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Heat Waves (4) A Climate Case Study:

By: Dr. Ricky Rood , 6:26 AM GMT en Julio 19, 2011

Heat Waves (4) A Climate Case Study:

In the last article I wrote that the extreme events of 2011 were providing us with the opportunity to think about climate and how to cope with a warming world. The U.S. is experiencing an extreme heat event this week (Masters @ WU). This heat wave is the consequence of a strong, stationary high pressure system over the central U.S., and it will move to the east over the next few days. Back on July 14th The Capital Weather Gang did a nice write up on the forecast of the heat wave. At the end of this blog are links to my previous blogs on heat waves and human health.

When thinking about weather, climate, and extreme events an important idea is “persistence.” For example, a heat wave occurs when there are persistent high temperatures. Persistent weather patterns occur when high and low pressure systems get large and stuck; that is, they don’t move. In the Figure below, you need to imagine North America and the United States. There is a high pressure center over the proverbial Heartland. With blue arrows I have drawn the flow of air around the high pressure system, and in this case moist air. There is moisture coming from the Gulf of Mexico and, in fact on the date when this was drawn, from the Pacific. This is common in the summer to see both the Gulf of Mexico and Pacific as sources of continental moisture.

Figure 1: Schematic of a high pressure system over the central United States in July. While generic, this is drawn to represent some of the specifics of 2011. The green-shaded area is where there have been floods in 2011. The brown-shaded area represents sustained drought in the southern part of the nation.

At the center of this high pressure system there is a suppression of rain, because the air is moving downward. This sets up a situation where the surface heats from the Sun’s energy. There is not much mixing and cooling, because of the suppression of the upward motion that produces rain. Hence, if this high pressure system gets stuck, then there is persistent heat. This is a classic summer heat wave.

Let’s think about it some more. There is lot of moisture being drawn around the edge of the high pressure system, and this moisture contributes to the discomfort of people. People – just a short aside about people: if we think about heat and health, then we are concerned about people’s ability to cool themselves. It is more difficult to cool people when it is humid because sweat does not evaporate. Suppose that in addition to this moisture, there is a region where the ground is soaked with water from flooding. Then on top of already moist air coming from the Gulf, there is local evaporation into the air being warmed by the Sun. If on the interior of the high, where the rain is suppressed, there is hot, wet air, then it becomes dangerous heat.

It’s not easy to derive a number that describes dangerous heat. But in much of the eastern U.S. a number that somehow combines temperature and humidity is useful. Meteorologists often use the heat index. It’s the summer time version of “it’s 98 degrees, but it feels like 105.” For moist climates, the heat index is one version of the “it feels like” temperature. Jeff Masters tells me that in Newton, Iowa yesterday, July 17, 2011, the heat index was 126 degrees F. (see here, and 131 F in Knoxville, Iowa on July 18)

Another measure of heat and humidity is the dew point; that is, the temperature at which dew forms, and effectively limits the nighttime low. The dew points in Iowa, South Dakota, Minnesota, and Wisconsin are currently very high and setting records. Here is a map of dew point for July 19, 2011.

Figure 2: Exceptionally high dew points centered on Iowa.

Now if I was a public health official, and I was trying to understand how a warming planet might impact my life, then here is how I would think about it. First, the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific are going to be warmer, and hence, there will be more humid air. This will mean, with regard to human health for the central U.S., heat waves will become more dangerous, without necessarily becoming hotter. It is also reasonable to expect heat waves will become more frequent and last longer, because those persistent, stuck high pressure systems are, in part, forced by the higher sea surface temperatures. If I am a public health official here is my algorithm – heat waves are already important to my life, and they are likely to get more dangerous, more frequent, and of longer duration. But by how much? Do I need to know by how much before I decide on a plan for action?

If I think about the air being more humid, then I might expect to see trends in the heat index. I might expect to see trends in dew points, and trends in the nighttime minimum temperatures getting higher. (That’s where a greenhouse effect really matters.) I worry about persistent heat, warm nights, and the inability of people and buildings to cool themselves. I worry about their being dangerous heat in places where people and emergency rooms are not used to dangerous heat – not acclimated to heat – not looking for heat-related illness.

