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When the jet stream slows…

Written By: - Date published: 11:54 am, December 30th, 2017 - 39 comments
Categories: articles, climate change, Environment, global warming, International, Media, newspapers, science, the praiseworthy and the pitiful - Tags: , , ,

Yes, Donald Trump’s an arse. But the headlines that are ridiculing him for his latest statements on global warming are a bit rich given those same publications seem to have “a thing” for reporting on weather and its effects while saying nothing worthwhile about what sits behind it.

The US is experiencing simultaneous high and low temperatures because the jet stream is meandering. That’s the story. That’s what we should be paying attention to – not whether sharks are freezing to death, and not wrapping ourselves up in superior guffawing because of some splab coming from a guy in a big white house.

We’ve warmed the atmosphere above the arctic. And so it’s expanded as warm things do. Meaning the differential or “the gradient” between the tropics and the pole – that determines or limits the pathway of the jet stream, is much less than it used to be. Think of it in terms of a river making its way down a slope. The greater the gradient, the less the river meanders. The jet stream is now meandering. Now throw in the fact that weather fronts ride behind the ridges and troughs of the jet stream. And factor in that since the jet stream is meandering, those weather fronts pass over slower than they would have. And sometimes become “stuck”  when the jet stream falls into a “holding pattern”.

So colder air from the arctic can penetrate much further south than it used to, and warmer air from the tropics can penetrate much further north than it used to. And the whole thing moves east to west much slower than it used to and can also get “stuck”, leading to very prolonged periods of stable weather conditions (eg – conditions or drought or flood).

From across four supposedly serious news outlets – The Guardian, The Independent, The Washington Post and the New York Times – I found nine articles relating to current weather conditions in the US. All publications give headline space to Trump tweeting about “good old global warming” and run secondary stories from that premise. Across all nine pieces the term “jet stream” is used on only four occasions. (Twice in one article from the Washington Post)  Neither the Guardian (US edition) nor the New York Times make any specific mention of what is sitting behind the extreme hot and cold in the US.

So here we are. There’s a man saying stupid things. And there’s extreme weather. End.

Comfortably, that means we don’t have to say anything or do anything about…well, anything.

Here are the articles if you want to bring yourself up to speed on the really important fact that someone is saying some stupid stuff about weather conditions that (apparently) are kind of “just happening” because of a “catch all and meaningless” phenomenon called “global warming”.

The Guardian.  –

Trump’s call for some ‘good old global warming’ ridiculed by climate experts

The Independent

US weather: East coast freezes while California enjoys record winter temperatures (one mention of the jet stream)

Donald Trump’s comments on climate change would be funny if his actions weren’t so serious

US weather latest: Sharks freeze to death amid extremely low temperatures

The Washington Post –

After chilly forecast, Trump tweets U.S. ‘could use a little bit of that good old Global Warming’  (two references to the jet stream)

Eastern US to endure most numbing New Year’s Eve cold in memory (one mention)

The Trump administration’s position on climate change is all over the place

New York Times –

It’s cold outside. Cue the Trump Global Warming Tweet.

Even Sharks Are Freezing to Death:Winter Rages as the Nation Reels

 

 

 

 

 

39 comments on “When the jet stream slows… ”

  1. francesca 1

    “The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum”

    Noam Chomsky , ‘The Common Good’
    Trump serves as an almighty distraction.

  2. dv 2

    That is very interesting re the jet stream. First time I have seen it related to climate change.
    It is sorta obvious the was you explain it.
    Thank you Bill.

  3. RedLogix 3

    I’ll make one comment on this.

    In the past few months I’ve had at least six or more constructive conversations with people who were initially either hostile or deeply ambivalent to the AGW issue.

    By listening to them, asking questions and making it clear that I heard them and was not interested in dismissing, demeaning or shaming them, I could then start with their clearest or biggest concern, and slowly build a logical, calm and non-confrontational case from there.

    Crucially I never claim superior knowledge, I just point out that I used to work with scientists and I have some understanding of how they think and why I personally believe what they’re telling us.

    I agree with them that climate science is a big complex topic, with a lot of confusing information out there. This is true.

    I confirm that yes the science is never settled, that it’s always growing and changing. That there is no fixed truth and everyone is still searching for better understanding. I tell them how sad it is that such an important question and potentially huge challenge has become so deeply politicised. That the planet really doesn’t give a shit about anyone’s ideology.

