Earth ChangesS

Cloud Lightning

Hurricane Jimena lashes Mexican Pacific resort

Los Cabos - Hurricane Jimena slammed Mexico's Baja California peninsula with howling winds on Tuesday and drenched the upscale Los Cabos resort area where tourists hunkered in boarded-up hotels.

The storm's wind speed eased as it neared land, and the U.S. National Hurricane Center said Jimena was now a Category 3 storm with 120 miles per hour winds with higher gusts, rather than an extremely dangerous Category 4.


Sun Run of 51 Days Without a Spot Now Among the Top 5 Longest

Sunday, August 30th marks the 51st straight day without a sunspot, one of the longest stretches in a century. One more day and we have a spotless month (we had some by some accounts one last August but a few observatories thought they saw a spot on the sun for a few hours one day). It would be either the first or second spotless month since 1913 depending on whether you count last August as spotless.

In fact it rises into 4th place among all spotless periods since 1849 (first table here). Note: It is 5th place if you accept a spotless August 2008 which would have led to a stretch of 52 days. The total number of spotless days this transition from cycle 23 to 24 is now 704, exceeding the number for cycle 15 in the early 1900s (See Graph here).

We have had 193 spotless days this year (79% of the days). We are in the top 20 years in 16th place. We will very likely rapidly rise up the list in upcoming weeks and rival 2008's 266 days and likely end in the top 5 years. 2007, 2008, 2009 will only have 1911, 1912, 1913 in the top 20 as string of 3 per transition (See Graph here).


Global warming and the sun

Recent studies seem to show that there's more to climate change than we know.

Assuming there are no sunspots today, a 96-year record will have been broken: 53 days without any solar blemishes, giant magnetic disruptions on the sun's surface that cause solar flares. That would be the fourth-longest stretch of stellar solar complexion since 1849. Wait, it gets even more exciting.

During what scientist call the Maunder Minimum -- a period of solar inactivity from 1645 to 1715 -- the world experienced the worst of the cold streak dubbed the Little Ice Age. At Christmastime, Londoners ice skated on the Thames, and New Yorkers (then New Amsterdamers) sometimes walked over the Hudson from Manhattan to Staten Island.

Of course, it could have been a coincidence. The Little Ice Age began before the onset of the Maunder Minimum. Many scientists think volcanic activity was a more likely, or at least a more significant, culprit. Or perhaps the big chill was, in the words of scientist Alan Cutler, writing in the Washington Post in 1997, a "one-two punch from a dimmer sun and a dustier atmosphere."

Well, we just might find out. A new study in the American Geophysical Union's journal Eos suggests that we may be heading into another quiet phase similar to the Maunder Minimum.

Better Earth

Map Characterizes Active Lakes Below Antarctic Ice

© Ben Smith, University of WashingtonDots represent the locations where scientists have identified 124 active lakes below the ice sheet in Antarctica. Warmer colors (orange and red) depict lakes with larger water volumes while cooler colors (green and blue) depict lakes with smaller volumes. Purple areas show the locations of previously known inactive lakes.
Lakes in Antarctica, concealed under miles of ice, require scientists to come up with creative ways to identify and analyze these hidden features. Now, researchers using space-based lasers on a NASA satellite have created the most comprehensive inventory of lakes that actively drain or fill under Antarctica's ice. They have revealed a continental plumbing system that is more dynamic than scientists thought.

"Even though Antarctica's ice sheet looks static, the more we watch it, the more we see there is activity going on there all the time," said Benjamin Smith of the University of Washington in Seattle, who led the study.

Unlike most lakes, Antarctic lakes are under pressure from the ice above. That pressure can push melt water from place to place like water in a squeezed balloon. The water moves under the ice in a broad, thin layer, but also through a linked cavity system. This flow can resupply other lakes near and far.

Bizarro Earth

US: Summer's cold shoulder

The past months have been cool and dry. Now it's time for fall.

Milwaukee - Summer is over. Maybe now we can put away our mittens and sweat shirts.

If it seemed as if summer lasted a day or two this year, the meteorologists who keep track of these things concur.

Madison shivered through its coldest July on record, Miller Park's roof has been closed 34 times, the high temperature in Milwaukee on July 1 reached only 64 degrees, and it was eerily quiet at the National Weather Service office in Green Bay.

While it's possible there might have been fewer cases of sunburn and heat stroke, the relatively cold and dry weather did have its benefits.

The Green Bay office of the weather service issued zero severe weather reports. That means there were no tornadoes, no hail measuring at least 1 inch or thunderstorms with winds of 58 mph or greater in an area that covers roughly the state's top right quadrant.

"For farmers and people that don't want to put new roofs on their houses, that's a good thing," said Jeff Craven, National Weather Service science and operations officer in Sullivan.

Though purists will point out that summer actually ends Sept. 21, weather forecasters treat it as June, July and August. This year's meteorological summer will be remembered for being as cool and dry as a martini.

In Milwaukee, the average temperature in July was 3.5 degrees below normal with only 0.71 inch of rain, the fourth driest on record. August was 1.5 degrees below normal.

