Evolution of a Superstorm — Culprit in Polar Vortex Redux

By Tom Yulsman | November 10, 2014 4:25 pm

Click for an animation of infrared satellite images showing the birth and evolution of Super Typhoon Nuri. (Source: CIMSS Satellite Blog)

The polar vortex has arrived with a vengeance in parts of the United States — including where I live in Colorado. If you want to see photos of its dramatic arrival here — heralded by plunging temperatures, gusty winds, and snow — along with a detailed explanation for why it has returned, see my earlier post here.

But the long and short of it can be visualized in the beautiful animation above. Click the image to see it. Beware: It’s a really big file, so it could take longer than usual to load. But trust me: It’ll be worth the wait.

The animation consists of infrared satellite images that visualize water vapor in the atmosphere.  It shows the birth of a tropical storm in the Pacific Ocean on Oct. 31, 2014, it’s evolution into Super Typhoon Nuri as it sweeps up toward Japan (but luckily misses it), and its transition into one of the most powerful extratropical storms on record in the Bering Sea — and quite probably the strongest.

Nuri’s spawn, the Bering Sea superstorm, has kicked the jet stream over North America into an exaggerated wavy pattern. This allowed unusual warmth to build along the West Coast over the weekend, and a chunk of the polar vortex to plunge south over the northern plains and farther south.

Right now, in fact.

The Polar Vortex Arrives — With a Vengeance

By Tom Yulsman | November 10, 2014 2:41 pm

Clouds streamed across the plains from the mountains near Boulder, Colorado as temperatures plummeted and the winds kicked up on Nov. 10, 2014. (iPhone Photomosaic: © Tom Yulsman)

I was blowing leaves out of my gutters this morning when the polar vortex arrived — suddenly and with a vengeance.

It was 61 degrees and I was in a t-shirt when I clambered up a ladder to my roof. In anticipation of the snow that I knew was coming, I got the gutters cleaned out. Then, within five minutes, the temperature had dropped by what felt like 20 degrees, and the winds began whipping so strongly that I feared for my life as I gingerly stepped back down the ladder.

I quickly jumped in my car to find a good spot to take some photographs. As I drove, stiff winds out of the north — I’d estimate the gusts at about 25 miles per hour — were blowing rivers of tumbleweeds across the road. Toward the south, sunny skies were becoming obscured by blowing dust as black, ominous clouds scudded across the plains. You can see these clouds in the iPhone photomosaic above, and in this photograph: Read More

Giant Storm that Battered Alaska May be Strongest on Record for the North Pacific

By Tom Yulsman | November 8, 2014 4:33 pm

An animation of false color infrared images from the GOES West weather satellite shows the powerful Bering Sea storm swirling across Alaska’s Aleutian Islands. (Images: SSEC/University of Wisconsin, Madison. Animation: Tom Yulsman)

As the monster storm that once was Super Typhoon Nuri swept toward the western Aleutian Islands, bringing hurricane force winds and 50-foot waves, it may have been one for the record books. But luckily, there are no reported injuries or significant damage on the sparsely populated islands.


Source: Ocean Prediction Center

One measure of the strength of a storm is the atmospheric pressure at its center. The lowest pressure ever recorded in a North Pacific storm was 925 millibars, measured in Dutch Harbor in 1977. The pressure at the heart of the current storm is estimated to have bottomed out at 924 mb, which would make it the strongest on record for this part of the world. (Click on the thumbnail at right to see the estimate from NOAA’s Ocean Prediction Center.)

Read More

Move Over Super El Niño, Here Comes the Tasmanian Devil (Or Would that be the Dreaded Polar Vortex?)

By Tom Yulsman | November 7, 2014 5:58 pm
Tasmanian Devil

Click for the Polar Vor… I mean the Tasmanian Devil! — in motion.

Andy Revkin, my friend and colleague, has an excellent post up over at DotEarth on the ‘Super El Niño’ Forecast Fadeout’ (which I wrote about yesterday here). And as he notes, attention is now focusing — again — on the return of the polar vortex.

