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Forecast: wild weather in a warming world

A harsh winter is spreading across the United States, with extremely cold air hitting the northeast and snowstorms expected along the east coast next week.

Forecasts predict that Chicago can expect several inches of snow. Six to eight inches of snow could fall along the I-95 corridor from Washington to New York and up to Boston on Monday and Tuesday.

“Finally, winter has made its appearance here in the northeast,” said Greg Carbin, chief forecasting operations for the National Weather Service’s weather forecasting center.

Disturbances from upper atmosphere phenomena known as the polar vortex can send icy explosions from the Arctic to mid-latitudes, cooling Europe, Asia, and parts of North America. The disturbance and its effects have persisted for an unusually long time this year, said Jennifer Francis, senior scientist at the Woodwell Climate Research Center, with two polar vortex disturbances so far this year and, potentially, a third underway.

Research into the interplay of complex factors that cause polar vortex explosions is ongoing, but climate change appears to be part of the mix. While warming means milder winters overall, “the motto of snowstorms in the climate change era might be” go big or go home! ” said Judah Cohen, director of seasonal forecasts at Atmospheric and Environmental Research, a company that provides information to customers about weather and climate risks.

The United States has already experienced heavy snowfall in the Sierra Nevada and the Great Plains last week. Earlier this month, Madrid was buried under a foot and a half of crippling snow, and parts of Siberia suffered an unusually long cold spell with temperatures 40 degrees below zero Fahrenheit – and an area has recorded a temperature of nearly 73 below. (Last summer, some of the same areas experienced record heat.)

Wild weather has its origins in the warming arctic. The region is warming faster than the rest of the planet, and research suggests that rising temperatures are weakening the jet stream, which encircles the pole and generally retains this freezing air. In early January, a sudden wave of warming hit the polar stratosphere, the area five to thirty miles above the planet’s surface.

When one of these “sudden stratospheric warmings” occurs, it punches the polar vortex that can cause arctic air to move and its way through the atmosphere to people who suddenly need to. overlap and take out their shovels.

Amy Butler, a researcher at the NOAA Chemical Sciences Laboratory, offered an analogy: “Imagine a bowl of swirling water or a cup of coffee you’ve just brewed. If you suddenly put a spoon in the water and block the swirling flow just above it will start to slow down or disturb the water below.

While the scientific evidence supporting climate change is indisputable, the link between climate change and disturbances in the stratosphere is not as established. Dr Cohen was the author of an article published last year in the journal Nature Climate Change, which examined winter data from 2008 to 2018. The team saw a sharp increase in winter storms in the Northeast over the course of of the previous decade. “Harsh winter conditions are much more common when the Arctic is at its hottest,” said Dr. Cohen.

Dr Butler, however, said that in the whole historical record, which dates back to 1958, “there is no indication of a long-term trend” in disturbances from polar eddies. The weather patterns that affect the vortex “occur naturally even in the absence of climate change,” some decades showing no disturbance and other decades with almost every year.

For Dr Francis, senior researcher at the Woodwell Climate Research Center, the influence of climate change on these phenomena is inevitable, though still somewhat mysterious. “We are changing the planet in a dramatic and indisputable way,” she said. “The atmosphere is different now. The surface of the Earth is different now. The oceans are different now. So there must be connections that are yet to be discovered as we deepen our research into the stratospheric polar vortex.

However, it is becoming clear what will happen in the next few days, especially in the northeast, but it is difficult to predict precisely where the snow will fall and how deep.

“The cold is coming anyway,” said Dr. Cohen, “and someone’s got snow.

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China, in boost to US, makes new pledge to fight global warming

China on Saturday pledged further additional measures to tackle climate change over the next decade, but said it would not reveal all of its plans until it saw the next steps taken by its main global rival, the United States. United.

Speaking at an online summit to mark the fifth anniversary of the Paris climate agreement, Xi Jinping, the Chinese leader, said that by 2030, China will reduce its carbon intensity by more than 65%. Carbon intensity is a measure of greenhouse gas emissions relative to economic activity.

Xi also said China will triple its wind and solar power capacity to over one billion kilowatts and expand its forests.

Xi’s statement on Saturday came three months after announcing in September that China would reduce its emissions of carbon dioxide, one of the main greenhouse gases that have warmed the planet since the dawn of the era. industrial, to net zero, which means that China would remove all emissions from the atmosphere that it could not reduce, by 2060.

