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Bizarro Earth

New research looks at grey swan events, 36-foot surges, and mega-storms

© William Putnam/NASA/GSFC
A NASA computer model simulates the astonishing track and forceful winds of Hurricane Sandy. On Saffir-Simpson scale, this wasn't a "major" storm at landfall.
Excellent Science Word of the Day: "Paleotempestology."

It's the study of prehistoric storms. The word pops up near the end of the new paper in Nature describing "Grey swan tropical cyclones" (Nature, as always, favors the British spelling of "gray"). My colleague Chris Mooney describes this new research on the E&E blog.

The paper has some jaw-dropping calculations, most notably that it is not inconceivable that in the hotter climate at the end of this century, a mega-storm could ride up along the shallow waters of Florida's Gulf Coast, take a sharp turn into Tampa Bay and (boosted by something called "Kelvin Waves"*) produce as much as a 36-foot storm surge at the head of the bay.

That would be, to say the least, a sub-optimal situation. Put it in 72-point type: Megastorm Threatens Bern's Steak House.

Of course, such a Tampa-blasting mega-storm isn't likely to happen. Nor is it likely that a monster storm will careen into the Persian Gulf and clobber Dubai -- another scenario entertained by the authors of the new paper. They are using computer models and the historical record to try to get an estimate of how frequently three vulnerable cities (the third is Cairns, Australia) could be hit by anomalously huge storms in the coming decades. These are places where the geography and bathymetry (lots of shallow water in particular) could amplify the devastation. In the case of Tampa, the authors can envision a low-probability, high-consequence event in which the bay essentially dumps its contents on the city and surrounding areas like a tipping bathtub.

Comment: The uncertainties aren't as uncertain as we might think (or hope) them to be. While modern record keeping of meteorological events only go so far, our history is rich with examples of megastorms that when read with a discerning eye indicate that we may very well see these types of events again during this time loop.

See also: Future forecast? Hurricanes 'unlike anything you've seen in history'


Question

Salton Sea burps hydrogen sulfide; third time this summer

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The Salton Sea is belching hydrogen sulfide - again.

The Air Quality Management District issued an odor advisory Monday for the Coachella Valley. It's at least the third one this summer.

Hydrogen sulfide smells like rotten eggs and is associated with natural processes occurring in the Salton Sea.

Concentrations of the gas exceeded state standards in the community of Mecca and another at the north end of the Salton Sea in Riverside County.

Cloud Lightning

Future forecast? Hurricanes 'unlike anything you've seen in history'

© Skywalker Sound
Last week, the nation focused its attention on the 10-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, the most destructive hurricane in U.S. history. As bad as the storm was, though, it wasn't the worst storm that could have possibly hit New Orleans.

That's true of many, many other places, too. And now, in a new study in Nature Climate Change, Princeton's Ning Lin and MIT's Kerry Emanuel demonstrate that when it comes to three global cities in particular — Tampa, Fla., Cairns, Australia, and Dubai, United Arab Emirates — there could come a storm that is much worse than anything in recent memory (or in any memory).

Granted, these theoretical storms are also highly unlikely to occur — in some cases, they are 1-in-10,000-year events, or even rarer. The researchers refer to these possible storms as "gray swans," riffing on the concept of a "black swan" event, an unpredictable catastrophe, or highly impactful event. A "gray swan," by contrast, can indeed be predicted, even if it is extremely rare.

The purpose of the study is "to raise awareness of what a very low probability, very high impact hurricane event might look like," said Emanuel. The gray swan storms were generated by a computer model that "coupled" together, in the researchers' parlance, a very high-resolution hurricane model with a global climate model. That allowed the researchers to populate the simulated world with oodles of different storms.

Comment: While the study misses the boat when it comes to global warming, it is interesting that one of the authors notes a theoretical "hypercane" involving an asteroid hitting and drastically warming ocean waters. This may be closer to our potential future if our history is any indicator. See Comets and the Horns of Moses for more information.


Attention

4.3 earthquake hits north central Washington wildfire zone

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A 4.3 magnitude earthquake has hit the wildfire zone in north central Washington.

The quake, which was six miles deep, hit 26 miles east of Okanogan and 25 miles north of Grand Coulee at 9:42 a.m. Tuesday, according to the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network.

KIRO 7 meteorolgist Morgan Palmer said an earthquake of that depth was considered shallow and was likely felt as a jolt.

The Pacific Northwest Seismic Network asks if you felt the earthquake, to fill out the form here.

Attention

California baby seals dying from a form of cancer that could be caused by radiation

While officials continue to tell us everything is fine, and they essentially act like the Pacific Ocean is a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser for all the radiated water being continuously dumped into it from the crippled Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, we are getting reports of baby seals dying of cancer off the coast of California.

