Obama Affirms Support for Action on Climate Change

President Barack Obama is introduced as he enters the East Room of the White House for a new conference, Nov. 14, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Just one week since he secured a second term in the White House, President Obama signaled that addressing global climate change will be a priority in the coming four years, including promoting a national “education process” on the issue. Responding to a reporter’s question during his first press conference since March, Obama said that Hurricane Sandy fit a pattern of an “extraordinarily large number of severe weather events” in the U.S. and abroad.

“We can’t attribute any particular weather event to climate change. What we do know is the temperature around the globe is increasing, faster than was predicted even 10 years ago,” Obama said.

President Obama at Wednesday’s press conference, his first since March.

Obama is scheduled to tour storm damage in New York City on Thursday. In the wake of the storm, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg endorsed the President specifically because of his support for policies to tackle climate change.

Obama has rarely addressed climate science in public appearances, choosing to frame the climate issue as one of clean energy investment. The House passed comprehensive climate change legislation in 2009, but it never passed the Senate, and the White House did not make it a major priority at the time.

But at Wednesday’s press conference, and fresh off a resounding re-election, Obama indicated that he wants to move forward with a process to engage elected officials in discussions about addressing climate change, and promoting a national “education process” on this issue, calling such steps necessary to determine “what realistically we can do long-term.”

Obama reaffirmed his view that manmade emissions of greenhouse gases are contributing to global warming, and stated his intent to continue to take action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. “I am a firm believer that climate change is real, that it is impacted by human behavior and carbon emissions,” he said, noting that, “we have an obligation to future generations to do something about it.”

Obama listed his accomplishments in his first term, chief among them instituting stringent new fuel efficiency standards for cars and light trucks. However, he did not mention greenhouse gas regulations issued by the U.S. EPA, which would limit emissions from certain power plants. “We haven’t done as much as we need to,” Obama said.

The President was quick to note that obstacles remain and he said that it’s unclear where Democrats and Republicans stand on a more comprehensive plan.

Obama made it clear that any comprehensive climate change policy solution would need to fit into his agenda for job growth.

“If we can shape an agenda which says we can create jobs, advance growth and make a serious dent in climate change and be an international leader, I think that’s something the American people can support,” he said.

In recent weeks there have been rumors that lawmakers from both parties may be open to a carbon tax as part of a solution to the looming “fiscal cliff,” but Obama did not endorse that approach.

This article was republished with the permission of Climate Central.

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Andrew Freedman, Climate Central

Andrew Freedman is a senior science writer for Climate Central, focusing on coverage of extreme weather and climate change. Prior to working with Climate Central, Freedman was a reporter for Congressional Quarterly and Greenwire/E&E Daily. His work has also appeared in the Washington Post and online at The Weather Channel Interactive and washingtonpost.com, where he writes a weekly climate science column for the "Capital Weather Gang" blog. He holds a Masters in Climate and Society from Columbia University and a Masters in Law and Diplomacy from The Fletcher School at Tufts University.

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How Global Warming Made Hurricane Sandy Worse

Photo courtesy of Brian Birke

As officials begin the arduous task of pumping corrosive seawater out of New York City’s subway system and try to restore power to lower Manhattan, and residents of the New Jersey Shore begin to take stock of the destruction, experts and political leaders are asking what Hurricane Sandy had to do with climate change. After all, the storm struck a region that has been hit hard by several rare extreme weather events in recent years, from Hurricane Ireneto “Snowtober.”

Photo of coastal flooding along the New Jersey shore, taken from a New Jersey Air National Guard Helicopter.
Credit: NJNG/Scott Anema.

Scientists cannot yet answer the specific question of whether climate change made Hurricane Sandy more likely to occur, since such studies, known as detection and attribution research, take many months to complete. What is already clear, however, is that climate change very likely made Sandy’s impacts worse than they otherwise would have been.

There are three different ways climate change might have influenced Sandy: through the effects of sea level rise; through abnormally warm sea surface temperatures; and possibly through an unusual weather pattern that some scientists think bore the fingerprint of rapidly disappearing Arctic sea ice.

If this were a criminal case, detectives would be treating global warming as a likely accomplice in the crime.

Warmer, Higher Seas

Water temperatures off the East Coast were unusually warm this summer — so much so that New England fisheries officials observed significant shifts northward in cold water fish such as cod. Sea surface temperatures off the Carolinas and Mid-Atlantic remained warm into the fall, offering an ideal energy source for Hurricane Sandy as it moved northward from the Caribbean. Typically, hurricanes cannot survive so far north during late October, since they require waters in the mid to upper 80s Fahrenheit to thrive.

Scientists said about 1°F out of the 5°F East Coast water temperature anomaly may have been due to manmade global warming. Warmer seas provide more water vapor for storms to tap into; this water vapor can later be wrung out as heavy rainfall, resulting in flooding.

The most damaging aspect of the storm was the massive storm surge that struck the coastline from Massachusetts to Maryland. Global warming-related sea level rise gave the surge a higher launching pad than it would have had a century ago, making it more damaging than it otherwise would have been. This is only going to get worse as sea level rise continues as a result of warming ocean waters and melting polar ice caps and glaciers.

The storm surge at The Battery in Lower Manhattan was the highest ever recorded at that location. It surpassed even the most pessimistic forecasts, with the maximum water level reaching 13.88 feet above the average of the daily lowest low tide of the month, known as Mean Lower Low Water, including a storm surge component of 9.23 feet. That broke the official record of 10.5 feet above Mean Lower Low Water set in 1960 during Hurricane Donna, as well as a record set during a hurricane in 1821.

A water vapor satellite image of Superstorm Sandy on Tuesday, Oct. 30.
Click to enlarge the image.
Credit: Stu Ostro/Facebook.

Or, to put it in simpler terms, the water level reached 9.15 feet above the average high tide line.

Katharine Hayhoe, a climate researcher at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, said manmade climate change likely contributed to the storm surge at The Battery in Lower Manhattan, with 1 foot 3 inches of long-term sea level rise recorded at that location, the result of manmade sea level rise, sinking land, and ocean currents. She said the manmade contribution to the storm surge may have been a small amount.

But to the Metropolitan Transit Authority or Con Ed, the main electric utility in Manhattan, each inch of sea level rise matters a great deal.