    And each time we heard each other; the conversations converged and moved from their fixed starting points. In most instances they said how good it was to talk with someone who ‘knew what they were talking about’. I like to think a small door was opened and at least some people stepped through it.

    Sure there will always be the ideologues who are committed to their position; but the vast majority of people are a complex mix of confused, under-informed, world-weary and just not yet ready to take personal emotional responsibility for the such a complex issue so deeply embedded into the fabric of our civilisation.

    It’s a fearful business, and most people just need some encouragement.

    • Incognito 3.1

      An intelligent comment that, with some minor tweaking, could be applied to almost any complex and contentious contemporary issue. A few (recent and not so recent) ‘debates’ here on TS come to mind …

  4. One Two 4

    Did you check how often ‘Geo-Engineering’ was used in the same articles, Bill?

    • Bill 4.1

      No. Why would I do that?

      I was struck (alongside a few other things) by the lack of explanation and thinking it encourages a hopeless or passive “stuff happening” mentality.

      (The articles are all linked if you want to search them for mention of geo-engineering)

      • Ed 4.1.1

        The Gulf Stream – if that goes, we’re in serious trouble.

        • Bill 4.1.1.1

          Sure. If the temperature gradients in the oceans “disappear”, then over the course of thousands of years or tens of thousands of years, the oceans become anoxic and mammalian life all over the planet is kind of done for.

          But in case you’ve missed it. We’re in serious trouble right now.

        • lprent 4.1.1.2

          The Gulf Stream – if that goes, we’re in serious trouble.

          It will take a while (at a minimum – centuries) for the gulf stream to change modes. In any case it’d be a local problem for parts of the upper Atlantic coasts. Forget the movie edition – that was just stupid. Makes for a good story though.

          But it isn’t the atmosphere with its low molecular masses. The Gulf Stream stopping has a probability in the next couple of centuries similar to that of getting a deccan traps style magma plume or a natural major global winter level asteroid hit.

          Possible, but incredibly unlikely.

          I’m always intrigued at the way that people seem to expect geological events to happen inside their life times. If you think of it in terms of changes in probabilities like and insurance schemes it gets clearer.

          A moderate earthquake (ie like Christchurch) is likely in anyones lifetime – they are frequent enough everywhere. A large earthquakes (ie 8 or more) are only mildly probable if you happen to live a long time in a couple of locations.

          Significant sea level rises are certain if only because of thermal expansion of water as we heat the oceans. Significant ice melt volumes are also certain, but are a lot less certain about the levels. Over a child’s full lifetime these could be anything from a few 10’s of centimeters to a few tens of metres. We simply don’t know enough at present to predict either. But unless cities and farmers are daft enough to think that they can hold back the sea for geological timescales, you will find that societies just move because rises are slow.

          Significant shifts in weather patterns with the consequent bad agricultural effects are certain. No place in the world is more likely to see those than the continental areas in the upper northern hemisphere with their natural rather weird weather patterns (land areas in polar regions are always going to have weird weather). But other places with odd stable weather patterns like the Indian glacial / monsoon cycle are just about guaranteed to be affected. However environments directly moderated by oceans aren’t likely to be significantly affected by shifts in weather patterns.

          and so on. In virtually every case, the glacial pace of change will be slow enough that human societies should adjust reasonably easily if they aren’t up against population/resource limits. The problem is going to be places with populations with limited resources and unstable non inclusive political systems. A lot of the time the adjustments there aren’t going to happen fast enough and they’re likely to lead to refugees and civil and border wars.

          • Ed 4.1.1.2.1

            Thank you for your detailed explanation.

          • McFlock 4.1.1.2.2

            speaking of which, apparently Israel is having a severe drought and water shortages. They’re having a pray-in.

            • cleangreen 4.1.1.2.2.1

              Yes true that McFlock;

              A global freshwater war will be iminent in future.

              Many spoke of this decades ago as global population rises and largescale ‘arctic icecap mining’ for freshwater begins in desperation by using insulation around icebergs and floating them to a water storage facility as suggessted may be possible.

              https://www.living-water.co.uk/blog/can-icebergs-be-used-to-source-fresh-water/

              Quote;
              “There are two elements that human beings cannot survive without; water and oxygen. Unfortunately there is a looming water crisis in the world today, with many countries already experiencing water scarcity or water shortages. This has led to the question,” “Can Icebergs Be Used to Source Fresh Water?”

