The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

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Mexican villages about to get destroyed by climate change

Hurricane Patricia, which will slam into the Mexican coastal villages of San Patricio and Barra de Navidad in just a few hours, is the strongest hurricane ever observed:

Packing 200 mph winds, the U.S. National Hurricane Center described Patricia as the "strongest hurricane on record" in the Atlantic and eastern North Pacific Basins.

At 8 a.m. ET, Patricia was about 230 km southwest of Manzanillo, and about 340 km south of Cabo Corrientes.

Hurricane warnings stretched from San Blas to Punta San Telmo, an area that includes Puerto Vallarta and Manzanillo. CONAGUA, the Mexican national water commission, predicted waves about 40 feet at landfall.

Up to 20 inches of rain was predicted for the Mexican states of Jalisco, Colima, Michoacan and Guerrero through Saturday, the NHC said.

The NHC estimates landfall this evening.

As for the climate-change aspect of the story, the Washington Post has it covered:

Certainly, record-breaking hurricanes raise questions about longstanding predictions that global warming, by raising ocean temperatures, should also strengthen these storms. The issue, however, is beset by data-related difficulties, since storm measurement techniques are continually improving (creating a kind of apples-and-oranges problem when comparing past strong storms with present ones) and are also highly variable around the world — thus, hurricane hunter flights are far more common in the Atlantic than in the Northeast Pacific, where Patricia formed.

Still, there have been widespread predictions that hurricanes should become stronger, on average, in a warmer world. Summarizing the current research, the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration puts it this way: “Anthropogenic warming by the end of the 21st century will likely cause tropical cyclones globally to be more intense on average….This change would imply an even larger percentage increase in the destructive potential per storm, assuming no reduction in storm size.”

Yes, because it turns out, when you put energy into a system at a constant rate but decrease the rate that the energy can leave the system, the system has more energy. And half a century of dithering on climate-change policy has caught up with us.

Will this year's El Niño really affect Chicago?

WGN meteorologist Tom Skilling isn't sure:

This winter could for a number of reasons follow the lead of the past several winters and end up near or below normal. It would have to work at doing so. Bucking a strong El Nino isn’t impossible–but it’s not an easy thing for nature to do either.

Air over the warm ocean waters also warms, and this appears at least one factor in the build-up of a ridge over western North America which has contributed to the diversion of needed precipitation away from the western U.S. while contributing to the ridging (i.e. northward “buckling”) of the jet stream which has kept us cold in recent winters with huge Great Lakes ice buildup. It wouldn’t be hard to imagine some version of this happening again this winter–and that would profoundly change the current “warmer than normal” winter season forecast.

So while one of the strongest El Niños on record will exert some powerful effects on North American weather, the climate change we've already experienced may exert even stronger effects. The El Niño could simply reinforce the persistent ridge over the western US that has caused the last few Chicago winters to suck.

Can't wait to find out...