2015 already warmest year globally so far

It's like climate change Déjà vu all over again.

Just two months after data confirmed 2014 was the warmest year on record globally NOAA says 2015 is off to an even warmer start than 2014 was one year ago. In fact, the first two months of 2015 are significantly warmer (+.45 degree) than January and February 2014 globally.

Ironically while most of the globe basks in relative warmth this year so far, Minnesota and the eastern Untied States once again ride the edge of the coolest place on earth relative to average. Note the big blue blob over eastern North America.

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NOAA

Here's more from NOAA on the early global warmth of 2015.

The first two months of 2015 were the warmest such period on record across the world's land and ocean surfaces, at 0.79°C (1.42°F) above the 20th century average. The average global sea surface temperature was the third highest for January–February in the 136-year period of record, behind 1998 and 2010 (tied for highest on record), while the average land surface temperature was second highest, behind only 2002. Most areas around the world were warmer or much warmer than average. Record warmth was scattered across various areas and was particularly notable across parts of the western United States, a large swath of the eastern North Pacific Ocean, regions of the western South Pacific, and parts of the western North Atlantic Ocean. Part of the Great Lakes region, an area of northeastern Canada, and a broad section of the North Atlantic between northern Canada and the United Kingdom were record cold.

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The early warmth only includes the first two months of this year, but it puts 2015 in a good early position to challenge 2014 as the next "new warmest year" on record. Weak El Niño conditions in the tropical Pacific have seen a boost in the past few weeks as a wave of warmer water has surged east.

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NOAA

There is some evidence twin cyclones in the western Pacific have assisted in boosting westerly wind flow at the equator, driving warmer waters east.

If this effect continues, El Niño conditions may get a boost this spring. That could further enhance the chances for a warm 2015 globally.

Stay tuned.

More climate news

California: Just one year of water left?

This LA Times editorial from NASA senior water scientist Jay Famiglietti caught many by surprise. As California enters the fourth year of drought Jay says NASA analysis shows only about one year of water remains stored in California's depleted reservoir system.

As our "wet" season draws to a close, it is clear that the paltry rain and snowfall have done almost nothing to alleviate epic drought conditions. January was the driest in California since record-keeping began in 1895. Groundwater and snowpack levels are at all-time lows. We're not just up a creek without a paddle in California, we're losing the creek too.

Data from NASA satellites show that the total amount of water stored in the Sacramento and San Joaquin river basins — that is, all of the snow, river and reservoir water, water in soils and groundwater combined — was 34 million acre-feet below normal in 2014. That loss is nearly 1.5 times the capacity of Lake Mead, America's largest reservoir.

Statewide, we've been dropping more than 12 million acre-feet of total water yearly since 2011. Roughly two-thirds of these losses are attributable to groundwater pumping for agricultural irrigation in the Central Valley. Farmers have little choice but to pump more groundwater during droughts, especially when their surface water allocations have been slashed 80% to 100%. But these pumping rates are excessive and unsustainable. Wells are running dry. In some areas of the Central Valley, the land is sinking by one foot or more per year.

As difficult as it may be to face, the simple fact is that California is running out of water — and the problem started before our current drought. NASA data reveal that total water storage in California has been in steady decline since at least 2002, when satellite-based monitoring began, although groundwater depletion has been going on since the early 20th century.

Right now the state has only about one year of water supply left in its reservoirs, and our strategic backup supply, groundwater, is rapidly disappearing. California has no contingency plan for a persistent drought like this one (let alone a 20-plus-year mega-drought), except, apparently, staying in emergency mode and praying for rain.

In short, we have no paddle to navigate this crisis.

New water restrictions approved

If this is politics following science, that might be a good thing. California adopted new restrictions on water use Tuesday. Many say they didn't go far enough given the growing potential for mostly empty reservoirs within one year.

We know so-called "megadroughts" in the California historical record have lasted 10 to 20 years or more. What if the current drought lasts another 6 years or more? What happens if California's nearly 40 million people run out of water?

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NASA

Here's more on the story from the San Jose Mercury News.

Acknowledging that California's water conservation efforts are falling short as the state descends into a fourth year of punishing drought, the administration of Gov. Jerry Brown on Tuesday imposed new mandatory water conservation rules that will affect millions of people -- from how homeowners water their lawns to how restaurants and hotels serve their guests.

"There have been some heroic efforts that people have taken, but we are not seeing the efforts to step up and ring the alarm bells that the situation warrants," said Felicia Marcus, chairwoman of the State Water Resources Control Board, which approved the measures in Sacramento. "We're going to need to go further if it doesn't rain."

