17 May, 2016

Why I Am A Christian and Not An Atheist: The Historical/Legal Method

Is the Bible really accurate in its claims? I mean, as a middle schooler (and on the fine line between Christianity and atheism at the time), I had quite a few doubts about its reasonability. It wasn't until 9th grade (2007-08) that the first of those doubts began to get debunked, and it wasn't until I learned the historical-legal method in my third full year of college (2014-15) that I began to really see how accurate the claims in the Bible are (I did indeed believe the Bible to be true before the apologetics lessons of March 2014, March 2015 [McDowell], and March 2016 [Koukl], but didn't have all the answers to give for why I believed), since that's when Sean McDowell (who just turned the big 40 today — congrats!) showed up at my church and used the same method to prove that the Bible is accurate in its claims. This post, therefore, is dedicated to going through how I got to that conclusion in detail.

Let:s start with the Honesty Test: The claims that women are the first ones to discover the empty tomb (in ancient Israelite culture, women's testimonies were seen as completely worthless), that one of the Apostles denied Jesus three times, that, in the OT, an Israelite soldier by the name of Achan steals an offering during the Conquest and provokes YHWH's anger as a result, and that the writers of Exodus claim that their ancestors were slaves (the chronology and archaeology are different topics altogether, but one should also take note that all who conclude that the Exodus did not happen do so because they all look in the wrong chronological period) all fall under the criterion of embarrassment. Further, the introductory statements to certain Gospels, like that of Luke for example, that don't claim to have been written by an apostle make claims that the writers *investigated* all the content available to them, using Roman forensics methods, not unlike what J. Warner Wallace did back in 1996. Conclusion: not only do the Gospel writers claim to care about truth, but the entire Bible is *loaded* with embarrassing admissions that serve to back that claim up.

So, fine, they cared about truth, but that was 2,000 years ago, so how do we know that's what they said? That's where the Telephone Test comes in. For the New Testament alone, we've got 24,000 (and counting) copies or portions (not counting mummy mask teardowns, which are making that number even higher still), not to mention a time gap of only between 25 and 50 years in the case of the Rylands Papyrus P52, and in the case of the 1st century Mark fragment obtained from a mummy mask teardown, less than 40 years. Compare that to Tacitus, where we only have 20 manuscripts that date to A.D. 1100 (1,000 years removed), and we have a situation in which the New Testament alone is (24000/50)/(20/1000) = 480/0.02 = 24,000 times more reliable than Tacitus, and this is based on the most conservative estimate possible. What about that which supports the historicity of Julius Caesar? We've only got 10 manuscripts in that case and also a time gap of 1,000 years, making the case for the historicity of Jesus 48,000 times more reliable based on that same conservative estimate. Plato? Even worse: Try 1,200 years removed and only 7 manuscripts available. Thucydides? 1,300 years removed and only 8 manuscripts to choose from. Suetonius? 800 years removed, only 8 manuscripts to choose from. Even the Iliad, which is already in second place to the Bible with regard to this test, only has 1,757 manuscripts available and a time gap of 500 years! So, does one affirm the historicity of Jesus, doubt the historicity of both Caesar and Jesus, or is he or she a hypocrite? Because these numbers are incriminating evidence that affirming the historicity of Caesar while at the same time doubting the historicity of Jesus is hypocrisy.

Ah, but wait, do others outside the Bible also affirm claims within it? Some people are too hostile, so that's where the Corroboration Test must be applied. It's funny, really, that Tacitus, whom we know almost everything about ancient Rome from, despite being hostile towards Christians and despite epically failing the telephone test in comparison to the NT, happens to make the assumption that Jesus was indeed historical (see Annals 15.44.3). Tacitus certainly does not assume other radical claims like those mentioned in the Bible, but he does indeed assume that Jesus existed — why? Same thing with Josephus (Antiquities 8.3.3), a Jewish religious leader, who goes even deeper still (some claims may have been edited in by Christian scribes, but only a minority of them). Pliny (Letters 10.96-97), despite being given orders to persecute Christians, also makes a claim — the claim that the earliest believers worshipped Jesus "like a God" — that just assumes that this Jesus whom they worship actually existed.