Let’s go back to the figure. Rain is suppressed in the middle of the high pressure system, but around the edge of the high pressure system it will rain; there will be storms. (see Figure 3 at the end) The air around the edge of high is warm and very wet. Wet air is energetic air, and it is reasonable to expect local severe storms. (See Severe Storm on Lake Michigan) And if the high pressure is persistent, stuck, then days of extreme weather are possible. If this pattern sets up, then there is increased likelihood of flooding. If I am that public health official, then I am alerted to the possibility of more extreme weather and the dangers thereof. But, again, can the increase of extreme weather be quantified? Do I need to quantify it before I decide on a plan of action?

Still with the figure - what about that region of extended drought and the heat from the high pressure system? Dehydration becomes a more important issue. As a public health official, I start to see the relation of the heat event to other aspects of the weather, the climate. I see the relation to drought. I see the flood, and it’s relation to the winter snow pack and spring rains.

So what I have presented here is to look at the local mechanisms of the weather – what are the basic underlying physics responsible for hot and cold, wet and dry – for moist air? If I stick to these basic physics, and let the climate model frame the more complex regional and global picture, what can I say about the future? Do I have to have a formal prediction to take action? Here in 2011, I see drought and flood and hot weather and warm oceans that interact together to make a period of sustained, dangerous heat. It does not have to “set a record” to convey the reality of the warming earth. It tells me the type of event that is likely to come more often, of longer duration, and of, perhaps, of greater intensity. If I am a public health planner, then I can know this with some certainty. The question becomes, how do I use that information in my planning?


Figure 3: Radar loop showing precipitation around the edge of the large high pressure system in the middle of the continent. July 19, 2011.

Previous Blogs on Heat Waves

Hot in Denver: Heat Waves (1)

Heat Waves (2): Heat and Humans

Heat Waves (3): Role of Global Warming

The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.

Reader Comments

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Quoting cyclonebuster:

Gulfstream kinetic energy beats them all.

yupper, I like your style.
Member Since: Diciembre 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
Green- how are we going to mine these toxic minerals without any pollution. Whether it be solar, wind, hydro or nuclear all come with pollution or other possible problems there is no way we can live the way we do with out polluting
Member Since: Diciembre 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
Quoting nymore:
You just changed the link the original link is not the same page now posted.

You got me. I am the editor of The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, and after realizing you were on to me, I logged on and made a quick change to cover my tracks.

Member Since: Diciembre 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
You just changed the link the original link is not the same page now posted.
Member Since: Diciembre 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
Quoting RustyShackleford:

I ain't gonna lie I probably won't respond to everything on it but I'll try my best I might end up doing it.

So I won't talk about being world dictator because if you were is what we are talking about.

The tax is already to high on fuel ridiculous.

How would we get around?

zero runoff? More gubment agencies there meaning more money and more power.

Your tv isn't made in baltimore because of the gubment.

Cheaper to build it somewhere else

How's that plan working out so far?

What happens when we still warm even though we are on batteries? Where do the batteries go after they burn out? Rechargeable batteries still burn out.

What if you go somewhere were you can't charge your batter say hiking and you don't want to spend hundreds of dollars on a spare just in case?

No sun?
No wind?
I can jump on nuclear
No waves?

You can't control that stuff.

More gubment isn't better for our health.

Small towns and communities are gone because of Walmart not gasoline.

Gasoline actually helps some as they travel to that area.

I don't know anything about the Norway thing.

Being debt free? I do that everyday. No credit cards!!!! Dumbest thing ever!

I don't want to bike from the Woodlands 20 miles to downtown to watch an Aeros game or Texans game (even further) or 80 miles to go saltwater fishing just doesn't seem like the smartest idea. How would I get my poles there?

How would I bring my date to a game on the back of my bike? Doesn't seem logical.

I really am indulging myself replying to you because I think you are an idiot. But, quickly:

The biking plan is fine so far. Hopefully more on that next summer.

Batteries are recycleable.

Zero runoff is correct. If your neighbor had runoff going into your yard, would you think you had the right to complain? We all live togather and the cost from preventing pollution in runoff would be passed on to the consumer. People have always complained about things like public education, sanitary laws, etc. but they are better than not having them. When ws the last time you are in a restaurant that was not inspected?

I thought you'd like Walmart. I lived in Kodiak when Walmart came and the standard of living went up for most of the community due to lower prices. Walmart is neutral to positive for small communities; if the community is really a community, it survives just fine.

As for the Astros game: 20 miles is pretty doable. 80 miles on an electric scooter isn't so much problem. Niether are poles and luaggage really. For dates, public transport, cabs or even bikes. That is the point of raising the taxes on gas so high: you can chose to spend it but for single person trips, take your electric bike.

By debt, I meant national debt.

I agree there are no easy solutions for trucks within the first few years but later on:

automated driverless low profile vehicles. they are fully capable of being electric. Electric busses exist and so the battery capability is there, etc., same thing with smaller container boats.

micro canals: closed tubes that act like those old bank teller pneumatic tubes only horizontal and using water.

Finally, for trucks, shipping only the parts that need to be shipped, i.e. raw materials. Everythign else can be done locally. that still leaves local transportation but that is a much eisier problem to solve.

Wind, water and solar all work. they will work better in coming years. I don't understand the self righteous/happiness tone from the frognews crowd stating they won't work.

Fortunatly, not all countries are as corrupt and bass-ackwards the US has become. Many are developing these technologies. Soon we ('we' because I am US till I die and proud of it even if I think the GOP is to politics what crotchless panties are to acting success), anyway, soon we will be like the high school hero who is too cool to bother to listen in class and then ends up working for the other kids.

Since you have, without obvious thought, derided all my solutions, what are yours? Remember the goal is to solve the problem.

Member Since: Diciembre 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
Quoting nymore:
Neapolitan- That sure is a nice opinion piece and I also liked how you added your own facts in there, for one it says wmd attack 20% in 10 years not 15 years and it says nothing about burning fossil fuels that you added for effect. The risks they are spending big cash on are immediate not 50 or 100 years away and I also like how they take the climate change part and talk about global effect while the others they just talk about effects to the USA. Should the US economy collapse the worlds will to and I see that killing or causing as much destruction as climate change

Did you not actually read the piece? Yes, it mentions "fossil fuels"; you can do a page search for it. And in case you haven't been keeping up, it's called "global warming"; the global part means it's effecting us all, not just here in the U.S.
Member Since: Diciembre 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
Quoting PurpleDrank:
healthy economy menas healthier population

If that's true, and if you believe it, then that's all the more reason to be concerned enough about warming to do something about it, don't you think? In many pieces--and not just the one to which I linked--scientists have expressed their worries; isn't it time to get on board?
Member Since: Diciembre 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:

nice graphic Buster

Member Since: Diciembre 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
Quoting nymore:
Neapolitan- That sure is a nice opinion piece and I also liked how you added your own facts in there, for one it says wmd attack 20% in 10 years not 15 years and it says nothing about burning fossil fuels that you added for effect. The risks they are spending big cash on are immediate not 50 or 100 years away and I also like how they take the climate change part and talk about global effect while the others they just talk about effects to the USA. Should the US economy collapse the worlds will to and I see that killing or causing as much destruction as climate change


healthy economy menas healthier population

compare human life expectancy from 1979-2011 worldwide to any other 32 year period in history.

Member Since: Diciembre 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
Neapolitan- That sure is a nice opinion piece and I also liked how you added your own facts in there, for one it says wmd attack 20% in 10 years not 15 years and it says nothing about burning fossil fuels that you added for effect. The risks they are spending big cash on are immediate not 50 or 100 years away and I also like how they take the climate change part and talk about global effect while the others they just talk about effects to the USA. Should the US economy collapse the worlds will to and I see that killing or causing as much destruction as climate change
Member Since: Diciembre 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
how about the southern hemisphere?

Member Since: Diciembre 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
Nea you seem to enjoy publications by the org that created the Dooms Day Clock.

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists is a nontechnical online magazine that covers global security and public policy issues, especially related to the dangers posed by nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction. It has been published continuously since 1945, when it was founded by former Manhattan Project physicists after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists of Chicago. The Bulletin's primary aim is to inform the public about nuclear policy debates while advocating for the international control of nuclear energy. It is currently published by SAGE Publications.