          • RedLogix 4.1.1.2.3

            Others suggest the Atlantic Meridonial Circulation Current (AMOC) is less stable than you are painting here Lynn.

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shutdown_of_thermohaline_circulation

            Michael Mann in particular has spoken to it on a number of occasions:

      • One Two 4.1.2

        That’s the ‘media’s role’, Bill

        I’ve looked through the articles, which are largely carbon copies of eachother (source reference document/quotes) not credited perhaps…

        ‘The world’ is being trapped in a perpetual state of ‘present time’ where background and historical context/analysis are MIA

        Trapped in perpetual ‘present time’ benefits who/what… (rhetorical and open question)

        It’s not only the ‘climate discussion’ which is MIA

        Seemingly any/all ‘future defining’ discussions are ‘classified/redacted/off the table’

        Unless the discussions are forced to be had, as a starter…

        Perpetual present , it will be

        • Ed 4.1.2.1

          The perpetual present is possible when people know little about history.

          Shades of 1984.
          ‘We have always been at war with Eurasia.’

          • One Anonymous Bloke 4.1.2.1.1

            Whereas nowadays, history, once stored in libraries, is widely shared and available to all. From many different perspectives, including false ones.

            The perpetual present is possible when people know very little about their own times, whether or not we have something to compare them with.

            That said, the pronouncement that the perpetual present has arrived is fanciful at best. We live in times wherein accelerated change is more-or-less the only certainty. That produces its own sort of inertia, plus ca meme chose, and yet the ramifications of, for example, ‘peak child’ are huge, globally, and most will not have even heard of it.

        • One Anonymous Bloke 4.1.2.2

          If you have any evidence whatsoever that geo-engineering is having a significant effect upon anything at all, let alone the gulf stream, now’s a good time to share it.*

          The changes we do see are consistent with a range of global circulation models from Arrhenius on down.

          *please do not waste time citing proposals: you will find them aplenty. Show that it’s happening, explain the results.

        • Ed 4.1.2.3

          ‘I’ve looked through the articles, which are largely carbon copies of eachother’

          The media are repeaters not reporters.

  5. Ed 5

    Quite simply the media’s role is to dumb down the population.
    It is doing a great job.

    • Bill 5.1

      Hmm. There are levels of inquisitiveness and fear and what not that are generally displayed by a population, regardless of whether individuals from that population are in media circles or not.

      It’s slightly more complex than that and sure, preservation of any status quo becomes central to how media operates by “accidental” systemic pressures and dynamics. But there’s certainly no conspiracy.

  6. Macro 6

    The blocking events where a high pressure zone remains fixed for some time causing heat waves and/or extreme cold temperatures has been a factor that climate scientists have been examining for a few years. Just how much these blocking events are associated with the breaking down of the Arctic Oscillation and its associated North Atlantic Oscillation is still being studied but there seems no reason to believe it is a major influence on the changing climate of the Northern Hemisphere.
    A good readable article on the relationship between the Jet Stream and the OA can be found here:
    https://skepticalscience.com/jetstream-guide.html

    • Bill 6.1

      ….but there seems no reason to believe it is a major influence on the changing climate of the Northern Hemisphere.

      I don’t think anyone has said the jet stream is any kind of an influence on the changing climate. Rather, the changing climate has an influence on the jet stream. And the changes to the jet stream are having a huge influence on weather, because the jet stream is what pushes “fronts” around the globe. It also acts as the demarcation line (for want of a better term) between warmer air of the tropics and colder air of the arctic….keeping one south and the other north.

      If what you’ve written is an accurate summary of the skeptical science pieces, then skeptical science just did a big straw thingee.

      • Anne 6.1.1

        Damm… I replied to your 6.1 Bill but forgot to hit reply. See 7.

      • Macro 6.1.2

        No Bill the result of global warming (particularly in the Arctic) and the resultant expansion of the atmosphere over the Arctic has lead to the decrease in gradient (as you describe above) with a resultant increased meandering of the Northern Hemisphere midlatitude Jet stream.
        I think we need to go back to the use of “Global warming” rather than “climate change” as the latter is the result of the former.
        There are many climate scientists looking at the relationship between the changing pattern of the Jet stream and the resultant weather patterns:
        http://journals.ametsoc.org/doi/pdf/10.1175/JCLI-D-11-00087.1
        eg.

        There is an emerging consensus among climate models
        that the midlatitude jet streams will shift poleward in response
        to greenhouse gas forcing (Meehl et al. 2007). The
        subtropical jets are expected to shift in line with an expansion
        of the tropics (Lu et al. 2007), and there is evidence
        that the eddy-driven component of the zonal wind
        will also shift poleward.

  7. Anne 7

    Bill, that’s an excellent description of the jet stream link to Climate Change. Did you have a career in Meteorology? In the southern hemisphere the polar jet stream is moving further northward of course, and the tropical jet stream is moving further southward. Hence the ever increasing extremes of weather patterns in the middle latitudes.

    NIWA is expecting a plethora of tropical cyclones in the coming months and some of them are likely to affect NZ – although the La Nina weather pattern we are experiencing is at least in part responsible.

    • Bill 7.1

      A career you say? Ha. No. Neither in meteorology nor anything else 😉

      The description isn’t mine btw. It’s a remembered interpretation of a description from a N. American scientist who’s been at the forefront of studying this meandering. I can’t remember her name or I would have linked something of her work somewhere in the piece.

      One thing I’ll say. I believe her research goes somewhat against the rather simple idea of things moving towards or away from the poles. It’s messier and more destructive.

      As far as I know, the southern hemisphere jet stream (the polar one) is unchanged. There has been no marked heating above Antarctica and so no “thickening” of the atmosphere. Antarctica is melting from below due to warmer deep ocean waters – a completely different process to what’s been going on in the Arctic.

      • Anne 7.1.1

        It’s 25 years since I left the Met Service and my knowledge is both outdated and been left (by me) to rust away in some far corner if my brain.

        You are right. The actual process of global warming and its effect on climate patterns is no where near as simple as I was suggesting. But to delve too deeply into the intricacies is to lose the interest of the average person who can’t be expected to understand them without extensive tuition. I’m far from being an expert, and there’s people who comment here who are far ahead of me in their expertise and understanding of global warming.

  8. Whispering Kate 8

    I can vouch for the weather on the Eastern Seaboard in the US, my family in Baltimore are freezing their butts off with -11C over night and -4 day time temperatures. Then we see California having fierce and dangerous bush fires. Talk about four seasons in a day. NZ is having heaps of extreme weather, gardeners know when the seasons are askew and they sure are these days. The trees and plants are in such a state of confusion its a wonder they can sort out their growing at all.

    This phenomenon is frightening to say the least and like cancer cells the situation will only ever get worse, multiplying in its severity year after year. Its difficult to differientiate the seasons these days. Trump is a cretin and its time the establishment over there did something to relieve him of office. Fortunally some states over there are ignoring him and going ahead with easing off on their energy levels and trying to do their bit, let’s hope more states follow in their footsteps.

    As for Mother Earth, she will reinvent herself as only a good woman can and adjust to her circumstances and it will be us humans that will become extinct, we only have ourselves to blame.

  9. NZJester 9

    I think there is something just as big you missed in your article. There is a second factor caused by global warming that is having just as much of an effect on the climate as the Jet Stream. The thermohaline circulation also known as the “global ocean conveyor belt” is being heavily effected by the warming of the ocean. The thermohaline circulation and the jetstream togeather are two of the most powerful forces that drive weather.

    • Galeandra 9.1

      True, and the effects may be locked in for a very long time given that the ‘conveyor belt’ may take more than a millenium to complete a cycle of circulation.

  10. Galeandra 10

    Thanks for the useful explanation, Bill. To be honest I’m not at all surprised that the articles focussed on Trump’s fatuosity rather than the reasons behind the erratic weather events that USA is having.

    For anyone interested there’s a very good free course run out of University of Queensland ( https://www.edx.org/course/making-sense-climate-science-denial-uqx-denial101x-6) in association with other international universities in Europe and the States.

    The science is well explained and supported by video clips from Mann and many other climate researchers, focuses on how the science is done, the nature of scientific consensus, and the types of illogical or specious arguments employed by denialists (as distinct from sceptics). The overall aim is to strengthen your capacity to deal with denialism and to deal with it through an improved understanding of its intellectual and emotional drivers.

  11. Pat 11

    A couple more articles to add to the mix ….

    https://phys.org/news/2017-06-climate-gulf-stream.html

    “Michael Mann, Distinguished Professor of Atmospheric Science at Penn State University, one of the study’s authors, noted that if the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation were to totally collapse over the next few decades, it would change ocean circulation patterns, influence the food chain, and negatively impact fish populations. We would not return to very cold conditions, however, because the oceans have taken up so much heat.”
    “The question is not if things are going to change, the thing is how fast and when are they going to change, and what are the changes we’re going to see. There are changes at the local scale that are occurring on a much shorter time frame, and changes in the long-term that could include the shutdown of the ocean circulation. We need to understand the processes to properly build the models [to make projections].”

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2017/04/06/scientists-say-the-unique-arctic-ocean-is-being-transformed-before-our-eyes/?utm_term=.d101dbb1c78c

    “In essence, the feedback between an warmer atmosphere, sea ice, and the underlying ocean weaken the isolation of the large heat source in the Atlantic Water from the sea ice cover,” said Peter Schlosser, an oceanographer at the Earth Institute at Columbia University, who called the paper “interesting and important.” “If this continues it could accelerate the sea ice decline and also a change of the
    stratification and general dynamics of the upper water layers in the Arctic Ocean.”

    As to timeframes theres one basic data set that should be providing pause for consideration….

    https://www.google.co.nz/imgres?imgurl=http://www.mygreenlife.com.au/media/article-images/au-co2-emissions.png&imgrefurl=http://www.mygreenlife.com.au/articles/paying-the-piper/&h=874&w=1372&tbnid=EtYuc036ZT8VYM:&tbnh=134&tbnw=211&usg=__ctV0M4sIFRUZ_tLF9WspTfuAStI%3D&vet=10ahUKEwie-qzCqbLYAhUIVbwKHbULDqMQ9QEINTAA..i&docid=mLY7Naf0CKIN1M&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwie-qzCqbLYAhUIVbwKHbULDqMQ9QEINTAA

  12. cleangreen 12

    Thankyou Bill,

    Very well put there.

    Everyone can benefit from your cear interpretation of the interaction shift of the jetstreams and moving of mass warmer air into the far reaches of the polar icecaps.

    The south pole is suffering similar incussion as our own weather patterns are reaping vast changes in our past patterns with the North Island central regions experiencing more cloud cover and wetter seasons around early summer with higher winds.

    We are are in for a very rocky road ahead but gladly we now have a more responsive government regarding our climate change events and what we need to do to start preparing for it and now cut back our emissions by using rail freight and reducing fuel hungry road freight, as a start here.

    Labour found a National party anitiated tstudy “buried” “called “The value of rail in NZ” by Ernest & Young for Kiwirail and NZTA that confirmed using rail instead of road freight would sve our economy and health $1.5 billlion just using our current rail use which as at 6%, – so it could be increased to $11 Billion in savings to us if rail use was increased to 50% easily while saving carbon emissions too.

    A ‘no brainer’ again we see.

    Happy new year for a better year for all in 2018.

  13. Humans have been responsible for unprecedented increases in CO2/CH4 (time wise)
    Many climate commentators (Peter Wadham for one) have said we are in unprecedented times.
    Most comments about how fast and bad it is going to be are based on history, but there is no historic precedent to compare a 120ppm + increase in CO2 and a near trebling of CH4 in such a short time, never before has there been so much CH4 and carbon held just below the guaranteed soon to melt ice, NEVER.
    Never b4 has there been a 3 ppm rise in CO2 in just 12 months, NEVER.
    Never b4 has there been so much ice on the planet at the same time as 407. ppm CO2/ 1.8 ppm CH4
    Most comments are based on hope, being as there is nothing to compare our situation with … in a good way that is.
    Like we know sustained 350 – 400 ppm CO2 = no global ice, up to 80 meter sea level rise, and no life as we know it.
    Humans are programmed for hope, we can’t help ourselves.
    54,000 species went extinct last year, it will only take one of those to be all of us.

    And lets not talk about the 440 potential/probable ‘Fukushimas’

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