So, honesty test — pass, telephone test — EPIC pass, corroboration test — pass. If the Bible passes all these tests, then it must be true, and if it is true, then all the claims within must be true, and if all claims within the Bible are true, then Christianity itself is true. The lesson I learned, however, is this: Although we Christians must be ready to defend our faith and make sure people know that the "blind faith" charge is patently false, blind unbelief is just as irrational as blind belief. One needs to examine (and cross-examine) both sides before taking a side.

27 April, 2016

The Biblical Connection to Lower Egyptian Dynasties XIV and XV

In my previous post, I made a rather strong case against the habit of looking for Exodus evidence in the wrong time period. Towards the end of the post, however, is a claim that refers to Khamudi as being the Exodus Pharaoh, as opposed to someone from Dynasties XIII (Rohl) or XIX (mainstream). Little do people realize, however, that the archaeological pattern from Avaris and other associated sites matches much more closely with the chronology of the lower kingdom of Divided Egypt than anything else. So, I'm using this post as an explanation for why I personally think that the Lower Egyptian dynasties are far more important, Biblically speaking, than the dynasties from Upper Egypt or from a unified Egypt.

A very important discovery was indeed made, right at the beginning of the earliest possible Avaris settlement. A Syrian-style house, very similar to the kind of house that Abraham, Isaac, and/or Jacob would have built in their hometown of Harran, Syria, was found at this location, and was subsequently flattened. On top of this flattened house, a palace was constructed. This palace was huge. It contained courtyards, speech chambers, a robing room, a front entrance with 12 pillars supporting it, and a garden in the back containing 12 tombs. Note this interesting pattern of 12's here: There was only one Semitic culture at this time, bar none, that considered 12 to be a number of cultural significance, and that culture was ancient Israel.

The one tidbit that *really* gets interesting, however, is that one of these 12 tombs behind this Avaris palace was shaped like a pyramid. Extremely unusual, why? Because only Pharaohs and queens had pyramid tombs at this time — not even viziers had pyramid tombs! Imhotep certainly didn't. Neither did any other highly important vizier in ancient Egypt, before this period or after. The person buried in this tomb, however, was a foreigner. His cult statue shows him with red hair (!), yellow skin (!), a throwstick (!) across his shoulder, and painted to look like he's wearing a multi-colored coat(!). Either this is indeed Joseph himself, or his career is identical to Joseph's.

The Pharaoh who was ruling at the exact same time that this palace and tombs were constructed in Avaris was Amenemhat III. His statue is a much more drab complexion compared to Joseph's: he's depicted with ears turned out so as to listen to people's concerns, and with a facial expression that is much more indicative of worry than of prosperity. It was during his reign that "Bahr Yussef" — the "Waterway of Joseph" — was constructed to divert half the water from the Nile into the Faiyum, a marshy lake that was used to grow crops like rice and wheat during times of plenty. Making it bigger means it's possible to grow more, and according to the Bible, Joseph interpreted the dreams of Amenemhat as seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine, correct? During a time of drought (definitely a famine-causing phenomenon) on the Nile, the Faiyum would have still been large enough to hold water for much longer than 7 years.

After Amenemhat III, however, something really interesting happens: One kingdom becomes two. Dynasty XIII (the one that Amenemhat was a member of) rules Upper Egypt, and a brand new Dynasty XIV — Joseph's dynasty — rules Lower Egypt. Amenemhat was probably *so* impressed with Joseph's famine-foiling tactics that he decides to give half of his kingdom to Joseph and his descendants as a gift — the fact that he's buried in a pyramid tomb, the *only* vizier throughout Egyptian history to do so, seems to suggest exactly this.

But wait, what about the "Pharaoh who knew not Joseph"? Skip forward about 200 years to the reign of Upper Egyptian pharaoh Djedneferre Dedumose II. During his reign, Egypt goes from two peacefully coexisting kingdoms — Upper and Lower — to civil war. How did this happen? Right around this time, Dynasty XIV is replaced with Dynasty XV. A coup d'état occurs in Lower Egypt, and this new dynasty, instead of being friendly to the Upper kings, is hostile to them. This dynasty is also Semitic, but not Jewish. It was a dynasty of pagan Semites, who worshipped not Yahweh but Baal, Har, and other false idols along those lines, and the first king in that dynasty was a powerful one indeed: Sheshi. He certainly would have a motive to enslave the pious Jews, and it's to persecute them for worshipping one God instead of many.

Supporting this hypothesis is what happens when the Israelites reach the border with Canaan but decide to grumble instead of conquer (Numbers 14:33), then conquer 40 years later. If they had absolutely no contact with this region, why did the Israelites grumble? It was the promised land! How did they know about the Canaanites and Amalekites and how horrible they were if they went through that land hundreds of years earlier and found no one there? The only feasible explanation for this is that Dynasty XV, which began with Sheshi and ended with, that's right, Khamudi, happened to be of either Canaanite or Amalekite origin.

Making Khamudi the Pharaoh who confronted Moses (and, by extension, Apepi II as the Pharaoh that instituted the drowning policy and whose daughter adopted Moses, according to Exodus 2:23) would also make perfect sense from a standpoint of how this powerful Lower Kingdom was able to get overrun and how this bloody civil war ended so abruptly: The plagues and the Red Sea crossing would mean that Khamudi would suffer the loss of his slave force, the loss of his crops, the loss of his firstborn, and the loss of his army. The Exodus would weaken the Lower Kingdom, sure, but the Upper Kingdom? The Upper Egyptians would be saying "You know this Lower king, Khamudi? His slave force is free, his army is under the Red Sea, and all his firstborn are dead — here's an opportunity for us to take him out." Right after the Exodus, this is exactly what happens: Khamudi is killed by an Upper Egyptian Pharaoh by the name of Ahmose I, who conquers the now largely abandoned Lower Egypt and founds the reunified New Kingdom on top of the Lower Kingdom's plagued, pillaged, abandoned, tattered ruins.

25 April, 2016

The Absurdity of Hollywood's Flawed Biblical Chronology

It's almost laughable, really: Why is it that some people make claims that there "was no Exodus"? If there is archaeological evidence, where is it? When does it date to? This last question, little do people realize, is the only one that deniers get wrong.

On Saturday, April 16, 2016, two days after my 23rd birthday which happened to also be the day when the mocked incident occurred, there was an SNL skit that simply reinforces this problem. It was a mockery of John Kasich, how he linked the Passover and Last Supper together. Apparently the woman — would have to look her up to find out her name — who was hosting this SNL episode used chronological snobbery to deny that Jesus' last supper was a Passover Seder and accuse Kasich of "fanfictioning" Jesus into the Passover. Accusations aside, when did this SNL host claim that the first Passover occurred? "Around 1300 BC", right? Wrong!

This is based on Exodus 1:11, which makes a mention of (Pi-)Ramses as the city that the Israelites built. This city only has a brief history, archaeologists claim. The question is, is this an anachronism or a hard marker? Genesis 47:11 also makes a similar claim — the "land of Ramses" was also mentioned hundreds of years before the city existed as the place where Joseph's family settled. So, is Genesis 47:11 an anachronism, is Exodus 1:11 an anachronism, or are both of them anachronisms? Moreover, the city was only known by that name — Ramses — for that short period, but Pi-Ramses is itself built on top of a much older city. Unlike Pi-Ramses, where there are in fact no Asiatic (Semitic) settlements at all, this older city is loaded with artifacts that are clearly Semitic in origin. What exactly is the name of this older city that Ramses happens to be built right on top of? Avaris.

What Bible verses do we have regarding the chronology of the Exodus, that are in fact far more explicit references than Exodus 1:11, and may in fact point to Avaris as the site of this reference? For starters, we've got 1 Kings 6:1. According to this passage, it was 480 years since the Israelites "came out of Egypt", emphasis on "came", that Solomon started building his temple, which was built in 966 BC according to the chronology that most scholars use. Meanwhile, since 1 Kings was written much later than the Pentateuch, there was a time gap here, and during that time gap, Egypt's borders expanded to the point where the Jordanian, Sinai, and northwestern Arabian Deserts became part of Egypt at the time 1 Kings was written (around 1000 BC — the Assyrians and Babylonians didn't push the Egyptians out of the Jordanian Desert until much later). Since "coming out of Egypt" would therefore mean "crossing the Jordan River" to the target audience of 1 Kings, this likely means that the conquest of the Promised Land occurred 480 years before 966 BC, which would be 1446 BC.

Ah, but the year of the conquest wasn't the first time that the Israelites reached the Jordan, according to Numbers 14:33. No, they first got to the Jordan 40 years before that, when, what happened? Instead of conquering the Promised Land, they see the walls of these fortified cities — Jericho, Hebron, Hazor, etc. — and grumble in fear, flee, and wander the deserts for those 40 years. 40 years before 1446 BC would mean that this event occurred in 1486 BC.

This, then, raises another question: How long did it take for the Israelites to get to the Jordan River in the first place, before grumbling in fear and coming back? According to Exodus 16:35, the time it took to go from the Red Sea, to the Ten Commandments sermon, to the "manna" and quail in the deserts, to the "border with Canaan" that would have been understood as the Jordan River to these people, was a total of, that's right, another 40 years. Start at 1486 BC and go back an additional 40 years from there, and what you end up at is a very significant year indeed: 1526 BC.

This late 16th century BC date marks a time that's just as important in Egyptian chronology as it is in Biblical chronology: it's the end of the Hyksos Period. Yes, that's right, the Hyksos, a people who brought countless artifacts of Semitic origin into Egypt, and the Israelites are one and the same people according to this reference. The ideas that the events occurred in 1300 (or 1250) BC, and that Ramses II was the Exodus Pharaoh when Khamudi is a far more likely candidate, are ideas that therefore must die. They're based on very "flimsy" Biblical indicators, according to Trinity University Professor John Bimson, despite the existence of far more explicit references to other periods, including the three I gave here that point a finger directly at Avaris as being the site of the Biblical Goshen. But no, in Hollywood, this chronology-denying ignorance still abounds, unfortunately.

25 March, 2016

"You Cannot Do Them All At The Same Time": Why Moral Relativism is Self-Refuting

Ever get into a debate in which the only response out of someone who finds out that you're Christian is "LOL" or something similar? I have, many times. Atheists claim to be intelligent. They claim to know everything, yet what is coming out of their mouths or off their fingers? Numerous capitalization, punctuation, and spelling errors, for one, and for two, profanity, ad lapidem, ad hominem, proof by assertion, and other grave logical fallacies, regardless of whether the logical fallacies in question are inside the context of the discussion or in a discussion with an entirely unrelated topic.

The issue, they claim, is "Who are you to force your opinion on us?" If it's an opinion, then why are they even bothering with it? The only possible way to remain truly neutral is to simply stay out of all positions, period. Claiming to be neutral is one thing, but the minute anyone attempts to persuade anyone to take any position, regardless of whether the position in question is political, (ir)religious, (a)theological, cultural, or even scientific, the claims of "neutrality" refute themselves. A classic example of this is a former president of Planned Parenthood, who once claimed that "teaching morality does not mean imposing my moral views on others". She then, in blatant violation of her own claim, went on to lobby the government to silence the pro-life crowd. There's a word for this: It's called hypocrisy.

Notice that there's also an irony in the very claim being made? The claim that "you shouldn't impose your moral views on others" is inherently an objectivistic claim. In order for it to even be made, one needs to contradict his or her own view, then get back to it. It's as if so-called "relativists" are hiding objectivism in a closet and only want to use it when they feel it supports them; no different, for the record, from the claim that "there is no truth" which would in itself be false if its premise were true.

