05 November, 2015

AQAP Stronghold Becomes Tropical Cyclone Magnet: More Divine Retribution?

Cyclone Chapala was, once again, a storm for the record books, to say the least. In the western hemisphere, this behemoth would be called a Category 4 hurricane, but this cyclone formed not in the Atlantic… or the eastern Pacific… or the western Pacific (where they're called typhoons)… but in the Indian Ocean. Not unprecedented if it happened in the Bay of Bengal, but in the Arabian Sea? Yup, that's precisely where this monster formed. Also not unprecedented, but most storms there end up either being fish storms or making landfall in western India. Where exactly was the landfall location of this beast, by stark contrast? The typically extremely arid city of Al-Mukalla, Yemen.

Cyclone Chapala as it approached the Yemeni coast on All Saints' Day, 2015. Two days later, on the day immediately following All Souls' Day, this beast would hammer the city of al-Mukalla, occupied by AQAP throughout much of 2015, with hurricane-force winds, storm surge, and a decade of rain in less than 24 hours, causing a flood of biblical proportions.

The devastation (and devastation potential) was certainly hard to underestimate, that's for sure. Tropical cyclones not only bring fierce winds and city-busting storm surge with them, but also typically dump double-digit rainfall wherever they make landfall. This area, however, typically gets less than 2 inches of rain per year. The soil there is very much like Arizona's as a result: extremely impervious to water. When it rains in the desert, it floods, and when the desert gets a decade worth of rain in less than 24 hours, it floods big time. As if that deluge wasn't enough, guess what? Another tropical depression just formed, and is forecast to hit the same area as another hurricane-strength storm in the next week or two (Update: this one has been given the name Megh).

Making matters worse, the country has been in a civil war for decades. While the government has tried to keep the country in order, Islamist groups like Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) have tried to tear Yemen apart. So, without much further ado, what city is AQAP's de facto capital? Al-Mukalla. This arid city turned tropical cyclone magnet is also a city that such notorious terrorists as Nasir al-Wuhayshi, founder of the AQAP branch, and Nasser bin Ali al-Ansi, commander of the two men who perpetrated the Charlie Hebdo shooting, called (and their group still calls) home.

In October 2014, I wrote and published another post that makes a hard case about areas where persecution of Christians takes place and how natural disasters are often precariously timed to coincide with days following Jewish and Christian holidays. Cyclone Chapala made landfall on November 3. November 2 is All Souls' Day — or "la Día de los Muertos" in Spanish — and at least in the Catholic Church is a very, *very* important holiday. Could Cyclone Chapala be yet another example — in addition to the AD 79 Vesuvius eruption and 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake/tsunami 1-2 punch — of this kind of divine retribution at work?

The interpretation of this is up to the reader, but it definitely makes sense. Av 10, December 26, and November 3 are all days immediately following important Jewish (Tisha b'Av) and Christian (Christmas, All Souls' Day) holidays, to be sure. Although A.D. 79, 2004, and 2015 are all worlds apart in a historical context, these disasters IMO are a reminder of who's in charge here.

30 October, 2015

Chrome OS + Android merger rumors: Enter 'ARC OS'

Some rumors have circulated over the course of the past few days about Chrome OS and Android under Sundar Pichai's Google. In particular, suggestions that by 2017 Chrome OS and Android will become one and the same, and that Android is what Chrome OS would be merged into. However, Google not only mentioned that Chrome OS isn't going anywhere, a spokesperson also mentioned even more commitment to Chrome OS than to Android. Could this mean that the media actually has it backwards?

At I/O 2014, Google released Android Lollipop as a developer preview release, then released the final version the following fall. At the same time, however, Sundar Pichai also showcased the seemingly impossible: Android apps running on a Chromebook. At the time, some had no idea what was actually being developed behind closed doors, so rumors abounded on how Google actually did it. Then, the smoking gun: when Google finally released Chrome OS Android apps, an App Runtime for Chrome (ARC) extension was also released. At least in beta it was, anyhow.

Fast forward to October 2015, a full month and a half later, and it's *still* in beta. Although it's now possible to sideload just about anything into ARC thanks to the ARC Welder app, ARC still has its pitfalls: either install the very limited selection in the Chrome Web Store or sideload. However, what will happen when ARC goes from beta to stable? When ARC becomes as capable as the Android OS itself at running apps?

Google has the source code to the Play Store. They also have the source code to the ARC Welder app, which is itself an Android app that uses ARC to run on Chrome OS. All Google would need to do to essentially give Chrome OS access to the entire Android app catalog is A, add the ARC Welder app template to the Play Store APK, B, modify the Play Store code to match Android manifest permissions with ARC metadata permissions, and C, pack the resulting modified Play Store APK into a CRX file that can run on an ARC-powered Chromebook. Essentially Chrome OS would then have access to the entire Play Store as a result, all apps included.

As if that's not enough, what about porting the Now Launcher to ARC? Keep in mind that Chrome OS already has a "TouchView" mode that only enables when a touch screen is present. Android's UI makes *much* more sense on a touch screen than TouchView IMO, which is simply a crippled version of the Ash desktop with the inability to unmaximize any windows. If Google released an ARC version of the Now Launcher and bumped it to full screen mode only under the same conditions as TouchView now, the result, essentially, would be not Chrome OS folded into Android as media is suggesting, but instead Android folded into Chrome OS. For now, however, it's just a waiting game regarding what Google really has in store.

27 October, 2015

The Real Cause of the California Drought Has Been Spotted…and it's Not the Blob

Let's be clear: Despite how much havoc El Niño is wreaking around the globe, there are some areas that the phenomenon couldn't affect soon enough. Here in California is one such example. Ever since 2012, the weather here has been ridiculously dry. A blocking ridge of high pressure has seemingly set itself up like clockwork over the eastern Pacific ever since then, and every time it has formed it has induced the formation of an oceanic reflection: a deep pool of anomalous ocean warmth extending thousands of feet below the surface. People have been quick to blame this as the source of the drought, but what they fail to realize is that it has disappeared several times shortly before the ridge's formation, and moreover, the ridge first formed not in 2014 but in 2013, when there was no "blob" there. This, however, still leaves people wondering: if it's not El Borrón, what is it?

Enter the Niño 3.4 ITCZ Gap

Comparison of locations of low outgoing longwave radiation (OLR) anomalies from September 2015, September 1997, September 1982, and September 2013. Low OLR anomalies indicate the presence of tropical convection. Note how, in 2013, deep convection in the vicinity of Niño 3.4 is absent. Credit: Twitter/Xerophobe_WW

Something that has absolutely nothing to do with the North Pacific, that's for sure. Instead, by the looks of it, everything, everything about the existence of that ridge has a tropical connection. Storms depend on the existence of available moisture. Positive OLR = sinking air = no tall tropical thunderstorms = no moisture, ergo, storms that would otherwise pass near there fail to do so, and the state is left in a very, very desperate situation.

What's more, this gap in the ITCZ can send the jet stream for a spin. How? Think of a pole vaulter: when he puts his pole down into the ground while running, what happens? He gets pushed high over a bar, right? That void in what should be a uniform ITCZ is a region of sinking air. Sinking air wants to pull the jet stream toward it, like a vacuum. The jet stream gets pulled that way, and what happens? Like a vaulting pole getting shoved into the ground, it buckles, getting thrown up into a huge, huge area of high pressure that gets warm tropical air sucked in, completely shutting down our wet season, just like what happened during that record dry year.

But wait, why did the ridge stick around for the 2014-15 season as well? Aside from the fact that the El Niño event that is flirting with record intensity this year was weak Modoki last year, something called the Quasi-Biennial Oscillation, or QBO, was in a negative phase. This oscillation measures how strong the winds in the tropics at the 50-millibar (read: stratospheric) level are, and in what direction they blow. Westerly winds at that level, indicative of positive QBO, in the tropics tend to inhibit sudden stratospheric warming (SSW) events that were a key driver in the ridge's resilience, while easterlies at that level, indicative of negative QBO, are highly favorable for such events. Although QBO was positive 2013-14, the existence of the ITCZ gap in the Niño 3.4 region was enough to overpower the westerly QBO at the time. Then, as this El Niño tried and failed to develop last year, in May 2014 QBO flipped from positive to negative, causing it to peter out and actually reinforcing the ITCZ gap with an SST gap, once again bringing the nasty RRR back. But now that we actually have a ''too big to fail" El Niño event present in the tropical Pacific in 2015, where are we?

Yes, that's right, we're back in a positive QBO period again, and, naturally, with this strong El Niño involved, that ITCZ gap ceases to exist. The result? Much, much more potential for a wet winter here. Warm anomalies in that region which once had a gap in it are now +2.5°C above normal, with another strong downwelling Kelvin wave in progress and a WWB powder keg — the MJO — also getting in on the act. May temporarily suppress convection as was the case in late June, only to, when the Pacific is involved, unleash yet another powerful westerly wind burst, as if the one earlier this month wasn't enough, when it enters the Pacific, similar to the westerly wind burst seen back in July, further reinforcing this already very strong — and counting — El Niño.

24 October, 2015

The Curse of the "P" Storm: Mexico Gets Hit Again

To whoever is reading this: By now you may know just how devastated some towns along Mexico's west coast have become. You've seen the damage images. You've seen the satellite and space station images. I've seen the raw data. We officially have a new record for strongest hurricane in the history of the eastern Pacific basin, beating 1997's Linda with a sustained wind speed 15mph faster and a minimum central pressure 23 millibars lower. This storm's name? Patricia.

Dropping to a record-shattering 879 millibars (in the recorded history of every basin on the planet, only Typhoon Tip had a lower central pressure), packing maximum sustained winds in excess of 200 (!) miles per hour inside a compact pinhole of a core (including the eyewall, the core of this monster measured less than 15 miles across, while the eye itself was only 5 miles in diameter), and feeding off an exceptionally warm, deep pool put in place by the second strongest (and counting) El Niño event on record, Patricia made a beeline for Mexico's west coast. Squarely in Patricia's forecast cone? The state of Jalisco, including the heavily populated resort cities of Manzanillo and Puerto Vallarta.

