Cyclone smashes Vanuatu – Arctic powers a drunken Jetstream – CO2 plateau signals path forward.

Updated to add just-released February temp anomaly

Some news from the world on this Friday the 13th of March, 2015.

Main Island of Vanuatu takes direct hit from Cyclone with 300kph winds

There is nothing more powerful, and beautiful, and terrifying, than a Category 5 Hurricane (called a Cyclone in the West Pacific).  Last night and this morning the small pacific nation of Vanuatu is suffering through the wrath of one of these incredible storms.  This was the storm last night as it approached the islands from the Northeast.

Image provided by NOAA

Below is the latest image this morning as it hits the Island that hosts the capital of Vanuatu, Port Villa.  This is likely the strongest cyclone ever to hit this nation and unlike the signficant land masses of the  United States, the Phillipines or even Cuba, the islands of Vanuatu are not nearly large enough to cause the hurricane to lose strength as it approaches.  They are simply getting run over.

A direct hit this morning.
A direct hit this morning.

The cyclone moved past literally as I typed this post. Port Villa has a population of 66,000 and appears in the first closeup image to be in the strongest zone of winds on the leading southeast edge of the eyewall at 5:30. An hour later, the eye has passed but extremely intense storms and winds continue depicted by the white areas which mean the clouds are at the maximum height the chart can depict. All we can do is hope for the best for those people. The islands to the south have smaller populations under 20,000. It will probably be 24hrs before things settle enough for word to come about damage.

Arctic Ice may reach annual peak a month early and a few million square km short.

From the March 4 update from the National Snow and Ice Data Centre in Colorado:

Arctic sea ice extent continues to track well below average, but it is still unclear whether March will see an increase in ice, or establish a record low maximum.

The latest Arctic ice extent graph showing possible early peak.
The latest Arctic ice extent graph showing possible early peak.

The graph above shows in blue the current ice extent is well below normal, well below what was the eventual record low minimum year of 2012 (in green), and shows a peak around the beginning of March that would be nearly a month earlier than the average (in grey).

If you’re wondering how this can be when the eastern United States and Canada have been in a deep freeze for the better part of two months and boats are frozen in place in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland… well, the answer is, they are not in the Arctic.  Or perhaps more poetically; for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

Here is the latest sea ice extent map.

Notice the orange line which indicates the average of where the ice usually is this time of year.
Notice the orange line which indicates the average of where the ice usually is this time of year.

From the NSIDC report:

Sea ice extent is below average across the entire sea ice margin, most prominently along the Pacific sectors. A small region of above-average ice extent is located near Newfoundland and the Canadian Maritime Provinces.

This is another example of weather only being what you see out your window and not being any indication of what is happening on a wider and especially hemisphere or planet wide scale.

Indeed, the data below from NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies should make that abundantly clear.  It shows January average temperature anomalies (differences from normal) across the globe.


The colder than normal portions in north east North America and small area north of Moscow are very much overwhelmed by hotter than normal areas over the rest of the continents in the Northern Hemisphere.  And if you consider the magnitude of the anomalies, the colder than normal areas are “only” -2ºC colder whereas the warmer than normal areas have huge areas of more than 4-8ºC warmer than normal in North America, Greenland/High Arctic, Europe, and Central and East Russia.

Update: the February map (below) was just released by GISS as they announced this February had the 7th warmest anomaly for any month ever since 1876.

Feb 2015 anomaly
Feb 2015 anomaly

The cold air over North America expanded and deepened… but so did the extremely warm air everywhere else.


And that takes us to the reasons why….

(Real) Debate heats up on Arctic – Jet Stream link to recent ‘stationary’ weather patterns in winter and summer.

Unlike the false debate between fossil fuel industry paid science hacks (NY Times) and real experts on humanity’s culpability for global warming and climate change, there is a real debate happening in climate science circles about what the cause is of the recent rash of extremely cold NE US winters, major European summer droughts, and even the Calgary or Toronto floods.

June 2013 (Macleans) “Jet stream seen as one culprit in Alberta floods and upside-down weather

Stay tuned, said [Environment Canada Senior Climatologist Dave] Phillips.

“(The theory’s) exciting. It seems plausible.”

With the overwhelming majority of scientists agreeing that human-caused global warming is fact, Phillips said the new frontier in research is linking climate change and weather.

“Now what seems to be the focus is, ‘Is this having an effect on weather?’” he said.

A brand new study backs up those findings.

“The scary idea that won’t go away” (Washington Post)

Is the rapid melting of the Arctic paying us back for our greenhouse gas emissions by messing with the jet stream — which carries weather through the northern hemisphere? And could that, in turn, explain recent breakouts of extremes all around the northern half of the world — including recent snowfall in the east coast?

That’s what Rutgers University’s Jennifer Francis has argued in a series of papers going back to 2012 — but there has been quite a lot of criticism. Several distinguished climate researchers even wrote to Science magazine in early 2014 contesting the notion, saying that “we do not view the theoretical arguments underlying it as compelling.”