That claim is not the only objectivistic claim raised by them, however: What about the so-called "problem" of evil, or, to put it more plainly, the evil dilemma? If there's a good and powerful God, they say, then why does evil exist? Notice how they have to make an assumption that there is indeed evil in the world. What does relativism claim? It claims that there are just different points of view on what is good and what is bad. This reduces the very topic of this dilemma ― evil ― to an undefined variable. Evil can only exist if there's a standard of good to hold someone's actions to. Therefore, the skeptics who bring this issue up have a dilemma of their own:
  • If moral objectivism is true, then evil has only one definition and therefore does indeed exist
  • If moral relativism is true, then evil is undefined, and if evil is undefined, then everything is good and evil is impossible
This is also true for religious pluralism. As some of you probably know, Professor Greg Koukl, president of Stand to Reason, spoke at my church just three weeks ago on this very issue, and some of what Greg taught has greatly influenced this blog post. My notes from that very discussion are here for those who might want to read them. He puts this plainly: "When you die, you either go to heaven or hell, or lie in the grave, or go to 'astro worlds', or get reincarnated, but you cannot do them all at the same time. All religions cannot be true because they have contradictory truth claims."

On this day, Good Friday, March 25, A.D. 2016, my thoughts, prayers, and logic all go out to those who still insist on believing this flawed content, even as I grow in my faith and put it into practice by posting stuff like this. It's sad, really: some have become so hostile to even the remotest possibility that Christianity might be true that, instead of investigating their objections as J. Warner Wallace, Josh McDowell, C.S. Lewis, and, yes, I did (had some doubts as a middle schooler that I chose to investigate while in high school), they choose to raise stuff like this that takes "unreasonable" to an even greater low than the low that they claim Christianity is at, not even realizing how unreasonable their objections actually are.

06 February, 2016

February 2016 ENSO Update: In Like a Lamb, Out Like a Lion

Those of you who are staring at the apparently clear, hellishly dry, allergy-provoking (yes, I am one of millions of Californians who are allergic to blocking ridges, for the record) Santa Ana wind-induced skies, wondering where in the world El Niño has gone: As I've stressed several times before, anomalous equatorial warming expressed as a strong El Niño is still embedded deep in the ocean, and thus, isn't going anywhere. Despite this, however, the MJO has still tried again to interfere. After the 4 storms that hammered California in the first week of January (which were indeed powerful and dumped the amount of precip that we would get in a typical month in only 4 days), the subtropical jet, as it has in previous Januaries, shifted a little too far north, such that the problematic south-north dipole returned. In late January, we then got one storm ― a single storm that finally pushed monthly precip above average ― followed by even worse dryness, at least for now.

While we're entering February on a note seemingly straight from the pit of Hell, however, things do look positive in the long term. If you recall from my December update, the MJO was forecast to superimpose on top of the El Niño signal, creating a double whammy in California's favor. During the week of precip in early January ― January 4-7, to be more precise ― that is exactly what happened: MJO was in Phase 7 on January 4, then the western reaches of Phase 8 from January 5-7. After that, it progressed to Phase 1 (West Africa/Atlantic MDR) ― a problematic region indeed, then dropped into the Circle of Death while in Phase 2 (Arabian Sea). It has remained there since, even as a strong atmospheric Kelvin wave (yes, they can form in the atmosphere too; Kelvins aren't just oceanic) amplified over the equatorial Pacific, where it boosted the January 31 storm.

