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Earth's New Normal: Wild Weather 2014

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Each year in early January (2011, 2012, 2013) I have tallied a scorecard on the vicious effects of burning in excess of 85 million tons of carbon fuels daily on our planet. Irrespective of where you live the human-induced effects of global warming are irrefutable and deadly.

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The Waratah Coal Project is part of the expanding Galilee Basin in western Queensland that will bring Australia's coal export to whopping 240 million metric tons per annum -- a projected increase of five fold under Prime Minister Tony Abbott's new Coalition government.

As humans ramp-up the destruction of nature in Australia, Canada, Indonesia and elsewhere to feed the insatiable coal and petroleum markets in China, India and the U.S. the amount of melting ice at both poles continues to erode at an astounding rate.

In the Northern Hemisphere less Arctic ice cover in September means that a warming Arctic Ocean is easily able to infuse its latent heat into the Arctic atmosphere. As this occurs an all-hell-break-loose scenario is felt elsewhere - particularly on the eastern half on the North American continent and in the U.K.

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A warming Arctic is loosing its ice cover quickly.

The Arctic is warming at least two times faster than the rest of our planet. It's not just the loss of the white surface, which reflects solar radiation back to space and helps keep Earth at a habitable temperature range for our species that is a concern.

A warming Arctic Ocean of 1.8 degrees (F) has caused the upper atmosphere to change, dramatically. The polar jet stream is a powerful upper atmosphere, sinuous river of air, which normally hugs the North Pole tightly, but since it has been super-charged with Arctic Ocean heat it's migrating with regularity - southward.

A meandering polar jet stream spells epic wild weather.

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A meandering polar jet stream opens the deep-freezer door and pours frigid polar air onto the U.S. during the first week of January 2014.

A massive winter blizzard on January 3, 2014 throughout the Northeast dumped feet of snow with Arctic air spilling bone-chilling temperatures across at least half of the United States. On the Northern Plains, including Iowa, Minnesota, Dakotas and eastern Montana the mercury has plummeted with wind chills reaching in excess of -50 degrees (F).

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The first blizzard of 2014 brought feet of snow across the Northeast and teeth-chattering temperatures across the Northern Plains.

It is so cold that Sunday's Wildcard Playoff game at Green Bay's Lambeau Field may eclipse the January 2008 NFC Championship of -4 degrees (F) - as the coldest NFL game ever played.

Meanwhile in Canada - no stranger to bitter winter temperatures - as the New Year began the eastern half of that nation was blanketed by frigid Arctic temperatures more reminiscent to those of outer space as record-breaking wind chills of in excess of -60 degrees (F) were recorded. In fact, in northern Manitoba on New Year's Eve (2013) the mercury touched -62 degrees (F) the same surface temperature as Mars; and by the way, the temperature in the North Pole that afternoon was -6 degrees (F).

The meandering polar jet stream is wreaking havoc on the other side of the Atlantic in the U.K. where the Brits have been lashed and pummeled, again by walls of 30-foot waves in concert with king tides (the highest of the year) and colossal hailstones leaving a horrible wake of destruction including destroyed roads, rail lines and floods that with regularity are breaching the defenses. That destruction may be tame compared to the 50-foot waves predicted for Monday (January 6, 2014).

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The British coast was battered by 30-foot waves on January 1, 2014.

In the Southern Hemisphere, Australia is broiling and enveloped by yet another drought fraught with bushfires. 2013 was their hottest year ever recorded. At 2 degrees (F) above the long-term average it easily surpassed 2005 as the hottest year. Every month in 2013 was 0.9 degree (F) above the normal dating back to the inception of continuous record keeping in 1910. Australia has experienced just one cooler than average year in the last decade -- 2011.

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Australia experienced the hottest spring on record and on January 2, 2014 South Australian temperature were in excess of 120 degrees (F).

Temperatures of 120 degrees (F) occurred January 2, 2014 in South Australia whilst New South Wales is enduring its worst-ever drought. And in tropical Queensland a sweltering heat wave has temperatures there reaching 117 degrees (F). Elderly people with chronic illness, especially diabetes and obese people are at terrible risk. In addition, all pets left outside in these inferno-like temperatures stand little chance of survival.

While most North American early January (2014) temperatures resemble the inside of deep freezer - California, on the other hand, is warm and bone-dry. A high-pressure system has stalled over the Eastern North Pacific Ocean diverting the moisture carried by the jet stream northward toward British Columbia and Alaska. As of January 1, 2014 California reached its driest mark since record keeping began in 1849. In Los Angeles where I live we average 14.93 inches of precipitation annually - this year we received 3.60 inches. San Francisco received a meager 3.38 inches of rainfall in 2013; its normal is 20.65 inches.

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A strong ridge has developed off the California coast preventing the storms carrying moisture that normally falls as snow onto the Sierra Nevada's, which supplies about 85% of the the water for the eighth mightiest economy on the globe.

Currently 85 percent of California is experiencing a severe drought; this is very serious because without water the nations leading agricultural producer at $16 billion annually (including the world's largest almond crop at $3 billion, alone) is in dire straights. The drought is predicted to cost farmers at least $1 billion.

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Droughts are plaguing a warming world and livestock as well as vegetation have no chance of survival without the life blood of Earth -- fresh water.

California's reservoirs are at less than 40 percent capacity. The Sierra snowpack is running 23-34 percent while Oregon's Cascades are even lower between 18 and 22 percent. Californian forests are tinder-dry and without winter snowfall and the spring melt-waters to recharge soil moisture preparing the trees for a hot, dry summer we can expect hellacious firestorms later this year.

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When Californian forests are parched they burn during the normally dry summers, but this year (2014) without winter moisture the wildfires can begin early in the springtime.

Clearly, the most precious substance on a warming Earth is its fresh water. Until we address our voracious addiction to coal and petroleum and allow innovation our best friend in the 21st century to guide us beyond the present crisis, we can expect more brutal wild weather with its massive price tag of devastation to continue.

Earth Dr Reese Halter is a broadcaster, biologist, educator and author of The Incomparable Honeybee.

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