So that final sentence provides us a good moment.  This is what real public debate in scientific circles actually looks like.  It’s not blowhards on FoxNews pronouncing climate change to be a scam.  It’s scholarly debate through published literature and based on studies that take real observations into account.

That said, the hypothesis, first posited by Jennifer Francis at Rutgers University in New Jersey, that the jet stream pattern is being changed and slowed by a warming Arctic that is lessening the difference in temperature between high and middle latitudes does seem to be gaining support.

The new study, this time from Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and the University of Potsdam in Germany, says in its Abstract:

The largest changes are generally expected in autumn or winter but whether significant changes have occurred is debated. Here we report significant weakening of summer circulation detected in three key dynamical quantities: (i) the zonal-mean zonal wind, (ii) the eddy kinetic energy (EKE) and (iii) the amplitude of fast-moving Rossby waves. Weakening of the zonal wind is explained by a reduction in poleward temperature gradient.

What are those three things?  Basically, the zonal-mean zonal wind is the prevalence of West to East winds that generally flows around the northern hemisphere, the eddy kinetic energy is the force of the winds that swirl around low and high pressure areas, and the amplitude of Rossby Waves is the height and ‘waviness’ of what we often see represented as the jet stream as you see below.


The fact that this new study not only confirmed that Autumn and Winter jet stream patterns were affecting weather both in general and in extreme ways but also found that it affected summer patterns is significant.

The Jet stream is our major weather maker.  If the weather was a school bus, the jet stream would be the driver.  When it flows (relatively) straight and true we can expect regular changes in our weather without getting ‘stuck’ in any one pattern of extreme drought or cold.  When it flows erratically up and down in large waves, as it has this winter, then we see what we have seen.  Long periods of abnormal weather.

The warming of the Arctic appears to be causing that driver to slow down, swerve unpredictably, and cause a rash of serious, even life threatening events.  The root cause of it all may be an addiction or very bad habit, only this time instead of alcohol, it is to fossil fuels.

But wait… I won’t leave you on such a dreary note (this time).  There may be a glimmer of hope for us.

For First Time in 40 years – CO2 Emissions did not rise.

The BBC just reported that the International Energy Agency’s new stats show “Annual global emissions remained at 32 gigatonnes in 2014, unchanged from the previous year.”

This is a big deal.  Why did it happen?  According to Prof Corinne Le Quere, of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of East Anglia:

“An important factor could be that China’s coal consumption fell in 2014, driven by their efforts to fight pollution, use energy more efficiently and deploy renewables. ”

“Efforts to reduce emissions elsewhere will have played a role, but there are also more random factors such as the weather and the relative price of oil, coal and gas.”

So lets look at China’s energy consumption, again from the BBC:



China is now the world’s biggest investor in renewable energy, particularly in power generation. In fact, the country has seen more than $400bn (£267bn) invested in clean energy in the past 10 years, and is ranked number one in the world in consultancy EY’s renewable energy country attractiveness index.

$400 Billion!  Here’s a great chart showing the world’s investments in renewable energy that would have also contributed to that halt in increases of CO2 emission.

Screen Shot 2015-03-13 at 10.05.25 AM

Notice Canada is in the list for most spent in 2014… but not over the last decade or in installed capacity.  That shows we have a lot of work to do to catch up to other world leaders.  With the sheer size of land mass available to us and our proximity to one of the worlds top energy consumers, we should have both ample ability and motivation to massively increase our renewable energy portfolio.

It is not enough for our CO2 emissions to stop rising… they have to fall… and given the science on the Carbon cycle (large IPCC doc)  have to fall all the way to zero before the end of this century.

The removal of human-emitted CO2 from the atmosphere by natural processes will take a few hundred thousand years (high confidence). Depending on the RCP scenario considered, about 15 to 40% of emitted CO2 will remain in the atmosphere longer than 1,000 years. This very long time required by sinks to remove anthropogenic CO2 makes climate change caused by elevated CO2 irreversible on human time scale.

So, since 15-40% of the CO2 we emit will stay there for longer than we can reasonably contemplate, the only way to limit the effect is to ensure as little is ejected into the atmosphere in the first place.

So while we read about major lay-offs in the oil-sector causing a rise in the unemployment rate in Canada, maybe we need to ask ourselves how we want to create jobs now?  Should it be in oil and gas, an industry that is in decline and science says must decline to zero within our children’s lifetime?

Or should it be in renewables?  Solar, Wind, Geothermal, Hydro, Tidal and others… where so little has been built, so much more must be built, and by building it we create a cleaner, safer and potentially much more stable world?

We have a federal election coming…. Climate change should be a top agenda item, perhaps not because of the environmental imperative, no one seems to really consider that, but rather because *both* mitigation and adaptation (fixing and adapting) to climate change could be major economic drivers.  They could create jobs.  In fact, no, they *will* create jobs.

I believe this election will be the first one where issues of economy and climate have finally linked.  And that, in the end, will be a good thing for all of us.

About The Author

2 thoughts on “Cyclone smashes Vanuatu – Arctic powers a drunken Jetstream – CO2 plateau signals path forward.

Comments are closed.