It has been 10 days since Tropical Cyclone Winston tore into Fiji as a Category 5 storm — and now the full toll of the devastation is coming to light.
Weather Underground is reporting today that the death toll from Winston has reached at least 42 people, which makes it the deadliest storm on record in Fiji. Moreover, with homes and businesses wiped out, Winston caused at least at least $468 million in damage, also a record — and a staggering 10 percent of Fiji’s gross domestic product.
Given this news today, I thought I’d share two dramatic remote sensing animations showing Winston just as it was approaching and then plowing into Fiji’s main island of Viti Levu.
| See update below. Synopsis: Since I published this post, forecasts have been firming up and suggesting a shift toward wetter conditions in March. Will it be enough? Please keep reading, and check out the update at the end… |
The window is closing on California’s opportunity to have El Niño put a significant dent in the state’s epic drought — which one study has shown to be the most severe in 1,200 years.
Snowpack in California’s Sierra Nevada range, a significant source of the state’s water, is definitely doing better than it did in 2014 and 2015, as the animation above shows. But with statewide snowpack standing at just 88 percent of normal for this time of year — the heart of the snow season — it really needs to do a whole lot better. (In the southern part of the Sierra, snowpack is at just 78 percent of normal.)
The problem is that nearly three quarters of the Sierra’s precipitation falls from autumn through February. And, well, just have a look at the calendar…
Great hopes were riding on the soon-to-dissipate El Niño, which earlier in the year tied with the event of 1997/1998 as strongest on record. Ordinarily, a strong El Niño tends to rev up the subtropical jet stream, which in turn sweeps storm systems ashore in California during winter. But here’s what that subtropical jet looks like for the next five days: Read More
| See update at the end of this post concerning Winston’s ranking among tropical cyclones |
Winston was born as a tropical storm a little east of Vanuatu in the South Pacific, way back on February 10th. Little did we know then just how strange — and strong — this storm would become, thanks to multiple influences, including climate change.
This is the story of Winston’s birth and evolution, and the factors that helped turn it into one of Earth’s fiercest storm’s on record.
With initial winds of about 40 miles per hour, Winston cruised south and gathered strength quickly, becoming a Category 3 cyclone by the 12th. Curving to the northeast, the storm waned for a bit.
And then, something really weird happened — a prelude to the cyclone’s scary transformation into the strongest storm on record in the Southern Hemisphere. (Click on the thumbnail at right for a map of Winston’s circuitous trek through the South Pacific.)
Tracking eastward over the warmest waters in the Pacific Ocean basin, Winston strengthened again — and turned on a dime, crossing over Tonga for a second time. Heading due west, it exploded in strength — with Fiji in its crosshairs. Read More
As I am writing this on Friday evening in Colorado, Severe Tropical Cyclone Winston is bearing down on the most populous islands of Fiji, posing a dire threat to the South Pacific island nation with winds that could eventually reach a mind boggling 224 miles per hour.
The cyclone has already made landfall on the small Fijian island of Vanua Balavu — at about 1 pm EST today. This means the storm will go into the record books as the strongest tropical cyclone ever to hit the nation of Fiji. And it is only the 11th Category 5 storm to have been observed in the South Pacific east of Australia, according to Weather Underground.
Since hitting Vanua Balavu, Winston has been churning westward, heading toward the two biggest Fijian islands: Viti Levu and Vanua Levu, which account for 87 percent of the country’s population of almost 860,000. Read More
Woops. Thanks to a dearth of precipitation combined with warm temperatures, snowpack in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains has dipped below average. Given that El Niño was supposed to be California’s great drought-bustin’ hope, this is a little concerning.
I put together the animation above to show what has happened in the Sierra over the past two weeks. The mountains run diagonally through the frames.
The animation consists of false-color images captured by NASA’s Terra satellite. Snow is rendered in red and orange tones so that it can be discerned easily. Water shows up in almost black tones, and you can easily see Lake Tahoe in the upper middle of the animation. Mono Lake on the east side of the Sierra is at lower right.
On Feb. 5, 2016, the snowpack in the central Sierra Nevada region stood at 110 percent of average for the date. By Feb. 16, it had shrunk to 91 percent. That’s a decrease of 17 percent in just two weeks — as dramatized by all that shrinking red and orange in the animation.
As I’m writing this on the 17th, the average for the entire Sierra Nevada range in California is at 91 percent for the date. Given the super El Niño now underway, one would have hoped for better than that.
It’s not unheard of for El Niño to misbehave for a spell. As the National Weather Service pointed out in a Tweet on Feb. 9, California usually does experience some dry periods even during El Niño winters: Read More
I don’t know about you, but I never tire of high-resolution images like this one from the Himawari-8 satellite showing the entire disk of our home planet.