But enforcing the rules, which could carry fines of up to $500, will be left up to local cities, counties and water districts. And so far, very few have fined residents for wasting water.

 Critics called the rules, which take effect April 15, a step in the right direction. But they said they are insufficient without more enforcement to avoid water shortages if the drought drags past this summer.

"At this point, we are failing. We are not meeting our goals," said Conner Everts, with the California Environmental Water Caucus, a nonprofit group. "At what point do we accept that this might be the fourth year of a 10-year drought and plan for that?"

Wider western drought: Las Vegas too?

I spent nine years forecasting weather and watching climate change unfold in the desert southwest. Even small shifts in climate in marginal climate zones like deserts can produce extreme, disproportionate effects.Lake Mead near Las Vegas is a canary in the climate change coal mine. The largest U.S. reservoir feeds critical water to farms and cities from Vegas to Phoenix, Tucson to southern California. Another below average year for snow-pack in the Colorado River watershed means Lake Mead is plummeting again, and heading for the lowest levels since the Hoover Dam filled Lake Mead in 1937.

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The now infamous "bathtub ring" around Lake Mead as intake straws search dwindling water levels in October 2010. Paul Huttner/MPR News

Here are some selected clips from the Las Vegas Review Journal.

According to the latest federal forecast, released Wednesday, the reservoir is expected to fall to a new record low next month and slip downward from there, shedding a total of about 20 feet through June 2016.

The bleak new estimate is based on current projections pointing to below-average flows on the Colorado in the coming months, as the snow pack melts in the mountains that feed the river and its tributaries.

“We’re a bit low this year,” said Paul Miller, a senior hydrologist with the National Weather Service’s Colorado Basin River Forecast Center in Salt Lake City. “We’re only forecasting about 71 percent of average” flow into Lake Powell, Lake Mead’s upstream neighbor on the Arizona-Utah border.

The disappointing runoff is a result of below average snowfall in some areas and unusually dry soil conditions in others, resulting in more snow moisture being absorbed into the ground before it can reach the river, Miller said.

Conditions are particularly bad for the second straight year along the San Juan River Basin in the Four Corners area of Arizona, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico.

This would mark the 12th year since 2000 that the Colorado has seen below-average flows.

The past 15 years have been so bad they are dragging down the 30-year average federal forecasters use to gauge what passes for “normal” on the famously fickle river.

In January 2000, Lake Mead was close to full with a surface elevation of 1,214 feet above sea level.

Today, the surface of the lake sits at about 1,088 feet above sea level, a difference of more than 125 feet.

The latest projections from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation call for Lake Mead to dip below elevation 1,080 next month for the first time since it was being filled behind the newly constructed Hoover Dam in 1937.

That would break the current record low of 1,080.19 feet above sea level set last August, but any new mark is unlikely to last.

Bureau forecasters expect the lake to drop to elevation 1,073 by the end of June, then slowly add about 10 feet of water through next January before falling again, this time to about 1,067 feet above sea level mark by June of 2016.

Is Arctic warming changing our weather?

When it comes to climate change, the Arctic is not like Vegas. What happens in the Arctic doesn't stay in the Arctic.

The scientific evidence seems to be growing that a more rapidly warming arctic is changing our jet stream patterns, and thus our weather.

University of St. Thomas climate scientist Dr. John Abraham penned a piece in this week's Guardian on the growing linkages between Arctic warming and changing jet stream patterns thousands of miles away.

The authors found that the summer zonal winds have weakened. The reason for the weakening is that since the Arctic is warming faster than the rest of the planet, the temperature difference between the Arctic and the lower latitudes is getting smaller. It is this temperature difference which maintains the wind speeds. The authors also found that eddy kinetic energy is decreasing.

So what does all this mean? Well two things. First, it means that there are either fewer or less intense summer storms or a combination of both. But secondly, it means that weather patterns can get “stuck”. Storms are excellent at breaking up persistent weather patterns, and bringing cool and moist air from ocean regions to land zones. With fewer storms, “warm weather conditions endure, resulting in buildup of heat and drought.”

The authors looked to the future to inquire about how things would continue to change. They find that continued global warming will increase the risk of heat waves. We all know that the warming temperature will make heat waves more likely. But added to this, “stickiness” of weather patterns will play a big role as well.

Whether it is the heat wave in Europe of 2003, the Russian heat wave of 2010, the heat waves in the USA in 2011 or 2012, or last year’s (and still continuing heat in California), these events have economic and human consequences. It is crucial to understand how our current climate works if we have any hope in predicting what will happen in the future. This study makes a great contribution to putting the puzzle of the Earth’s climate together.