Torrential downpours in Texas that have whiplashed the region from drought to flooding. A heat wave that has killed more than 1,800 people in India. Record 91-degree readings in Alaska, of all places. A pair of top-of-the-scale typhoons in the Northwest Pacific. And a drought taking hold in the East.
"Mother Nature keeps throwing us crazy stuff," Rutgers University climate scientist Jennifer Francis says. "It's just been one thing after another."
So writes Seth Borenstein, who has been reporting on science at a national level for decades, and knows how to get a story, no doubt. I've heard him call-in to numerous locales -- from Vandenburg AF base in Lompoc, to the AGU science conference in San Francisco -- with questions. Often he's the first reporter to ask a question in these national press conferences.
He goes on to detail some of the climactic weirdnesses, and, just as interesting, some of the reactions of research climatologists to the weirdness they're seeing, Giving the experts researchers the chance to speak to the question in plain English.
Jerry Meehl, an extreme-weather expert at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, points out that May is usually a pretty extreme month, with lots of tornadoes and downpours. Even so, he says, this has been "kind of unusually intense."
The word "stuck" provides one possible explanation.
Francis, Meehl and some other meteorologists say the jet stream is in a rut, not moving nasty weather along. The high-speed, constantly shifting river of air 30,000 feet above Earth normally guides storms around the globe, but sometimes splits and comes back together somewhere else.
A stuck jet stream, with a bit of a split, explains the extremes in Texas, India, Alaska and the U.S. East, but not the typhoons, Francis says.
[ -- which is interesting, on a level of character, because Francis is something of a crusader for the theory that the jet stream gets stuck in a meander mode, and is considered an innovator, where Meehl, a super-nice individual in my experience, is much more of the scientific mainstream --]
No one newspaper story will resolve this question, no matter how well placed, but it's interesting to see that the long association between climate change and weather extremes, which has been showing up in the global climate change statistical models since the l990's, now has a mechanism that appears increasingly accepted in the research community.
The REI Flash insulated air Pad is the third air mattress for backpacking I've tried since starting on the Pacific Crest Trail a couple of years ago, and, to be truthful, the first that really worked well.
Alternatives such as NeoAir, by the well-known brand Thermarest, and the Oak Street, by the great tent makers Big Agnes, both fell victim to punctures. Oak Street, despite being relatively heavy and looking formidable, and being placed properly on top of a groundcloth, still managed to develop a leak on the first night on the trail. Yes, it's rocky out there, but c'mon!
And although it's possible to patch an air mattress, in my experience it's still going to leak some -- and leave one deflated and chilly on the ground before the end of the night.
The Flash, knock on wood, remains intact and frankly, amazing. Three nights ago I was camping near Mulkey Pass, at about 10,000 feet, on a night so cold that my wet boots froze even under the vestible of the tent, but on the pad in a bag (and bundled up, to be fair) I was completely warm and fine. In my long experience with Ensolite pads, I don't believe this has ever happened on a really cold night.
The insulation works superbly well. The pad is a little awkward but not difficult to inflate, and easy and quick to deflate and store in its container bag. And it's not only the best, it's the least expensive that I've found among the air pads for backpackers.
Looks a little bright, but highly, highly recommended.
And of course, since it's REI, if it does fail -- you can take it back. 100% guarantee. Other reviewers, from outlets large and small, agree on its virtues.
It's May, and though California only recorded 5% of a normal snowpack, err, 3%, still that turns out to be plenty when climbing from the desert up the Pacific Crest Trail into the mountains, into the high Sierra around Cottonwood Pass and Horseshoe Meadows. I couldn't dawdle through this section, not while trying to keep my nephew Eli Huscher, here seen in a typical pose, in sight:
More on this surprising section of PCT for the curious, bellow the virtual fold:
I mentioned in a recent post that I made a fire at Pinyon Point in the fall of 2013. I didn't plan to, I didn't know anything about this campsite, and would never believe after walking through barren dry sand desert with yucca and Joshua trees for ten or twenty miles that I would come up a ridge and into a thick pine woods.