If a similar storm were to strike New York in 2050, it would cause even more damage, since sea levels are expected to be considerably higher by midcentury. In fact, a recent study found that sea level rise has taken place at an accelerated rate at locations north of Norfolk, Va., and if this pace continues the Northeast could see much higher sea levels than other parts of the East Coast by midcentury.

2012 report by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) found that sea level rise has likely increased extreme coastal high water events around the world.

By warming the seas and the atmosphere, global warming is also expected to alter hurricane frequency and strength, making North Atlantic hurricanes slightly more powerful, while reducing the overall number of storms during coming decades. Detecting such changes in the observational record is difficult, considering the varying ways people have kept tabs on hurricanes prior to the era of hurricane hunter aircraft flights and satellite imagery?  A recent studypublished in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that warmer sea surface temperatures are tied to an increase in stronger Atlantic hurricanes.

“Blocked” Weather Pattern

In addition, an unusual weather pattern in the northern hemisphere steered the storm in an unprecedented direction, as it made a dramatic — and for many East Coast residents, catastrophic — left hook right into coastal New Jersey. The east to west movement, which is exactly the opposite of how weather systems normally move in this area, helped maximize the storm surge, since a strong easterly air flow struck the coast at a right angle.


Satellite loop from the University of Wisconsin, showing Hurricane Sandy as it made landfall in New Jersey.

The upper air flow over the Atlantic Ocean was temporarily jammed by a powerful area of high pressure near Greenland and a storm system in the Central Atlantic, leaving the storm no escape route away from the U.S. Such patterns are known as “blocking” events, and they have occurred with increasing regularity and intensity in recent years. Blocking patterns have been linked to several noteworthy extreme weather events, such as the deadly 2010 Russian heat wave and Pakistan floods, the 2003 European heat wave, and the March heat wave of 2012 in the U.S.

In this case, the blocking pattern, occurred at precisely the wrong time — when a hurricane was moving out of the Caribbean.

Weather Channel hurricane expert Bryan Norcross wrote about this on Oct. 26. “The freak part is that a hurricane happens to be in the right place in the world to get sucked into this doubled-back channel of air and pulled inland from the coast,” he said. “And the double-freak part is that the upper-level wind, instead of weakening the storm and simply absorbing the moisture — which would be annoying enough — is merging with the tropical system to create a monstrous hybrid vortex. A combination of a hurricane and a nor’easter.”

Some, though not all, scientists think the more frequent blocking events be related to the loss of Arctic sea ice, which is one of the most visible consequences of manmade global warming. The 2012 sea ice melt season, which ended just one month ago, was extreme, with sea ice extent, volume, and other measures all hitting record lows. The loss of sea ice opens large expanses of open water, which then absorbs more of the incoming solar energy and adds heat and moisture to the atmosphere, thereby helping to alter weather patterns. Exactly how sub-Arctic weather patterns are changing as a result, however, is a subject of active research.

Some researchers who warn that climate change is already being felt in extreme weather events, such as Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., are not yet convinced of the Arctic connection. Others, such as Hayhoe, think it is a “plausible theory” that is worth investigating, although she noted there is evidence that Arctic warming may cause more blocking during the winter rather than during the fall.

James Overland, a scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration who recently published a study on how Arctic sea ice loss is altering the weather in the Far North, said it’s not clear whether Hurricane Sandy was just a freak event or a sign of things to come. “What was highly unusual to me was the slowing down of the jet stream that normally turns hurricanes out to sea, allowing Sandy to directly [make] landfall,” he said in an email conversation. Yet, he said it’s important to recognize that there is still a huge role played by randomness, or chaos, in global weather patterns. “Having looked at a lot of weather maps, I don’t think it’s entirely legitimate to make a big possibility for an Arctic connection with Sandy rather than the chaos default,” he said.

And while climate change has undoubtedly altered the background conditions in which all weather systems are born, scientists said that natural variability still plays a very large role, and may have been the dominant factor with Hurricane Sandy.

Martin Hoerling, a researcher at the Earth Systems Research Laboratory, also in Boulder, is a proponent of this view. “Great events, like this meteorological one, can happen with little cause(s). Individually, neither the tropical storm nor the extratropical storm that embraced it, were unusual,” he said via email. “What makes this a rare, perhaps once in a lifetime event, is the fortuity of their timely (“untimely” as far as most are concerned who sit in harms way) intersection.” Randall M. Dole, who is a colleague of Hoerling’s at ESRL, noted that the blocking pattern that helped steer Sandy was “highly transient,” which suggests to him that it was just “random bad luck” that it coincided with a hurricane along the East Coast.

Regardless of the chain of events that led to this disaster, Hurricane Sandy is almost certain to wind up being one of the top 10 costliest hurricanes on record, and it comes soon after Munich Re, a global insurance giant, warned of increasing natural disaster losses in the U.S., a trend the company said is related to global climate change.

And regardless of unequivocal linkages between this particular storm and manmade climate change, questions related to future human-caused changes — how they will make this type of event more likely and destructive, through a combination of sea level rise, extreme weather trends, and vulnerability of coastal populations and infrastructure, deserve to be asked and may be much easier to answer.

This article was republished with the permission of Climate Central.

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Andrew Freedman, Climate Central

Andrew Freedman is a senior science writer for Climate Central, focusing on coverage of extreme weather and climate change. Prior to working with Climate Central, Freedman was a reporter for Congressional Quarterly and Greenwire/E&E Daily. His work has also appeared in the Washington Post and online at The Weather Channel Interactive and washingtonpost.com, where he writes a weekly climate science column for the "Capital Weather Gang" blog. He holds a Masters in Climate and Society from Columbia University and a Masters in Law and Diplomacy from The Fletcher School at Tufts University.

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Globe Records Fourth Warmest August as Arctic Ice Melts

Map showing global land and ocean surface temperature departures from average during August 2012. Image courtesy of NOAA/NCDC.

August was the fourth warmest such month on record worldwide, marking the 330th straight month with a global temperature above the 20th century average, according to a report released Monday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). In other words, the last time the globe saw a below average month, Ronald Reagan was just entering his second term in office. The last below average August occurred even further back in time, in 1976, when Gerald Ford was serving as U.S. President.

Map showing global land and ocean surface temperature departures from average during August 2012. Click on the image for a larger version.
Credit: NOAA/NCDC.

Warmer than average temperatures occurred in the northeastern U.S., eastern Canada, southern Greenland, central and southern Europe, Japan, and western Australia, among other locations. Siberia lived up to its reputation by being the main region that was cooler than average during the period.

The combined global average land and ocean temperature for August was 61.22°F, or 1.12°F above the 20th century average. The global land temperature alone tied with 2001 and 2011 as the second-warmest August on record. Ocean temperatures tied with 2006 as the fifth warmest on record, and a warming trend in the central and eastern equatorial Pacific signals a coming El Nino event, NOAA’s National Climatic Data Centerstated. El Niño conditions are likely to be declared sometime during September, and such events often boost global average temperatures — making another record warmest year more likely.

August saw a record decline in Arctic sea ice, with the ice cover reaching the record smallest daily extent on August 26, a level that had been previously set on September 18, 2007. The official 2012 sea ice minimum is likely to be announced during the next several days. Sea ice extent during August averaged just 1.82 million square miles, which, at nearly 40 percent below the 1979 to 2000 average, was the all-time lowest August sea ice extent on record.

During August, the Arctic lost an average of 35,400 square miles of ice per day, NOAA reported, which was the fastest rate ever observed for the month. That is the equivalent of losing an area of ice equal to the state of Maine every day for 31 days.

By the end of the month, sea ice extent had dropped below 1.4 million square miles, much below the 2007 record level of 1.61 million square miles, NOAA stated. The six lowest sea ice extents have all occurred in the past six years, a sign of the rapid disappearance of summer sea ice in the Far North, a development that may have far-reaching implications for weather patterns in the northern hemisphere in particular.

Meanwhile, Antarctic sea ice during August ranked as the fourth-largest August extent on record there. The disparity between sea ice around the South and North Poles was anticipated by global climate models, and is consistent with projections based on manmade global warming.

The year-to-date is running warmer than average, but not record warm, as the first eight months of 2012 tied with 2006 as the ninth warmest such period on record. If Pacific Ocean temperatures continue to warm in response to the growing El Niño, then the year may end up warmer than temperatures so far would suggest.

For the U.S., though, the year to date has been the warmest such period on record, following the third-warmest summer and warmest spring since records began in 1895.

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Andrew Freedman, Climate Central

Andrew Freedman is a senior science writer for Climate Central, focusing on coverage of extreme weather and climate change. Prior to working with Climate Central, Freedman was a reporter for Congressional Quarterly and Greenwire/E&E Daily. His work has also appeared in the Washington Post and online at The Weather Channel Interactive and washingtonpost.com, where he writes a weekly climate science column for the "Capital Weather Gang" blog. He holds a Masters in Climate and Society from Columbia University and a Masters in Law and Diplomacy from The Fletcher School at Tufts University.

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Tar Balls Hit the Beaches This Summer

Photo courtesy of NOAA's National Ocean Service

Two years after the worst oil spill in history, tar balls and dead fish are still washing up on the shores of Louisiana and all along the Gulf coast. Environmentalist, scientists and local fisherman all over the Gulf coast are warning that the disaster is far from over. Fisherman say there are getting less shrimp now since the oil spill. Chemical dispersants, used to help dissipate the oil on the water, were sprayed directly into the ocean and many believe it is dangerous to the ecosystem as well.

This article republished courtesy of Climate Central.

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Fusion Energy: Climate-Friendly and Infinite… Someday

Walk the halls of the Princeton, N.J., Plasma Physics Laboratory in the middle of the workday, and two things leap to mind. The first is that they must do some pretty hard-core science here. The lab has plenty of conventional-looking offices, but every so often you come across a room that makes you stop and wonder. One has a huge stainless-steel cylinder the size of a mid-size car, mounted on a concrete pedestal, with what looks like a thousand pipes and cables and wires plugged into it. Another hosts a control room that wouldn’t look out of place on the Starship Enterprise, with banks of computers facing an enormous glowing screen that displays schematics of complex machinery. Still another, as big as a high-school gym and lined with massive concrete blocks, is littered with what look like the pieces of a space ship, waiting for final assembly.

Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory. Credit: Mike Lemoncik.

The other thing you notice is that the place seems almost deserted.

And that pretty much sums up the state of fusion energy research in the U.S. For more than 60 years, this installation, located a few miles from Princeton University’s main campus, has been trying to tame nuclear fusion, the same process that powers the sun and the H-bomb.

If scientists could control fusion, the world would gain access to virtually unlimited amounts of energy, using a fuel extracted from plain seawater, with no risk of meltdowns, essentially no problem with radioactive waste, no danger of nuclear weapons proliferation — and, perhaps most important these days — no greenhouse gas emissions, whatever. The only exhaust from a fusion-energy plant would be inert, harmless, party-balloon-friendly helium. If fusion could truly be controlled and put to work generating electricity, the world’s energy and climate problems would be over in a single stroke.

The only problem is with the “if” part. The basic premise behind fusion, as the late Princeton astrophysicist and lab founder Lyman Spitzer knew well, is utterly simple. The nuclei of hydrogen atoms are highly resistant to being squeezed together, but if you can force them to merge, they release terrific amounts of energy — far more than you get from splitting uranium, which is what happens in a conventional nuclear reactor.

In the cores of stars, including the sun, gravity is so crushingly strong that it forces hydrogen nuclei together with ease. In a hydrogen bomb, the forcing comes from an updated version of the atomic bombs that came out of World War II’s Manhattan Project. Every H-bomb is thus really two atomic weapons in one.

Credit: Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory.

All Spitzer had to do was figure out a way to keep hydrogen gas simmering at tens of millions of degrees while confined inside a reactor for long enough to get a fusion reaction going. And, said current lab director Steward Prager during a recent visit, “people didn’t realize how hard it would be. Or,” he corrected himself, “they half realized. But they thought the physics would be easier. It turns out we needed to work out all sorts of new physics.”

That’s one reason for the dig frequently aimed at researchers: “Fifty years ago, viable fusion power was 50 years in the future — and it still is.” But another key reason for those overly rosy early scenarios was that Spitzer and other fusion pioneers imagined they’d get a reasonable level of funding, given the potential importance of what they were trying to do. “It never came,” Prager said. At its peak in 1983, the lab’s budget was $135 million, far less than that of other Department of Energy facilities. And it’s been downhill from there.