Thankfully neither of those population and commerce centers bore Patricia's brunt, but some small towns just north of Manzanillo, including Cuixmala (the closest town to the actual landfall location) and Emiliano Zapata (where world-renowned storm chaser Josh Morgerman had to hide inside a hotel bathroom and put a mattress over himself and seven other people to survive), were beyond devastated. The storm did, of course, briefly weaken before making landfall (due in part to a possible eyewall replacement cycle in progress), but still caused tremendous damage. Haven't heard of any fatalities (yet), of course, but, strange as this claim may sound, this stretch of Mexico from Acapulco to Puerto Vallarta is no stranger to hurricanes.

18 years ago, in October 1997, a similar storm threatened a similar stretch of the Mexican coast, only at a slightly weaker intensity, as a westerly wind burst associated with the 1997-98 El Niño event (which 2015-16 is on track to potentially also out-strengthen) made it all the way east and set off a disturbance in the trade winds. The resulting storm — Pauline — went from TS to Cat 4 in about the same amount of time as Patricia intensified to this new record, but made landfall smack in the middle of its rapid deepening phase before having a chance to intensify any further. The main story of Pauline, however, was flooding, not winds, after more than 2 feet of rain (!) was dropped across a large swath of Mexico's west coast. Due to the resulting destruction, the name "Pauline" was retired from eastern Pacific lists, only to be replaced with, what? That's right, Patricia.

It's almost as if that one section of the Mexican west coast just can't get a break whenever a strong El Niño is involved; after all, this list has no retired names on it at all except the "P" name, which is likely to be retired for its second time. Southern Mexico, however, was in D4 "exceptional" drought (hey, just like California) before Patricia hit, so although the winds and surge caused unthinkable destruction, the amount of water that Patricia delivered should certainly help refill Mexico's reservoirs. Well, that is, some of it; after all, most of that water is just running off and causing flash floods. Oh, and another exceptional drought in Texas (wait, what? Yes, the drought in Texas came back; while spring rains were record-breaking, summer rains ceased to exist) is also being quashed by Patricia's remnant moisture.

Meanwhile, as winter approaches and this 2015-16 El Niño (with region 3.4 now holding steady at or above a staggering +2.5C sea surface temperature anomaly) shifts from fueling hurricanes to fueling atmospheric rivers, we here in California are likely to be next on El Niño's list. Now, it's just an exciting waiting game, but still an exciting one nonetheless.

13 October, 2015

Not a Localized Event: Debunking ENSO Misconceptions

By now, the El Niño that first began rapidly intensifying this past spring has now become the third strongest on record, and still intensifying. Sea surface temperature anomalies in Niño 3.4, among other critical regions, have reached 2.4°C above normal and have remained above the 2.0°C ("very strong", i.e. super El Niño) threshold for more than a month and a half. Then again, only a handful of us actually know what El Niño is. So, I've dedicated this post to answering the most misguided, misconception-based questions that lay Californians often ask.

Let's start with the obvious:

Q: "When is El Niño supposed to [affect California]?

A: Note how the phrase "affect California" is in brackets:  More often than as should be, this phrase is "when is El Niño supposed to hit [us]" or something along those lines, which is based on the fallacy of composition: El Niño is NOT a localized event. As explained in the paragraph above, the anomalous marine heat wave expressed as an El Niño signal actually affects the entire equatorial Pacific from one end to the other! However, the effect on California (explained below) is most prominent in winter, just like any other year, when geopotential height gradients are at their strongest.

If you've learned anything in school about the early explorers, you may have learned that most transatlantic and/or trans-Pacific voyages were much faster from east to west than west to east (usually). That's because of the trade winds, which typically blow in that direction.

Q: But wait, why do the trade winds usually blow from east to west?

A: A huge pool of warm tropical water that is typically centered around a region spanning Indonesia, Australia, and the Philippines creates low pressure that air east and west of it gets drawn to, and when it does, it creates high pressure on both sides of the equator through the Coriolis effect. Warm water, remember, is a moisture source: the warmer the water, the easier it is for the Sun to evaporate the water in question. However, heat naturally wants to induce expansion. The result? Higher sea levels near that warm pool. Eventually, the sea level in that location becomes too high, gravity takes over, and an equatorially trapped downwelling Kelvin wave — the initial trigger for El Niño — is born.

When this happens, it tends to induce the formation of thunderstorms as big as 2.5 times the height of Mount Everest in regions on both sides of the equator in the Pacific that usually drive the trade winds, which get deflected right of them north of the equator and left of them south of it. At the same time, the atmospheric pressure centered around Indonesia also rises somewhat due to ever so subtle eastward displacement. Remember the damage in Vanuatu that Cyclone Pam caused back in March? Of course, but did you know that Pam actually had a twin on the other side of the equator at the exact same longitude? Tropical Storm Bavi was precisely that twin. When areas of high pressure on both sides of the equator (which rotate clockwise north and counterclockwise south) suddenly get replaced by tropical cyclones on both sides of the equator (which rotate counterclockwise north and clockwise south), they actually flip the trades into reverse, creating a temporary patch of anomalous tropical westerly winds termed a westerly wind burst. This further strengthens the Kelvin wave, which then drags the tropical convection further east, creating more tall thunderstorms as obstacles that the trade winds must flow around, causing the easterly trades to weaken and also setting off more westerly wind bursts at the same time through increased tropical cyclogenesis, which then go on to initiate the formation of more equatorially trapped downwelling Kelvin waves. Notice the feedback loop? It's a loop that usually is only defeated when climatology catches up to it in late winter and spring.

Q: But what does a feedback loop confined to the equatorial Pacific have to do with weather here in California?

A: Those very same tall thunderstorms that disrupt the trade winds also tend to push the jet stream around. In particular, their tops, at between 60,000 and 70,000 feet, are actually above the levels of both jet streams — the hemispheric polar jets typically exert their hurricane force at around 25,000 feet, and the subtropical ones at around 40,000 feet. However, the mechanisms that drive the subtropical and polar jets are fundamentally different.

The polar jets, which typically bring the Pacific Northwest its extreme rainfall, are driven by temperature gradients: warmth pushes them north, cold pushes them south, and the differences in air densities get acted on by the Coriolis effect and forced to deflect to the right, meaning west to east. The subtropical jets, however, are actually the outflow from those gargantuan thunderstorms in the tropics. The Coriolis effect acts on that outflow, deflecting it to the right, and like the polar jet, this jet too tends to carry a storm track with it — usually, however, it's across southern Mexico and Central America, but not during El Niño years.

During El Niño winters, when those tall thunderstorms shift east, the Hadley cells expand. Outflow gets pushed farther north and south than usual. The result? A stronger, more displaced subtropical jet that flows not across Central America but instead across northern Mexico and southern California, at speeds far faster than it normally would — instead of the usual speed, at around 75mph (the force of a Category 1 hurricane), this subtropical jet can scream at speeds of at least 150mph, in some cases as strong as 175mph, the same wind speed as that of Hurricane Camille, when El Niño supercharges it.

At the same time, the coastal areas off Peru, Mexico, and even Southern California also warm up as a result of strong El Niño events, while areas off Asia cool down. The result? A persistently large, persistently eastward displaced, persistently negatively tilted Aleutian low, bringing a boatload of cold air on a collision course with this subtropical jet, which then forces pieces of it into California. Polar and tropical air masses are like elemental sodium and water — when you mix them, they explode. Very powerful, very moist storms with upper-level cold pockets result from this. It can be 70°F at the surface and <30°F at 5000 feet. Such extreme lapse rates almost invariably result in extremely low pressure, rapidly rising air, and much more rain, lightning, hail, and even tornadoes (in extreme cases, like 1982-83 for instance) than usual here in California. This should be an interesting year indeed.

29 September, 2015

Google Flagship Outlook 2016: Nexus Pixel...????

The announcement this morning by Google has unveiled some rather interesting products, to say the least. We got not one but *two* new Nexus phones, a new Chromecast, and some products that weren't even on anyone's radar until now. They sure blew my mind when I watched (part of) the live stream before having to leave for work in the middle of it.

Ah, but while there were similarities, there were also huge differences between this year's announcement and last year's. Previous announcements have always had not only phones but also tablets being released. In 2012 Google released the Nexus 4, Nexus 7, and Nexus 10 — one of which a phone, the others tablets. In 2013 they went on to release an improved Nexus 7 and the Nexus 5. In 2014 they changed it up slightly, releasing the Nexus 6 and the Nexus 9. In 2015, however, the release announcement consisted of two Nexus phones — the 5X and 6P — but no Nexus tablets.

Ah, but wait a minute! There was a tablet released by Google at this event, but *not* under the Nexus moniker. Nexus devices typically, though not always (cases in point: Nexus Q, Nexus Player) are designed by Google but the blueprints handed over to others to manufacture, rather than manufactured in-house. However, there is a team within Google that does build hardware. It's existed since 2013, and has indeed churned out two Chromebooks since its inception. Yup, I'm talking about both generations of Chromebook Pixel, and Google turned to the internal team that developed those devices to develop this tablet. The result? A convertible Android tablet called the Pixel C. Designed *and* manufactured by Google, not just designed, and it's a powerhouse to say the least.

I don't know about anyone else, but the fact that Google actually announced the Pixel C in place of another Nexus tablet may be a very good clue IMO as to what Google may have in store for 2016. If the Pixel team can build an Android tablet internally, why can't they go on to build an Android phone from the same internal Pixel lab? Call it the "Nexus Pixel" if you will. It would make a whole lot more sense from Google's point of view, given that in the past, there have been issues with supply that have bogged down Nexus device sales, resulting in very, very rapid sellouts and slow restocking rates.

With something both designed and built internally by Google, Google can easily avoid that problem. What's more, the Pixel team, unlike other manufacturers, really, really knows how to design a device to look and feel like something capable of swaying away Apple users. So does Huawei as the N6P shows, but imagine, just imagine a pure unibody aluminum phone with the calling card of the Pixel team — that lightbar — etched into its front face. Something that can make even Apple users jealous. Yup, that right there is what I call awesome.

08 September, 2015

El Niño, Heat Waves, and Hurricanes: A Mutually Helpful Combination

September 15-25, 1939. That's a period few in SoCal old enough to remember will ever forget. By far the biggest contrast in extremes the state has ever experienced occurred during that period, starting with a heat wave. Unlike most heat waves in SoCal, however, this one was bizarre: it shut down the sea breezes that otherwise would keep coastal waters cool. Witnesses recall that even along the coast, 90's to triple digits F were recorded, and with few having any access to air conditioning at the time, sadly, this heat wave proved deadly, when at least 90 people died due to heat-related illness.

