Thursday, December 31, 2015

Cataclysms from the North Pole to South America

[Washington Post] From the top of the world to near the bottom, freakish and unprecedented weather has sent temperatures soaring across the Arctic, whipped the United Kingdom with hurricane-force winds and spawned massive flooding in South America.
The same storm that slammed the southern United States with deadly tornadoes and swamped the Midwest, causing even greater loss of life, continued on to the Arctic. Sub-tropical air pulled there is now sitting over Iceland, and at what should be a deeply sub-zero North Pole, temperatures on Wednesday appeared to reach the melting point — more than 50 degrees above normal. That was warmer than Chicago.
Only twice before has the Arctic been so warm in winter. Residents of Iceland are bracing for conditions to grow much worse as one of the most powerful storms ever recorded blasts through the North Atlantic. This rare “bomb cyclone” arrived with sudden winds of 70 miles per hour and waves that lashed the coast.
Thousands of miles south, in the center of Latin America, downpours fueled by the Pacific Ocean’s giant El Niño pattern have drenched regions of Paraguay, Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay.
In what’s described as the worst flooding in a half-century, more than 160,000 people have fled their homes. The Paraguay River in that nation is within inches of topping its banks, and the Uruguay River in Argentina is 46 feet above normal, according to a BBC News report.
The dramatic storms are ending a year of record-setting weather globally, with July measured as the hottest month ever and 2015 set to be the warmest year.
Up and down the U.S. East Coast, this month will close as the hottest December ever. In much of the Northeast into Canada, temperatures on Christmas rose into the 70s — tricking bushes and trees into bloom in many locations. In the Washington area, forsythia, azaleas and even cherry blossoms were suddenly in full color.
“I see this as a double whammy,” Michael Mann, a professor of meteorology at Penn State University, said in an email. “El Niño . . . is one factor, human-caused climate change and global warming is another. You put the two together, and you get dramatic increases in certain types of extreme weather events.”
The impact is more and more devastating.
In rain-soaked Missouri, where more than a dozen people have died because of the flooding, Gov. Jay Nixon (D) has declared a state of emergency.
Almost two dozen levees along the Mississippi River are considered at risk, and forecasts are calling for record or near-record crests of the river and tributaries that feed it. Nearly 450 river gauges have hit flood stage since Monday, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
From Illinois to Texas, 6 to 12 inches of rain have fallen since Dec. 26. Dozens of new precipitation marks were set last weekend, in some cases doubling or even tripling old records. Read More