May has been a month of extreme weather around the world

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Mother Nature Crammed a Bunch of Nasty Weather Into This May


WASHINGTON (AP) -- Even for a world getting used to wild weather, May seems stuck on strange.

Torrential downpours in Texas that have whiplashed the region from drought to flooding. A heat wave that has killed more than 1,800 people in India. Record 91-degree readings in Alaska, of all places. A pair of top-of-the-scale typhoons in the Northwest Pacific. And a drought taking hold in the East.

"Mother Nature keeps throwing us crazy stuff," Rutgers University climate scientist Jennifer Francis says. "It's just been one thing after another."

Jerry Meehl, an extreme-weather expert at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, points out that May is usually a pretty extreme month, with lots of tornadoes and downpours. Even so, he says, this has been "kind of unusually intense."

The word "stuck" provides one possible explanation.

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Texas and mexican border , Oklahoma flooding - severe weather 5/25 (AP Exchange)
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May has been a month of extreme weather around the world
HOUSTON, TX - MAY 27: The Brays Bayou flows after massive flooding May 27, 2015 in Houston, Texas. At least 19 people have been killed across Texas and Oklahoma after severe weather, including catastrophic flooding and tornadoes, struck over the past several days, with more rain expected. (Photo by Eric Kayne/Getty Images)
MIDLOTHIAN, TX - MAY 27: Workers tend to equipment used to pump water from Padera Lake as water pours over a temporary dam on May 27, 2015 in Midlothian, Texas. Officials feared that the temporary dam on Padera Lake would fail due to recent heavy rains in the area. Areas throughout Texas have expierenced flash flooding and numerous deaths due to weeks of heavy rainfall. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
SAN MARCOS, TX - MAY 27: Storm destruction along the Blanco River May 26, 2015 in San Marcos, Texas. Central Texas has been inundated with tornadoes and flash flooding the past several days. (Photo by Drew Anthony Smith/Getty Images)
SAN MARCOS, TX - MAY 27: Storm destruction along the Blanco River May 27, 2015 in San Marcos, Texas. Central Texas has been inundated with tornadoes and flash flooding the past several days. (Photo by Drew Anthony Smith/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TX - MAY 27: Trees are submerged at Buffalo Bayou park after massive flooding May 27, 2015 in Houston, Texas. At least 19 people have been killed across Texas and Oklahoma after severe weather, including catastrophic flooding and tornadoes, struck over the past several days, with more rain expected. (Photo by Eric Kayne/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TX - MAY 27: Diego Singleton's vehicle sits on Allen Parkway, the last remaining vehicle to be towed from underneath the Montrose Blvd. overpass following massive flooding May 27, 2015 in Houston, Texas. At least 19 people have been killed across Texas and Oklahoma after severe weather, including catastrophic flooding and tornadoes, struck over the past several days, with more rain expected. (Photo by Eric Kayne/Getty Images)
WIMBERLEY, TX - MAY 26: A house near the Blanco River sustained heavy damage May 26, 2015 in Wimberley, Texas. Central Texas has been hit with severe weather, including catastrophic flooding and tornadoes over the past several days. (Photo by Drew Anthony Smith/Getty Images)
WIMBERLEY, TX - MAY 26: Debris is collected in front of Rio Bonito Resort May 26, 2015 in Wimberley, Texas. Central Texas has been hit with severe weather, including catastrophic flooding and tornadoes over the past several days. (Photo by Drew Anthony Smith/Getty Images)
WIMBERLEY, TX - MAY 26: Faculty and volunteers organize flood relief supplies at Wimberley High School May 26, 2015 in Wimberley, Texas. Central Texas has been hit with severe weather, including catastrophic flooding and tornadoes over the past several days. (Photo by Drew Anthony Smith/Getty Images)
WIMBERLEY, TX - MAY 26: Clothes and other flood relief supplies are gathered at Wimberley High School May 26, 2015 in Wimberley, Texas. Central Texas has been hit with severe weather, including catastrophic flooding and tornadoes over the past several days. (Photo by Drew Anthony Smith/Getty Images)
