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Rise in blocking-patterns – hot or wet weather remaining stuck over regions for weeks – causing frequent heatwaves or floods.
By Damian Carrington.
A man hangs on to a trash can as rain water gushes towards Albuquerque in New Mexico, US. Heavy rains caused flash flooding and road closures in the city earlier this month. Photograph: Roberto E. Rosales/AP
The work shows so-called “blocking patterns”, where hot or wet weather remains stuck over a region for weeks causing heatwaves or floods, have more than doubled in summers over the last decade. The new study may also demonstrate a link between the UK’s recent flood-drenched winter and climate change.
Climate scientists in Germany noticed that since 2000 there have been an “exceptional number of summer weather extremes, some causing massive damage to society”. So they examined the huge meanders in the high-level jet stream winds that dominate the weather at mid-latitudes, by analysing 35 years of wind data amassed from satellites, ships, weather stations and meteorological balloons. They found that blocking patterns, which occur when these meanders slow down, have happened far more frequently.
“Since 2000, we have seen a cluster of these events. When these high-altitude waves become quasi-stationary, then we see more extreme weather at the surface,” said Dr Dim Coumou, at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. “It is especially noticeable for heat extremes.” The intense heatwaves in Russia in 2010, which saw 50,000 people die and the wheat harvest hit hard, and in western Europe in 2003, which saw 30,000 deaths, were both the result of blocking patterns. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded in 2011 that extreme weather would become more common as global warming heats the planet, causing both heatwaves and increasingly severe rain storms.
In 2010, heatwaves caused hundreds of wildfires across Russia. Above, a man tries to stop a fire near Dolginino village. Photograph: Artyom Korotayev/AFP/Getty Images.
The rise in blocking patterns correlates closely with the extra heating being delivered to the Arctic by climate change, according to the research which is published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academies of Science (PNAS). Coumou and his colleagues argue there are good physical reasons to think there is a causal link, because the jet streams are driven by the difference in temperature between the poles and the equator. As the Arctic is warming more quickly than lower latitudes, that temperature difference is declining, providing less energy for the jet stream and its meanders, which are called Rossby waves.
Prof Ted Shepherd, a climate scientist at the University of Reading, UK, but not involved in the work, said the link between blocking patterns and extreme weather was very well established. He added that the increasing frequency shown in the new work indicated climate change could bring rapid and dramatic changes to weather, on top of a gradual heating of the planet. “Circulation changes can have much more non-linear effects. They may do nothing for a while, then there might be some kind of regime change.”
Shepherd said linking the rise in blocking events to Arctic warming remained “a bit speculative” at this stage, in particular because the difference between temperatures at the poles and equator is most pronounced in winter, not summer. But he noted that the succession of storms that caused England’s wettest winter in 250 years was a “very good example” of blocking patterns causing extreme weather during the coldest season. “The jet stream was stuck in one position for a long period, so a whole series of storms passed over England,” he said.
Flooding in Northmoor Green (Moorland) in Somerset, UK, in February this year. Photograph: David Levene for The Guardian.
Coumou acknowledges his study shows a correlation – not causation – between more frequent summer blocking patterns and Arctic warming. “To show causality, computer modelling studies are needed, but it is questionable how well current climate models can capture these effects,” he said.
Prof Tim Palmer, at the University of Oxford, wrote in a PNAS article in 2013 that understanding changes to blocking patterns may well be the key to understanding changes in extreme weather, and therefore to understanding the worst impacts of climate change on society. But he said climate models might have to run down to scales of 1km to do so. “Currently, national climate institutes do not have the high-performance computing capability to simulate climate with 20km resolution, let alone 1km,” he wrote. “I look forward to the day when governments make the same investment in climate prediction as they have made in finding the Higgs boson.”
Firefighters cross a flooded intersection on Route 110 in Farmingdale, N.Y., on New York’s Long Island, Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2014. Stranded Long Island drivers have been rescued after a storm slammed Islip, N.Y., with over 13 inches of rain — an entire summer’s worth. (AP Photo/Frank Eltman)
DEER PARK, N.Y. (AP) — A storm has slammed a suburban New York area with over 13 inches of rain — an entire summer’s worth — and trapped drivers on flooded roads around Long Island.
The staggering total was recorded Wednesday at an airport in the hamlet of Ronkonkoma (rahn-KAHN’-kuh-muh) in the town of Islip (EYE’-slip). Joe Pollina of the National Weather Service says the area’s normal total for June, July and August is 11.75 inches.
The Southern State Parkway was closed around Baldwin and about 20 miles east in Deer Park, where cars were stuck in a couple of feet of water.
WPIX says fire crews in boats rescued drivers in Nesconset (nehs-KAHN’-seht).
Central and eastern Long Island roads that were still open had bumper-to-bumper traffic Wednesday.
The rain started around 6 p.m. Tuesday. It tapered off Wednesday morning.
Vehicles are submerged on a flooded section of the Northern State Parkway, near Route 107, in Jericho, N.Y., on New York’s Long Island, Wednesday Aug. 13, 2014. Stranded Long Island drivers have been rescued after a storm slammed Islip, N.Y., with over 12 inches of rain — an entire summer’s worth. (AP Photo/Newsday, Howard Schnapp) NYC LOCALS OUT
VICE News travels to the Dominican Republic, site of a looming environmental and economic crisis many experts believe is the result of climate change.
Lake Enriquillo is the largest lake in the Caribbean — and for the past 10 years, it’s been getting larger. Having already doubled in area, the lake is destroying everything in its path and displacing local residents who are being forced to take extreme measures to survive.
The Lake That Burned Down A Forest (Part 1)
After seeing the devastation Lake Enriquillo’s massive growth has inflicted on the region, VICE News meets residents who have lost everything and finds out what they’re now doing in order to survive.
The Lake That Burned Down A Forest (Part 2)
VICE News heads into the hills near Lake Enriquillo to see how people whose livelihoods have been ruined by the lake’s unstoppable expansion are now surviving. What we find is that many have become involved with the black-market charcoal trade. As they cut down and burn trees to make the charcoal — labor-intensive work that isn’t very lucrative — they actually contribute to the climate change that probably led to the lake’s growth in the first place.
The Lake That Burned Down A Forest (Part 3)
In response to Lake Enriquillo’s rapid rise and expansion, a black-market charcoal trade has flourished, and Haiti is the Dominican Republic’s biggest customer. In part 4, VICE News heads to the Dominican Republic’s largest open-air market, on the border between the two countries, to witness this trade in action.
The Lake That Burned Down A Forest (Part 4)
As with all catastrophes it is the poorest nations that suffer the most.
Matthew Hancock called for cuts to wind power subsidies while Liz Truss claimed renewable power was damaging the economy.
Britain’s new minister for energy, business and enterprise, Matthew Hancock, at 10 Downing Street. Photograph: Suzanne Plunkett/Reuters
The new set of Conservative environment and energy ministers announced on Tuesday bring a track record of opposing renewable energy, having fought against wind and solar farms, enthusiastically backed fracking and argued that green subsidies damage the economy.
New energy minister, Matthew Hancock, signed a letter to David Cameron in 2012 demanding that subsidies for onshore windfarms were slashed. “I support renewable energy but we need to do it in a way that gives the most value for money and that does not destroy our natural environment,” he said at the time.
Hancock, who takes over from Michael Fallon, also opposed new turbines in his Suffolk constituency, arguing: “The visual and other impact of the proposed turbines is completely unacceptable in this attractive rural corner of Suffolk.”
New environment secretary and former Shell employee, Liz Truss, dismissed clean renewable energy as “extremely expensive” and said it was damaging the economy during an appearance on BBC Question Time last October.
“We do need to look at the green taxes because at the moment they are incentivising particular forms of energy that are extremely expensive,” she said. “I would like to see the rolling back of green taxes because it is wrong that we are implementing green taxes faster than other countries. We may be potentially exporting jobs out of the country as our energy is so expensive.”
In 2009, as deputy director of the free-market thinktank Reform, Truss said energy infrastructure in Britain was being damaged by politicians’ obsession with green technology: “Vast amounts of taxpayers’ money are being spent subsidising uneconomic activity,” she said. Research from the London School of Economics recently concluded that green policies were not harming economic growth. (more…)