Despite this, the heat wave came to a very, very abrupt end, thanks to, what? The tropics. On September 15, the same day the heat wave began, ship data reported the formation of a tropical depression about 100 miles south of Guatemala. Very quickly, that depression became a hurricane, which went on to take a very, very unusual track. Rather than moving west, what would be known as "Hurricane Nine" to meteorologists before the named storm era managed to make a Socorro Island hit, similar to Dolores, then swung north. After 10 days, on September 25, 1939, this tropical tempest made landfall in San Pedro as a strong tropical storm with sustained winds of 70 mph. Just offshore, however, ship data suggested this may have actually been a minimal hurricane, with some ships recording winds in excess of 75 mph. Anyhow, this system brought a very, very abrupt end to that heat wave: not only were the winds fierce, but rainfall totals in only a 24-hour period were in double digits in places. Mount Wilson recorded 11+ inches of rain, and metropolitan Los Angeles about 7 inches. The resulting flash flooding, sadly, also took lives, but this storm definitely gave us a head start on the water year, to say the least. Since tropical cyclones are heat engines, however, this raises a question: could the heat wave actually have helped this hurricane make it to California by increasing local sea surface temperatures?

Even though no hurricane took advantage then, there was in fact a similar heat wave more recently than 1939 that also was intense enough to disrupt the sea breezes that otherwise drive the cold California Current. The year was 2006. Beginning on July 15, triple-digit temps gripped a huge swath from California to Texas, in some cases over 110°F. Even more striking, however, were the dew points: in the 70's and in some cases even 80's! At the same time, sea surface temps climbed extremely rapidly, to the point where, by July 25 (huh, interesting coincidence), they rose past 80°F, the threshold for sustaining a tropical cyclone. The reason? The California Current is wind-driven. What happens is that the breezes, which typically blow from the northwest, pull water away from the coast through Ekman transport, which causes cold deep water to upwell to replace it. That's why hurricanes don't typically come in California's direction: without extreme anomalies, the water is simply too cold to sustain them.

When those winds weaken, stop, or reverse, however, so too does the California Current cease to exist. The result? The water warms up. In the case of 2006, there was no preexisting anomaly, not on the equator nor locally. 1939, however, did already involve a moderate El Niño prior to the heat wave, which may have exacerbated the sea surface temps. Also, since it was in September and not July, climatology is also warmer in general for local SSTs: the warmest of the warm waters usually approach California in late September and early October. All of these factors, on top of a windless heat wave, can only mean one thing: perhaps this heat wave gave that tropical cyclone a helping hand by warming the ocean.

Fast forward to 2015, and we've got something else rather interesting. Of course, it's September again, and this time we've got not a moderate El Niño, or a neutral year, but one of the strongest, perhaps the strongest, El Niño to ever form in modern times. At the same time, we've also got something unusual: erratic tropical cyclone behavior. A hurricane named Linda (again) is spinning off Baja, and did something that few other storms have: where most tropical cyclones weaken, Linda, 200 (give or take) miles WSW of Cabo San Lucas (!), is actually rapidly intensifying. Went from a Category 1 to a 3 this morning, and still going, in a region where tropical cyclones typically don't do that. At the same time, a heat wave, and again, a windless one, is ongoing. Excessive heat warnings for LA and Ventura counties have been issued, as have heat advisories for Orange and San Diego counties, for the next several days. A brief cooldown is expected next weekend, followed by a second round of heat beginning next Tuesday, September 15 (again). At the same time, the GFS model is picking up on, again, a TC forming S of Guatemala, which would be Marty if named. Meanwhile, hurricane-turned-typhoon Kilo, having crossed the International Date Line, is expected to recurve and affect the PNA, pushing it back into a negative phase beyond that, around September 21/22. Just in time too, because that adds a longwave trough to the mix, which can then act to steer that next storm over those heat-primed waters and give it nowhere to go but toward SoCal, hopefully giving us a head start on our water year, which is already expected to be a big one because of El Niño. These are exciting times, indeed.

19 July, 2015

Dolores Deluge: Rare July Precipitation Event with an El Niño Fueled Tropical Connection

19 July 2015. For the past two days, conditions have seemingly gone topsy-turvy for some here in Southern California during what is typically the driest month of the year. An Angels game had to be cancelled due to "inclement weather" for the first time since 1995. Two formerly raging wildfires, including one that scorched 20 cars on the 15 freeway, are now 100% contained thanks to extremely high humidity and rare July rainfall. People in an assisted living community had to evacuate, not due to fire, but due to flash flooding ― and this is in July, when average annual precipitation is only 0.02 of an inch. People have been quick to directly blame El Niño, but in actuality, it's really only indirectly related.

Hurricane Dolores as a Category 4 storm Wednesday evening, hammering Socorro Island. Eventually, after dissipating over cooler waters, this system shot a plume of moisture up the coast as a tropical storm, then made landfall in SoCal as a remnant low
The real source of this rare July bonus moisture was, yes, that's right, former Category 4 Hurricane Dolores. On Wednesday, Socorro Island, a volcanic island about 200 miles southwest of Cabo San Lucas that contains a Mexican naval base, got hammered by sustained winds clocking in at 130mph, coupled with a 15-foot storm surge and horizontal rain, all from this beast. After that, the storm began to move into cooler waters and, naturally, weaken... ah, but slowly. Dolores remained a weak tropical storm as far north as Vizcaíno ― rare for July ― and produced tropical storm force winds even after becoming post-tropical, as far north as San Clemente Island. The result? A boatload of tropical moisture streaming over Southern California during what is usually the driest month of the year.

El Niño years tend to make this more likely to happen, for several reasons. One is the weakening and/or reversal of the trade winds. Normally, they blow from east to west ― that is typically why hurricanes also move in that direction. When the trades weaken or reverse, westward movement slows. Second is the large-scale collapse of blocking patterns that typically dominate over much of the North Pacific during the summer months. This allows low pressure systems to form in the North Pacific even during the dry season ― troughs that can grab tropical cyclones and pull them north. Third, with the resulting overall lack of upwelling, waters immediately off the California and South American coasts become much warmer than normal, giving tropical cyclones more overall fuel that can sustain them further from the tropics than usual. All of these factors put together can cause some rather interesting effects as the hurricane season in the eastern Pacific basin (which happens to be the very source of the wind shear that suppresses Atlantic activity) rolls on up.

Although this kind of situation is definitely the first of its kind for July in the known historical record, it's not the first of its kind period. In September 1997, for example, moisture from Hurricane Linda ― which currently holds the record for strongest in Eastern Pacific history, although probably not for long ― streamed across California, causing torrential rains and even hail the size of golf balls in some locations. That same year, moisture from the much weaker Hurricane Nora also managed to cause some interesting totals, especially in the Inland Empire, where flooding was rampant. Going further back into history, one of these eastern Pacific behemoths made landfall in Long Beach as a strong tropical storm back in 1939 ― also an El Niño year ― and even further back, in 1858 — again, El Niño — a Category 1 hurricane brought 85mph sustained winds and 10 feet of storm surge to San Diego.

Given how many impacts we've had already ― heck, even way back in May and early June we had some remnant moisture from Hurricane Blanca as well ― it shudders me to think of possible impacts later in this season, including possible repeats of the 1939 and/or 1858 events, given that 2015 accumulated cyclone energy is already ahead of 1997 levels. Although, I for one would definitely take a direct hit from a tropical cyclone as an added bonus on top of already extreme winter El Niño impacts over this drought any day… catch-22, I guess. These are definitely exciting times indeed.

16 July, 2015

Why Using Warm PDO Alone as an Excuse for Below-Average Precip Forecasts is Folly

July 18, 2015. Sea surface temperature anomalies are on a rather interesting trend: while the equator is definitely warming extremely quickly (and has a WWB response to boot), the same can also be said about the eastern North Pacific warm pool, at least in terms of its coastal margins. That particular piece has drawn skepticism from some in terms of its impacts, but there's a problem with that skepticism: it's got historical precedents that actually have done the exact opposite of what the naysayers make it out to be.

Back in April, JPL climatologist Bill Patzert had (and still has) the exact same optimistic attitude about the so called "blob" that I do, with good reason: it's really the warm phase of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, or PDO, which is El Niño friendly: when you have cooling W and warming E in the north Pacific, it makes it more likely that you'll also have cooling W and warming E on the equator. Thus, he, and I too, saw it as a precursor last spring. Fast-forward to July, and equatorial warming is beginning to equal northeast Pacific warming. At the same time, the Bering Sea and extreme NWPAC are also showing signs of cooling.

The NWPAC cooling at the same instance brings me to my next point: July 2015 isn't the only month to feature extreme NEPAC warming. What about June 1997? Yup, that's right, 1997 too had a warm NEPAC. See, the PDO feedback is really basic physics: cold air, being more dense, wants to flow toward warm air, which is less dense, and often times when it works on planetary scales, the cold air ends up passing slightly to the right of the warm air and a spiral forms.

El Niño, meanwhile, adds something else to get those air masses stirring faster: the subtropical jet. +PDO does tend to weaken/push up against the polar jet stream, no doubt about that, but that's because the polar jet is dependent on upper-level air mass collision. Not the case with the subtropical jet: it is in itself actually the outflow from the tops of thunderstorms in the tropics. During non-El Niño years, it actually flows along or close to the equator due to its role in the Walker circulation: when winds blow from W at upper levels in the tropics, they sink, turn around, and become easterlies at lower levels. Once that convection shifts during an El Niño year, however, then the upper-level winds along equator shift and actually start blowing from E at the jet stream level. This forces the subtropical jet to shift north into the subtropics, between 25N and 35N — putting SoCal smack in its crosshairs — and strengthen from ~70mph to 150mph or stronger.

When you've already got cold air W and warm air E and add that >150mph subtropical jet to get those air masses rotating about each other, the result, the natural result, is large-scale troughing throughout the entire NPAC from one end to the other. Remember, we're talking about a westerly gradient here: cooling west + warming east = a volatile mix of air masses just waiting to explode into a low pressure area if disturbed. And disturbing those air masses is exactly what El Niño does by adding the subtropical jet to the mix.

