Does science have a clue what is going on? The short answer appears to be: not quite. The longer answer is that researchers are developing theories that, should they withstand critical scrutiny, may tie at least some of the erratic weather to global warming. Specifically, suspicion is focused these days on the drastic decline of sea ice in the Arctic, which is believed to be a direct consequence of the human release of greenhouse gases.
“The question really is not whether the loss of the sea ice can be affecting the atmospheric circulation on a large scale. The question is, how can it not be, and what are the mechanisms?” As the planet warms, many scientists say, more energy and water vapor are entering the atmosphere and driving weather systems. A strong body of evidence links global warming to an increase in heat waves, a rise in episodes of heavy rainfall and other precipitation, and more frequent coastal flooding. “A changing climate leads to changes in the frequency, intensity, spatial extent, duration and timing of extreme weather and climate events, and can result in unprecedented extreme weather and climate events."
Some of the documented imbalances in the climate have certainly become remarkable. United States government scientists recently reported, for instance, that February was the 324th consecutive month in which global temperatures exceeded their long-term average for a given month; the last month with below-average temperatures was February 1985. In the United States, many more record highs are being set at weather stations than record lows, a bellwether indicator of a warming climate. So far this year, the United States has set 17 new daily highs for every new daily low. Last year, despite a chilly winter, the country set nearly three new highs for every low. But, while the link between heat waves and global warming may be clear, the evidence is much thinner regarding some types of weather extremes. Scientists studying tornadoes are plagued by poor statistics that could be hiding significant trends, but so far, they are not seeing any long-term increase in the most damaging twisters. And researchers studying specific events, like the Russian heat wave of 2010, have often come to conflicting conclusions about whether to blame climate change.
Scientists who dispute the importance of global warming have long ridiculed any attempt to link greenhouse gases to weather extremes. "The weather is very dynamic, especially at local scales, so that extreme events of one type or another will occur somewhere on the planet every year.” Yet mainstream scientists are determined to figure out which climate extremes are being influenced by human activity, and their attention is increasingly drawn to the Arctic sea ice. Because greenhouse gases are causing the Arctic to warm more rapidly than the rest of the planet, the sea ice cap has shrunk about 40 percent since the early 1980s. That means an area of the Arctic Ocean the size of Europe has become dark, open water in the summer instead of reflective ice, absorbing extra heat and then releasing it to the atmosphere in the fall and early winter. This is affecting the jet stream, the huge river of air that circles the Northern Hemisphere in a loopy, meandering fashion. Research suggests that the declining temperature contrast between the Arctic and the middle latitudes is causing kinks in the jet stream to move from west to east more slowly than before, and that those kinks have everything to do with the weather in a particular spot. “This means that whatever weather you have today — be it wet, hot, dry or snowy — is more likely to last longer than it used to. If conditions hang around long enough, the chances increase for an extreme heat wave, drought or cold spell to occur,” but the weather can change rapidly once the kink in the jet stream moves along.
Not everyone buys that explanation. An NOAA researcher who analyzes climate event, agrees with other scientists that global warming is a problem to be taken seriously. But he contends that some researchers are in too much of a rush to attribute specific weather events to human causes. He ran computer analyses that failed to confirm a widespread effect outside the Arctic from declining sea ice. “What’s happening in the Arctic is mostly staying in the Arctic." He suspects that future analyses will find the magnitude of this month’s heat wave to have resulted mostly from natural causes, but he conceded, “It’s been a stunning March.”
LARGEST QUAKES -
This morning -
5.2 NEAR EAST COAST OF HONSHU, JAPAN
5.2 SOUTHWEST INDIAN RIDGE
Alaska's fickle Cleveland volcano upgraded again - On Wednesday, the volcano was again upgraded by the Alaska Volcano Observatory to alert level "Orange," meaning the volcano is showing "heightened or escalting unrest" and could potentially erupt at any time. It's become a regular song-and-dance. The alert level was raised again after scientists found another lava dome has formed in the crater in the last week.
Montserrat volcano active again - For the first time in two years, the Montserrat Volcano Observatory monitoring the Soufriere Hills volcano noted UNUSUAL activity, with increased seismicity, accompanied by ash fall.
Mexico - Thirty years ago this week, the seemingly dormant El Chichón in Chiapas, Mexico, erupted unexpectedly and spectacularly, wiping out nine villages and killing an estimated 1900 people. The volcano had been slumbering for nearly 600 years.
TROPICAL STORMS -
In the Pacific -
Tropical Storm 02w (Pakhar) was located approximately 275 nm east of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
System 96W intensified overnight and became Tropical Storm Pakhar during the morning hours on March 29. It has intensified into a typhoon of minimal strength in the northwest Pacific and is aiming to hit the Vietnam coast soon. The landfall could take place during the course of the day, according to leading storm tracking models. Excessive rain and flooding could spread over a wide area along and north of Pakhar's direct path. Flooding rainfall to at least 12 inches, or 30 cm, will be possible near the storm's track. Damaging winds will be possible as well. Hainan, China's southernmost island province, is bracing for weekend gales brought by tropical storm Pakhar, the first to hit the country this year.
Pakhar is an UNUSUAL late-March tropical storm. Thursday, the center of Tropical Storm Pakhar was within about 350 miles, or 570 km, east of Ho Chi Minh City. At the time, highest sustained winds were reckoned to be at least 40 mph, or 65 km/h, with storm movement towards the west-northwest. Any widespread heavy falls of rain would be UNUSUAL, as March into April marks the latter part of the yearly dry season in southern Vietnam. For instance, normal monthly rainfall in March is less than 2 inches, or 50 mm. April is also normally a rather dry month along the coast, but can bring increasing rainfall inland. The western North Pacific Ocean tropical basin is the most prolific in terms of number of named storms each year. However, March and April are within the seasonal lull in tropical cyclones. On average, a named storm happens about once every three years in March. April storm frequency is about two-fold that of March. (satellite photo)
SEVERE RAIN STORMS, FLOODING, LANDSLIDES -
Australia - New South Wales' flood crisis was THE MOST SIGNIFICANT FOR A GENERATION and affected an area the size of Spain. "People should not be complacent about the dangers of Mother Nature, as we've seen many people trapped in floodwater needing rescue and sadly, in some cases, lives have been lost." The state's storm season ends tomorrow, but flooding will continue to affect parts of the state for days to come. About 70 per cent of NSW - an area the size of Spain - has been affected by flooding since January. About 20,000 people were evacuated from homes at the height of the crisis. Worst affected communities included Wagga Wagga, Forbes, Gundagai, Yenda, Urana, Barellan, Hay and Darlington Point.
Many of these communities are now recovering but floodwater will continue to move across NSW, with communities in the state's southwest and northwest most vulnerable. Evacuation orders remain in place at Maude in the southwest and Condobolin in the central west.
EXTREME HEAT & DROUGHT / WILDFIRES / CLIMATE CHANGE -
More than 600 firefighters battle wildfire in US - A wildfire in Colorado which has killed two people and left one missing was sparked by a controlled burn.
HEALTH THREATS -
RECALLS & ALERTS:
Club Chef LLC is recalling its 12 oz., 16 oz. and 5 lb. Salsa products because they have the potential to be contaminated with Salmonella.