MJO phases over the past 60 days, with January 4-7 ― the period when we got hammered ― circled, with ensemble forecasts for the next 15 days added. Second half of February looks like déjà vu in this regard.
After that, however, MJO came back, this time in the most problematic of regions: the Maritime Continent, which includes the Banda, Arafura, Coral, and Philippine Seas. This, however, is also where the MJO was in late December, if you recall, and from there, a propagating MJO wave has only one way to go: over the Pacific, again. Above is the GFS ensemble, and of course, the ECMWF agrees, although it also has a much larger ensemble spread ― evidence of the statistical bias and cyberskepticism that tend to plague the ECMWF model in general. What makes this timing especially good is that, as we leave February and enter March, MJO influence on California weather is weaker to begin with. It has less of a tendency to dominate the pattern, allowing other patterns, yes, including El Niño, to become more dominant. This, of course, is why precipitation during strong El Niño events in general tends to be heaviest in late winter and spring to begin with. Plus, although February 1998 was wet, February 1983, by contrast, wasn't. Neither was February 1878, nor February 1889 (especially dry) ― nope, in all of those events, March was the wettest month, by far, when it comes to SoCal in particular. Anomalous positive 700mb Omega anomalies close to California also, although highly irregular when strong El Niño events are considered, aren't unique to the 2015-16 El Niño either:
Although Daniel Swain did highlight this major difference between January 2016 and January 1983/1998, it seems 1888-89 was just like 2015-16 in this regard. March 1889, for the record, was a month that one could almost refer to as like March 1983 on steroids, not to mention that it too immediately followed a hellishly warm/dry February, and if the above MJO forecast is any indication, March 2016 likely will also be an absolute soaker, to say the least. So, to recap: We simply have not seen the most that this El Niño has to offer yet, and likely won't have a final tally until we get past the spring barrier, for that matter.

04 February, 2016

Biological Evidence of the Need for a Savior, Part 1: The Fight-or-Flight Response

One of the most common questions raised by atheists, and I have seen this raised countless times, to be fair, is the question of why a good God would send people to Hell. This question fails to take into account that all 7 billion people on this planet, not to mention billions of ancient people to boot, are in rebellion against God by nature, for starters — people who rebel get separated, that sounds like a natural consequence to me. In response to this assertion, one atheist on YouTube replied that he thought we were good, and not evil, by nature, at which point I had to give him a little history lesson. There are in fact several biological factors that are evil by nature, and the one I'll be covering in this post — the fight-or-flight response — is the beginning of a multi-part series on biological evidence explaining why we need a savior.

Has anyone reading this ever gotten this sudden urge to lash out in anger when a certain trigger is flipped? When provoked in a certain manner? When physically attacked, to want to just attack in return? I confess, even I have in the past, to my (and this is a serious understatement) ultimate regret. When certain triggers are tripped, the adrenal glands release large amounts of epinephrine. Heart rate increases. Breathing rate skyrockets. The person quivers. At this point, he or she has only two natural, biological instincts: lash out in anger, or be a coward, run away, and let sloth take over. This, by definition, is the fight-or-flight response.

Note how anger and sloth — the products of this biological reflex — are two of the Seven Deadly Sins. What did Jesus preach on the Sermon on the Mount about this matter? He told us to love (!) our enemies, to, "when slapped on one cheek, turn the other", and to keep going the extra mile. Doing all this means suppressing this response that is hard-coded into not only human beings but also into animals of all sorts. Without divine intervention, suppression of the fight-or-flight response is physically impossible.

This, therefore, brings us to the ultimate reason why we must believe to be saved from eternal separation: it's just one of several pieces of evidence (others of which will be covered in other posts in this series) that human beings, all 7 billion of them, are evil by nature. And if we're evil by nature, then it's only by acceptance of the gift of substitutionary atonement that we can possibly get out of this.

Since it is physically impossible for us to suppress this reflex, we have Jesus, who *never* used it on another human being — even when threatened with crucifixion — and became the ultimate sacrifice, as God incarnate, to atone for these natural-yet-sinful instincts, to pay for them so we don't have to. Stay tuned, because every Thursday from now until March 3, another member of this series will be posted.

14 January, 2016

Touch-Friendly Chrome OS is Slowly Becoming a Reality: 20160114 Canary Build

It's now Thursday, January 14, 2016. I've only had my 4th Chromebook since 2010 ― the ASUS C201 ― for a mere three weeks, and already ran into a new feature in the Chrome OS Canary builds worthy of showing off.

Back in October, rumors abounded, thanks in part to a WSJ article, that Google may in fact be folding Chrome OS into Android. Google execs, however, were quick to respond: Not only is Chrome OS "here to stay" according to Hiroshi Lockheimer, SVP in charge of Android, Chrome, and Chromecast, but, in perhaps a 180 as far as evidence is concerned, Android's version of Chrome, unlike all the desktop versions, still does not have access to the Web Store. Moreover, while the amount of apps available (not counting sideloads, in which case the sky is the limit) for ARC has indeed skyrocketed since 2014 when ARC was first debuted, the number of Cordova ports of packaged Chrome apps ― which have been around longer than ARC, mind you ― is not only unknown but, presumably, still very small, especially since the neither Google Play nor Apple's App Store have dedicated sections for them. Therefore, if a merge does take place, it only makes sense for it to be the exact opposite of initial rumors: not Chrome OS folded into Android, but Android folded into Chrome OS instead.

A new feature pushed to Canary builds today adds all the more support to this theory. Accessible via a flag (chrome://flags/#enable-fullscreen-app-list), this feature will make the current Chrome OS app launcher ― the one that shows up when the Search key is pressed ―  fill up the entire screen IF, and only if, either A, a touch screen is present, or B, chrome://flags/#ash-enable-touch-view-testing is enabled and Ctrl+Alt+Shift+8 is toggled:

Top: Current Chrome OS app launcher. Bottom: Chrome OS app launcher with chrome://flags/#enable-fullscreen-app-list enabled.
Note the centered, smartphone-like appearance in Screenshot 2. I'm actually surprised Screenshot 2 was even saved at all, to be absolutely fair, since the Ash desktop crashed when I attempted to take it; however, to my absolute surprise, it was actually there when I opened the file manager after the crash/restart was complete. Anyhow, even though it looks rather immature/"meh" for now, as the full-screen app launcher does eventually mature, it seems like it could easily, easily take Chrome OS onto not only tablets, as it almost did with the Pixel C, but also, in what was, just a few short years ago, an unimaginable twist of fate, onto smartphones.

Add an ARC version of the Play Store with ARC Welding (pun intended) super-powers onto this Chrome OS mode, and the result is exactly what I envisioned: not Chrome OS within Android, but instead Android within Chrome OS. Not Android on desktops, with Aura/Ash as a second-class citizen, but instead a scaled-down, re-laid-out version of Chrome OS on smartphones, with perfect Android app backward-compatibility and access to both the Chrome and Android app catalogs simultaneously, no matter what size the screen. Definitely seems just around the corner if all this evidence is taken into account, that's for sure.

27 December, 2015

MJO and ENSO: From Destructive Interference to Double Whammy (December 2015 update)

It's now December 27, 2015. Despite the dry (albeit cold, for a change) autumn, the equatorial anomalies in the Pacific have continued to ramp up. In the case of the 3.4 region, they have reached record intensity and continue to stay ahead of those induced by the previously record strong 1997-98 El Niño, with 2.9°C above average being the newest value. The November peak, in fact, was a staggering +3.1°C sea surface temperature anomaly:

November peak values, compared. Red line = 2015-16; blue line = 1997-98. Note how the 2015 values have not only exceeded peak 1997-98 values, they're the first-ever instance of sea surface temperatures in excess of 3°C above average.
Credit: Jan Null

Not only is this record intensity, it's the first time any El Niño has ever surpassed the +3°C anomaly threshold in the all-too-critical Niño 3.4 region in modern times. It's this region that is most critical for driving the storm track into California in particular: As explained in a previous post, once a tropical thunderstorm rises to extreme heights, it can't rise any further and gets forced to spread out ― that's what gives thunderstorms in general their characteristic anvil shape. In the tropics, however, we're talking about large masses of these tall thunderstorms very close to the equator, where Earth's rotation is fastest.

To readers who don't understand the dynamics of this: Have you ever tried to play catch with someone on a merry-go-round as it's spinning? When you try to throw the ball and the recipient is on the other side, the ball appears to get batted away from the center of rotation by some invisible force, but it's really the person throwing the ball who is moving with respect to the frame of reference. This is called the Coriolis effect, and it also happens on a global scale with regard to Earth's rotation. Remember, the equator is the part of the Earth that rotates fastest. Anvil outflow from tall tropical thunderstorms, when it spreads out toward the hemispheres, moves from an area of fast rotation to an area of relatively slow rotation. This, therefore, makes the outflow deflect to the right as the Coriolis effect acts on it. The Niño 3.4 region is critical because of the Coriolis effect: Outflow from thunderstorms in that region in particular, when it gets deflected to the right during the winter months, ends up *in* California. Outflow from convective storms in regions east of there, such as Niño 3 and Niño 1+2, ends up in places like Texas and Florida, respectively, which is why the effects of a strong El Niño don't just stop in California but actually affect the entire southern tier of the United States.