Of the 46 weaned baby seals who have died in a San Francisco Bay rescue center this summer, it has been determined that the cause of death in 16 cases has been Disseminated Intravascular Coagulation — a condition that does not just spontaneously occur but is a factor found underlying another condition, things like tumors and blood cancers, but especially acute promyelocytic leukemia.

Comment: Acute promyelocytic leukemia is a subtype of acute myelogenous leukemia (AML), a cancer of the white blood cells. According to Wikipedia, "ionizing radiation exposure can increase the risk of AML. Survivors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki had an increased rate of AML, as did radiologists exposed to high levels of X-rays". Radiation has been pouring into the ocean, into the earth below, and into the air for over four years since the Fukushima disaster and TEPCO has been dumping highly radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean.


Arrow Down

Food giant General Mills warns of global food shortages as a result of climate change

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© James Akena / Reuters
Food giant General Mills has announced a commitment to reduce its greenhouse emissions by 28 percent by 2025, while also asserting that human-caused climate change could lead to food shortages worldwide.

In a Sunday statement, General Mills announced a plan to reduce its absolute greenhouse gas emissions across its value chain, "from farm to fork to landfill."

The company said that it has "long been committed to being part of the solution on climate change," according to its website, and CEO Ken Powell said climate action is as much a good business strategy as it is a corporate responsibility gesture.

"We think that human-caused greenhouse gas causes climate change and climate volatility and that's going to stress the agricultural supply chain, which is very important to us," Powell said in an interview with the Associated Press. "Obviously we depend on that for our business, and we all depend on that for the food we eat."


Windsock

Rare twister photographed over Lancashire, UK

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© Tony Disley
The 'twister' captured above Martin Mere
A funnel cloud has been spotted above the Lancashire countryside.

The unusual twister-like cloud was spotted over Martin Mere nature reserve, near Ormskirk, on Monday by reader Tony Disley.

A funnel cloud is a cone-shaped cloud which extends from the the base of a cloud towards the ground without reaching the earth.

They are formed in the same way as a tornado, building around a localised area of intensely low pressure and are typically associated with the formation of cumulonimbus cloud (also known as thunderstorm clouds).

Crucially, a funnel cloud does not reach the earth's surface, at the point it reaches land it becomes a tornado, or if it reaches a body of water it becomes a waterspout.

Cloud Lightning

Two girls killed after being hit by lightning bolt while swimming in the sea in Mexico

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Emergency services were called and the beach was cordoned off by authorities while the bodies were brought back to shore
Two teenage girls were killed and a third injured when they were hit by lighting while swimming in the sea in Mexico.

The tragedy happened off Carmen beach, in the municipality of Solidaridad, in the south-east Mexican state of Quintana Roo.

Victim Paula Cantoral Cordova, 13, was with her school friends Andrea Hernandez Sandoval, 13, who also died, and Maria Eugenia Aceves Pulido, 13, at one of the most popular tourist beaches in Mexico.

As stormy weather started to close in, there was a loud bang and a flash and two of the teenagers were instantly killed.

Attention

Elephant rams safari truck in Hwange, South Africa

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A British traveler in South Africa captured GoPro camera footage of an annoyed elephant taking a swipe at a safari truck filled with onlookers.

The video, posted to Vimeo by Kid_GoPro, shows the elephant make angry-sounding noises while ramming the safari truck filled with wildlife watchers.

The truck takes the hit and spins around before the elephant storms off,
apparently satisfied that his point was made.

The uploader said "no one was harmed other than the safari truck" during the incident in Hwange, South Africa.


Radar

Hurricane Fred makes history in the Atlantic

Hurricane Fred is making history in the Cape Verde Islands this morning. It is the first hurricane to hit the islands in more than 100 years. Records, dating to 1908, show no developed hurricanes hitting the small island nation of half a million people.

In 1961, Hurricane Debbie formed on the western side of the island chain and proceeded west.

What's interesting is the fact that no hurricanes have struck the island nation, even though many of us have heard of it because of the weather term "Cape Verde Hurricane Season." That's the time of year (from late August through early October) when tropical waves move off the western African coast, developing into hurricanes after passing over the Cape Verde Islands.

Hurricane Fred is an anomaly, as it quickly achieved hurricane status Sunday night. Dangerous flash flooding and wind gusts to 90 m.p.h. are expected today before it moves out to sea, eventually weakening in the days to come.

Comment: Another hurricane record has just been set in the Pacific ocean, with THREE simultaneous Category 4 hurricanes occurring.