Vehicles left stranded on a flooded Interstate 45 in Houston, Texas on May 26, 2015. Heavy rains throught Texas put the city of Houston under massive ammounts of water, closing roadways and trapping residents in their cars and buildings, according to local reports. Rainfall reached up to 11 inches(27.9cm) in some parts of the state, national forecasters reported, and the heavy rains quickly pooled over the state's already saturated soil. AFP PHOTO/AARON M. SPRECHER (Photo credit should read Aaron M. Sprecher/AFP/Getty Images)
Water is seen along Memorial Drive in Houston, Texas, on May 26, 2015. Heavy rains throught Texas put the city of Houston under massive amounts of water, closing roadways and trapping residents in their cars and buildings, according to local reports. Rainfall reached up to 11 inches (27.9cm) in some parts of the state, according to national forecasters, and the heavy rains quickly pooled over the state's already saturated soil. AFP PHOTO/AARON M. SPRECHER (Photo credit should read Aaron M. Sprecher/AFP/Getty Images)
AUSTIN, TX - MAY 25: Murphy Canning and Annika Rolston watch as a street remains underwater from days of heavy rain on May 25, 2015 in Austin, Texas. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott toured the damage zone where one person is confirmed dead and at least 12 others missing in flooding along the Rio Blanco, which reports say rose as much as 40 feet in places, caused by more than 10 inches of rain over a four-day period. The governor earlier declared a state of emergency in 24 Texas counties. (Photo by Drew Anthony Smith/Getty Images)
WIMBERLEY, TX - MAY 26: Debris is collected in front of Rio Bonito Resort May 26, 2015 in Wimberley, Texas. Central Texas has been hit with severe weather, including catastrophic flooding and tornadoes over the past several days. (Photo by Drew Anthony Smith/Getty Images)
A vehicle left stranded on a flooded Interstate 45 in Houston, Texas on May 26, 2015. Heavy rains throught Texas put the city of Houston under massive ammounts of water, closing roadways and trapping residents in their cars and buildings, according to local reports. Rainfall reached up to 11 inches(27.9cm) in some parts of the state, national forecasters reported, and the heavy rains quickly pooled over the state's already saturated soil. AFP PHOTO/AARON M. SPRECHER (Photo credit should read Aaron M. Sprecher/AFP/Getty Images)
Water is seen at the top of a sign along a bike path near Memorial Drive in Houston, Texas on May 26, 2015. Heavy rains throught Texas put the city of Houston under massive amounts of water, closing roadways and trapping residents in their cars and buildings, according to local reports. Rainfall reached up to 11 inches (27.9cm) in some parts of the state, according to national forecasters, and the heavy rains quickly pooled over the state's already saturated soil. AFP PHOTO/AARON M. SPRECHER (Photo credit should read Aaron M. Sprecher/AFP/Getty Images)
Vehicles are left stranded on Texas State Highway 288 in Houston, Texas on May 26, 2015. Heavy rains throught Texas put the city of Houston under massive amounts of water, closing roadways and trapping residents in their cars and buildings, according to local reports. Rainfall reached up to 11 inches (27.9cm) in some parts of the state, according to national forecasters, and the heavy rains quickly pooled over the state's already saturated soil. AFP PHOTO/AARON M. SPRECHER (Photo credit should read Aaron M. Sprecher/AFP/Getty Images)
AUSTIN, TX - MAY 25: Parts of the city are shown inundated after days of heavy rain on May 25, 2015 in Austin, Texas. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott toured the damage zone where one person is confirmed dead and at least 12 others missing in flooding along the Rio Blanco, which reports say rose as much as 40 feet in places, caused by more than 10 inches of rain over a four-day period. The governor earlier declared a state of emergency in 24 Texas counties. (Photo by Drew Anthony Smith/Getty Images)