The super El Niño that was predicted back in June — a phenomenon that Salon said “could grow into a monster” — has failed to materialize, and now there’s not much more than a 50/50 chance that a weak one will emerge, according to yesterday’s bulletin from the National Climatic Data Center.

In a post back in June headlined, “Things Look El Niño-ish, But Things Could Change,” I pointed out the following:

…on five occasions in the past when conditions in the tropical Pacific looked like they do now, four continued on as El Niño’s. But on one of those occasions, in 1993, conditions dropped back down to “borderline neutral.”

Tasmanian Devil

Chris Farley playing the El Niño. Click for the video. (Source: NBC)

Ahem… Read More

Remnants of Nuri Explode, Creating a Monster Storm Now Threatening Alaska With Hurricane-Strength Winds

By Tom Yulsman | November 7, 2014 12:38 pm
monster storm

An animation of infrared satellite images shows the evolution of Nuri into a massive extra-tropical storm. (Source: Space Science Engineering Center, University of Wisconsin)

The Aleutian Islands in Alaska are bracing today for a monster storm born of the remnants of Super Typhoon Nuri. The forecast in the westernmost part of the island chain is for hurricane strength winds and waves up to 35 feet high or more.

You can see the transformation of the cyclone into an extra-tropical super-storm in the animation of infrared satellite images above. Nuri starts in the extreme lower left corner off of Japan. It’s that round, compact object — white at the center and surrounded by shades of red. It then moves to the northeast off the Japanese coast and transforms into a massive storm (look for the big splotch of red) off the Kamchatka Peninsula.

Today it’s heading for the Aleutians and the Bering Sea. Read More

Waterspout Pas de Deux

By Tom Yulsman | November 6, 2014 3:02 pm


I spotted this spectacular image on Twitter today and had to share it. You’re looking at twin waterspouts off the coast of Italy.


Source: Wikimedia Commons

A waterspout is a rapidly rotating column of air that stretches from the base of a cumulus cloud down to a body of water. Winds can vary between about 40 miles per hour, or gale force, to 80 mph or more, which is hurricane force. Click on the thumbnail at right for a photo showing three waterspouts seen from the beach at Kijkduin near The Hague in the Netherlands August 27, 2006.

I don’t know whether the duo off Italy were true tornadic waterspouts, which are tornados over the water and are typically bigger and much more intense than non-tornadic waterspouts. But either way, it’s an astonishing occurrence of nature.

MORE ABOUT: waterspouts, weather

Latest Forecast: Odds of an El Niño Drop

By Tom Yulsman | November 6, 2014 10:46 am

This map shows how sea surface temperatures in the Pacific vary from average. During an El Niño event, anomalously warm water develops in the eastern tropical Pacific off the coast of South America. (Source: NOAA)

The odds of an El Niño developing this winter have faded somewhat, further dimming hopes for a break in California’s historic drought.

Back in June, forecasters pegged the odds of an El Niño emerging by fall and winter at 80 percent. Today, a bulletin from the National Climatic Data Center reports that the long predicted El Niño has still not emerged, and that the odds of one emerging have dropped from a two in three chance last month to 58 percent now.

From the Climate Prediction Center:

Overall, several features across the tropical Pacific are characteristic of borderline El Niño conditions, but collectively, the combined atmosphere and oceanic state remains ENSO-neutral.

ENSO stands for the El Niño-Southern Oscillation, a phenomenon in the tropical pacific that oscillates between a cool phase, called La Niña, and a warm phase, known as El Niño.

The map at the top of this post shows sea surface temperature anomalies — meaning how they vary from average — in the tropical Pacific. See that elongated, patchy area of warm water in the eastern tropical Pacific, off the coast of South America? That’s the El Niño struggling to be born.

Here’s what sea surface temperatures in the tropical Pacific looked like during the powerful El Niño of 1997/1998: Read More

How the Elections Matter (and Not), in Five Simple Graphics

By Tom Yulsman | November 5, 2014 10:38 am

The view into the coal-fired furnace at Xcel Energy’s Valmont Power Station in Boulder. Limiting the risk of dangerous climate change will require that we phase these out and triple our use of zero- and low-carbon energy sources. (Photo: © Tom Yulsman)

| See update below |

As expected, Republicans gained control of the U.S. Senate, as well as a good number of governorships, in the midterm elections yesterday. And not surprisingly, even before the votes were tallied some commentators were predicting  that a Republican victory would be a disaster for the environment in general, and efforts to grapple with climate change in particular.