Madison's average July temperature - a combination of the daily highs and lows - was 65.7 degrees, 5.9 degrees below normal. That easily beat the previous record of 66.7 degrees set in 1891.


NASA infrared imagery sees landfalling Jimena, weak Kevin and pyrocumulus clouds

© NASA JPL, Ed OlsenAIRS infrared image from Aug. 31 a 4:59 p.m. EDT shows the icy clouds of powerful Hurricane Jimena about to impact Baja California (bottom right), a fading Tropical Depression Kevin (left at sea), and a trail of pyrocumulus clouds stretching from Los Angeles to New Mexico from the California fires.
It's unusual to see towering clouds that are created from smoke and fires, but that's what showed up in the latest satellite imagery from NASA, when also capturing powerful Hurricane Jimena and Tropical Depression Kevin in the Eastern Pacific Ocean. Jimena's outer rainbands were already spreading over southern Baja California at 11 a.m. EDT.

"I have never before seen the signature of a pyrocumulus cloud in the infrared channel which I use for hurricane imagery," said Ed Olsen of the Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) Team at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. The pyrocumulus clouds are towering cumulus clouds that were created by the smoke and heat from the California wildfires that are currently burning around Los Angeles. In the AIRS infrared image, they stretch from Los Angeles, Calif. and sweep into Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico between latitude 32 and 36.

The AIRS instrument flies onboard NASA's Aqua satellite and provides valuable infrared data on cloud top temperatures. They're important because they tell forecasters how high thunderstorms are in a tropical cyclone. The higher the thunderstorm, the more powerful.

At the same time, an extremely dangerous Hurricane Jimena is approaching Baja California. This is a powerful storm with sustained winds that are a Category Four on the Saffir-Simpson Scale. AIRS revealed very high, cold, powerful thunderstorms in Jimena's center of circulation, so high that they're colder than minus 63 degrees Fahrenheit (F).

NASA's CloudSat also flew above Jimena and captured a side view of the storm earlier today. The CloudSat data indicated Jimena's highest clouds as high as 15 kilometers (9.3 miles), verifying the AIRS data and indicating strong convection and a powerful hurricane.


Connections Among Solar Cycle, Stratosphere and Ocean Discovered

Subtle connections among the 11-year-solar cycle, the stratosphere and the tropical Pacific Ocean work in sync to generate periodic weather patterns that affect much of the globe, according to research results appearing this week in the journal Science.

The findings will help scientists get an edge on predicting the intensity of certain climate phenomena, such as the Indian monsoon and tropical Pacific rainfall, years in advance.

"It's been long known that weather patterns are well-correlated to very small variations in total solar energy reaching our planet during 11-year solar cycles," says Jay Fein, program director in the National Science Foundation (NSF)'s Division of Atmospheric Sciences, which funded the research. "What's been an equally long mystery, however, is how they are physically connected. This remarkable study is beginning to unravel that mystery."

Bizarro Earth

Blanco Fracture Zone: Four quakes hit sea floor

Four moderate earthquakes rattled the sea floor about 200 miles due west of Winchester Bay on Saturday morning, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

The first 5.2-magnitude quake struck at 1:11 a.m., followed by a 4.4 quake at 1:24 a.m. and a 4.8 quake at 4:06 a.m. The final quake Saturday shook the sea floor at 8:08 a.m. All were about 6 miles beneath the earth's surface, which is typical for temblors off the South Coast.

Geologists have said this is an extremely active fault area known as the Blanco Fracture Zone. Typically, hundreds of quakes strike along the zone every year, but most are so small no one notices.

Bizarro Earth

US: Earthquake Magnitude 3.3 rattles East Tennessee homes

Folks in East Tennessee might not have felt the earth move, but some heard their windows rattle.

The U.S. Geological Survey recorded a magnitude 3.3 earthquake, centered two miles north of Friendsville in Blount County at 10:07 a.m. EDT Monday.

WLVT-TV in Knoxville reported receiving viewer calls about windows rattling and houses shaking.


US: California Fire grows to more than 122,000 acres; officials hope for improved conditions

firefighter Thomas Rindge
© Wally Skalij / LA TimesLos Angeles firefighter Thomas Rindge takes a break from battling the Station fire in La Crescenta Monday
The Station fire grew to more than 122,000 acres overnight and continued to burn out of control despite some signs of improving weather conditions.

The massive blaze, which has burned more than 50 structures, killed two firefighters and caused thousands of evacuations, grew by about 15,000 acres over the last 12 hours. That's a smaller rate of growth than Sunday or Monday, but officials are still on guard.

[Updated at 7:20 a.m.: At a briefing this morning, officials said they were growing more optimistic about the fire. They said firefighters were set backfires overnight in areas of Glendale, Tujunga and the Santa Clara ridge. More moisture in the air was slowing the blaze. Although temperatures are cooling, officials said they worried about the possibility of gusty winds and dry lightning. No new structures were burned overnight. The fire is 5% contained, but officials expect that number to grow significantly today.]

The fire this morning was bearing down on neighborhoods in Tujunga, where homes have been evacuated.