One of the driving forces behind the creation of the Bulletin was the amount of public interest surrounding atomic energy at the dawn of the atomic age. In 1945 the public interest in atomic warfare and weaponry inspired contributors to the Bulletin to attempt to inform those interested about the dangers and destruction that atomic war could bring about.[1] To convey the particular peril posed by nuclear weapons, the Bulletin devised the Doomsday Clock in 1947. The original setting was seven minutes to midnight. The minute hand of the Clock first moved closer to midnight in response to changing world events in 1949, following the first Soviet nuclear test. The Clock is now recognized as a universal symbol of the nuclear age. In the 1950s, the Bulletin was involved in the formation of Pugwash, an annual conference of scientists concerned about nuclear proliferation, and, more broadly, the role of science in modern society.

Throughout the history of the Bulletin there have been many different focuses of the contributors to the Bulletin. In the early years of the Bulletin it was separated into three distinct stages.[6] These stages, as defined by founder Eugene Rabinowitch in "The Atomic Age" were Failure, Peril, and Fear. The "Failure" stage surrounded the Bulletin's failed attempts to convince the American people that the best and most effective way to control them was to eliminate their use. In the "Peril" stage, the contributors focused on warning readers about the dangers of full scale atomic war. In the "Fear" stage, the unsuccessful attempts at deterring readers from supporting the disarmament of nuclear weapons led many, including the contributors to the Bulletin, to question the patriotism of others.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bulletin_of_the_Atom ic_Scientists

FAILURE, PERIL, FEAR...All of the ingredients for a successful 501 C corp publication.
Member Since: Diciembre 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
There was an excellent article yesterday in The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists about the United States' inadequate response to the major security threat posed by climate change. I suggest reading the entire piece, but here's the basic gist of it:

The Risk: WMD Proliferation 20% likelihood of an attack involving a nuke in the next 15 years.
The Response: Trillions on weapons, billions on non-proliferation

The Risk: International terrorism Although acts of terrorism are highly likely to occur, the targeted nature of the phenomenon usually limits the scale of destruction.
The Response: A trillion-dollar global "war on terror"

The Risk: Systemic economic crisis
The Response: Massive stimulus spending, increased financial regulation.

The Risk: Rapid climate change The IPCC places the likelihood that the global climate is warming because of human activities %u2014 chiefly the burning of fossil fuels that release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere %u2014 at 90 percent or greater, an incredibly rare degree of certainty on any subject in the scientific world. There is also great certainty about the severe impacts those changes will have, should they go unaddressed.
The Response: Relative to the risk, feeble

Bottom line: "The US government has invested trillions of dollars in efforts to prevent and mitigate the risks of weapons of mass destruction, global terrorism and systemic economic crises, because the consequences of inaction are considered unacceptable. These investments were made despite significant uncertainty about the frequency with which these catastrophic events might occur. When it comes to climate change, the consequences of failing to appropriately manage risks are also unacceptable. Meanwhile, the scientific community is as close to certain as humanly possible about the prospects for global crisis. Without action, the overwhelming scientific consensus asserts, a climate catastrophe that threatens billions of lives will almost surely occur. Such a dire and certain security threat calls for an urgent and financially significant response from US policymakers. Simply put, climate change is a serious threat to the United States and the world. Military leaders understand it, the national security community understands it, and it's time our civilian leaders responded accordingly."
Member Since: Diciembre 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
the more i dwell, the more confused i get.

the Earth's current climate scenario may be influenced by the progress of humans. but I'm not sure its CO2 that is the end-all-be-all reason behind such changes.

heat afterall is an engine of life. past history shows extinction events are influenced by radical drops in temperature within a timeframe.

the last great extinction event 65 million years ago is theorized now to be somewhat of a global double-whammy, large space impact combined with geological alterations caused by tectonic activity, producing a change to climate.

Every event plays a roll in the climate future.

whether by the hands of man or by nature, the Earth is constantly vulnerable to change.

there is just not enough time for man to understand all he sees and experiences. For every million things that effect one large thing, there are a trillion other things that effect the million things effecting that one large thing.

its deep, i know.
Member Since: Diciembre 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
Quoting GiovannaDatoli:

It should come to no one's surprise that you can present them overwhelming scientific evidence to illustrate C02 is responsible for the rapid warming--and still--the denialist's will be whistling past the graveyard, completely oblivious to the extreme damage being inflicted upon our globe.