13 July, 2015

Prolonged solar minimum + increased greenhouse gases + PDO + ENSO = recipe for oceanic disaster

July 13, 2015. A study by solar scientist Valentina Zharkova et al. suggesting that we may plunge into another Maunder Minimum type event by 2030 has gathered a great deal of buzz/press, including speculation that the Sun may "go to sleep" and that, despite the fact that greenhouse gases are at double the concentration today as they were during the Medieval warm period (which had absolutely no associated greenhouse gas spike), another "Little Ice Age" type event would soon get triggered by this. The reality couldn't be further from the truth.

To get a far more accurate representation of the effect of solar forcing on climate, one must look to the place that the sun shines its brightest year-round on the planet: the tropics. It's here that the most solar forcing out of anywhere on the planet creates a kind of thermal low, called the Intertropical Convergence Zone, that winds flow into from the hemispheres. The stronger the solar forcing, the deeper the ITCZ and equatorial troughing, the stronger the trade winds, the stronger the western boundary currents that carry warmth from the equator to the polar regions.

So, what happens when the very source of energy for the ITCZ — the sun — dims? Yup, that's right, the ITCZ levels out, then tropical cyclone activity increases north and south of the equator, then the trades, which depend on the existence of the ITCZ, weaken or reverse… and before long, a 200-year period in which 150/200 are El Niño years is staring you in the face. According NOAA's ENSO archives, the mid-1400's to late 1500's, matching precisely with the Sporer Minimum, were marked by moderate El Niño events almost every other year for 200 years straight, and reconstructed PDO records show that same period  as marked by constant +PDO forcing with few, if any, breaks in it, and the Wolf, Maunder, and Dalton Minima all show the same thing:

1000 years of PDO history, with all four 'grand minima' superimposed. Note how decreases in solar activity actually cause a *warming* of the PDO

Add greenhouse gases to the mix and you actually exacerbate this problem. While solar forcing affects the equator far more than the polar regions, greenhouse gases affect the polar regions, mid-latitudes, and subtropics far more than the equator, adding --AO, --AAO, and an increased likelihood of cross-equatorial tropical cyclones, not to mention more Southern Hemisphere Boosters, to the mix.

The result? It can actually lead to more warming. The best example I can throw out there is the mid-Pliocene warm period: PRISM ERSST data shows that the equatorial Pacific was consistently warm throughout the Pliocene with absolutely no gaps in it, and sediment/ice core records show increased levels of methane, among other exceptionally strong greenhouse gases, in the air at the time. Because water temps were constantly warm both north and south of the equator, it would have easily, easily allowed tropical cyclones to form on both sides of the equator, more often at once, allowing westerly wind bursts to become far more numerous and powerful. Lack of solar forcing to keep the trades in check makes this scenario much, MUCH more likely than the medieval one, and the result can be disastrous indeed, especially for places like Australia, Indonesia, and India that get dried out by strong ENSO/warm PDO events.

06 July, 2015

July 2015 ENSO update: Equatorial anomalies, WWB's continue to ramp up

If I haven't been posting much to this blog in recent weeks/months, I apologize. Part of the reason has been my exceptionally high Twitter activity… ah, and activity there tends to be a distraction. Anyhow, I've been using a myriad of tools to track this pending El Niño event – everything from retweets, to WWB time-lon forecasts, to surface current anomalies, to observed SST anomalies, to SST anomaly forecasts, and all of them are beyond impressive.

SST anomalies: Exceptionally impressive to say the least

My last update (in May) showed a marginally warm strip along the equator. Now, however, it's July. What do we have here? Well…

Compare that to May, and clearly it's a sign that this event is, hands-down, the strongest since 1997. Do SST anomalies alone tell the whole story? Of course not, but it goes to show just how impressive this event is, with more WWB's and downwelling Kelvin waves (next paragraphs) on the way. What makes this map clearly differ from 2014 (especially) is the Banda Sea cold pool: it forces high pressure over Indonesia, thus keeping the atmospheric response locked in place.

Westerly trades: Cross-equatorial tropical cyclones, redux

You may recall that what initially kickstarted this event was a pair of tropical cyclones on both sides of the equator at the same longitude back in March: Cyclone Pam (yes, that's right, that monster, the one that ended up being a direct hit on Vanuatu, completely obliterating heavily populated portions of the island) on one side of the equator, and Tropical Storm Bavi (which never made it to typhoon status) on the other. Fast-forward to July 1 Australian time (technically late June 30 in California) and that exact same thing happened again: TS Chan-hom on one side of the equator, Cyclone Raquel (also a TS when the Saffir-Simpson Scale is applied) on the other. Although Cyclone Raquel was clearly weaker than Pam, it was still paired with another cyclone on the opposite side of the equator. When this occurs, it's like a WWB pitching machine: winds rotate counterclockwise north of the equator, clockwise south of it, and between the two, winds have only one way to blow: from W. Here:

As you can clearly see, what we're looking at is easily the most powerful westerly wind burst since March, and moreover, when Raquel dissipated, the Southern Hemisphere Booster followed right behind. Now, there's a pressure gradient of high in W, low in E, which can keep that WWB progressing further E. In ~5 days, this westerly wind burst could reach the far E Pacific, where more hurricanes (starting with Dolores) should form. For a review: the word "typhoon" is only used W of the date line; E of it, they're still hurricanes.

Kelvin waves: 3 and counting

You may recall that the April/May Kelvin wave was set off by the westerly wind burst induced by the Pam/Bavi cross-equatorial pair. However, the May westerly wind burst set off a second downwelling Kelvin wave. While the Kelvin wave in April only contained small patches of +6°C anomalies at depth, this one brought with it anomalies at depth of +6°C across the board, with patchy +7°C T-Depth anomalies. Then, Chan-hom and Raquel pitched in, and the result was a third Kelvin wave. Although it doesn't look too impressive at the moment, it's very fast-moving: in just a matter of, like, 3 days, it's gone from 165°E to the date line, and the WWB that spawned it continues to move east as well. On top of that, there's now a strong MJO superimposed on top of the Niño signal, adding to those westerly anomalies, and as mentioned above, there's also anomalous cooling of the Banda Sea helping to lock that signal in place.


So, we've got everything coupled… it's just a waiting game now. Let's see how strong this event gets, shall we? It would definitely mean the world to us in CA, especially in conjunction with cooling AMO, since cool Atlantic in general tends to want to shift the storm track south, and with the Hudson Bay now also heating up with warm anomalies, blocking should reposition over Canada… everything looks to be coming together. Everyone, this is going to be a wild ride.

03 July, 2015

6 Hours with a Nexus 6: By Far the Best (Albeit Biggest) Phone I've Used

Google's Nexus devices are certainly an awesome, developer-friendly bunch, to say the least. Being a registered (albeit student) Android and Chrome OS developer myself, it makes sense to have access to the latest and greatest software features Android has to offer, and that's where the Nexus phones deliver. Before November 2014, however, with AT&T, there was one caveat: Nexus devices simply weren't upgrade options. Until now.

This afternoon, I was able to, between last month and this month, come up with enough cold hard cash to pay off the remainder of my AT&T Next installment plan from last year and upgrade. Finally, I have what I've been waiting for: a Nexus 6, which is arguably the powerhouse of the whole line.

There's no doubt it feels great, despite its massive size: The phone is about as tall as the iPhone 6 Plus, but wider by about a half inch. Physically, it looks more tablet than phone: AT&T actually had a promotion where I got a free LG G Pad 8.3 with an upgrade. The G Pad 8.3 and Nexus 6 superimposed on each other look only marginally different in terms of the sheer size of the devices!

Although that may be a turn-off to some (and I don't blame them: even my huge hands cannot possibly wrap around the thing when I'm touching the screen; to make a call, I have to dial with two hands and THEN hold the phone up to my ear with one, or hold the phone with one hand and dial with the other), to me, it's simply part of the challenge of having a powerhouse: phones that are bigger also tend to be more powerful.

And the Nexus 6 is no exception. Sporting 4 cores of raw 2.7GHz Snapdragon power, 3GB of RAM, 32GB of internal storage, a 13MP camera capable of shooting 4K video (that should come in handy for El Niño storm chasing this coming winter, in the best quality possible), and a screen resolution coming in at a whopping 2560x1440 (that's right: even the *screen* is near-4K), it's definitely among the most powerful phones on the market. Even the similarly large iPhone 6 Plus only has 2 cores, 1GB of RAM, and only half the screen resolution of this powerhouse.

Unlike similarly powerful phones such as the Samsung Galaxy Note 4, LG G3, and Samsung Galaxy S6 (which my mother now has), however, the Nexus 6 is developer-friendly no matter what carrier it came through. AT&T, you may recall, is notorious for locking bootloaders on its devices. Not the Nexus 6: a fully unlockable bootloader on my new phone was only a single toggle away. Yup, that's right: even the AT&T model is that easy to unlock! Oh, and the number of bloatware apps automatically installed on setup: Zilch. Zero. That's especially surprising given AT&T's track record, but it only makes the experience feel that much better.

Also, with access to M developer preview images, I hope to flash one of them soon, which should get rid of that hideous boot jingle and AT&T splash screen automatically. Of course, beta software means beta bugs, but as a developer with experience reporting bugs for other Google products (including Chrome OS Canary — that's right, I'm the one who figured out how to get Canary builds on my Chromebook, all on my own), I know precisely how to handle them.

For now, I'm just going to enjoy this phone as is. It's fast, it's powerful… oh, yeah, and it's as timely as humanly possible when it comes to OS updates, no doubt about that. It's clearly the device to beat.

30 May, 2015

Five Reasons Why TouchWiz is Horrible

I must admit, despite being a person who uses countless Google products, I've also been a rather staunch Samsung-hater. Yes, I have had a Galaxy S4, but it wasn't by choice, it was by force. But why, you ask? Why would I go out of my way to call TouchWiz "POSware"? Why does it even matter? It all goes back to the footprint it makes on the device and on the user experience. There are numerous factors, but the top five are definitely the most important ones. So, yup, time to count down those top five nagging TouchWiz headaches.

5. Knox: The evil of user freedom evils

Something is eerily NSA-like here. Not only are the bootloaders in Samsung devices hellishly locked down to the point where even Towelroot won't work in some cases, but there's this little switch, called a "qFuse", that spies on the phone's system partition, Big Brother style, and threatens to void the manufacturer's warranty on the device if it detects even the slightest degree of modification (removing #4, for instance). This is especially problematic for registered Android developers like me: merely testing apps is enough to trip it, and oh, yeah, it pretty much guarantees a hellishly evil ride for anyone trying to break out of the TouchWiz cyberprison.

4. Bloatware, bloatware everywhere!

This tends to be both an AT&T problem and a Samsung problem, but it's still a problem regardless. The amount of disk space for me, a registered developer, mind you, with developer needs, to use to develop and/or test apps is crucial. More disk space used up by Samsung and AT&T bloat means less disk space available to me, the developer, and the amount of running system processes adds to the burden by slowing the phone down and taking away precious testing time due to the latency. Android in general isn't an issue with this, but when Samsung and AT&T start adding on their own stuff on top of Google's and preventing that stuff's removal, wasting precious disk space in the process, the problematic details really add up. And apps that are "disabled" aren't uninstalled either. No, they're simply disabled, which means no, they won't function, however, they still waste precious disk space regardless.

3. Launchers Don't Change Everything

You may ask, 'Why not just install the Google Now Launcher on a Samsung device?' Because the launcher is only the home screen. What about the notification shade? The system/status icons? They all remain the same regardless of what launcher the user has installed, and moreover, they take up precious space on disk besides. Not to mention #2, due to the fact that Knox, among other serious barriers, prevents the user (or developer) from removing the old launcher once the new launcher is installed.

2. Multiple preinstalled apps that accomplish the same task

The KISS principle is seriously being violated by Samsung with this one. Simplicity is essential to the overall usability of a device. By attempting to copy Apple in every which way, what Samsung has done instead is made Android even more complicated than it needs to be. Take, for example, S Voice. Wait, S Voice still exists despite the fact that Google Now is the standard?!?! Yup. That means two virtual assistants, S Voice and Google Now, both preinstalled on the same device, creating an unnecessary duplication of a feature ― Google Now ― that the duplication in question should have just been ditched in favor of from the get-go. Another example is the Samsung Account. If I am prompted to sign into Google, why should I also be prompted to create or sign into an account with Samsung as well? It makes the device setup process even more hellishly convoluted than the setup process for (pardon me while I take a break to cringe at the word) Windows! And the fact that I'm typing this on a Chromebook sure says a whole lot about how I feel with regards to THAT operating system.

1. A user interface that complicates and bogs down performance

A comment I hear quite often from Apple zealots with regards to Android is the complaint, from personal experience with a device that isn't pure Google, that Android is "slow". And when it comes to Samsung in particular, man, are they right! Because of everything Google, Samsung, and AT&T, instead of just Google in the case of pure Android, have all contributed and poured into the device's system, the result is a slow, painful user experience that's being strangled by the OS, eerily Vista-like. Instead of keeping it simple, they make it complex. Instead of keeping it unified, they make it convoluted, and the resulting software salad, the über-OS that got forked into oblivion instead of kept natural, is, quite literally, what I would call the OS from Hell.

13 May, 2015

2015-16 El Niño Officially Declared By Three Major Pacific Rim Agencies: Examining the Evidence... and the Feedback

UPDATE 5/14/2015: Damaging winds, hail, severe TSTM affecting NorCal. Meanwhile, the monstrous +6°C (at depth) oceanic Kelvin wave in the tropical Pacific now has an atmospheric companion just as powerful:

FYI, those are upper-level wind anomalies on that map; easterly upper-level anomalies indicate an inverted Walker circulation and, thus, westerly surface anomalies of the same speed. Inverted Walker circulation Kelvin waves coupled with downwelling oceanic Kelvin waves in the Pacific, on top of the presence of the Southern Hemisphere Booster (see below) to keep everything in check, are fully indicative that an El Niño ocean-atmosphere feedback loop is in full effect.

Original post continues below.

After a rather hellishly dry winter for the 4th year in a row, this spring sure has been an exciting one to say the least. Last month, a deep Gulf of Alaska trough brought a brief but substantial set of unusual spring downpours, and here we are, on Wednesday, May 13, 2015. There was an inside slider (ugh!) last week that did manage to bring at least some measurable precipitation... ah, but now there's yet another deep Gulf of Alaska trough approaching. This one is set to hit tomorrow night into Friday, bringing a maelstrom of thunderstorms (including ones capable of producing [!] more hail ― possibly much bigger, say, the size of golf balls this time around since spring cloud tops are much higher than winter ones) and heavy downpours, not to mention extreme snowfall amounts in the range of two feet or more above 5000 feet in elevation. All this in what is normally the first month of California's dry season, and the result is a May that could end up being, just with these two storms alone, more than three times the average.

Meanwhile in the tropical Pacific, it's really getting hot out there. High temperatures, in what should be fall into winter in the southern hemisphere, are now soaring into the 80's in Peru and northern Chile, and the water off their coast (normally the Humboldt Current is cold indeed) is now also in the low 80's. In Australia, however, it's getting rather cold: temps are now in the 40's in southern and eastern Australia, in what really is their fall, not winter, thanks to a powerful storm (the Southern Hemisphere Booster) that actually sent high surf all the way here last week, and since this is cold dry air coming from the desert that is Antarctica (and moving over the desert that is Australia's Outback) we're talking about, it's also drying out Indonesia, creating an atmospheric pachyderm (tropical blocking high) that's forcing all the tropical convection to move east, creating an army of powerful westerly wind bursts ― three of which (and counting) have made it all the way across the tropical Pacific from one end to the other, so far ― that are pushing warm water anomalously from west to east along the Pacific equator and Ekman-pumping it into Kelvin waves at the same instant. Sound familiar?

19th century Peruvian fishermen coined a name for this phenomenon, satirizing over its tendency to peak around Christmas time: El Niño. That's right, Australia's Bureau of Meteorology, Japan's JAMSTEC, and NOAA all agree: we're talking about a whopper of an El Niño developing in the Pacific right now, and we all know what that means: consider these recent anomalous May deluges a foretaste of the drought-buster to come. The most recent moderate El Niño ― 2009-10 ― completely wiped out a drought that began in 2006-07, dumping rainfall totals that amounted in not inches, but *feet* that winter, with two of those feet of rain (and tens of feet of snow) falling with just one storm (technically a vaguely Sandy-like hybrid of a super-typhoon, Pineapple Express, and Aleutian low that actually predates Sandy by three years). The most recent El Niño comparable to this one, however, in 1997-98, managed to dump rainfall totals of 44 inches in San Francisco (a record) and 33 or so inches in Los Angeles (second only to 1883-84, by a hair). To put this in perspective, those extreme anomalies off South America (averaging 3°C above normal) are actually unprecedented this early in the developing stages of an El Niño event: Even 1997-98 barely reached +1°C in Niño1+2 (that region right off South America) back in May 1997. Moreover, once that Southern Hemisphere Booster is locked into position and keeps dumping Antarctic air across Australia, keeping the Indonesian atmospheric pachyderm locked into position, it upwells anomalously cold water off northern Australia, creating a west-to-east tropical Pacific MSLP gradient, and thus, more westerly wind bursts. Notice the feedback loop?

Since the southern hemisphere is now approaching its winter with an El Niño now rapidly intensifying, there's only one way the El Niño can go from here: into total overdrive. Expect to see that booster keep sending more and more Antarctic air through the back door, into the tropical Pacific, and set into motion a favorable environment for rapid El Niño intensification throughout the Northern Hemisphere summer and fall, sending the eastern Pacific hurricane season into overdrive (again) while shearing Atlantic storms apart at the same instant. Finally, as next winter comes into play, what fuels the EPAC hurricanes also fuels atmospheric rivers. Convection in the Pacific remains east of the date line. This tropical convection ― which is in turn a result of the El Niño induced westerly wind bursts ― is what atmospheric rivers depend on for fuel, and since those storms then go on to drag the tropical convection eastward, they also drag the westerly wind bursts east with them, strengthening the El Niño even more throughout the winter. Finally, as the spring comes around, it quiets down... but by then the drought will have been completely erased thanks to rainfall totals on par with 1997-98 (or more extreme still) that could easily top three, four, even five feet of rain and as much as 60 feet of Sierra snow in the same instant. Consider yourself warned, drought: you may have only left us with one year of water, but with this El Niño feedback loop now taking off, you also only have one year left to taunt us.

26 March, 2015

The Rise of the Catalina Anti-Eddy

At 12AM yesterday, Wednesday, March 25, 2015, I was watching several episodes of Why Planes Crash, one of my favorite Weather Channel series. You know how, at the bottom of every TWC screen, there's this changing strip that shows the conditons in the local cities? Anyhow, the wind directions shown in Laguna Beach and San Clemente were quite extraordinary to say the least. What were they exactly? San Clemente was showing due-easterly winds at 11mph. Water is transported toward the north in response to winds blowing from a direction like that. Meanwhile, in Laguna Beach, the winds were from the SSW at 6mph. That is a wind pattern that tends to favor anticyclonic gyrogenesis through Ekman transport, as the below diagram demonstrates:

Fast-forward to last night, and the pattern changed. Instead of blowing out of different directions, both were showing due-easterly winds of 11mph and 15mph, respectively, while winds in Irvine were blowing from the WNW. Using Weather Underground's awesome app, I decided to check to see if there was any boundary separating the differing wind directions (usually marked by a dashed line on the map). Sure enough, there was, and it was retreating westward while continuing to intensify.

Then, I checked the sea surface temperature map this morning. Sure enough, the wind vector boundary, combined with the gyre in question, ended up retreating to that region just south of Catalina Island that tends to favor the formation of gyres:

Whereas cyclonic gyres — which is what the famous Catalina gyre typically is — tend to upwell in the middle and downwell around the edges, anticyclonic gyres do the opposite. They downwell in the middle, and this sea surface temperature profile reflects that.

