Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Latest US Drought Map and Colorado

We are long overdue to catch up on the map of the Palmer Drought Severity Index.  Above is the version for June 23rd.  As you can see, much of the interior west is in extreme drought conditions, and has also been suffering a record breaking heat-wave (even though it's not the height of summer yet):
Record highs continue to fall Tuesday afternoon in the central U.S., where Denver, Colorado had its fifth consecutive day of triple-digit heat after it reached 100°F at 1pm MDT, and could continue to rise this afternoon. This ties the all-time record for consecutive 100°F+ days. Nebraska and Kansas are particularly toasty this afternoon; McCook, Nebraska has reached 113°F so far, and Hill City, Kansas is up to 112°F. Though, to put that in perspective, the state record for Nebraska is 118°F, and the state record for Kansas is 121°F.

The heat moves east tomorrow, and by Thursday, many of the major Midwest cities are forecast to be in the triple-digits, including Chicago, St. Louis, and Indianapolis.
The consequences are ugly:
A wildfire raging near some of Colorado's most popular tourist sites grew suddenly more ferocious on Tuesday, forcing 32,000 people from their homes, prompting evacuations from the U.S. Air Force Academy and swallowing numerous houses at the edge of Colorado Springs.

The fire was "shaping up as one of the biggest disasters in Colorado history," the Denver Post reported.

From the vantage point of a command post about 10 miles from the path of advancing flames, the entire community of Mountain Shadows, a northwest subdivision of Colorado Springs, appeared to be enveloped in an orange glow after dark.

"This is a fire of epic proportions," Colorado Springs Fire Chief Rich Brown told Reuters as ash drifted down on the city, sirens wailed and the thick smell of smoke permeated the air.

The stubborn and towering wildfire had jumped firefighters' perimeter lines in the hills overlooking Colorado Springs.

"We have homes burning right now," El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa said Tuesday night, according to the Denver Post.

The sheriff was among those forced from home by the fire, the newspaper added.

"It was like looking at the worst movie set you could imagine," Gov. John Hickenlooper said after flying over the 9-square-mile fire late Tuesday. "It's almost surreal. You look at that, and it's like nothing I've seen before."
There are also fires threatening Boulder and (recently) Fort Collins.  My heart goes out to those suffering in these disasters.

Still, it would be remiss not to remind readers of this map from the report Global Climate Change: Impacts in the United States

It shows the number of days over 100oF expected in the later part of this century under business-as-usual carbon emissions.

What is happening in Colorado Springs at present, and what happened to Texas last summer, is going to happen to most of the country in coming decades.


rjs said...

i have been watching the colorado river watershed...less than 2 inches of rain over the entire basin last 90 days:


Michael R said...

Meanwhile, the UK is on track for the coldest, wettest June in 100 years, after the coldest, wettest May, and coldest, wettest April.

Stuart Staniford said...

Michael R: Do you have a link for that? This map shows May in Britain to have been very average:

Stephen B. said...

We'll see what Mike offers you back, but in general what he just said is typical for armchair Warming denialists.

Two winters ago, when the Mid Atlantic states got those all those big snow storms, some folks were saying it disproves climatic warming, but when one looked at the area's temperature records, it wasn't all that cold and just further north in New England we were exceptionally low on snow (because all the storms were tracking south of us all while our temps. were seasonal.) That year was also the year NH's Lake Winnipesaukee had a record EARLY ice out. (That occurred because the ice remained clear/black because it never snowed on the ice to whiten it which would normally reflect more of the early spring sunlight.)

My point is that anecdotal items such as a few snow storms or a lake ice out date mean little compared to actual climate data, but the former are what contrary people look for nevertheless.

I suppose it's good Europe isn't baking thus far, but as your link shows, it's not "cold" by any stretch of the word

Michael R said...

My bad.

May was three weeks of extremely cold and wet weather (which had it continued, would have edged records, and which is what I was recalling), followed by a week of unusually hot weather, which netted out to an average month (as reflected in the temperature anomaly map).

The swing was from daytime highs of 46 degrees on 3 May, with frost and snow through 16 May, to a run of 80 degree weather 24-28 May.

So, you could say the average was average, but the standard deviation, not so much.

rjs said...

there have been numerous articles this week about a study showing that the US atlantic coast from NC to boston would have much higher than normal sea level rise; reason being the effect of greenland icemelt on the gulf stream...if the gulf stream should slow down, the UK could well see much colder weather...

Stuart Staniford said...


I think it's also a reasonable view that the weather is getting more extreme, as well as shifting to the hot side on average. Eg, even though the land surface of the planet is getting drier on average, it's also true that there are more extreme rainfall events than there used to be. A possible reason for some of these things is the slowing Rossby wave issue we discussed a month or two back, in addition to the general Clausius Clapeyron issues - that air holds more water at higher temperatures.

Michael R said...

With regard to Stephen B., my point wasn't to deny warming, but to emphasize, as Stuart mentions above, that extremes appear to be growing more noticeably than the underlying warming.

A bit of recent history from the Met Office site I linked:

November: warmest since 1994, 2nd warmest on record

Feburary: driest since 1998

March: warmest March since 1957, 3rd warmest on record, driest since 1953

April: coldest since 1989, wettest on record

Also, as is particularly the case with May, the averaging by calendar month masks greater intra-month extremes.

Ideally, I'd like to get a daily per-station time-series of temperature and precipitation to show more clearly whether the weather is becoming more extreme on average versus the historical record. I haven't been able to find that yet, though.

Michael Cain said...

The biggest thing here in Colorado is the extremity of the change from last year: near-record snowpacks and one of the wettest Julys ever (in some Front Range cities, water usage in July 2011 was 50% below average).

I feel for the people whose houses have burned, but there's still an underlying issue: if you build your house in or next to a forest in which fires are a natural occurrence, and the government has practiced near-total fire suppression policy for a century so that the fuel load has built up enormously, it's a matter of "when" not "if".

Colorado will experience record fires in the coming decade or so. It's already "baked in" to the environment: two million acres of dense beetle-killed trees, and not a chance that that much land will be harvested or otherwise thinned.

Unknown said...

I'm in West Magnolia Forest NW of Houston, where fires burned last year. Most of my pine is drought or beatle killed. I'm clearing even the hardwood and replanting with the Empress Spleandor tree. It's an extremely fast growing fireproof, insect proof hardwood. A very good option that can be harvested in less than 10 years, resprout from the stump 5-7 times,kiln curing unnecessary,warps & checks little,few knotholes a great option that absorbs 6 times the CO2 that other trees do. What could be better?

Mr. Sunshine said...

A couple of interesting links for central and southwestern water data:

Michael R said...

It's official. Last month was the wettest June on record for the UK: