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Climate Alive!

2020: Wild Weather

2020 has been one of the most active hurricane seasons on record. Much of the west coast of the United States has also been ablaze with wildfires. NOAA Climatologist Tom Di Liberto takes us on a trip across the Pacific and Atlantic Ocean to show how weather thousands of miles away can impact weather across the United States and even add "fuel" to the fires.



Welcome, we're about to take a tour of the weather and climate across the planet since the middle of August, well, at least across half the planet. We're taking a look right now at a satellite picture of the Pacific Ocean. On the left you have Asia and on the right you have the United States. And the interesting thing I'd like to talk about here is that we have two typhoons in the picture that are going to cause some interesting issues for weather across the United States.

Yes, weather thousands of miles in the western Pacific Ocean can affect the weather across United States. Watch specifically the middle part of the Pacific Ocean. You see right here how the clouds are basically from West to the East across the Pacific. Watch how that changes after these two storms make landfall in Korea Now we see as opposed to that west to east cloud bank across the Pacific Ocean, it's gotten super duper wavy and that super duper wavy is basically what we see as the jet stream. What this can do is cause big areas of high pressure along the West Coast of theUnited States.

That's the crazy thing about our planet. What happens here doesn't stay here because everything is intertwined with the way the winds move across the entire planet. Now we're just taking a look at the United States here. Look at all of the smoke from the wildfires out West. The interesting thing to look at is a few days after Typhoon Haishen made landfall in Korea is that big area of white along the Canada-United States border. This represents a big low-pressure system and a cold front that's about to push South across the United States. And what this'll do is basically whip up the winds and allow those wildfires to expand and that smoke to get even bigger. And notice how huge the smoke is now as the wildfires got set off in Oregon and Washington stretching all along the West Coast.

At this point in California and parts of the West Coast zero sunlight, no sunlight was reaching the surface. It was some of the worst air quality in the entire world. And as we're moving across the country you can see that smoke get pulled into these other storm systems as they are moving across United States. In fact some of the hazy skies across the eastern seaboard were caused by smoke from the West Coast.

What else do we have in this picture? I count one, I count two separate hurricanes occurring in the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico. This is Hurricane Sally. It made landfall as a category 2 storm dropping feet of rain across Louisiana and the Gulf Coast and Mississippi. Now, far off into the the Atlantic that's  Hurricane Paulette. Now, as Paulette moves over colder waters of the oceans it weakens  but while doing so it drags in the smoke from the wildfires out West and actually brings them all  the way to Europe. Now this is a story of extremes, of extreme wetness when it comes to the hurricanes on the East Coast, meanwhile extreme dryness and heat and fire across the western United States, while smoke is dominating the picture coast to coast.

Now it's been an incredibly active hurricane season one, of the most active hurricane seasons on record and this is taking a look at the hurricane season going back to the middle of August. The average number of storms that we normally see is 12 and we are well past that at this point. Every storm that I mentioned from here on out represents the earliest time we have ever reached that letter in the alphabet when it comes to a hurricane. In fact all of these hurricanes make the season above average. We reached average in August. The peak of the hurricane season is normally in the middle of September.

The most dangerous storm was hurricane Laura. You see that big area of storms right in the middle part of the frame. That's Hurricane Laura. Now it doesn't look like much  now but wait until get into the Gulf of Mexico and taps into really really warm water and, boom! Eye pokes out, category 4 storm at landfall in parts of Louisiana and Texas. Incredibly damaging storm. Second week of September you can see multiple storms starting to pop out and we have  Hurricane Paulette now across the middle of the Atlantic with tropical storm Rene just behind it. While your eyes may be looking at the Atlantic Ocean, there's another storm forming over Florida. That's Sally. Now, Sally strengthens into a category 2 storm right here and makes landform in Louisiana while Paulette and Rene weaken across the Atlantic Ocean. 

On September 17, all of this area to the west of the remnants of hurricane Paulette is smoke from the wildfires. That's burned trees, that's burned grass, that's burned brush from the West Coast  showing up in the air over the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean and soon to be over parts of Europe. This is Beta, making landfall across Texas. Yes, that's right, Beta. We used up all of the letters of the alphabet when it came to our hurricane names that we had to dip into the Greek alphabet. It's only happened one time before in 2005, but we are already into the Greek alphabet and that is beta.

Now, this is a zoomed in shot now of Hurricane Laura, the strongest hurricane that's happened so far this year in the Atlantic and it rapidly intensified. When a storm gets very, very strong, a hurricane gets very, very strong, the center of the storm actually clears out in what's known as the eye and you can notice how fast the winds are whipping around the center of that eye. Around that eye, those clouds make the strongest part of the storm. That's the eye wall. That's the strongest thunderstorms.

Now, we have to send hurricanes hunters through the worst parts of the storm, the eye wall to get important information to allow our forecasters to make the best forecast but as you can see a little airplane is no match for a big hurricane and Hurricane Laura tossed that plane around. But it still managed to make its way through to the middle of the eye. The data they can get through the hurricane can be fed into our weather and climate models to allow us to better predict storms, and specifically understand how strong that storm is and the potential damage it could lead to causing cross the United States.

Thanks! And that was just a short amount of time to talk about a lot of stuff that happened across half the planet since the middle of August. Simply put, there are crazy things happening from typhoons in the Pacific to wildfires out West and meanwhile we're experiencing one of the most active hurricane seasons in the Atlantic Ocean's history.