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Morning photo: Waves

Seashore thrills …

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A gentle Gulf of Mexico breaker rolls ashore under a setting sun.

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Living in the small side-house to the barn-like fog signal building at Pt. Montara, California gave me a deep appreciation of ocean waves.

FRISCO — In the early 1980s I lived at the Pt. Montara Lighthouse, about 20 miles south of San Francisco. While we renovated the Victorian lighthouse keeper’s quarters, I stayed in the watchroom of the fog signal building, just 10 yards from the edge of a bluff overlooking a rocky headland that juts far into the Pacific. As it turned out, the first winter I lived there was a big El Niño year. Endless storms crashed ashore from November through May, coating my oceanfront window with salt spray and, at times, making the cliffs shake. It’s hard to describe the size and scope of these breakers, but if you’ve seen the movie “Chasing Mavericks,” it’ll give you an idea of the 30- to 40-foot walls of water that were commonplace that year. I already was a big fan of waves before that, but the experience gave me a whole new appreciation for the power of the sea. I don’t have any digital images of that winter, but I probably do have some old slides tucked away in a shoebox. I was tempted to try and find them, but I’ll save that for another time. Continue reading

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Climate: For El Niño, timing is everything

Study identifies wind patterns that could lead to better El Niño forecasts

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El Niño affects global weather patterns.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Climate researcher say they’ve discovered an atmospheric pattern that helps explain why El Niño often peaks during the first part of winter and usually fades away in late winter and early spring.

El Niño phases are part of a cycle when sea surface temperatures in the equatorial Pacific Ocean are warmer than average. The various phases of the so-called ENSO can have pronounced impacts on weather around the globe, spurring droughts in some areas and flooding in others.

The new study from the University of Hawai’i at Manoa Meteorology Department and International Pacific Research Center identified an unusual wind pattern that straddles the equatorial Pacific during strong El Niño events and swings back and forth with a period of 15 months as a key driver in the annual cycle. The findings were reported in the May 26 online issue of Nature Geoscience. Continue reading

Study: Sea level changes may affect tropical rainfall patterns

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How will global warming affect global atmospheric circulation and precipitation patterns? Photo courtesy NASA’s Blue Marble collection.

At lower sea levels, exposed land masses could affect convection

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Even though scientists are continuously fine-tuning their global warming models, climate change is likely to dish up some big surprises in the decades ahead.

In one recent study, researchers with the University of Hawaii and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution found evidence that past changes in sea level rise had a somewhat unexpected influence across the center of the Indo-Pacific warm pool — a vast region of warm ocean waters in the western Pacific region that is the main source of heat and moisture to Earth’s atmosphere. Continue reading

Fukushima ocean radiation panel to be live-streamed

Experts to discuss concerns about radioactive dispersion; viewers can ask questions via Twitter during May 9 session

FRISCO — More than two years have passed since a 9.0 earthquake and a 50-foot tsunami catastrophically damaged the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant on Japan’s northeast coast, but questions still linger about the long-term impacts of radioactive pollution in the ocean.

The quake and tsunami killed about 20,000 people, and some coastal Japanese fisheries are still closed due to concern about the radiation. Next week, an international panel of scientists will discuss the accident and potential impacts to the environment and human health in a web-streamed session at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

The panel will be held on May 9, 2013, from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. EDT and simulcast on the Web (http://www.whoi.edu/fukushima). Online viewers are encouraged to participate and send questions for the panel discussion via Twitter. The event hashtag is #WHOIfukushima. Questions during the discussion can also be sent via email to cmer@whoi.edu. Continue reading

New research may help pinpoint Asian monsoon

Regional pressure fluctuations the key to unraveling monsoon mysteries

The first week of August 2010 brought extreme flooding and landslides to many parts of Asia. By August 11, floods in the Indus River basin had become Pakistan’s worst natural disaster to date, leaving more than 1,600 people dead and disrupting the lives of about 14 million people, reported Reuters. Across the border in northeast India, flash floods killed 185 with 400 still missing, reported BBC News. Floods in North Korea and northeast China buried farmland and destroyed homes, factories, railroads, and bridges. And in northwest China, rain triggered a massive landslide that left 702 dead with 1,042 missing, reported China’s state news agency, Xinhua. All of these disasters occurred as a result of unusually heavy monsoon rains, depicted in this image.

The first week of August 2010 brought extreme flooding and landslides to many parts of Asia. By August 11, floods in the Indus River basin had become Pakistan’s worst natural disaster to date, leaving more than 1,600 people dead and disrupting the lives of about 14 million people, reported Reuters. Across the border in northeast India, flash floods killed 185 with 400 still missing, reported BBC News. Floods in North Korea and northeast China buried farmland and destroyed homes, factories, railroads, and bridges. Photo courtesy NASA Earth Observatory.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Hawaii-based scientists say that tracking hemispheric climate patterns can help develop more accurate forecasts for the critical Asian monsoon season, which is critical to  the agriculture, economy, and people in the region.

Better monsoon forecasts have been a sort of Holy Grail for meteorologists, but season  seasonal predictions of these two types of weather phenomena are still poor. But the research done at the International Pacific Research Center, University of Hawaii at Manoa, shows the strength of the East Asian summer monsoon and  storm activity in the western North Pacific depend on fluctuations in the western Pacific Subtropical High, a major atmospheric circulation system in the global subtropics centered over the Philippine Sea.

