Monday, February 8, 2016

Another Monster Nor'Easter As Warm Oceans Fuel Storms Big Time

Big nor'easter off the coast this morning.
It's yet another in a parade of very intense
storms this winter.
Boy, that nor'easter lurking off the Carolina coast this morning looks like a monster. And it totally is.

It's a classic "bomb" meaning it intensified super fast, and it's now an enormous, intense storm packing hurricane force winds and flinging around lots of precipitation and lightning. 

A normal nor'easter in this position this one is this morning would be too far offshore to have an enormous impact on the coast. Maybe some wind, light snow, nasty ocean waves.

But this one is so huge, so intense, that is is having a big effect. Blizzard warnings are still up for much of Cape Cod and the Islands. Up to 18 inches of snow propelled by gusts over 60 mph are still expected there today.

Elsewhere in southeastern New England, a good six to 12 inches of snow will fall.  Blizzard alerts are up in parts of the Maritime Provinces in Canada, too.

Coastal flood alerts are up from South Carolina to New England.

This storm is yet another "over performer" and we've seen a number of them this year. By over performer, I mean the storms have been stronger and more intense than many initial forecasts, and they've been nastier than what you'd normally expect.

Think about it. That late January blizzard really clobbered the Mid-Atlantic states with up to 42 inches of snow and coastal storm surges that broke records in Delaware and southern New Jersey.

Just last Friday, a nor'easter intensified a lot more than some forecasters anticipated. Up to a foot of heavy, wet snow collapsed many trees and power lines.

Over in Great Britain, a series of winter storms since early December have brought catastrophic floods, very damaging winds and coastal surges. Another intense storm is hitting England today.

Is this series of storms just coincidences? I doubt it.

A lot of what's fueling these storms is unusually warm ocean waters, especially off the U.S. East Coast. (There is a cold patch up in the North Atlantic, but it's unclear how that's affecting storms.)

The warm water is conducive to extra evaporation, which means more moisture available to a storm. The contrast between the usual Arctic air masses that descend down from Canada into that warm ocean water increases, making nor'easters stronger as well,  says the Washington Post. 

All this tends to make storms more intense, both in terms of the amount of precipitation they drop, and in terms of how strong they get, and how windy they get.

The warm ocean water off the East Coast this winter is due in large part - but not solely - due to climate change scientists are saying, as noted in the Washington Post article.

There's already been an observed increase in the intensity of winter storms along and off the East Coast.

Says the Washingotn Post:

"Overall, notes the U.S. National Climate Assessment, the northern hemisphere has seen a trend toward more frequent and intense winter storms since 1950. So hs the United States.

According to a 2013 consensus report published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society,  'the number of severe regional snowstorms that occurred since 1960 was more than twice the number that occurred during the preceding 60 years' in the United States."

I think as long as water temperatures in the western Atlantic stay warmer than normal this winter and early spring, the risk will remain for more strong storms.

Since ocean temperatures are generally on the long term increase due to global warming, I think we might need to get used to more intense nor'easters in the United States and Canada, and bigger blows in the UK and Europe as well.

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