It’s a new and improved version of a now-familiar view. So make sure to click on the image to open it in a new window. And then click on it again to zoom in.
This true-color portrait of Earth was photographed by Himawari-8, operated by the Japan Meteorological Agency, on February 10, 2016. Read More
| Two updates, 2/16/16. See below. |
January saw an extraordinary, record-setting spike in global average temperature, according to the just released monthly analysis from NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies.
The global average temperature at Earth’s surface for January 2016 was 1.13 degrees C above the 1951-1980 average. That’s slightly more than 2 degrees F. The previous record for January, set in 2007, was .95 C, or 1.71 F above average. NASA’s climate record goes back to 1880.
The super El Niño pattern that we’re still in right now hit a peak in January, and that no doubt played a role in this global temperature spike. You can see it’s direct influence in the form of that spear of very warm Pacific Ocean water jutting out from South America along the equator, with associated warmth over the continent itself.
But as Thomas R. Karl, director of NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, pointed out in a recent press briefing about 2015, which itself turned out to be record warm:
The trend over time is why we’re having a record warm year.
El Niño does cause global average temperature to spike. But the spike for this month, and for all of 2015, came on top of the long-term trend, which looks like this: Read More
Since NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory spacecraft became operational in late April of 2010, it has provided a trove of valuable data — and mind-boggling views of the Sun.
This past year was no exception, as the video above shows. It consists of imagery acquired by SDO from Jan. 1, 2015, to Jan. 28, 2016, in one stunning time-lapse sequence.
Click to play it on YouTube. And if your internet speed is high enough, watch it in ultra-high definition: 3840 x 2160 (in other words, 4K) and 29.97 frames per second. At this level, the video consists of one SDO image taken every two hours for almost a year.
SDO’s Atmospheric Imaging Assembly (AIA) instrument actually captures a shot of the Sun even more frequently than that: once every 12 seconds — and in 10 different wavelengths. The images that went into this time-lapse video were acquired at a wavelength of 171 angstroms, which is in the extreme ultraviolet (and invisible to our eyes).
Viewing the Sun at this wavelength allows us to see the ebb and flow of million-degree-Fahrenheit material in the Sun’s atmosphere, called the corona. Among other things, we can see material aligning in complex ways along the lines of magnetic force that weave through the corona. Hot, active regions glow with particular intensity. Explosive eruptions of radiation caused by the sudden release of built up magnetic energy can be seen too. Read More
The El Niño that has been helping to spawn wild and wacky weather in many parts of the world for months now is still very strong. But the latest analysis from the U.S. Climate Prediction Center suggests that it should start to weaken and transition to neutral conditions by late spring or summer.
If the cooling of the eastern and central tropical Pacific characteristic of a weakening El Niño progresses enough, we could well find ourselves in a La Niña by next fall or winter. That’s the opposite of an El Niño, and it typically brings dry winters to California. That, of course, would be bad news for the state — which is still struggling to emerge from an epic drought.
Ok. Before I go any further, I need to emphasize an important caveat: Right now, the Climate Prediction Center puts the odds of a La Niña developing at 50/50. That’s a coin flip. Still…
There’s a good chance you’ve heard about that Royal Caribbean cruise ship that negligently blundered right into the maw of a powerful, hurricane-strength Atlantic cyclone on Sunday. (If not, keep reading — details are coming.)
Now, click on the image above to watch a spectacularly detailed animation of satellite images showing the development and rapid intensification of the storm off the U.S. East Coast on Sunday, Feb. 7.
The animation, originally posted at the CIMSS Satellite Blog, consists of imagery from the GOES-14 weather satellite. GOES-14 actually is a spare that can be put into a “rapid scan” mode in which the satellite captures an image at the speedy pace of one a minute. This is in contrast to its two siblings, which have a much more leisurely pace of one image every 15 minutes.
With one-minute imagery, scientists and forecasters can do a better job of tracking the development of weather, most especially a rapidly developing storm like the one that Royal Caribbean’s Anthem of the Seas steamed right into.
Despite Royal Caribbean’s Tweeted claim that the 168,666-ton cruise ship — one of the world’s largest — “encountered an unexpectedly severe storm off Cape Hatteras,” there was absolutely no reason whatsoever for that to have happened.
The following graphic is a forecast for Sunday issued by NOAA’s Ocean Prediction Center at 1 p.m. EST on Friday, Feb. 5th — 48 hours before the mishap. It clearly demonstrates that the storm was predicted far enough in advance for the ship to have avoided danger. I’ve annotated the graphic to draw your attention to two aspects: Read More