When this system is strong in summer, then monsoon rainfall tends to be greater than normal over East Asia, and in the western North Pacific there tend to be fewer tropical storms that make landfall. Continue reading

New coral data traces 7,000 years of El Niño history

20th century oscillations show intensification that may be linked with global warming

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A NOAA graphic showing early January 2012 ocean surface temperature anomalies.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Atmospheric scientists say they’ve used coral records to trace the history of El Niño cycles going back about 7.000 years, showing that 20th century oscillations  are much stronger than those captured in the fossil record.

But the study also showed large natural variations in past ENSO strength, making it difficult to attribute the 20th century intensification of ENSO to rising carbon dioxide levels. Such large natural fluctuations in ENSO activity are also apparent in multi-century climate model simulations, but the 20th century intensification stands out as statistically significant and could be linked with global warming.

The new information will help assess the accuracy of climate model projections for 21st century climate change in the tropical Pacific. Continue reading

New weather sites will take close look at atmospheric rivers

Coastal observatories in California will measure low-level winds and moisture to generate better forecasts

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A NOAA weather graphic shows an atmospheric river streaming across the Pacific to the central California coast.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — To get a better handle on the impacts of incoming “atmospheric rivers,” scientists are installing specialized new coastal observatories at Bodega Bay, Eureka, Pt. Sur and Goleta, California.

The coastal weather stations will measure low altitude winds and the amount of moisture moving ashore — key data that will help forecasters pinpoint how much precipitation is likely to fall during an atmospheric river event.

“California needs to know how and where it might rain or snow, when and where to expect flooding,” said Michael Anderson, Ph.D., state climatologist with the California Department of Water Resources. “The observatories will also help state officials and scientists monitor changes in atmospheric rivers associated with climate change.” Continue reading

Colorado: Mostly dry into December

Is Colorado facing more drought?

So far, the pattern of storms across the Pacific Northwest and northern Rockies shows little signs of changing, with most of the weather action far north of Colorado.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — Ullr, why has thou forsaken us?

If you’re holding out for more snow before heading out to make turns on the hill, you may want to reconsider. The outlook for the next 10 days is mostly dry and warm, with perhaps a chance of snow brushing the northern mountains Sunday night into Monday morning. Beyond that, another ridge will build into the Southwest, bringing more dry weather and a return to above normal temps for much of next week. Continue reading

‘Wavering’ El Niño vexes winter weather outlook

Not much drought relief expected this winter.

NOAA calls for warmer-than-average conditions in the West

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY —This year’s wavering El Niño isn’t just vexing Colorado forecasters. Forecasters with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration say that getting a handle on the winter forecast has been tough.

“This is one of the most challenging outlooks we’ve produced in recent years because El Niño decided not to show up as expected,” said Mike Halpert, deputy director of NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center. “In fact, it stalled out last month, leaving neutral conditions in place in the tropical Pacific.” Continue reading

Climate: El Niño stalls, outlook uncertain

Above-average temperatures to persist across much of the country

Sea surface temperature anomalies as of Sept. 20. Graphic courtesy NOAA.

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — This year’s El Niño is likely to be one of the weaker versions of the event in recent memory, according to experts with the National Climatic Data Center, who discussed the fall outlook and reviewed the long, hot summer at teleconference last week.

That could weaken potential impacts, particularly across the southern tier of states, where an “average” El Niño often brings above-average precipitation.This could be especially important for states like New Mexico, which just experienced its driest and warmest 24-month period on record, and farther east, where Oklahoma was also parched during a record-hot summer.

During an El Niño, sea surface temperatures in the eastern and central equatorial Pacific surge to above average, often shifting the storm track to the south. It’s part of a cyclical shift in sea surface temperatures and related wind patterns that can affect weather patterns worldwide.

Sea surface temps have hovered at slightly above average the past few months in the region where El Niño formation is measured, but haven’t reached the formal threshold yet. An area of cooler water in the north Pacific may be a factor.

The North Pacific is not cooperating … there’s a cold area near Alaska. It’s not quite a perfect setup for a warm event in the tropics,” said NOAA scientist Huug van den Dool.

“It’s probably too late to get a major El Nino … it’s going to be somewhat weaker than we expected a few months ago,” he said, explaining that there’s still a chance for enhanced precipitation across the South. An average El Niño footprint would normally also result in below-average precipitation in the northern tier of states.

A map from the National Climatic Data Center shows where the summer heat wave was centered. Click on the graphic to visit the NCDC online.

El Niño or not, the Climate Prediction Center says there’s a good chance the next three months will bring mostly above average temperatures to a big swath of the country, from the eastern edge of the Great Basin through the central and northern plains, up into the Great Lakes region and New England.

The three-month precipitation outlook is for near-normal total for much of the country, with a chance of above-normal rainfall in the southeast, and drier-than-normal conditions in the Pacific Northwest.

Looking back, Jake Crouch, of the NCDC, said it was the third-warmest summer on record for the U.S. and second-warmest summer for the northern hemisphere. A total of 33 states reported their warmest year to-date on record.

The year to-date is the ninth-warmest on record globally.

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