Nor did I mention that some genius made this fire/stove/kitchen/bedroom. Using two or three boulders and a carefully stacked wall of rocks with square gaps. So that as the fire burned down, warmth passed through to anyone sleeping across the rocks from the coals. Brilliant woodsmanship, by an anonymous genius, perhaps a John Muir, or an Ed Abbey.
I like to try of who might be like that alive today, and my mind goes to the phenomal Chris Clarke, of KCET and at least one blog.
But never mind -- let me just thank the anonyous creator, whoever he is, for allowing me to make that one precious fire, and share it, as best I can.
Last year at this time a huge wave of heat was detected propagating as the scientists say through surface waters from east to west across the Pacific. Ultimately a series of such "Kelvin waves" went on to warm much of the tropical Pacific, and waters along the West Coast, resulting in huge changes in sealife.
Once in a while, on a schedule seemingly impossible to predict, what happens in the Pacific can drive a series of meteorogical events leading to great floods of rain along the West Coast. A big big El Niño.
"The great wet hope," as Bill Patzert of NASA likes to say.
It didn't happen last year, and meteorologists this year, such as Daniel Swain of Weather West, sound a little abashed discussing the possibility again for this year.
Well, as most of us are aware by now, that didn’t happen, and the projections from winter/spring 2014 represent a considerable forecast failure on the part of the models typically used to make long-lead ENSO [forecasts. Instead, the world bore witness to an El Niño event that barely reached the threshold for a marginal event–and, for the most part, didn’t exhibit the kind of ocean-atmosphere “coupling” we might typically expect. Persistent weakening of the easterly trade winds simply didn’t happen, and the incipient event just couldn’t sustain itself through the winter.
In short you can't trust the models. No matter how smart the researchers may be.
As I reported recently, Jeanine Jones, a high-ranking official in the California Department of Water Resources also questioned the usefulness of those models in a long talk at a high-level national drought conference last month.
Further, she pointed out that the mere mention of the speculation of "the great wet hope" substantially reduces water conservation.
Swain concedes that May is still too early to observe an El Niño event and alludes to a
Spring Predictability Barrier–the period during which long-lead ENSO forecasts remain challenging due to the chaotic nature of the ocean-atmosphere system.
Again Swain points out that -- in short -- you can't trust the models.As if to say, don't even roll that dice.
Yet and still, he cannot help but be tantalized by the magnitude of the changes in ocean temperature that are being charted by a host of different research teams:
They're literally off the charts. Not to mention the strong westerly wind bursts, and the typhoon connection. Turns out the Pacific is in record-setting mode when it comes to creating Category 5 typhoons. We've had five already, and the first was an all-timer, with sustained winds of 160 mph.
Here's what it looked like from the International Space Station. Super Typhoon Maysak:
The last time we had this many typhoons this early in the year? Jeff Masters:
The global record for Category 5 storms is held by the El Niño year of 1997, which had twelve Category 5 storms--ten of them in the Northwest Pacific. The third Cat 5 of 1997 in the Northwest Pacific occurred on July 22, so we are more than two months ahead of that year's record pace.
And of course, the El Niño of 1887-1998 was a Godzilla that literally changed the world.
Let me say I grew up far away from the desert and never thought I liked its lack of trees and aridity, but well, maybe I should have known better. Should have listened to my elders. For example:
This is a sort of plaza, at about six thousand feet, overlooking the vastest desert in Southern California. This area, which I'm calling Pinyon Point,has numerous sites in which to roll out a pad in beauty and serenity (and perhaps wind, for at its height, it does experience weather -- that's why, I think, the pinyon pines grow so well there).
Yet it's all but unused. I made a fire there a year and a half ago, after a snowfall, and near as I can tell, the campfire hasn't been used since. I confess I kind of like it that way, so I'm not going to reveal the exact location, although readers who would like to know can write me, and I'll probably tell.
I was rolling up my tent this past Sunday, and heard a pair of PCT walkers stop and chat on the other side of a rock, not fifty feet away, and yet completely oblivious of my presence.
The GOP's war on science gets worse, writes Elizabeth Kolbert, noting that the House GOP cut $300 million from NASA's budget for earth sciences (including climate) on the childish old theory that ignoring a problem will make it go away.
That same week The New Yorker, for which Kolbert writes, came up with an even wittier version of the same basic argument: