heat up even more, potentially to record-high levels next week.

With a stubborn “heat dome” parked overhead, the Southeast has already been enduring one of its hottest Septembers on record. And the strength of the dome is forecast to intensify next week to a point that occurs just one day every 10 to 30 years during this time of year, according to an analysis by meteorologist Rob Elvington of WAAY TV in Huntsville, AL

This graphic helps explain what’s going on:

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Climate Change, Top Posts, Weather
MORE ABOUT: climate change

Arctic Sea Ice Plunges to Second Lowest Extent on Record

By Tom Yulsman | September 28, 2019 1:47 pm

Thanks to human-caused warming, an area of ice three times the size of Texas went missing this year

Arctic sea ice shriveled so much during this summer’s now-finished melt season that it has reached the second lowest extent on record.

A sensitive indicator of human-caused warming, the low extent of the region’s floating lid of ice effectively tied with 2007 and 2016 for second place in satellite records extending back 40 years, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center.

“Why three ties? It’s probably just blind dumb luck,” says Mark Serreze, Director of the NSIDC. “But clearly the ice is not recovering.” 

Arctic sea ice extent compared for 2007, 2012, 2018 and 2019, plus decadal averages for the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s. The minimum extent for 2019 is the second lowest on record.
Sea ice declines during this year’s melt season have continued a long-term trend, as seen in this animation of daily Arctic sea ice extents for 2007, 2012, 2018, and 2019, along with the averages for the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s. The plot is updated through 9/27/2019. (Source: Zachary Labe)
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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Climate Change, Top Posts
MORE ABOUT: climate change

The dreaded “blob” may be back in the Pacific Ocean

By Tom Yulsman | September 12, 2019 1:27 pm

A gigantic area of super-warm water has formed again off the U.S. West Coast, threatening impacts on weather and wildlife

The dreaded blob returns to the Pacific Ocean
A map of sea surface temperature anomalies shows a blob of very warm water off the West Coast of the North America. (Source: Climate Reanalyzer, University of Maine)

Five years ago, a gigantic cauldron of abnormally warm water in the Pacific Ocean wreaked havoc on marine ecosystems and contributed to drought along the western coast of North America.

Dubbed “The Blob,” it triggered the largest and most toxic algae bloom the region had ever seen, as well as mass die offs of sea mammals and fish.

Now, a new blobby warm patch has quickly formed in the same area.

Stretching across a vast territory — from Alaska to Baja, and from the West Coast to beyond Hawaii — this Son of Blob is almost the same size as the original one. In fact, it’s “the second largest marine heatwave in terms of area in the northern Pacific Ocean in the last 40 years, after ‘the Blob,'” according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Return of the Blob in the Pacific Ocean
The Blob returns: the abnormally warm sea surface temperatures now seen off the U.S. West Coast look (orange and red colors in the maps above) closely resemble what was seen at this time of year in 2014. (Source: NOAA)

“It’s on a trajectory to be as strong as the prior event,” says NOAA research scientist Andrew Leising.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Climate, Drought, ENSO, Ocean, select, Top Posts, Weather

Spectacular spiraling cloud formations spotted from space — at night

By Tom Yulsman | August 19, 2019 7:19 pm
Spiraling cloud formations called von Kármán vortices are seen at night in this satellite view.
Spiraling cloud patterns called Von Kármán vortices, spotted at nighttime off the coast of Morocco on July 19, 2019 by the Suomi NPP satellite. (Source: NASA Earth Observatory)

Spiraling cloud formations are often visible in satellite images — but at night, as seen above?

Until recently, that has been rare, at best. But newer technology for sensing and processing light in the shortwave infrared part of the electromagnetic spectrum has made it easier for satellites to spot these von Kármán vortices.

These features are just like the spiraling eddies that form in a stream immediately downstream of an obstacle like a rock. In fact, the atmosphere behaves much like a fluid.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Atmosphere, Ocean, Remote Sensing, select

Last month was Earth’s warmest July on record — and by most measures the hottest month, period.

By Tom Yulsman | August 15, 2019 8:11 pm
Earth baked in July — making it the hottest month on record, according to two analyses, and in a tie for that title in a third.
Most of our planet baked in July — earning the title for hottest month on record, according to two analyses, and in a tie in a third. (Source: NASA GISTEMP)

Two analyses out today show that in July, Earth endured its hottest month on record.

A third analysis shows last month in a tie with August 2016 for the dubious title of Earth’s hottest month in records dating back to the 1880s.

Also out today: An update from the National Snow and Ice Data Center shows that Arctic sea ice is currently in a dead heat with 2012 for title of lowest extent on record. We’ll know in September how this finally turns out.

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Lighting crackles near the North Pole in an almost unheard of event

By Tom Yulsman | August 12, 2019 8:09 pm
Lightning near the North Pole: sensors detected strikes just 300 miles away on Saturday.
Lightning was detected in association with a thunderstorm located over the Arctic Ocean on Saturday, Aug. 11. (Source: National Weather Service)

We’re accustomed to lightning crackling within thunderstorms over relatively warm places like Florida — which happens to be the U.S. lightning champ.

But lightning near the North Pole? Well, that’s what happened on Saturday. And so now we get to add this to the list of extreme events that have befallen the Arctic this summer.

These include raging wildfires, dramatic losses of sea ice, and a heat-wave that caused about 55 billion tons of ice to melt from the Greenland Ice Sheet during a five day period in late July and early August.

The lightning within the Arctic thunderstorms was detected by a network of sensors a mere 300 miles from the North Pole between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. Alaska Daylight Time, according to the National Weather Service in Fairbanks, AK.

The event was so unusual that it prompted a Tweet from the weather service saying it was one of the furthest north occurrences of lightning in the memory of Alaskan forecasters.

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Watch as Typhoon Lekima wobbles, just missing a Japanese city

By Tom Yulsman | August 10, 2019 12:52 pm
Typhoon Lekima threads the needle between Japanese islands with jig and jag movements scientists call "trochoidal motions"
An animation of Himawari 8 satellite images shows Typhoon Lekima threading the needle between Japanese islands. (Note: The animation is a big file so it may take a moment to load. Source: SSEC/CIMSS)

Typhoon Lekima blasted ashore south of the mega-city of Shanghai early on Saturday local time, whipping the coast with sustained winds of around 115 miles per hour.

A million people were evacuated ahead of the storm, which has caused 13 deaths. Now a tropical storm, Lekima is churning north through eastern China, raising risks for major flooding and mud slides.

The animation of Himawari-8 satellite imagery above shows Typhoon Lekima on Thursday, Aug. 8 as it was passing through the Ryukyu Islands of southern Japan. It documents dramatic behavior by the eye of the storm. So be sure to click on the screenshot, and then be a little patient if it takes a moment for the high-resolution animation to load.

At the start of the infrared view, Lekima whirls northwestward, looking all the world like a buzzsaw aimed at Ishigaki Island, home to one of Japan’s southernmost cities. At the time, it was very dangerous typhoon, with sustained winds equivalent to a Category 3 hurricane.

But then, at the very last moment, Lekima’s eye abruptly bobs and weaves, avoiding Ishigaki and threading the needle between the islands of Tarama and Irabu. The eye wall seems to brush Tarama, the tiny island to the left.

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Nuclear winter researcher: study of wildfires confirms dire climate risk from even a ‘small’ nuclear war

By Tom Yulsman | August 8, 2019 2:01 pm

New research uses wildfire smoke as a natural experiment for testing nuclear winter theory, but uncertainties remain

British Columbia wildfires allow scientists to test aspects of nuclear winter — dramatic cooling from soot lofted into the stratosphere after bombs cause cities to burn
An animation of GOES-16 weather satellite imagery reveals thick palls of smoke billowing up from wildfires in British Columbia on Aug. 11 and 12, 2017. The smoke rose into the stratosphere and ultimately circled the globe. Eight months later, some was still visible to satellites. (Source: RAMMB/CIRA)

Raging wildfires lofting huge amounts of smoke high into the atmosphere have been making headlines with increasing frequency — thanks in large part to their connection with human-caused climate change

Now, there may be another reason to pay attention to these fires: A new study, just published in Science, has used one such blaze as a kind of natural experiment to test aspects of an idea first raised by scientists at the height of the Cold War in the 1980s: nuclear winter.

A co-author of the study says the research supports earlier findings that even a relatively small, regional nuclear war would have dire climatic consequences. The cause: smoke billowing up from burning cities.

“The smoke would be lofted into the stratosphere, lasting for years and carried by winds around the entire Earth,” says Alan Robock, a Rutgers University climate scientist.

Robock was an early proponent of the original nuclear winter theory of the 1980s. Based on relatively simple computer modeling, the theory held that a full-scale nuclear war between the United States and Russia would have indirect impacts even more cataclysmic than the direct ones from explosions, radiation and fires.

Smoke from blazing cities would blot out the sun, causing the climate to cool by as much as 45 degrees F in the northern mid-latitudes, with cold temperatures lasting for years. The ultimate result: crop failures, global famine, and even the extinction of the human species.

As Carl Sagan, one of the original proponents of nuclear winter, put it in 1983: “For the first time, we see that the consequences of nuclear war may be absolutely devastating for nations far removed from the conflict.”

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10 billion tons of meltwater poured off Greenland in a day — but are things as bad as the Twittersphere says?

By Tom Yulsman | August 1, 2019 9:45 pm
Greenland melting
Comparison of satellite images of the western edge of the Greenland Ice Sheet about 250 miles across, one acquired in 2018 on July 30, and the other on July 31 of this year. Vastly expanded areas of blue in this year’s image are indicative of water at the surface. The gray area, known as the “ablation zone,” is where ice is exposed and experiencing melting. (Images: NASA Worldview. Animation: Tom Yulsman)

As forecast, the dome of heat that brutalized Western Europe has moved over Greenland, where it has triggered a massive spike in surface melting of snow and ice.

In coming days, the abnormal heat could also cause the Arctic’s floating lid of sea ice — which is already trending at record low levels for this time of year — to shrivel even further.

But if you pay attention to Twitter, it almost seems as if we’ve entered the Arctic Apocalypse. So with this story, I decided to take a deep breath and report as dispassionately as I could on what’s happening.

I started by getting in touch with Mark Serreze, Director of the National Snow and Ice Data Center — which among other things, publishes daily updates on surface melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet and the extent of Arctic sea ice. I asked him for his overall take on what’s happening. Here’s what he told me:

“There have always been what one could call ‘heat waves’ in the Arctic,” he said. That’s just part of the natural variability of weather.

But now that natural variability is happening atop the long-term trend of human-caused warming — which is manifesting more intensely in the Arctic than anywhere else on Earth. As a result, “the heat waves are becoming hotter,” Serreze says.

And make no mistake: This one is very toasty: Temperatures in Greenland have been running up to 30 degrees above average this week. At the highest point in Greenland, 10,551 feet above sea level, temperatures remained above freezing for 11 hours on Tuesday — an exceedingly unusual occurrence.

As a result, the extent of surface melting is equal to an area nearly one and a half times the size of Texas.

That’s concerning enough. But there’s also a possibility that the “ablation rate” — meaning the rate at which ice actually melts — could hit a record today (July 31).

That said, when it comes to the percentage of Greenland’s surface that has experienced melting so far, this is how things looked yesterday compared to the record-setting year of 2012:

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ImaGeo is a visual blog focusing on the intersection of imagery, imagination and Earth. It focuses on spectacular visuals related to the science of our planet, with an emphasis (although not an exclusive one) on the unfolding Anthropocene Epoch.

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