|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.|
05 November, 2015
19 July, 2015
|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|
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.
06 July, 2015
SST anomalies: Exceptionally impressive to say the least
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
03 July, 2015
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
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.
26 March, 2015
07 March, 2015
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
24 February, 2015
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.