China, the factory of the world, is currently the world’s largest producer of gases that warm the planet, and anything it does to reduce its emissions is a key to tackling climate change.

China’s greenhouse gas emissions have continued to rise since the signing of the Paris Agreement in 2015, and Xi’s statement reiterated on Saturday that they would continue to grow and only peak a few times. time “before 2030”. It missed the timeline many climate advocates hoped for: China would peak in emissions by 2025.

Xi said nothing about setting an absolute limit on China’s carbon dioxide emissions, or whether or how he plans to reduce the country’s dependence on coal. China is by far the world’s largest consumer of coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel, and Xi has continued to develop coal-fired power plants at home and abroad.

The statement was a carefully calibrated move to demonstrate that China intends to move faster towards a sustainable economy, without revealing many details before a new administration takes over in Washington. “I think China is waiting to see what the Biden administration announces and can do,” said Jake Schmidt of the Natural Resources Defense Council. “They’re trying to signal that they’re going to keep pushing climate action forward at the national level, but they’re also holding back.

With the pandemic postponing annual international climate negotiations for one year, the online summit aimed to push countries to announce more ambitious short-term climate plans. António Guterres, the United Nations secretary-general and one of the summit hosts, called on every country to redirect coronavirus recovery funds from fossil fuels to climate-friendly sectors. “We cannot use these resources to lock up policies that burden future generations with a mountain of debt on a shattered planet,” he said, calling on world leaders to declare “a climate emergency”.

“Can anyone still deny that we are facing a dramatic emergency?” Secretary General Guterres said in his remarks.

Scientists have repeatedly said that halving global greenhouse gas emissions over the next decade is imperative to avoid the most disastrous effects of climate change, including the spread of fires. of forest and flooding of coastal towns. In the days leading up to the summit, a handful of industrialized countries set emission reduction targets for the next decade. The European Union on Friday reached an agreement with its member countries to cut emissions by 55% over the next decade, from 1990 levels. Britain said earlier it would cut emissions of 68% by 2030 and announced on Friday that it would also stop funding overseas fossil fuel projects with taxpayer dollars. Canada has said it will substantially increase its carbon dioxide tax to $ 170 per tonne.

Some smaller countries also made notable announcements at the summit on Saturday. Pakistan has said it will stop building new coal-fired power plants by 2030, noting that it has already put aside plans for some large coal projects. Barbados has said it hopes most homes on the island will have rooftop solar panels and electric cars within the next decade, but said its dangerously high debt level as a result of the pandemic made its climate goals even more difficult. In particular, neither France, host country of the Paris Agreement, nor India, a major source of emissions, have made new commitments. And there have been absences, like Australia, Brazil and the United States.

The outgoing Trump administration has completely withdrawn from the Paris Agreement. President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. reiterated in a statement that he would join the deal on his first day in office and call an international summit within the first 100 days of his administration.

Conservationists had hoped Xi would pledge to cut carbon intensity more sharply, but the economic slowdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic may have tempered Beijing’s plans. Carbon intensity has traditionally increased with a country’s economy, and therefore any significant reduction requires major rewiring of the economy.

Li Shuo, political analyst at Greenpeace, said China must take swift action to implement what it has promised. He noted that China’s post-pandemic recovery program is “anything but green,” as it continues to grow its coal-fired power plants and promote infrastructure projects that increase pollution. “

“Five years after Paris, China’s progress remains fragile,” he said. “China’s announcement today is a tribute to the Paris Agreement. But there is no time for Champagne. The hard work begins tomorrow. “

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Another month on a warming planet: record November

Last month was the hottest November on record, European researchers said Monday, as the relentless warming of the climate turned out to be too high, even for the possible effects of cooler ocean temperatures in the region. tropical Pacific Ocean.

Scientists from the Copernicus Climate Change Service said global temperatures in November were 0.1 degrees Celsius (about 0.2 degrees Fahrenheit) above previous record holders, in 2016 and 2019. November 2020 was 0.8 degrees Celsius (or 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit) plus average from 1981 to 2010.

Warm conditions persisted over large swathes of the planet, with above-average temperatures highest in northern Europe and Siberia, as well as in the Arctic Ocean. Much of the United States was also warmer than average.

The Copernicus service said that so far this year temperatures were at the same level as 2016, which is the hottest year on record. Barring a significant drop in global temperatures in December, 2020 is expected to stay on par with 2016 or even become the hottest on record by a small margin, the service said.

“These records are consistent with the long-term warming trend of the global climate,” department manager Carlo Buontempo said in a statement. “All policy makers who prioritize climate risk mitigation should regard these recordings as alarm bells.”

In September, the world entered La Niña, a phase of the climate model that also brings El Niño and affects the weather across the world. La Niña is marked by cooler-than-normal sea surface temperatures in the eastern and central tropical Pacific Ocean. Last month, scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said La Niña had strengthened, meaning surface temperatures had dropped further.

While La Niña can bring warmer conditions to some areas – especially the southern United States – it usually has an overall cooling effect. Last week, releasing a World Meteorological Organization climate report that noted, among other things, that 2020 was on its way to be one of the three hottest years in history, the secretary-general of the organization, Petteri Taalas, said that La Niña’s cooling effect “was not enough to dampen the heat this year.

Marybeth Arcodia, a doctoral student studying climate dynamics at the University of Miami, said there are other elements that affect climate, including the natural oscillations of wind, precipitation, atmospheric pressure and temperatures. oceanic at different time scales. “There are so many different climatic factors at play that could mask this signal from La Niña,” Ms. Arcodia said.

But the most important element, she noted, is human-induced climate change.

“It should be borne in mind that the average global temperature is increasing at an unprecedented rate due to human influences,” she said. “That’s the main factor here.”

“So we will continue to see these record high temperatures even when we have climatic phases, like La Niña, which could bring cooler temperatures.”

Scientists from the Copernicus service said warm conditions in the Arctic last month slowed the freezing of Arctic ice Oce4an. The extent of sea ice cover was the second lowest in November since satellites began observing the area in 1979. A slower frost could result in thinner ice and therefore more melting in late spring and in summer.

The Arctic has been extremely hot for much of the year, part of a long-term trend in which the region is warming much faster than other parts of the world. The heat contributed to large forest fires in Siberia during the summer and led to the second lowest minimum extent of sea ice for a September, the end of the summer melt season.

The Copernicus Climate Change Service is part of the European Center for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts, which is supported by the European Union. In the United States, NOAA also publishes monthly and annual temperature data, usually after the European agency. Although the analytical techniques differ, the results are often very similar.

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Warming can cause hurricanes to weaken more slowly after landing

By studying the effects of climate change on hurricanes, scientists focused on what happens above the water, when storms form and intensify, capturing heat and humidity as they turn in over the ocean.

But a new study is looking at what happens after hurricanes make landfall and make their way inland. Research suggests that climate change also affects storms during this phase of their life, causing them to weaken more slowly and remain destructive for longer.

The findings could have implications for how emergency management agencies prepare for storms after landing.

In the study, published Wednesday in the journal Nature, Lin Li and Pinaki Chakraborty from the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University in Japan analyzed data from North Atlantic hurricanes that made landfall from 1967 to 2018, by examining the decrease in intensity, or wind speed, of storms on the first day after hitting land.

They found that if 50 years ago a typical storm would have lost more than three-quarters of its intensity in the first 24 hours, when it could travel several hundred kilometers inland, it did not ‘would now only lose about half.

“Decomposition has slowed down considerably over the past 50 years,” Dr Chakraborty said in an interview. “There may very well be a climatic link.”

By comparing the decay data with changes in sea surface temperatures, then using simulations of hurricanes moving across land, the scientists found what they say is the connection: rising sea temperatures. oceans linked to global warming leads to slower weakening of storms, even after storms, move away from the source of moisture.

Scientists warned that there were caveats to their research, among which they used a relatively small data set – only 71 hurricanes made landfall in five decades.

A prominent hurricane researcher Kerry Emanuel of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology said he was skeptical of the results. In an email message, Dr Emanuel said he did not agree with the researchers’ theoretical argument and that the data and simulations, “while suggestive, do not definitively prove that the decomposition is slower. in warmer climates regardless of other factors, such as the size of the storm. . “

But other researchers said the study was compelling and opened up a whole new field of research into hurricanes, their behavior on earth. Even weakened, the winds from these storms can knock down trees and power lines, damage homes and cause further destruction inland.

Dan Chavas, an atmospheric scientist at Purdue University who wrote an accompanying article in Nature, said the work was “definitive to identify a topic that hardly anyone has thought of and could be very important. . “

Suzana Camargo, a hurricane researcher at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, part of Columbia University, said she and her colleagues published a study last year that showed stronger hurricanes produced more precipitation after making landfall.

In the new study, she says, “They say the humidity stays in the storm for a while, and that makes perfect sense with what we saw in our study.

A hurricane is essentially a heat engine, a rotating storm powered by moisture from the warm ocean. The prevailing theory of how hurricanes weaken after they arrive on earth is that once they lose this fuel source, friction with the earth slows their rotation.

Dr Chakraborty compared it to a swirling cup of tea. “Over the ocean, because the moisture supply is there for the heat engine, you are constantly stirring the tea,” he says. But when it hits the ground, the power is cut off, the agitation stops and the friction slows down the vortex

“Above all, thermodynamics play no role” in this slowing down process, according to the theory, he said.

What he and his co-author suggest, however, is that the humidity that remains in the storm plays a thermodynamic role, affecting how quickly the storm weakens. And in a warming climate, with warmer sea surface temperatures, more moisture remains in the storm.

“Once we understand that humidity plays a key role, the link with climate becomes obvious,” said Dr Chakraborty.

Their hurricane simulations allowed them to test the idea that humidity plays a role in creating “dry”, moisture-free hurricanes that decomposed much faster than normal hurricanes. The models also allowed them to determine that factors such as topography and inland weather conditions played less of a role in weakening the storms.

Dr Camargo said a potential weakness of the study was that the models used were, of necessity, rather simple.

Modeling hurricanes after landing is difficult, she said. “It’s a difficult problem. The models need to capture a lot of things that are happening – the interaction with the topography, for example. “

“I don’t know if what they did in the model is the best way to represent hurricanes that have made landfall,” added Dr Camargo. “But at least in this model, it seems to be in keeping with their idea.”

Dr Chakraborty said he was not surprised that there was some skepticism about the results. “Overall, our study challenges widely held ideas about hurricane disintegration,” he said. “I hope this will stimulate more research and shed new light on this important area which has long been considered well understood.”

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Israel sees warming ties with Sudan as symbolic progress in hostile region

JERUSALEM – For Israel, the movement towards normalization of relations with Sudan does not represent the same kind of historic strategic achievement as the peace treaties of decades ago with Egypt and Jordan, once bitter Arab enemies at its borders.

Nor does the move open up major new economic opportunities, as Israel’s two new pacts with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, negotiated by the Trump administration in August, did.

All Israelis could truly savor during President Trump’s announcement Friday that he had fostered another diplomatic breakthrough was its symbolic value: Sudan was the scene of the Arab League’s 1967 Khartoum resolution. Shortly after Israel’s victory in the Six Day War, League members all swore in the resolution “No to peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with Israel.”

Suddenly Sudan, among all Arab countries, has said yes to all of the above.

In this sense, even the limited economic and trade relations that President Trump controversial Friday as a victory “for world peace” would drive another nail into the coffin of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s old strategy of maintaining Arab solidarity behind the rejection of Israel until the Palestinians establish a state.

The step towards normalizing relations with Israel would also cement a Sudanese strategic realignment that began in 2015, when after decades as an ally of Iran, the African nation abruptly sided with Saudi Arabia in the civil war in Yemen and severed relations with Tehran the following year.

“It was the big turnover, or the tipping point,” Brig said. General Assaf Orion, veteran Israeli military strategist at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv. “When they’ve gone from being a hub of Iranian arms proliferation in Gaza to at least going on the right side of the Gulf, that’s a substantial thing,” he added.

“When it becomes a diplomatic achievement for Israel,” he said, “that’s also good”.

Dore Gold, former director general of Israel’s foreign ministry with extensive experience in Africa, said Israel and Sudan now share the same view of wanting to deny Iran, which he said once had effective control from Port Sudan, a strategic presence in the Red Sea.

Beyond that, he said: “I think there is a cumulative impact every time you get to another country, especially one of the biggest in Africa, both in terms of population and geographic extent. “

In practice, detente with Sudan could open up a new, albeit small, market for Israel’s agricultural, military and medical industries, experts said. Overflight rights for Israel could also shorten some flights from Tel Aviv to southern Africa or Latin America.

Some analysts also said that with its expertise in desalination and irrigation in a desert climate, Israel could play a role in helping Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia resolve their long-standing disputes on the Nile. blue. Ethiopia is building a massive $ 4.6 billion dam on the river, a dam Trump suggested on Friday that Egypt “eventually blow up” – a comment that angered Ethiopian leaders.

But there were few delusions in Israel about what motivated the Trump administration to rush for Friday’s announcement less than two weeks before election day. Privately, government officials have said that helping Israel could help Mr. Trump take off some Jewish voters in pivotal states like Florida and Pennsylvania.

Mr Trump used the announcement of the Sudan-Israel deal to ridicule his Democratic opponent, Joe Biden, from the Oval Office on Friday.

“Do you think Sleepy Joe could have made this deal, Bibi?” Sleepy Joe? Mr Trump asked Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a TV call on cable news.

Perhaps aware of polls showing the Democratic challenger in the lead, Mr. Netanyahu, who is facing his own political crisis, has refused to attack Mr. Biden.

“We appreciate the help for the peace of anybody in America, ”he replied. “And we really appreciate what you’ve done.”

Irit Bak, an expert from Sudan who heads the African studies department at Tel Aviv University, said she was disgusted by the two besieged leaders’ use of “the situation in Sudan, which is so desperate” , to help themselves politically.

Ms. Bak warned that normalizing relations with Israel posed great peril for the leaders of Sudan, a country with a long history of Islamism. Any flashback could be dangerous for the fragile transitional government, which came to power after the ouster last year of longtime dictator Omar al-Bashir.

Relations between Israel and Sudan have long been a roller coaster ride, often colorful, generally secretive and often confrontational.

In 1948, a small detachment of troops from Sudan, then under Anglo-Egyptian rule, was part of the Arab armies against which Israel fought in its war of independence.

After Sudanese independence in 1956, Israel secretly aided the separatist rebels of Anyanya in southern Sudan, in part to identify as many Egyptian forces as possible, which were aiding the Muslim central government in Khartoum. And Sudan sent a small contingent of troops to aid Egyptian forces in the 1967 war with Israel.

In the 1970s, Israeli pilots operating from Uganda and Kenya dispatched weapons to Anyanya forces, and Israeli agents on the ground helped them ambush government soldiers and bomb bridges across the river. Nile.

In the late 1970s and 1980s, tens of thousands of Ethiopian Jews emigrated to Sudan in the hope of making their way to Israel, and Israeli spies mounted a series of daring operations to hunt them down under the authorities’ noses. Sudanese. The operation was run from a hotel on the Sudanese coast, used as a cover for Mossad operatives, in a clandestine operation depicted in the 2019 film “The Red Sea Diving Resort”.

In the 1980s, Israeli officials briefly conspired with Sudanese ruler General Jaafar al-Nimeiry to stockpile weapons in his country for use in attempting to overthrow Ayatollah Khomeini’s regime in Iran. And in 1984, bribes to General al-Nimeiry and his security chief caused the Sudanese to turn a blind eye as Israel airlifted an additional 30,000 Ethiopian Jews from Khartoum.

Yet in 1985, according to Milton Bearden, then chief of the CIA station in Khartoum, two Mossad agents involved in the Ethiopian rescue operations were forced to take refuge in his home. They were eventually smuggled out of Sudan in cargo boxes fitted with oxygen tanks, he said in an interview.

Mr al-Bashir’s 1989 coup, however, led Sudan to take a sharp turn towards Islamism and enter into a long alliance with Iran, which used Sudan to channel weapons to Hamas. in Gaza.

From 2009, Israel carried out airstrikes in Sudan against suspected arms convoys, and in 2012 it bombed an ammunition depot in Khartoum, lighting up the night sky.

In a more recent attempt, the Mossad sent a private plane laden with medical supplies and medics to Khartoum to try to save influential diplomat Najwa Gadaheldam when she fell ill with Covid-19 in May. She did not survive.

It was Ms. Gadaheldam who helped launch the first public meeting between Mr. Netanyahu and Sudanese military leader General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan in Kampala, Uganda, in February.

David M. Halbfinger reported from Jerusalem and Ronen Bergman from Tel Aviv.