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A new kind of drought: US record low windiness in 2015

Daran Rife, Nir Y. Krakauer, Daniel S. Cohan, J. Craig Collier

Widespread calming of the wind sapped U.S. wind energy power output in 2015, driven by the same weather patterns responsible for California’s severe drought.

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Summary and conclusions. 2015 was a year of records:
It was the warmest year on record globally.
A highly anomalous ocean warming event in the northeast Pacific (NPM) strongly controlled the weather and climate over North America.
A high amplitude ridge of unparalleled strength and longevity over western North America dominated until April 2015.
Record low windiness was recorded across a huge expanse of the U.S. during the first and second quarter, significantly diminishing wind power generation.
California continued to experience one of the most severe and prolonged droughts in its history, with some relief in the 2015-2016 rainy season.
Thirty major tropical cyclones occurred in the Northern Hemisphere, shattering the previous record of 23 (set in 2004), and 25 of those storms reached the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale of 4 or 5 (NASA Earth Observatory 2016).
Many of these events appear to be connected to one another, and illustrate the complex and sometimes far-reaching impacts of climate variability and climate change. It is not yet known if human activities may have played a role, or whether these extreme events lie within the envelope of natural variability.
The NPM gradually trended downward to neutral during the first half of 2015. This change coincided with a dissipation of the ocean warming in the northeastern Pacific, and with a breakdown of the blocking ridge over that same region. Thereafter, regional winds returned to their more normal patterns of variability. Given that there appears to be little relationship between antecedent El Niño conditions and U.S. wind speed anomalies, and because the 2015 El Niño was in its infancy during the first and second quarter, it is highly unlikely that it contributed to the record low winds or bolstered the high amplitude ridge.
Given the increasing importance of energy from weather-sensitive renewable sources such as wind, solar, and hydro to our economy, weather forecasting is increasingly important for managing energy supply and demand (e.g., Lang 2005, Hering and Genton 2010). Such features as the northeast Pacific warming of 2013-2015, and its association with a widespread calming of the wind, suggest that some weather-related variability could be forecast even several months in advance. This is one potential application of monthly to seasonal forecasts now being developed by weather forecast providers (Kirtman et al., 2014; Krakauer et al, 2013).


IEEE Earthzine, Vol. 9 (2016), 1412470 
Key: INRMM:14430850

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