What makes this so peculiar is that when it comes to gyres, whether cyclonic or anticyclonic, it doesn't matter what direction winds come from, they intensify regardless. If the winds blow from the east or southeast, they induce rear-flank downwelling, which speeds up the subsurface rotation, intensifying the gyre, which in this case warms up the ocean through gyre downwelling. If they blow out of the west or northwest, the water is transported past the eastern side of the gyre, speeding up the rotation on the surface, intensifying the gyre, again causing ocean warming. If they blow out of the southwest, the water is transported past the northeast side of the gyre, again speeding up the rotation, intensifying the gyre and causing more ocean warming. And finally, if the winds blow out of the northeast, like they do ever so often during Santa Ana season, the water passes the gyre on the western flank, once again intensifying the gyre's rotation, AND, since those winds are typically dry, they induce more evaporation of the water in the middle of the gyre, resulting in anomalously high gyre salinity, and thus, an ocean warming double whammy.

So now we've got a runaway feedback on our hands. Combine this with a potentially highly active El Niño hurricane season in the eastern Pacific once again, and, yeah, this could get interesting.

07 March, 2015

Experiment and Result: How Salinity Affects Sea Surface Temperature

When you know you're in a devastating drought, what's the last type of weather forecast you'd ever want to hear when watching TV? If that drought is in the Midwest, it would be Chinook winds, would it not? In California, of course, which is already in its worst drought in 1200 years, that worst possible forecast would of course be the hellish Santa Ana winds. Yet those winds were exactly what were forecasted yesterday. Despite the fact that the subtropical jet is intensifying again and EPO is going positive, California was still not getting in on the action. So, I decided it was time to investigate, figure out what was going on, and take action to counter that myself.

For starters, I have seen some rather interesting photos of people floating on the surface of the Dead Sea without any flotation devices due to how dense that water is, and with explanations that the density is in turn due to the salinity. Also, I am fully aware that a combination of temperature and salinity, with salinity being by far on top, is what drives the thermohaline circulation, since warm water with dry air on top of it (which can be either hot/dry or cold/dry and still have the same effect) tends to evaporate faster, and since evaporation leaves all the salt behind, the water that is left behind becomes saltier, denser, and thus, more prone to downwelling.

Therefore, I thought of a rather ingenious hypothesis the night before (worship/post-worship fun night): What would happen to the sea surface temperatures off SoCal if the salinity of the local waters were to suddenly increase during a critical time when hot, dry air is blowing over those waters in the form of Santa Ana winds?

Early the following morning, the day those dry Santa Ana winds were forecast, I decided that it was the perfect opportunity to test that hypothesis. I biked to the beach (specifically Salt Creek Beach in Dana Point) to beat the heat, of course, but I also made a little pit stop on the way there. In Laguna Niguel, practically right on my route there, is a Walmart. I stopped there to see how expensive those one-liter cans of salt were. Sure enough, they cost only 78¢ per can. So, I got four of them, totaling 1 full gallon of pure salt, enough to double the salinity of 33.3 gallons of seawater. Then, I slipped that salt in my backpack, headed down to the beach, spotted a rip current, and dumped all that salt in the water at about 9AM, which is by far the perfect time on a day like that since it gives that increased salt time to force some of the local waters to downwell (and evaporate) prior to those hellish Santa Ana conditions.

From there, I rode back up to Laguna Niguel to have lunch, then went back to the beach, this time to Aliso Beach. When I got there, I got in the water, and noticed that its temperature had indeed risen. And when those (weak) Santa Ana winds then began blowing, the water didn't cool as it normally would have. No, because of the increased local salinity, it actually warmed due to the resulting feedback effect. Remember, when air is dry, water evaporates VERY rapidly. And when salt water evaporates, the vapor becomes fresh water, leaving the salt behind, making the water saltier and denser still. Since water that is dense becomes heavy and wants to downwell, that downwelling pulls heat down with it, making the water even warmer.

I then checked the sea surface temperature map this morning. When I had last checked it prior to that intervention ― sure enough, just before heading down to the beach ― it was indeed anomalously warm, but only in about the low 60's. This morning, however, this tongue of warm water in the upper 60's to low 70's (!) that didn't exist before suddenly stretched from Baja up the coast almost to Los Angeles. Then, as I zoomed out even further, I noticed an almost dead Kuroshio Current with exceptionally cold water choking it out, and also noticed more anomalous equatorial downwelling east of the Date Line, not to mention eastward movement of Asian water against the will of the Trade Winds (the calling card of El Niño).

I was stunned. How could I have known that busting this devastating drought would be that easy? Remember, water that comes in to replace that resulting anomalous downwelling naturally wants to curve to the right due to the Coriolis effect. That means from Mexico, around the tip of Baja, and ultimately northward. Consequently, warm water must also then flow eastward along the equator (which already has a level that is rather imbalanced) to replace THAT water, and so on and so forth. The results I spotted on that map matched perfectly with my hypothesis.

SST anomalies of that scale right off California may result in dry winters, to be fair, but when it comes to summer (read: hurricane season), they couldn't be more beneficial, to say the least. They not only enhance the hurricane season in the eastern Pacific but also the monsoon, which tends to cause a normally dry season to become a season of pop-up convective thunderstorms and dew points in the 70's. What's more, if the resulting SSTs reach a certain threshold (like they did in 2006, when a buoy stationed near Newport Beach reported 80-degree waters and another one further offshore in San Diego County reported SSTs near 83°F) ― 82.8°F ― they end up becoming fuel for tropical cyclones.

Last summer, Hurricane Marie was a storm for the record books, to say the least. It was the first tropical cyclone to reach Category 5 status in the Pacific east of the International Date Line (the dividing line between typhoons and hurricanes) since 2010's Hurricane Celia. Despite not even coming close to California shores and weakening to a tropical storm at the same latitude as Ensenada due to the exceptionally cold waters that normally serve to shield us Californians from hurricanes (that's exactly why you don't usually hear of hurricanes hitting California: cold water), Marie's 160mph sustained winds with 195mph gusts extending a whopping 400 miles out from the eye were enough to send 25-foot waves careening into the California coast from more than 1000 miles away. Surfers, of course, were absolutely loving it, but they were the only ones who were. Those who lived near the coast, especially low-lying regions such as Seal Beach, woke up to find several feet of salt water in their homes, and a lifeguard station up in Malibu was completely washed away into the ocean.

Should a storm like Marie actually take advantage of anomalous sea surface temperatures and make landfall in California at the perfect time, however, it would definitely be the ultimate drought-buster, to be sure. Then again, it's kind of a two-edged sword due to the amount of wind and (especially) flood damage that hurricanes cause, but it would definitely be a sure way to get those reservoirs full and our groundwater up to par. Then again, that's a topic for another post that won't be published until it actually occurs...

05 March, 2015

Evil is Not a "Problem", It's Hard Evidence Supporting Christianity

Ever wonder what the number 1 reason why some people are atheists? Science? Nope, far from it. Intelligence? Again, no. It's actually something far more trivial. It's something that exists (to be sure), but also something whose existence is taken out of context by those who try to argue against us. That something is the evil in the world. They often throw some rather exaggerated claims out there. After all, their arguments do seem valid to some: If evil does exist, why doesn't God do something about it? Why hasn't He? At least, why hasn't He yet? What they don't realize is that without God, evil itself would be good.

That's how you know they're hypocrites. Can you have rust if you don't first have iron/steel for air and/or water to oxidize? Can you have death without first having life? Can you have disease without a host? Pollution without air or water to pollute? No, no, no, and no. Just as rust corrupts metal, just as death corrupts life, disease health, and pollution clean air and water, so too does evil corrupt good. What makes this rather peculiar, however, is that people who go through evil themselves are often the ones to believe those atheist myths.

Atheists love to taunt us in response to that argument by claiming that morals were invented by mankind. Wait, what? Aren't there societies in the present and in the past that actually believe evil to be good? In fact, there are and were. The most prominent example of this is the most evil of evil societies that was Nazi Germany. It was a society in which Hitler made all the rules, and the resulting consequences were catastrophic. Not only did this society lead the world into a war that would dwarf Woodrow Wilson's "war to end all wars" by a factor of 10, but it also would carry out a hellish attempt to systematically exterminate entire races of people, which of course failed since the people that the Nazis tried to exterminate still exist today.

When that war ended and Americans and Brits once again came out on top, a series of criminal tribunals for the heinous acts committed by the Nazi officials began. These became known as the Nuremberg Trials. One by one, the Nazi officials were sent to court and charges were pressed against them. However, these trials couldn't have been more difficult. Why? Why didn't they just surrender? Because the Nazis' moral compass wasn't of God, it was of Hitler.

That's where the refutation to Euthypro's dilemma comes in. Atheists will often claim that the morality of an act is determined by A, the intent, and B, the effect of that act. But guess what? Having been brainwashed by Hitler, these puppet murderers actually believed that their heinous crimes weren't crimes at all. Nowadays, we actually have an international set of laws against crimes against humanity, such as genocide, along with a UN to enforce them. Back then, however, neither the UN nor the international laws that it legislates/executes existed. Therefore, if it weren't for a divine set of standards to hold those evil people accountable to, the Nuremberg Trials would have been futile. In order to get the Nazis to stop believing that the intent to exterminate Jews and the effect of that intent were good and imbue a sense of guilt into them for their wrongdoings, the argument of a "higher" set of laws at those trials had to be brought up, and at the time, no such code existed except for the one in the Bible.

So, wait, if evil corrupts good as I said above, then why doesn't God constantly work to keep restoring the good in this world? In Revelation 22, He will ultimately "stop" evil. For now, however, He's given us, the church, that job (Matthew 28:16-20). Whether or not that commission is fulfilled depends on how we as Christians act in front of other people. Although we are all human (Romans 3:23), and were saved not by what we do but what Jesus did (Ephesians 2:8-10), the only way we are ever able to save others is by practicing what we preach and not being hypocrites. Otherwise, if we say one thing and do another, we end up setting a bad example to the newbies. Bottom line: Until evil is stopped, it's our job as believers to be the light in the world that the world may see who God is through the example that we as believers set.