This isn’t to say the lab has been without successes. Back in 1993, the gas in a test reactor reached 100 million degrees; for four seconds or so, the hottest place in the solar system was not the center of the sun, but a few cubic yards located in Plainsboro, N.J.

But while fusion actually happened during that four-second window, the energy it took to get the reaction going was eight times more than the power that came out. And while experiments have also been done in England, Japan, South Korea and a few other countries, no one has yet reached so-called “breakeven,” where a reactor generates net power.

ITER is based on the 'tokamak' concept of magnetic confinement. The fuel, a mixture of deuterium and tritium, two isotopes of hydrogen, is heated to temperatures in excess of 150 million°C. Credit: ITER

The best bet for that milestone lies with a machine calledITER (for International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor), now under construction in southern France. The 100-foot-tall, 23,000-ton device is a joint project of China, the European Union, India, Japan, South Korea, Russia and the U.S., and will begin generating energy sometime in the late 2020’s.

It will, that is, if all goes well. The truth is that fusion still has some major problems that will have to be solved for ITER, and for any commercial-scale machine that follows. For one thing, the fusion reaction sends neutrons slamming into the reactor walls, making conventional materials such as steel brittle. Engineers have to find something better, and they haven’t done it yet. “Right now,” said Michael Zarnstorff, the Princeton lab’s deputy director for research, “we’re thinking tungsten. But we don’t know yet that it’s good enough.” Another issue is that the superheated gas inside the reactor (it’s known as a plasma, which explains the lab’s name) tends to be unstable. Keeping it under control for more than short time is very difficult.

That’s why the Princeton lab and its international counterparts are working in parallel with the ITER project, trying to solve these and other difficulties before the reactor itself is built. One of them, known as the National Spherical Torus Experiment, could lead scientists to follw ITER with an more powerful but smaller and more efficient design. Another test device, known as the National Compact Stellerator Experiment, was axed in 2008 after $100 million had already been spent. It’s the unassembled pieces of that machine that litter the gym-size, concrete-lined room.

Inertial Fusion Energy. Credit: Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

That cancellation, along with several rounds of budget cutting and downsizing, have left the Princeton lab with 434 employees, down from nearly 1,300 in 1983. “Over the past five years,” Prager said, “the big experiments have been either in Asia or Europe. The rest of the world has pushed forward with $5 billion class facilities.” The U.S., he implied, is falling behind.

The only exception is with an entirely different fusion concept known as inertial confinement fusion, in which scores of powerful lasers blast a tiny pellet of fuel, heating and compressing it until a fusion reaction begins. “It’s a promising, exciting approach,” Zarnstorff said. “I used to work on it. But they have a whole series of challenges, too.” The big advantage: since powerful lasers have defense applications, the funding situation isn’t so dire.

But most of the world has voted for the kind of fusion the Princeton lab is working on, and if a long list of technical, bureaucratic, and funding hurdles don’t get in the way, Prager said, “most folks think that what we call a full-scale demonstration reactor” — the size of a commercial reactor, but not designed to actually send electricity to the grid — “could be built in about 25 years.”

That’s a lot better than 50, and while it would take considerable time after that to make a dent in the world’s electricity demand, it’s possible, at least, that by the end of this century, fusion power could be a big part of the fight against climate change. But it’s also far enough in the future — and still uncertain enough — that the world will have find ways to cut back on fossil-fuel burning drastically in the meantime.

This article republished courtesy of Climate Central.

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Michael D. Lemonick, Climate Central

Mr. Lemonick covered science and the environment for TIME magazine for nearly 21 years, where he wrote more than 50 cover stories, and has also written for Discover, Scientific American, Wired, New Scientist and The Washington Post. Lemonick is the author of four books, and a cover story for TIME was featured in the anthology “Best American Science and Nature Writing 2007.” He has taught science and environmental journalism at Princeton, Columbia, Johns Hopkins and New York Universities. He holds a Master of Science in Journalism from Columbia University.

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Will Our Luck Run Out? Major Hurricane Gap in U.S.

The Houston Astrodome served as the temporary home for thousands of individuals diaplced by Hurrican Katrina in 2005.

When the 2012 North Atlantic hurricane season starts on June 1, the U.S. will have gone a record 2,412 days since the last major hurricane — with sustained winds of 111 mph or greater —  struck these shores. The last storm to strike with such fury was Hurricane Wilma, which made landfall in Southwest Florida in October 2005.

Will our luck run out this year? If it does, it’s not likely to be pretty. After all, a lot has changed since 2005. For one thing, there are now more people, with more property, living and working in vulnerable coastal areas than there were seven years ago. The population of Florida alone grew by 17 percent between 2000 and 2010, with about a million people added since 2005, according to U.S. Census data. And the U.S. economy is also a lot shakier, and less capable of absorbing the shock from a devastating natural disaster.

Chart created by U. Colorado researcher Roger Pielke Jr., showing the record gap between landfall dates of major hurricanes in the U.S. Click on image for larger version.

But why has the country been so lucky, and what does this major hurricane drought suggest about the upcoming hurricane season, which is off to an unusually active start?

According to hurricane researchers, the spell of relative calm between major hurricanes is mainly due to the random variability that is inherent in the weather and climate. Historical records of landfalling storms in the U.S. show no clear, statistically significant trend over time, despite changes to the environment in which hurricanes are forming, such as global warming.

Once they form over the warm waters of the North Atlantic Basin, hurricanes are steered by both internal dynamics and the weather systems that surround them. Large-scale climate features, like the so-called “Bermuda High” that sprawls out across the Central North Atlantic during the summer, also help determine whether a hurricane will churn westward toward the U.S. coast, or curve harmlessly out to sea.

The clockwise flow of air around that High helps steer Atlantic hurricanes west towards the Caribbean, and then bends them northwest, and eventually northward. Where that turn takes place is crucial for determining a storm’s eventual path. A storm that curves very late is more likely to make landfall in the U.S. than one that turns earlier and farther offshore.

Hurricane tracks during the 2010 season. Colors indicate intensity, with orange colors corresponding to major hurricane intensity. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

The 2010 hurricane season is a great example of how large-scale climate factors can work in the country’s favor. Typically, about 25 percent of the total number of hurricanes that form in the North Atlantic Basin make landfall in the U.S., but in 2010, the five major hurricanes that formed took one look at the U.S. mainland and sped off in another direction. So did the other seven weaker hurricanes that season.

A study published last year in the journal Geophysical Research Letters shed some light on why the U.S. went unscathed in 2010. According to a research team led by Chunzai Wang of NOAA, the area of warm water that typically supports hurricane development was unusually broad that year, about twice its typical size. This helped spark tropical storms and hurricanes farther east than they typically form, making it harder to reach the country without being deflected by a weather system first.

The broad expanse of warm water that year also nudged the Bermuda High out of its normal position in the Central Atlantic, like a soccer goalie drawn away from the net, and this helped change the steering currents in the upper atmosphere. As a result, there was a predominantly offshore flow of air along the East Coast in 2010, which acted as a roadblock to any hurricane that dare approach the area.

Of course, the U.S. hasn’t avoided every tropical storm or hurricane since 2005, just the most powerful ones. It doesn’t take a major hurricane to cause a lot of death and destruction. Hurricane Ike, a strong Category 2 storm, laid waste to the Texas coastline near Galveston in 2008, for example.

And last year, Hurricane Irene caused at least 45 deaths and more than $7.8 billion in damage. And it was only a tropical storm when it passed over Manhattan and headed up the Connecticut River Valley. But what Irene lacked in wind speed, she made up for in rainfall rates, causing deadly flooding in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast.

Irene proved that there “really is no such thing as a weak hurricane,” said outgoing National Hurricane Center director Bill Read.

Nearby countries have been hit hard in recent years as well. “While the U.S. has been spared, the same cannot be said for Belize, Mexico, Nicaragua, Cuba, etc.,” said Brian McNoldy, a senior research associate at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science.

As the Climate Warms, Where Will the Hurricanes Go?

The question of how climate change may alter hurricane tracks looms large over any discussion of the seven-year major hurricane drought. Studies have shown that a combination of natural climate variability and global warming have warmed sea surface temperatures in the North Atlantic, which should affect hurricane activity, and there is evidence that climate change is altering the jet stream in the Northern Hemisphere, which may affect storm tracks.

While the scientific community has come to a consensus that with global warming, North Atlantic hurricanes are likely to become somewhat stronger, wetter and less frequent. But there is very little evidence that storm tracks have already shifted, or even whether they are going to change in appreciable ways.

Tom Knutson, who works at NOAA’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory in Princeton, N.J., said that there is a large amount of variability in the historical record of landfalling storms.

Kerry Emanuel, a meteorology professor at MIT, said the seven-year gap between major hurricanes in the U.S. is most likely just due to chance. “Seven years is simply far too short to see global warming signals in U.S. landfalling hurricane statistics of any kind,” he said via email.

Emanuel said simulations using sophisticated computer models show that as the climate warms there may be a northeastward shift in the locations where hurricanes tend to form, but he cautioned that there is a great deal of uncertainty in such findings. “This is consistent with a generally greater frequency of landfalls in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast, and a diminution in the western Gulf [of Mexico]. But there is a great deal of variation from one model to the next . . . ,” he said.

According to NOAA’s 2012 Atlantic hurricane outlook, released May 24, the upcoming hurricane season is likely to feature “near normal” levels of storm activity, with a 70 percent chance of having nine to 15 named storms, of which one to three of them will become major hurricanes. It’s not yet clear how the major steering currents will set up this year, so where most of the storms will go is anybody’s guess.

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Andrew Freedman, Climate Central

Andrew Freedman is a senior science writer for Climate Central, focusing on coverage of extreme weather and climate change. Prior to working with Climate Central, Freedman was a reporter for Congressional Quarterly and Greenwire/E&E Daily. His work has also appeared in the Washington Post and online at The Weather Channel Interactive and washingtonpost.com, where he writes a weekly climate science column for the "Capital Weather Gang" blog. He holds a Masters in Climate and Society from Columbia University and a Masters in Law and Diplomacy from The Fletcher School at Tufts University.

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Storms Ahead: Outlook for 2012 Hurricane Season

Photo courtesy of NASA'a Marshall Flight Space Center

The 2012 hurricane season, which has already gotten off to an early start, is likely to feature “near-normal” storm activity, government officials said on Thursday. The hurricane season outlook from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) calls for a 70 percent chance that there will be between nine to 15 named storms with winds of 39 mph or higher, of which four to eight will strengthen to a hurricane with top winds of 74 mph or higher.

Of those hurricanes, the NOAA is forecasting one to three of them will become a major hurricane, with maximum sustained winds of 111 mph or higher.

Based on the period 1981-2010, an average season produces 12 named storms with six hurricanes, including three major hurricanes. A major hurricane of Category 3 intensity or greater has not struck the U.S. since 2005’s Wilmamade landfall in Florida, a record gap for the U.S., which suggests that luck may run out sooner rather than later.

Forecasters cautioned that the outlook of a near-normal season does not mean that it will be a less costly one in terms of lives lost and property destroyed.

“That’s still a lot of activity . . . just because we’re predicting a near normal season doesn’t mean anybody’s off the hook,” said Gerry Bell, NOAA’s lead seasonal hurricane forecaster.

NOAA officials reminded reporters of a hurricane season 20 years ago that was below average in terms of overall storm activity, but it took just one storm — Category 5 Hurricane Andrew, which tore across southern Florida — to make it a historically deadly and damaging season.

Bill Read, the outgoing head of the National Hurricane Center in Miami told reporters that Hurricane Irene serves as a reminder that hurricanes are not just a concern for coastal residents. Much of that storm’s damage took place due to inland flooding in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast. “This is not the first time that Mother Nature has taught us this lesson.”

The 2012 hurricane season doesn’t officially start until June 1, but there has already been one tropical storm, Alberto, a compact storm that meandered off the coast of South Carolina in mid-May before dissipating.

The hurricane outlook reflects competing factors. Although the North Atlantic is still in an active hurricane phase that began in 1995 — 12 of the past 17 seasons have been above normal — there is a possibility that conditions will become less favorable for tropical storms and hurricanes to develop later in the season due to the projected development of El Nino conditions in the Pacific Ocean.

