Weather Around The World, 4/4/17: Nor’easter Sausage; Australia Tropical Cyclone; CO2 Record; Colombia Flood


Home / Weather Around The World, 4/4/17: Nor’easter Sausage; Australia Tropical Cyclone; CO2 Record; Colombia Flood

There’s weather news from New York to Hawaii and from South America to Australia. Let’s go Around The World.

Finally A Storm Worth Naming

Nor’easter Sausage dumped three feet of snow on central New York state. Graphic courtesy of NOAA.

Decoded Science has argued that naming winter storms is a senseless and futile exercise which the Weather Channel continues to promote.

We make an exception for nor’easters — storms that form on the Atlantic coast and bring rain and snow to the eastern megalopolis.

This year, The Weather Channel has managed to name enough storms to get to Stella, which makes it their nineteenth named storm.

Decoded Science does not want to encourage The Weather Channel in this endeavor, so we will not use the name Stella, which historically has more of a musical connection with a cloudless night (Stella by Starlight). However, for consistency, we will make this the S storm and call it Nor’easter Sausage.

After a particularly innocuous January and February, Nor’easter Sausage was the defining east coast event of winter 2016-17.

It shut down Washington, Philadelphia, New York, and Boston with up to 14 inches of snow, and deposited as much as three feet inland. Winds created blizzard conditions, especially along the coast.

Powerful Tropical Cyclone Debbie Strikes Australia

This satellite photo shows Tropical Cyclone Debbie as the center was about to come ashore in Australia on March 27. Satellite photo courtesy of US Navy.

Australia is a sparsely populated continent — 24 million people spread over about three million square miles, or approximately 8 human beings per square mile.

Compared to Europe, where 750 million people are squashed into a mere four million square miles, or nearly 200 human beings per square mile, Australia is relatively uninhabited.

So from this coldly statistical, though hardly humanitarian, point of view, maybe it is fortunate that more tropical cyclones strike Australia than hit Europe.

Such a judgment would certainly not be appreciated by the residents of Queensland, where powerful tropical cyclones are a regular occurrence.

Approximately five tropical cyclones form annually in the waters northeast of Australia and move west or southwest. On average, two per year strike the Australian northeast coast.

Cyclone Debbie hit on March 28, 2017 with winds gusting to category five hurricane force (160 miles per hour).

As the storm receded, authorities confirmed five deaths. The departing storm also left hundreds of millions of dollars in damage to coastal resorts and a large shark lying in the middle of a street.

The remnants of Debbie brought flooding rain to southern Queensland and New South Wales, and some rivers will not crest until late this week.

New Atmospheric CO2 Record

On March 28, a record daily CO2 measurement was made at Mount Mauna Loa. Graphic courtesy of NOAA.

The daily measurement of atmospheric carbon dioxide on Mount Mauna Loa in Hawaii reached an all-time high of 409.47 parts per million (ppm) on March 28.

Though this appears to be a temporary spike from which readings will likely recede, it is a virtual certainty that new records will be set as we approach the seasonal peak in May.

As the spring growing season expands its extent, especially in northern latitudes, plants exhale more CO2, leading to this spring maximum.

The increase in atmospheric CO2 from year to year is a separate matter.

The vast majority of scientists consider the burning of fossil fuels to be the cause of this increase. The CO2 maximum has been increasing by two to three ppm per year since the middle of the 20th century.

 ‘Local El Niño’ Causes Colombia Flood

A very warm pool of water near the coast of South America is implicated in the recent flooding in Peru and Colombia. Graphic courtesy of NOAA.

NOAA currently calls conditions in the Pacific ‘ENSO neutral.’ (ENSO — El Niño-Southern Oscillation — is the official designation for the irregularly periodic sea surface temperature changes in the Pacific Ocean).

But locally an El Niño-like condition currently exists near the South American coast and is largely responsible for the current disaster in Colombia as well as mid-March flooding in Peru.

Decoding the movement of air on a spinning planet two-thirds of which is covered with water is an enormous task. And nowhere is it harder than at the equator where most of the time nothing happens, but when something does — even a relatively tiny something — there are large consequences.

Air wants to flow from high pressure to low pressure. But the spinning of the earth introduces a force that turns the movement at a right angle, so that air flows with low pressure on its left in the northern hemisphere (everything is reversed in the southern hemisphere).

At the equator, air doesn’t know which way to go — so it doesn’t. A narrow band around the world at the equator is called the doldrums because nothing happens. In the 18th century, sailing ships would get becalmed — the bane of pre-motorized-vessel mariners.

The air over equatorial oceans holds a huge amount of water vapor: first, it is over warm water, so there’s a high rate of evaporation; second, warm air can hold much more water vapor than cold air.

Normally the humid, stagnant air near the equator off the South American Pacific coast minds its own business. But occasionally it sloshes east, across the coastal plain and up the nearby mountains. As the air is forced to rise, it cools and cannot hold the water vapor, which condenses and pours out as rain. When the rain comes down rivers and hillsides, towns and cities are inundated.

Flooding occurred recently as very warm water got a foothold off the coast of Peru, Ecuador, and southern Colombia — a local El Niño. The air above this warm pool holds even more water vapor than normal. Just a modest push to the east created disastrous flooding. At least 72 people died in Peruvian floods in mid-March; more than 230 are missing in last weeks mudslides in Colombia.

More events like this are possible, though the water temperature has declined slightly this week.

Summer Is Coming — We Promise

Though the Rockies and New England are still getting snow, temperatures in the northern hemisphere will inevitably rise as the sun gets higher in the sky.  Tell Decoded Science how spring is progressing where you are.

The next Weather Around The World will be published on May 2, 2017.

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