24 February, 2015

What Sea Level Rise Models Fail to Take Into Account: Thermohaline Circulation Disruption

Ever wonder why sea level rise is one of the key "doom-mongering" points being used regarding climate science? Won't a gradual rise in sea level give us plenty of time ― hundreds of years ― to get out of harm's way? Actually, no, because it's a known scientific fact that sea level rise isn't linear. Sometimes it is. Other times, however, entire ice sheets collapse, sending sea levels rising abruptly ― I watched a video about this very phenomenon a couple of days ago ― of course, it's a video that dwells on sea level rise with absolutely no regard for any other impacts, but given that it is an alarmist video, that's not surprising. Anyhow, over the past 10,000 years, several so-called "meltwater pulses" triggered by sudden collapses of large masses such as the Laurentide Ice Sheet made sea levels rise at astounding rates ― in one such case, it is believed to have risen as much as 32.5 times faster than today. That being said, there is one key detail that the models regarding MWPs don't take into account: what happens to the ocean currents when abrupt sea level rises occur.

See, there's this global circuit called the thermohaline circulation. It acts like a global heater, transporting warm equatorial water northward. This, in turn, is exactly why some high-latitude places such as Europe and the Pacific Northwest are (usually) as warm as they are during the winter compared to other places, such as Canada and New York, at the same latitude: because of the warm water being transported northward by the thermohaline circulation, which warms the air above through the release of water vapor (a greenhouse gas that, molecule for molecule, is more than 2,000 times as potent as carbon dioxide, but has an atmospheric half-life of only a week compared to hundreds or thousands of years in the case of gases such as methane and CO2). This system, however, has a weakness: the delicate balance of warm, cold, salt, and fresh water that it depends on.

One needs to realize that in order to understand how fragile the thermohaline circulation is, one must first take into account how it works: When warm water moves north from the equator in response to constriction against continents by the normal (not anomalous) east-west flow of the trade winds, it moves into regions of colder, drier air. As a consequence, it evaporates more and more rapidly the further north it gets. That excess evaporation, in turn, results in an increase in salinity, density, and, thus, weight, so it sinks. Then, at the subsurface, the water moves back toward the equator from the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, heating up again. This self-perpetuating cycle normally makes places like the eastern US and Europe relatively temperate as far as climate is concerned. Normally.

Dumping large amounts of fresh water into the ocean from the north (or south) ― yes, even in the form of meltwater pulses ― however, puts this pattern in jeopardy. Remember that water gets denser the more saline it gets. Being less dense, fresh water tends to float on top of the salt water below. This, in turn, forces the warm ocean currents to downwell closer to the equator. Meanwhile, despite being less dense than salt water, fresh water still has a freezing point 4 °F higher (32°F) than salt water (28°F) does. The result? More sea ice. Sea ice which, in turn, increases the albedo of the oceans further north and south. Albedo increases, in turn, reflect more sunlight right back out into space, hampering the Sun's ability to warm the northern and southern regions, resulting in more ice, more snow, more albedo, and more cooling. This runaway process has in fact been responsible for several abrupt climate shifts in the past, including both the Younger Dryas ― likely the result of a meltwater pulse triggered by the late-Pleistocene thermal maximum ― and the Big Chill of 6200 BC, which may in fact have been triggered by none other than the aforementioned Pulse 1A.

So, in regards to sea level rise, therein lies the problem. Although meltwater pulses do indeed raise sea level, they also disrupt the very ocean currents that sustain them. This, in turn, leads to periods of cooling and advancing glaciers, and in some cases, even new Ice Ages. Although, I must admit, those then present a myriad of problems of their own... but that's a topic for another post.

11 January, 2015

The ARkStorm's Secret Ingredient: Indonesia's Makian Volcano

UPDATE 6/12/2015: I was able to find some more evidence supporting my theory of a westerly wind burst (WWB) and atmospheric river connected to each other. Digging through NOAA's ENSO archives, I found out that the year after the 1861-62 ARkStorm event (1862-63) was in fact a moderate El Niño event. Any WWB would do that, of course, but this certainly does support my hypothesis that the last ARkStorm was an atmospheric river with a WWB as its very source.

Original post continues below.

I must admit, it's been somewhat of a mystery with regards to exactly what kind of recipe we would need with regards to a potential 1861-62 repeat. After all, it wasn't ENSO, it wasn't just ++PDO (evidenced by a prolonged drought that began in 1854 and never ended in NorCal until 1861, but was interrupted in SoCal by the 1858 San Diego hurricane which is only possible with severely anomalous SSTs off CA ― go figure), it wasn't even -AMO... it would have to have been a combination of multiple different factors, to be sure. No satellite data from 1861-62 has ever been obtained. Nor has any SST data been directly obtained from that time. All meteorologists had at that time were pieces of elementary equipment such as thermometers and barometers, with all other characteristics of the storms of the time, including their recipes, remaining a mystery.

Then, I began to research the final variable: volcanism. After all, volcanoes do a profound job of influencing meteorological patterns, yes, including ENSO ― all one needs to do is look at the devastating 1815-17 and 1883-84 events, in which volcanism has caused not just extreme El Niño (likely Modoki since S America wasn't affected in those cases), but a combination of El Niño and a big chill. In the 1815-17 case, the weather in Europe and the US East Coast got so unbelievably cold that it snowed even in May/June in cold areas, while in places like CA (then a Spanish colony), the exact opposite occurred ― storm after storm after storm after storm, for a full year and a half. The Los Angeles floods of 1883-84 ― also a result of a volcanism-induced ENSO shift, this time from Krakatoa ― were exceptionally devastating as well; similar to 2004-05, in fact, which was a Modoki El Niño year with negative PNA involved.

In modern times, there were also cases of volcanic eruptions in the critical Maritime Continent region followed very closely by ENSO shifts that we have in fact seen first-hand. In April 1982, as the poster child for volcanism-induced ENSO activity, Galunggung began erupting. When did it cease? Not until December 1983, and by that time, it had triggered an El Niño that was second only to 1997-98 in terms of its intensity. In February 1990, as another example, Kelud sent out a VEI-4 blast... and right afterward, an El Niño began to ensue, beginning as exceptionally strong, then constantly fluctuating between weak, strong (in 1991-92), and moderate. What this El Niño lacked in intensity, however, it made up for in duration. It lasted 5 years. 5 years of back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back El Niño. Fast forward, to, sure enough, February 2014, and, guess what? Kelud erupts again with the same intensity, resulting in similarly erratic ENSO activity. I began to wonder: Could a similar Indonesian volcanic event have triggered the ARkStorm?

Sure enough, there was just such an eruption at just the right time.

The culprit? Makian. On December 28, 1861 ― almost exactly when the most recent ARkStorm began deluging California ― this volcanic island, just north of the equator in the Indian Ocean, began to blow. The VEI reading was a 4 ― not particularly powerful (the 2010 eruption of Eyjafjallajökull was the same intensity), but unlike Eyjafjallajökull, this eruption kept coming. It began in December 1861 and lasted until long after the ARkStorm was over, pumping ash and sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere until October of 1862. Ten months of volcanic terror. And for the first three months, California was just as devastated as eastern Indonesia was.

See, what makes Indonesian volcanoes have the impact on ENSO and PDO that they have so particularly strong is location, location, location: A, almost smackdab on the equator, and B, perfectly nestled between the Pacific and Indian oceans. See, the trade winds not only (normally) blow from east to west along the equator, but they also converge. Any volcanic material that ends up caught in them has only one way to go: toward the equator. There, it's forced to collect. It's forced to increase the albedo of the tropical atmosphere. Any sunlight that would normally warm that specific region gets reflected right back into space. Meanwhile, in the Pacific, the sun still has all the free reign in the world to shine on the equator. What does that imbalance of solar input do? Allow high pressure to build in the Indian Ocean, forcing the trade winds to reverse. Then when the trade winds do reverse, the volcanic material can also force high pressure to build in the Western Pacific and make those reversed trade winds even more powerful, which, in turn, forces the water in the Eastern Pacific to warm up even more.

Compounding the above, whenever a westerly wind burst (WWB) forms in the tropics, the equatorial trough tends to expand and/or split in half. Normally, the rotation to the north and south of equator is anticyclonic, which is why the trades tend to blow from east to west. Normally. When a WWB bores into the trades, however, then tropical disturbances, and, yes, even tropical cyclones (or typhoons, or hurricanes, or whatever you want to call them) will often form to the north and south of it, and the overall amount of tropical convection increases as a result. AR's also tend to flow from west to east. Take a WWB and make it the very source of an AR, and what you get is an AR with the power to make its own convection (and, thus, its own tropical cyclones), allowing it to sustain itself for an extended period of time. The result? An AR that simply won't quit. A blocking AR (RRAR?) that will remain in place for months, dumping wave after wave of torrential rain on California for months on end.

Now that it's 2015, we're in a similar drought to what we were in way back in the late 1850's, that's for sure. In 1850, 1851, 1852, 1853, of course, massive floods occurred on the Sacramento river system. Starting in 1854, however, guess what? Nothing. Nothing in northern California until 1861. Meanwhile, it was southern California, particularly in unseasonable times, that felt the first sighs of relief. Increased monsoon activity and tropical cyclone remnants, not to mention those notorious Baja lows that induce Rex blocking, were also commonplace back then. Smack in the middle of that 8-year drought, moreover, was that Category 1 October monster that impacted a swath stretching from San Diego to Los Angeles with 85mph sustained winds (and gusts near 100mph), 15-foot storm surge, and rainfall totals in feet. It was welcome relief (if you don't count wind and storm surge damage as having spoiled it), but not until 1861 did it finally get busted across the entire state. If the floods in Texas were any indication, yeah, we're in for a wild ride indeed.

31 December, 2014

The Real SoCal Quake (and Tsunami) Threat: Pico-Style Offshore Blind Thrust Faults

Everyone knows the story of California's rather serious seismic threat. The disaster movies department in Hollywood has even exaggerated it time and time again, with (absolutely unrealistic, scientifically speaking) movies such as "Escape from Los Angeles", "10.5", and, now, one of the biggest movies to come out in the new year effective midnight tonight, "San Andreas" (which is the most realistic of the three, for the most part ― then again, there are some aspects of the trailer, such as A, the scientific impossibility of a quake on the real San Andreas Fault being felt on the East Coast, and B, the depiction of a gaping hole where in reality there's pulverized rock instead, that certainly are criticism points among seismologists as, among other things, unnecessary scaremongering), and of course, time and time again, people actually believe what is supposed to be fiction. Unfortunately, what they don't realize is that the San Andreas isn't California's worst seismic threat, at least from the standpoint of proximity to populated areas. There are other faults, of far more dangerous types besides, that lie not way out in the Mojave Desert and/or Coachella Valley but, instead, either directly underneath densely populated areas, or, worse yet, offshore.