El Nino events tend to increase winds in the upper atmosphere over the Atlantic, and these winds can tear apart nascent storms.

This year, forecasters will enter the season with two new assets at their disposal, both of them the result of applying military technology for civilian purposes. NASA and NOAA are collaborating on a project to fly two Global Hawk aerial drones into and above Atlantic storms to observe them, and NOAA is also planning to steer small robotic boats into the heart of the powerful storms in order to get observations from areas that are too dangerous for people to venture.

Frank Marks, the director of NOAA’s Hurricane Research Division, said the drones have instruments that are similar to NOAA’s famous manned “hurricane hunter” aircraft, but it’s not yet clear how beneficial they will be for improving forecast accuracy.

NOAA’s seasonal outlook is similar to those issued by private forecasting firms and university researchers, with an emerging consensus that this is not likely to be a blockbuster season in terms of the number of storms. But much depends on where any storms make landfall.

This article republished courtesy of Climate Central.

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Andrew Freedman, Climate Central

Andrew Freedman is a senior science writer for Climate Central, focusing on coverage of extreme weather and climate change. Prior to working with Climate Central, Freedman was a reporter for Congressional Quarterly and Greenwire/E&E Daily. His work has also appeared in the Washington Post and online at The Weather Channel Interactive and washingtonpost.com, where he writes a weekly climate science column for the "Capital Weather Gang" blog. He holds a Masters in Climate and Society from Columbia University and a Masters in Law and Diplomacy from The Fletcher School at Tufts University.

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2010 Officially Ties for Warmest Year on Record

The race is over and the results are in: 2010 tied with 2005 for the title of the warmest year on record, according to separate reports by NOAA and NASA today.

According to NASA, 2010 and 2005 differed by less than 0.018°F — an amount smaller than the actual uncertainty in comparing the temperatures, putting them into a statistical tie. The NOAA analysis by the agency’s National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) found 2010 to be approximately 1.12°F above the 20th century average, whereas the NASA analysis found 2010 approximately 1.34°F warmer than the average global surface temperature from 1951 to 1980. Although they track the same variable — average global surface temperatures — the two agencies use different methodologies.

Global surface temperature records began in 1880, and 2010 marks the 34th consecutive year with global temperatures above the 20th century average, and is consistent with the long-term warming trend inked, in part, to burning fossil fuels. The last year with temperatures below the 20th century average occurred in 1976, NOAA reported.

“The climate is continuing to show the influence of greenhouse gases,” said David Easterling, chief of the Scientific Services Division at NCDC.

Surface temperature departures from average during 2010. Credit: NOAA.

In the new NASA analysis, the next warmest years are 1998, 2002, 2003, 2006 and 2007, which are statistically tied for third-warmest year. “If the warming trend continues, as is expected, if greenhouse gases continue to increase, the 2010 record will not stand for long,” said James Hansen, the director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

Taken separately, the global land surface temperatures for 2010 were tied with 2005 for the second-warmest on record at 1.73°F above the 20th century average, while global ocean surface temperatures for 2010 tied with 2005 as the third-warmest on record, at 0.88°F above the 20th century average. Also, according to the Global Historical Climatology Network, 2010 was also the wettest year on record.

As for the U.S., 2010 marked the 14th consecutive year with an average annual temperature above the long-term average in the lower 48. Since 1895, the temperature across the nation has increased at an average rate of roughly 0.12°F per decade. Overall, the lower 48 recorded its 23rd warmest year on record in 2010.

Notable Extreme Events

The year will long be remembered for a number of extreme weather and climate events. A natural climate phenomenon known as the Arctic Oscillation, or AO, led to an unusual jet stream setup in January and February 2010 that helped push cold Arctic air into much of the Northern Hemisphere. Record cold temperatures and heavy accumulations of snow blanketed much of the eastern seaboard as well as Europe. The February AO index saw the largest negative anomaly since records began in 1950.

La Niña conditions took hold by the end of 2010, marked by a broad area of below average sea surface temperatures, as seen in this NASA image from December.

From mid-June to mid-August, a strong upper air pattern (five to six miles up) shifted north of western Russia and then bent south into Pakistan. The jet stream stayed locked in this pattern for weeks and helped usher in an unprecedented two-month heat wave to Russia. It also contributed to devastating monsoonal floods in Pakistan at the end of July.

The year also featured a split between a period with El Niño conditions, which features abnormally warm sea surface temperatures in the tropical Pacific Ocean, and La Niña conditions, when cooler than average water temperatures can be found in the central and eastern equatorial Pacific. These two phases are part of a broader climate cycle known as the El Niño-Southern Oscillation, or ENSO, and can affect weather patterns worldwide.

By July 2010, the ongoing El Niño that had begun the year had fully transitioned into La Niña, which may have also contributed to the flooding in Pakistan. By November, the La Niña was moderate to strong and helped to simultaneously bring drier conditions across the U.S. Southwest and extremely wet conditions to Australia. Significant flooding in Queensland continued into early 2011.

La Niña tends to make it less likely that a record warm year will occur. “Based on history, La Niña tends to depress global temperatures slightly below the trend,” Easterling said. However, this year its presence was insufficient to knock 2010 out of record territory.

This article was republished with the permission of Climate Central. Andrew Freedman contributed reporting to this story.

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Heidi Cullen, Climate Central

In addition to her responsibilities as interim CEO and Director of Communications, Dr. Heidi Cullen serves as a research scientist and correspondent for Climate Central. Dr. Cullen currently reports on climate for PBS NewsHour, Time.com and The Weather Channel. Before joining Climate Central, Dr. Cullen served as The Weather Channel’s first on-air climate expert and helped create Forecast Earth, the first weekly television series to focus on issues related to climate change and the environment. Prior to that Dr. Cullen worked as a research scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, CO. She received the NOAA Climate & Global Change Fellowship and spent two years at Columbia University’s International Research Institute for Climate and Society working to apply long-range climate forecasts to the water resources sector in Brazil and Paraguay. She is a member of the American Geophysical Union, the American Meteorological Society and is an Associate Editor of the journal Weather, Climate, Society. Dr. Cullen also serves as a member of the NOAA Science Advisory Board. In 2008, Dr. Cullen was awarded the National Conservationist Award for Science by the National Wildlife Federation (NWF). She received a bachelor's degree in engineering/operations research from Columbia University and went on to receive a doctorate in climatology and ocean-atmosphere dynamics at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University.

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Top 10 Climate Events of 2010

It’s been quite a year for climate-watchers. To start with, although the official numbers for all of 2010 won’t be in until early next month, global average surface temperatures so far have been at record high levels, in keeping with the recent warming trend that scientists say has very likely been caused in large part by human emissions of heat-trapping gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2).

This year also featured plenty of extreme events, from crippling snowstorms in the American Northeast to blazing heat and deadly flooding in Pakistan. Many of these events have already been at least partially linked to natural variations that occur in the Earth’s climate system. These kinds of climate oscillations, like El Niño, La Niña, and the North Atlantic Oscillation, influence weather patterns around the globe, and in 2010 all three of these were in action. It is also sometimes possible to attribute extreme events, like some of those in 2010, to long-term global climate change, but this usually takes a few years of scientific analysis.

Climate Central’s scientists, working in consultation with outside experts, have compiled our first annual “Top 10 Climate Events” list based on the events that had the greatest impacts, and which stood out most in the historical record. Here they are, in chronological order:

1. Mid-Atlantic Cities Break All-Time Snowfall Records

The year got off to a snowy start in the eastern U.S., with record-breaking storms along the Mid-Atlantic coast. The Nor’easter that struck in the first week of February — which quickly became known as “Snowmageddon” – dumped so much snow that it helped Baltimore, Wilmington, Philadelphia, Atlantic City and Washington break all-time records for winter snow totals. For example, Washington’s Reagan National Airport received 56.1 inches of snow during the 2009-10 winter, compared to the average total of just 15.2 inches!

Statistically, each of the storm systems that passed through the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast in early 2010 was quite rare. According to the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC), for example, Philadelphia should expect a 22-inch or greater snowfall only once every 100 years. Yet the winter of 2009-2010 saw two storms of that magnitude.

Of course, big snowstorms also make people wonder what ever happened to global warming. The short answer is that it didn’t go anywhere, and in fact there is some evidence that warmer global temperatures can lead to heavier precipitation events, including heavy snowfalls. In a warmer world more water evaporates from the oceans and then can fuel more intense precipitation. However, the main contributor to last winter’s extreme snowstorms was a natural climate pattern known as the North Atlantic Oscillation, or NAO, which influences winter weather in parts of the northern hemisphere.

Typically, low pressure dominates over the Arctic, and high pressure across the mid-latitudes. This pressure difference generates winds that tend to confine extremely cold air to the Arctic. But sometimes these two pressure systems weaken, decreasing the difference between the Arctic and mid-latitudes and allowing chilly Arctic air to slide south. This pattern is called a negative-NAO. When the NAO is negative, as it was to an unusually significant and prolonged degree last winter, the odds of a major snowstorm in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast increase.

2. Flooding in Nashville, Tennessee

Spring typically brings rain showers to much of the U.S., but in 2010 excessive rainfall caused a number of serious floods in the Southeast, the worst of which occurred in Tennessee. On May 1, rain began falling heavily in the middle and western regions of the state. Within 48 hours, between 13 and 19 inches of rainhad fallen, and many rivers overflowed. When the deluge finally let up two days later, large areas had been engulfed by floodwaters. At least 33 people died in the Tennessee floods, and the Nashville Planning Department says the state’s capital suffered $1.9 billion in damages — including damage to the iconicGrande Ole Opry Theatre.

Similar but less intense floods also occurred in Oklahoma City and rural Arkansas in early June, but the kind of rainfall that caused the Tennessee floods was so rare that it qualifies as one of the most remarkable climate events of the year.

According to the National Weather Service, the early May storm was a 1 in 1000-year event, which means that in any given year, there is a 0.1 percent chance that it might occur.

3. Record-breaking Heat Waves and Droughts in Africa and the Middle East

In June 2010, a scorching heat wave in Africa and the Middle East broke a number of all-time temperature records in the region. In fact, between May and June, seven countries broke their previous high temperature records: Pakistan, Myanmar (Burma), Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Chad, Niger and Kuwait. On June 15, Kuwait posted its hottest-ever temperature when the mercury rose to 126.7°F in the city of Abdaly.

The incredible heat did more than just shatter temperature records. In Saudi Arabia, a sandstorm that accompanied the extreme heat led to a number of power-outages in parts of the country. In Pakistan, temperatures climbed as high as 128.3°F, the highest temperature ever recorded in the continent of Asia, according to Weather Underground.

4. Russian Heat Wave

Another region struck by intense heat during the summer of 2010 was western Russia, and Moscow in particular. On June 29, the mercury rose above 100°F in Moscow for the first time on record, and such abnormally high temperatures lasted for well over a month. According to Weather Underground meteorologist Jeff Masters, Moscow experienced 26 consecutive days with temperatures above 86°F this summer and then, on August 6, records broke again when Moscow hit 102°F. Elsewhere in Russia, temperatures climbed as high at 111°F, the highest temperature ever recorded in that country (not including the former Soviet Republics).

A Climate Central analysis put the high average temperature in Moscow in the 2010 summer (during June, July and August) in the context of the city’s long-term climate record using data since 1950. The analysis showed just how exceptional this past summer was in Russia.

This image shows that the average temperature in Moscow for the summer of 2010 (the months of June, July and August) was significantly hotter than any year since 1950. Credit: Climate Central

The persistent heat wave had a devastating impact on the country. Wildfires spread across western portions of Russia, and the combination of smoky air and unusually warm weather led to at least 10,000 deaths in Moscow alone. Authorities estimate that during some stretches in early August, as many as 700 people were dying each day. Furthermore, the intense heat damaged wheat crops, leading the Russian government to halt exports of that valuable food staple, causing price spikes in global grain markets.

Scientists are investigating the Russian heat wave to try to determine if global climate change was partly to blame. A 2005 study showed that longer-term climate change made similar extreme events more likely, including the deadly 2003 European heat wave, but there aren’t yet any conclusions on the connection between global warming and the 2010 Russian heat wave.

5. U.S. Summer Heat Waves

The United States was not spared from the year’s record heat events. Across the East, the summer was marked by several episodes of extreme heat and humidity. Delaware, New Jersey and North Carolina experienced their warmest June on record, as did several cities, including New York, Washington, and Philadelphia.