AUSTIN, TX - MAY 25: Rising floodwaters at Shoal Creek are shown after days of heavy rain on May 25, 2015 in Austin, Texas. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott toured the damage zone where one person is confirmed dead and at least 12 others missing in flooding along the Rio Blanco, which reports say rose as much as 40 feet in places, caused by more than 10 inches of rain over a four-day period. The governor earlier declared a state of emergency in 24 Texas counties. (Photo by Drew Anthony Smith/Getty Images)
AUSTIN, TX - MAY 25: Parts of the city are shown inundated after days of heavy rain on May 25, 2015 in Austin, Texas. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott toured the damage zone where one person is confirmed dead and at least 12 others missing in flooding along the Rio Blanco, which reports say rose as much as 40 feet in places, caused by more than 10 inches of rain over a four-day period. The governor earlier declared a state of emergency in 24 Texas counties. (Photo by Drew Anthony Smith/Getty Images)
AUSTIN, TX - MAY 25: The flooded Whole Earth Provisions Company on Lamar Street is shown after days of heavy rain on May 25, 2015 in Austin, Texas. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott toured the damage zone where one person is confirmed dead and at least 12 others missing in flooding along the Rio Blanco, which reports say rose as much as 40 feet in places, caused by more than 10 inches of rain over a four-day period. The governor earlier declared a state of emergency in 24 Texas counties. (Photo by Drew Anthony Smith/Getty Images)
AUSTIN, TX - MAY 25: Ben Sioberman works to get water out of the flooded Whole Earth Provisions Company on Lamar Street after days of heavy rain on May 25, 2015 in Austin, Texas. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott toured the damage zone where one person is confirmed dead and at least 12 others missing in flooding along the Rio Blanco, which reports say rose as much as 40 feet in places, caused by more than 10 inches of rain over a four-day period. The governor earlier declared a state of emergency in 24 Texas counties. (Photo by Drew Anthony Smith/Getty Images)
AUSTIN, TX - MAY 25: Parts of the city are shown inundated after days of heavy rain on May 25, 2015 in Austin, Texas. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott toured the damage zone where one person is confirmed dead and at least 12 others missing in flooding along the Rio Blanco, which reports say rose as much as 40 feet in places, caused by more than 10 inches of rain over a four-day period. The governor earlier declared a state of emergency in 24 Texas counties. (Photo by Drew Anthony Smith/Getty Images)
AUSTIN, TX - MAY 25: Tape is stretched across a flooded Sixth Street after days of heavy rain on May 25, 2015 in Austin, Texas. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott toured the damage zone where one person is confirmed dead and at least 12 others missing in flooding along the Rio Blanco, which reports say rose as much as 40 feet in places, caused by more than 10 inches of rain over a four-day period. The governor earlier declared a state of emergency in 24 Texas counties. (Photo by Drew Anthony Smith/Getty Images)
WIMBERLEY, TX - MAY 25: A vehicle travels Ranch to Market Road 150 on May 25, 2015 outside Wimberly, Texas. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott toured the damage zone where one person is confirmed dead and at least 12 others missing in flooding along the Rio Blanco, which reports say rose as much as 40 feet in places, caused by more than 10 inches of rain over a four-day period. The governor earlier declared a state of emergency in 24 Texas counties. (Photo by Drew Anthony Smith/Getty Images)
In this aerial photo a parking lot of Wal-Mart is submerged after the San Marcos River flooded in San Marcos, Texas, Sunday, May 24, 2015. Record rainfall was wreaking havoc across a swath of the U.S. Midwest on Sunday, causing flash floods in normally dry riverbeds, spawning tornadoes and forcing at least 2,000 people to flee. (Rodolfo Gonzalez/Austin American-Statesman via AP)
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Francis, Meehl and some other meteorologists say the jet stream is in a rut, not moving nasty weather along. The high-speed, constantly shifting river of air 30,000 feet above Earth normally guides storms around the globe, but sometimes splits and comes back together somewhere else.

A stuck jet stream, with a bit of a split, explains the extremes in Texas, India, Alaska and the U.S. East, but not the typhoons, Francis says.

Other possible factors contributing to May's wild weather: the periodic warming of the central Pacific known as El Nino, climate change and natural variability, scientists say.

Texas this month has received a record statewide average of 8 inches of rain and counting. Some parts of the Lone Star State and Oklahoma have gotten more than a foot and a half since May 1. The two states have gone from exceptional drought to flooding in just four weeks.

Texas state climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon attributes the heavy rainfall to an unusually southern fork in the jet stream, a stuck stationary front and El Nino, and says the downpours have probably been made slightly worse by climate change.

For every degree Celsius the air is warmer, it can hold 7 percent more moisture. That, Nielsen-Gammon says, "is supplying more juice to the event."

While it is too early to connect one single event to man-made warming, scientific literature shows "that when it rains hard, it rains harder than it did 20 to 30 years ago," says University of Georgia meteorology professor Marshall Shepherd.

As bad as the Texas flooding has been, the heat wave in India has been far worse - in fact, the world's fifth-deadliest since 1900, with reports of the 100-degree-plus heat even buckling roads. And it's a consequence of the stuck jet stream, according to Francis and Weather Underground meteorology director Jeff Masters.

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India heat wave, summer temperatures
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May has been a month of extreme weather around the world
NEW DELHI, INDIA - MAY 24: A road melt near Safdarjung Hospital after the Temperature rise to 45 degree Celsius during a hot weather as Delhi/NCR experienced yet another scorching day, on May 24, 2015 in New Delhi, India. The national capital sizzling today as heat wave-like conditions prevailed across the city with mercury hovering above 45.3 degree Celsius, making life tough for the Delhiites. (Photo by Sanjeev Verma/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)
NEW DELHI, INDIA - MAY 24: Heat rippled mirage was seen at Rajpath during a hot weather as Delhi/NCR experienced yet another scorching day, on May 24, 2015 in New Delhi, India. The national capital sizzling today as heat wave-like conditions prevailed across the city with mercury hovering above 45.3 degree Celsius, making life tough for the Delhiites. (Photo by Vipin Kumar/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)
An Indian boy takes a bath at a fountain at India Gate in New Delhi on May 26, 2015. At least 800 people have died in a major heatwave that has swept across India, melting roads in New Delhi as temperatures neared 50 degrees Celsius (122 Fahrenheit). AFP PHOTO / Chandan KHANNA (Photo credit should read Chandan Khanna/AFP/Getty Images)
Indian motorcyclists use scarves to protect themselves from the heat in Amritsar on May 26, 2015. At least 800 people have died in a major heatwave that has swept across India, melting roads in New Delhi as temperatures neared 50 degrees Celsius (122 Fahrenheit). AFP PHOTO/NARINDER NANU (Photo credit should read NARINDER NANU/AFP/Getty Images)
An Indian policeman stands in the shade at the Indian Defence Ministry in New Delhi on May 26, 2015. Large parts of India, including national capital New Delhi, have endured days of sweltering heat, prompting fears of power cuts. But the highest temperatures have been recorded in Telangana and neighbouring Andhra Pradesh state. AFP PHOTO / Chandan KHANNA (Photo credit should read Chandan Khanna/AFP/Getty Images)
Indian fishermen catch fish in a shrunken pond in the village of Phaphamau on the outskirts of Allahabad on May 26, 2015. At least 800 people have died in a major heatwave that has swept across India, melting roads in New Delhi as temperatures neared 50 degrees Celsius (122 Fahrenheit). AFP PHOTO/SANJAY KANOJIA (Photo credit should read Sanjay Kanojia/AFP/Getty Images)
An Indian child cools off in a pond near India Gate amid soaring temperatures in New Delhi on May 24, 2015. AFP PHOTO / SAJJAD HUSSAIN (Photo credit should read SAJJAD HUSSAIN/AFP/Getty Images)
An Indian man covers his face as drives on a scooter under the hot sun in Hyderabad on May 26, 2015. More than 430 people have died in two Indian states from a days-long heatwave that has seen temperatures nudging 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit), officials said May 25. Officials warned the toll was almost certain to rise, with figures still being collected in some parts of the hard-hit Telangana state in the south of the country, and with no end in sight to the searing conditions AFPHOTO/ Noah SEELAM (Photo credit should read NOAH SEELAM/AFP/Getty Images)
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When climate scientists look at what caused extreme events - a complex and time-consuming process that hasn't been done yet - heat waves are the ones most definitely connected to global warming, Shepherd says.

The stuck jet stream has kept Alaska on bake, with the town of Eagle hitting 91, the earliest Alaska has had a temperature pushing past 90, Masters says.

And on the other end of the country, New York; Boston; Hartford, Connecticut; Albany, New York; Providence, Rhode Island; and Concord, New Hampshire, all have received less than an inch of rain this month and are flirting with setting monthly records for drought, he says.

El Nino is known to change the weather worldwide, often making things more extreme. This El Nino is itself weird. It was long predicted but came far later and weaker than expected. So experts dialed back their forecasts. Then El Nino got stronger quickly.

Some scientists have theorized that the jet stream has been changing in recent years because of shrinking Arctic sea ice, an idea that has not totally been accepted but is gaining ground, Shepherd says.

Katharine Hayhoe, a climate scientist at Texas Tech University, likens what's happening to a stewpot: Natural climate fluctuations such as El Nino go into it. So do jet stream meanderings, random chance, May being a transition month, and local variability. Then throw in the direct and indirect effects of climate change.

"We know that the stew has an extra ingredient," Hayhoe says, referring to climate change. "That ingredient is very strong. Sometimes you add one teaspoon of the wrong ingredient and boy, it can take your head off."

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