As Ari Ratner at Vice put it yesterday:

These races — and many more— will decide how the country generates and consumes energy. They will dictate the preservation of our natural resources, and the environmental legacy that we all will inherit.

So let me get this straight: Now that we have an even more politically polarized government than before, with Republicans in control of both houses of Congress and a Democrat in the White House, suddenly we’ll see less gridlock than we have in the past?

In case we didn’t already have enough reasons to end the gridlock, a report published Sunday by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change highlighted the pressing need to slash human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide and other climate-altering greenhouse gases. Like those spewing from the furnace of the Valmont Power Station near where I live, pictured at the top of this post.

More specifically, the IPCC noted that holding the increase in global average temperature to less than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, or 2 degrees Celsius, above the preindustrial level would require rapid improvements in energy efficiency and at least a tripling in how much of the world’s energy comes from zero- and low-carbon energy sources by 2050. These include renewables, nuclear energy, and fossil fuel energy with technology for capturing and storing carbon emissions. By 2100, carbon-free energy must make up 90 percent of the world’s energy mix. (Michael Weiss, one of the ace masters students in a class on blogging that I teach at the University of Colorado has written about this. Check it out here.)

|Update 11/5/14 10:30 a.m. MST: Roger Pielke, Jr., the director of the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research and my colleague here at the University of Colorado emailed me to point out that getting to 90 percent zero/low-carbon energy by 2100 will require “shutting down a Valmont-sized plant (or 2) every day and replacing it with a nuclear power plant (or equivalent low-carbon).” That is indeed a tall order. 

The Obama administration seems to understand the need for action. And in all likelihood, it will continue to press ahead with regulatory efforts, such as the EPA’s proposed rule for limiting carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants. And Republicans will try to stymie action with language attached to important legislation on such things as defense spending.

But over the next two years, do you think these political machinations will have much effect on this, one way or the other?: Read More

Latest IPCC Report: Avoiding Dangerous Climate Change Will Require Leaving Most Remaining Fossil Fuels in the Ground

By Tom Yulsman | November 3, 2014 2:26 pm
fossil fuels

The Suncor refinery in Commerce City near Denver, Colorado. (iPhone photomosaic: © Tom Yulsman)

If humanity is to avoid dangerous impacts from climate change, we’re going to have to do something that seems almost unthinkable: walk away from the massive riches of fossil fuels still left in the ground.

For me, that’s the key message of the latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, released yesterday.

The problem, of course, is that right now the world is headed in precisely the opposite direction.

While U.S. energy-related emissions of carbon dioxide were about 10 percent lower in 2013 than they were at their peak in 2007, and European nations are struggling to reduce their own emissions, huge growth in the developing world is helping to push anthropogenic emissions of CO2 ever higher.

Thanks to all of the carbon that the developing world has pumped into the atmosphere since the dawn of the industrial age, and the rising amounts from fast-growing nations like China, India and Brazil, climate impacts are already being felt around the world. As the IPCC put it:

Human influence on the climate system is clear, and recent anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases are the highest in history. Recent climate changes have had widespread impacts on human and natural systems. Read More

The Heat is On: 2014 Headed for Warmest Year on Record

By Tom Yulsman | October 21, 2014 8:39 am

Source: NOAA

Last week, a NASA update pegged September as the warmest on record. Now, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has concurred — and reported that 2014 is on track to be the be the warmest year since record keeping began in 1880.

NOAA also reports  that the January through September period was tied with 1998 as the hottest since 1880.

“If 2014 maintains this temperature departure from average for the remainder of the year, it will be the warmest year on record,” according to NOAA’s report.

Another indication of what’s happening: The past 12 months — October 2013 through September 2014 — was the toastiest 12-month period in the record books.



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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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