1979-2011 may be rapid to a human, full aware of their mortality..thus the existence of graveyards, but may not be to a 4.6 billion year old space cookie.

through geological investigation, we can theorize Earth has seen its levels of CO2 rise and fall in its history. that to me points in the direction of cyclical nature dictated by random events of physics and chemistry. it seems odd to me that evidence of change in the past is today ignored because of agenda.

the AGW CO2 complex is theoretical. overwhelming only to a creature with moods and emotional motives, but not likely so overwhelming to just one of probably several billion trillion trillion planets, each unique, in the universe.
Member Since: Diciembre 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
Quoting cyclonebuster:

Where is your graph showing different data than NOAA?

well this presents a problem, at least in my mind.

where are the other private entities that blast weather satellites into space?

all of the observation data are from govt. funded and regulated agencies.

those with the authority to launch satellites have a clear advantage in holding data. if a private "denialist" entity wanted to put their own satellites in orbit, they would not be able to get off the ground due to the govt's grip on what goes into orbit.

this presents a bias.

Member Since: Diciembre 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
Quoting RustyShackleford:

Well .039% is such a small cover it can't cause nearly enough warming.

Rusty, you devote probably 30% of your posts to saying that CO2 at just 0.039% of the atmosphere can't possibly have any effect on things. But the thing is, even most denialists themselves understand that CO2 is a greenhouse gas, and what that means. They may disagree on how much there is and/or how much of an impact it's had and/or where it came from--but they do understand. Here's a great primer on climate science; I politely suggest that you read it to help get you over this one particular hump.

Member Since: Diciembre 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
Seems we have a "PC"o2 footprint problem here :)

Never forget who and where you are folks !

We should spend more time on the + side of it .......

Member Since: Diciembre 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
Ok now tell me real world solutions unless your toxic batteries can power an 80,000 lb truck across the US or a ship across the ocean both hauling the foods from around you want to eat. The insulation idea is a good start. Also whether you drive a small car or not the road will still have to support large loads
Member Since: Diciembre 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
well, if'n I could be world dictator... my off the top of my head ideas for the US of A:

1. Start with rationing fuel or simply raise the tax on fuel to around $3 per gallon with a 1$ per year increase after that. (Right off the bat I am not keeping the same standard of living but give me a transition period to get through and then return to our standard of living.) I'd do the same/equivilent thing with coal.

2. Require all factories, farms, mines, etc to meet pollution standards of zero runoff.

3. Increase junk mail costs, packaging costs and transportation costs on everything except personal movement. It's not good that my new TV is made in over there somewhere. Why isn't it made in Baltimore?

The goal of my little fantasy is:

1. Most transportation will done by electric bicycle, bicycle, skooter, eletric vehicle. Recharging for heavy vehicles is done by battery swap: i.e. join a battery club. If you need a battery, swap it out in a few minutes. Light vehicles can either recharge overnight/at work or have thier own private swap out system.

2. The charging power comes from mostly solar, wind, nuclear or wave power.

3. Note that the benefits of a light vehicle culture are far more than just the cost of oil. they include health benefits (no, really, look up the figures, it is amazing), less pollution, less infrastructure costs, and so on.

4. Insulation on buildings increases. For example, they have houses in Norway where breakfast cooking provides all the heat necessary for the entire day..in winter! Passive heating and cooling increases.

5. The US becomes locally self sufficient for most things. Things like maple syrup that are local can still be sent but are more expensive.

6. This still leaves manufacturing as an energy cost but I think it is a start.

The goal of my little fantasy is that we all are able to live the important parts of our lives the way we want. Those parts that are not important, like driving across town to buy a specific brand of ice cream (I just did this for someone) are lost.

I'd also like to see small towns and communities return and see telecommuting centers/internet community centers installed in them to provide local revenue required and provide that contact with the larger society that is required.

I know it is a fantasy but without writing novels, that is my best attempt at describing the transition method and the goal. Imagine waking up and breathing clean air, being debt free and being able to walk (bike) to a downtown of a community that you know and care about. I think it is worth fighting for.

Member Since: Diciembre 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:

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Dr. Ricky Rood's Climate Change Blog

About RickyRood

I'm a professor at U Michigan and lead a course on climate change problem solving. These articles often come from and contribute to the course.

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