On July 6 and 7, an intense heat wave struck the Northeast, from Maine down to Pennsylvania. Parts of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut were hit with temperatures above 100°F. Overall, the month of July was the hottest on record in Rhode Island and Delaware and it ranked amongst the 10th warmest for each state along the East Coast.

August was another scorcher in the U.S.. According to NCDC, which is part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), hundreds of cities broke their daily maximum temperature records. In fact, August was the eighth consecutive month with above average temperatures in the Northeast. The Southeast also felt the late summer heat, with 20 locations reporting their warmest-ever month of August. Among them: Gainesville, Fla., Columbus, Ga., Greenville, S.C. and Charleston, S.C..

Even though the West Coast didn’t experience the same intense heat through the summer – and in fact wasin some cases quite chilly – the period of June to August 2010 was the fourth warmest on record for the entire country.

6. Pakistan Monsoon and Flooding

The monsoon season was particularly cruel in Pakistan. In late July, unrelenting torrential rains battered the eastern part of the country, triggering severe flooding. Within just four days after the rains began, the Associated Press reported nearly a thousand people had been killed. The floods continued well into September. According to the United Nations, floodwaters drove millions of people from their homes and affected a total of 20 million people. In addition to destroying homes and livelihoods, the flooding caused extensive damage to Pakistan’s infrastructure, including power plants and thousands of miles of roads, railways, and public buildings. Labeled as the worst natural disaster in Pakistan’s history, the death toll has reached nearly 2,000.

The Asian Monsoon happens every year when cool humid air from over the Indian and Pacific Oceans washes over the land, warms and then rises, cools and condenses, causing the moisture in the air to fall as heavy rains. But in 2010, the presence of La Niña in the Pacific may have intensified the process. During La Niña years, the waters in the Western Pacific are warmer than average, and the air above the ocean is more humid. This especially humid air may have increased the amount of rain that pounded Pakistan.

7. Third Lowest Arctic Sea Ice Extent

Every summer, as the Northern Hemisphere warms up, the amount of sea ice in the Arctic begins to shrink back. It usually reaches its minimum extent in September, then starts to refreeze as temperatures begin to drop. The 2010 minimum came on September 19, 2010 — and this year’s was the third lowest ever recorded by satellites since such records began in 1979.

Average sea ice extent for September 2010 was 1.89 million square miles, about 830,000 square miles less than the average September extent between 1979 and 2000. The minimum this year, however, was still 230,000 square miles more than in 2007, which had the lowest Arctic sea ice coverage ever measured. For only the second time since satellite records began, the U.S. National Ice Center declared both the Northwest Passage above Canada and the Northern Sea Routes above Scandinavia and Russiaopen for a period in the late summer.

Thanks to satellite observations, we know Arctic sea ice has declined dramatically over at least the past thirty years, and scientists have attributed this in large part to increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels such as coal and oil.

8. Lake Mead Record Low

The Hoover Dam (originally known as the Boulder Dam) was erected in the 1930s, and by 1943 Lake Mead had risen out of the Colorado River to a height of 1,220 feet above sea level. But this year, on October 18, Lake Mead reached a record low, dropping down to just 1083.9 feet, having lost about 12 stories of height. Though still about eight feet above the designated point of a critical water shortage, the low water levels are a warning signal to the millions of people in Southwest states who rely on this resource for drinking water and irrigation.

Lake Mead in 1985 (top image), as compared to Lake Mead in 2010. Drought has brought the reservoir to all-time lows this year. Credit: NASA

The level of Lake Mead has been steadily falling since 2000, with the exception of a slight rise in 2005, reflecting the drought that has afflicted the American Southwest over the same period. In the past ten years, a particularly dry and warm climate has lingered in Utah, Nevada, Arizona and Southern California, leading to reduced flow along the Colorado River. In fact, scientists have alreadyshown that the stress on the water resources in the Southwest region is consistent with the effects of a warmer climate, and that increased emissions of heat-trapping gases are linked to recent changes in river flows and winter snow pack. In addition to this ongoing drought, cities that draw water from Lake Mead, like Las Vegas, have grown in recent years and are further taxing the water supply.

The drought outlook through the winter does not look encouraging, as a strong La Niña event has taken hold in the tropical Pacific Ocean. La Niña conditions, which are characterized by colder than average waters off the coast of South America and along the equator, tend to be associated with drier than average winters in the American Southwest.

9. Amazon Drought

For the second time in five years, the Amazon River basin in northwestern Brazil is in severe drought. Brought on by a particularly arid dry season through April and May, the drought has extended through to November. One of the primary Amazon tributaries, the Rio Negro, dropped to its lowest level since records began in 1902, according to the Brazilian Geological Service. As water levels along the Rio Negrodropped severely in October, water temperatures in the river also began to climb, killing millions of fish and contaminating the water supplies for thousands that live in the region.

While droughts along part of the Amazon are not very unusual (during the 20th century they occurred about once every twelve years on average), they have typically occurred in years that featured El Niño conditions. The warmer water temperatures in the Pacific associated with El Nino tend to rob the Amazon of rainfall. However, the intense drought late this year has been unexpected since La Niña has brought cool waters to the Pacific.

10. Final Annual Temperature Ranking

The latest numbers from NOAA are in, and January to November 2010 is tied with 2005 for the dubious honor of “The Warmest Year on Record” (records date back to 1880). As for November 2010, it was officially the second warmest on record, even with the cooling effect of La Niña in the mix. The global oceans ranked only 10th warmest, whereas the land surface made up the difference and came in more than 0.3ºF warmer than the previous warmest November. The full year is expected to finish up as the hottest on record, or close behind, once the statistics for December are averaged in.

This article was originally published by the good folks at Climate Central.

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Chuck Briese, Oak Ridge Now

Chuck Briese, Oak Ridge Now Chuck Briese has been a resident of South Montgomery County since 1988. He and his lovely and patient wife, Leslie, have six sons, with only one left to finish high school. Chuck has been a Cub Scout leader, a Little League baseball coach, a church youth leader, and a general troublemaker over the course of the past 25 years. He is obsessed with his lawn, and likes restaurants that serve food that fills up the plate. He has a tendency to tilt at windmills, which may explain why he started Oak Ridge Now.

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