First, for those who are wondering why films such as 10.5 are scientifically improbable: The Moment Magnitude Scale is a base-30 logarithmic one. That is, a magnitude-9 quake is 30 times more powerful than an 8, which is in turn 30 times more powerful than a 7, which is, likewise, 30 times more powerful than a 6, and so on. Based on that scale, even a fault that completely circled Earth would only produce a 10.4 quake. What's more, seismic waves are a result of friction, NOT of mere splitting. Friction does NOT create islands. Rifting, or spreading, does, and rifting, like what is seen in Africa's Great Rift Valley, the Mid-Atlantic Ridge (Iceland), the Mediterranean Ridge (Sicily), and the Red Sea, creates volcanoes, not quakes. That's because continental drift occurs on magma, not water... so, when continents spread apart, that magma becomes tempted to rise up and gush out, where it then cools and adds more rock to the tectonic plate(s) in question. Instead of water in the San Andreas Fault, there, once again, is fault gouge... and whenever it slips, more rock is ground up into that flour-like consistency to replace it, and the crack itself continues to remain a hairline while the visible scar on the surface is only visible from either A, the air, or B, space.

Also, the San Andreas is, should I say it again, a strike-slip fault. A strike-slip fault is a kind of fault that slips horizontally, one in which one plate slides one horizontal direction and the other plate slides in the exact opposite horizontal direction relative to it. In the case of the San Andreas, what that means is that the Pacific Plate is sliding northwest and the North American Plate is blindsiding it, drifting toward the southwest. So, in the event of the real "ShakeOut" scenario, Los Angeles would find itself 20 feet to the northwest of where it was prior to the quake in question. Even in the portions where it dives below the sea surface (such as north of San Francisco), it only displaces the sea floor horizontally, never vertically. Therefore, there's only one way the San Andreas can possibly displace even a small portion of the ocean column: by first inducing landslides. That has happened before, in 1906, when the quake that was most notorious for inducing firestorms that, quite literally, burned San Francisco to the ground, also sent Mussel Rock tumbling into the Pacific... but by the time the resulting wave got to San Francisco, it was so small ― I'm talking only a few inches high ― that only tide gauges could detect it. Even then, however, that's an anomaly, not the norm. Most quake-induced landslides happen inland, not on the coast.

Secondary faults, however, are a completely different story. Unlike the San Andreas, most of these auxiliary faults ― those that actually underlie heavily populated areas and are responsible for seismic events of the likes of the Chino Hills, Whittier Narrows, and Northridge quakes ― are buried fault structures with vertical, not horizontal, movement. Such faults are called blind thrust faults by seismologists, and some of them, such as the Puente Hills Fault that the Whittier Narrows quake is now seen by seismologists as having been a partial rupture of, are capable of rivaling the San Andreas in terms of magnitude (7.5 vs. 7.8), and, according to seismologists, some of them can be a whopping 15 times more dangerous than the San Andreas itself, should they rupture in their entirety. The Pico Fault, which set off the Northridge quake, as another example, also only partially ruptured back in 1994 (a full rupture would have put the Northridge quake in the range of 7.2 or higher), and it too is capable of, naturally, causing a great deal of damage. However, that's missing the bottom line: where there's thrust faulting, there's vertical movement. While vertical movement on land is, indeed, bad enough (any buildings, highways, or other structures that happen to lie directly on top of a blind thrust fault, regardless of how well they're built, will find their ground floors, and, by extension, entire structural support dangerously twisted out of proportion), it becomes even worse if that vertical movement happens to occur underwater.

That's because vertical ocean floor displacement happens to result in vertical ocean column displacement, and, ultimately, vertical sea surface displacement. Initially, in the deep ocean, this displacement is far more pronounced on the ocean floor than at the surface. While surface displacement may only initially be a few feet, it spreads out over hundreds of miles in length, because it actually has room to spread out. Because of its length, it can travel at, quite literally, jet speeds: between 400 and 600 miles per hour, capable of traversing the entire Pacific in less than a day. As this hundred-plus-mile-long wave approaches enters shallow water, however, it no longer has the room to spread out that it once had. Consequently, the landmass forces this once fast-moving wave to slow down and grow taller. Ultimately, it ends up manifesting itself as a 100-foot bore wave with a 50-mile-long, seemingly permanent plateau of water on its tail, capable of knocking over every structure in its path and, perhaps most significantly, inundating even 10-mile-inland structures with seawater. Or, to put it in layman terms, the exact same phenomenon that ravaged Indonesia in 2004 and Japan's Sanriku Coast in 2011: a tsunami.

Japanese for "harbor wave", this term was, to be fair, one that, with the exception of some sporadic communities that have used it to describe this wall of water having hit them before, pretty much unused outside of the scientific community, to say the least, for the longest time. That is, until 2004. When people learned that it was the tsunami, not the Indonesian quake itself, that was responsible for the majority of those 220,000 deaths, suddenly more and more of the public began to take notice, and suddenly "tsunami" became a far more popular buzzword than it was before. That public lexicon was repeated in 2011, when Japan's Sanriku coast, including the Tohoku province that includes the major port cities of Sendai and Kessennuma, was also rattled by a 9.0 quake and, only 20 minutes later, bashed by a 130-foot tsunami. What's more, it also has become a point of discussion among Seattle, Portland, Vancouver, and Pacific Northwest coast residents after American geologist Brian Atwater, Japanese geologist and historian Kenji Satake, and dendrochronologist David Yamaguchi all worked together to uncover evidence that a massive quake and tsunami (possibly one that ruptured the entire Cascadia megathrust from one end to the other) had struck the region at 9PM Japanese time (4AM Pacific time) on January 26, 1700. The fact that there are blind thrust faults right here in California, however, pose an even more ominous question: Could an offshore blind thrust fault displace the ocean floor enough off SoCal enough to unleash a killer tsunami within minutes of home?

In fact, that very offshore blind thrust scenario has happened before. The date was the winter solstice, December 21, 1812. At the time, Spanish missionaries were busy building a colony in California, while on the east coast, conflict between the US, Britain, and France was, merely 40 years after the American Revolution, brewing once again. It was business as usual for those Franciscan friars working in La Misión de la Señora Barbara, Virgen y Martír, better known as the twin-steepled Mission Santa Barbara, when, suddenly, the ground began to rumble. The source of the shaking was the Santa Monica Mountains-Santa Cruz Island segment of the Channel Islands blind thrust system, which, until fairly recently, was mostly unknown to seismologists. After the quake, which in itself did a lot of damage to several Spanish missions and presidios, the Native Americans that were being "missioned" out to ― the Chumash ― knew better than to stay put. They gave the Spaniards word that they would drown if they remained in low-lying land, and since the Chumash were there for hundreds, if not thousands, of years longer than the Spaniards, the Spanish missionaries agreed to climb uphill with them to get out of the way.

Then, according to military general and Franciscan friar Luis Gil Taboada, who was commander of the Santa Barbara Presidio at the time, "the sea receded and rose like a high mountain," and then remained that way for several minutes before receding again. Hundreds of miles to the west, boats floated a mile and a half up Gaviota Canyon (that's almost exactly how far inland the No. 18 Kyotoku Maru tuna fishing vessel floated in 2011 ― go figure). Even as far north as San Francisco, Spanish accounts of this killer wave were ominous, where according to presidio commanders up there, several galleons capsized and sank in a harbor where they were supposed to be protected. To the south, in San Diego, damage to galleons and other ships was, likewise, just as severe, and according to reports, ships down there also found themselves beached.

That isn't the only segment of the Channel Islands thrust system either. The Santa Rosa segment hasn't ruptured in almost 250 years, if carbon dating is any guide, and the San Miguel segment, according to seismologists, has gone almost 300 years without a rupture. This, of course, makes those segments, thanks to stress build-up, even more overdue than the Santa Cruz segment. Then, as if that's not enough, there's also the Palos Verdes-Catalina segment of the Compton blind thrust system, which also has gone hundreds of years without a rupture, and perhaps most alarming, the Thirtymile Bank blind thrust fault, which is capable of causing a magnitude-7.6 quake offshore and setting off a tsunami that could threaten downtown San Diego. All of those are easily capable of causing a repeat of the 1812 disaster, at the very least.

So, now we have done an almost complete 180 from Hollywood's depiction. Although the notion of California falling into the ocean is definitely the work of fiction, to the utmost degree, this new evidence builds the case for these auxilary faults being capable of causing the exact opposite problem: the Pacific invading California in the form of a tsunami. In modern times, especially in California, however, "tsunami hazard zone" signs are indeed posted all over the beaches, unlike in 1812, complete with the caption "In case of earthquake, go to high ground or inland," as a stern warning to those who may be tempted to get back in the water after they feel the ground shake. What's more, there are also lifeguards and harbor police that will actually escort people out of harm's way and barricade off the hazard zone until "all clear" is given. Combine that with California's rugged coastline, unlike the coastlines in Japan, Indonesia, and Thailand, where there are a boatload of hills right up next to the coastline that people can easily run to, and loss of life should be minimal.

However, while loss of life shouldn't be too big of a problem, the same cannot be said when it comes to loss of property. The real estate along the coast of California, in places like Newport Beach, Dana Point, Laguna Beach, Ventura, and, yes, Santa Barbara is certainly some of the most expensive real estate in the entire country. Santa Barbara County is the #1 most expensive county ― that's in nationwide terms ― to live in, and Orange County comes in a close second place, with, again, the bulk of the wealth concentrated right on the coast and in the tsunami hazard zone. Add up all those pieces of expensive real estate and send a tsunami into them to wipe that real estate out, and you're looking at, easily, damages in the tens, if not hundreds, of billions of dollars ― in fact, I wouldn't be too surprised if the damage caused by an event like this ends up totalling higher than the damages caused by Hurricane Katrina, which has since eclipsed the Northridge quake as the costliest natural disaster in US history. Here's hoping people actually heed the warnings so that, at the very least, loss of life can be prevented in an event like this...