So, wait, why has fall been cold and dry despite the strong oceanic signal? In addition to the strong equatorial Pacific El Niño signal, surface divergence/upper convergence over Indonesia due to a chunk of Hadley cells packing strong positive Ω500 anomalies (sinking air = high pressure) parked there (the main culprit behind Indonesia's wildfires this past summer) has forced anomalously strong upwelling in the eastern Indian Ocean, causing a cold tongue to appear there, where it usually doesn't. This was a strong positive phase of what's known as the Indian Ocean Dipole, or IOD for short, and it tends to cause Hadley cells in the Indian Ocean to weaken and expand, even as those in the Pacific intensify and contract due to strong ENSO-induced equatorial downwelling.

The positive phase of the IOD, which peaked in October, went on to make the Indian Ocean a breeding ground for a tropical phenomenon of a different kind: a propagating atmospheric wave that forces rising air and westerly winds under it known as the Madden-Julian Oscillation, or MJO. This is why Cyclones Chapala and Megh formed in November: the weak Phase 8 MJO wave that helped El Niño spawn the monster that was Hurricane Patricia moved over the Atlantic (where it didn't do much), then Africa (where it contributed to Kenya floods). As soon as it reached the Indian Ocean, it was able to freely amplify. MJO over the Indian Ocean ― in phases 2 and 3 (especially 3, which is what it was in throughout most of November) ― tends to interfere with Pacific convection, just like it did in late June, and the result is not a pattern typical of El Niño but rather a negative phase of the Pacific-North American teleconnection, or PNA ― highly anomalous for strong/VS El Niño ― like the negative PNA that we saw in November and most of December when a bunch of inside sliders affected us instead of the zonal storm track driven by the subtropical jet that we would expect to see. In mid December, it went on to a very brief phase 4/5 (Indonesia/Australia, the most problematic of all regions), which only lasted a week or so.

MJO phases over the last 60 days, with GfS spaghetti plot for the next 15. Note persistent phase 3 throughout most of November that served as the main culprit behind the anomalous negative PNA that, in conjunction with positive AO, contributed to anomalous warmth east/cold west.

The day before Christmas Eve, however, MJO entered Phase 6. This means that it's no longer over the Indian Ocean or Maritime Continent (the area around Australia, Indonesia, and the Philippines that is most problematic when it comes to ENSO), but over the Pacific. Instead of being against El Niño, this phase of the MJO is directly on top of El Niño. In addition to a gale-force westerly wind burst now in progress as a result (and probably a downwelling Kelvin wave of epic proportions resulting from that during our wet season), this is a double whammy when it comes to the subtropical jet that is oh so critical for California impacts during strong or VS El Niño events, since now there's not one, but *two* phenomena both acting to force tropical convection and anomalous tropical westerly winds in the same place. This in turn means not one but *two* phenomena acting in tandem to add juice to the subtropical jet. It's capable of destroying the anomalous -PNA just as quickly as it created it, and the two major computer models ― GFS and ECMWF ― seem to agree on that happening, not far into the future, but as soon as January 4-5. Brace yourselves; we're in for a big one indeed.

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 called 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 intensify. Tropical thunderstorms become stronger and taller than usual, blasting heat higher into the atmosphere, intensifying the gradients that drive both the polar and subtropical jets. 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. In addition, dips in the polar jet ― storms ― are able to contact the subtropical jet far more easily, which then, due to the temp gradient(s) becoming even stronger still, are able to rapidly intensify, both to more rapid temperature fluctuations ― which in themselves drive more rapid cyclogenesis ― and to the fact that the subtropical and polar jets are in some cases, like during top-tier El Niño events, able to merge much more easily.

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.

With that being said, 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.

Conclusion


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.