Global weirding, vol. 9031
A big story from the Associated Press:
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.
It's not a surprise to Tom Toles: