Hell and High Water hits Georgia

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"Hell and High Water hits Georgia"

Once-in-a-century drought followed by once-in-a-century floodingHell and High Water — that’s something larger and larger swaths of this country will need to get used to, especially if their Congressional reps keep opposing action on climate change.

Douglas county Georgia was “hit by 21 inches of rain in a 24-hour period from Sunday to Monday, knocking out the drinking water supply to most residents, and forcing others to boil their water,” the NYT reports.  “As much as 15 to 20 inches of rain pounded counties around Atlanta for more than 72 hours.”

On Tuesday, Reuters reported “a state climatologist said this was the worst [flooding] in 100 years in some parts of Atlanta.”  Today, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution listed the records set.  Here are just a few:

Among the flooding records, a nearly 90-year-old mark was broken Monday when the Chattahoochee River reached 29.61 feet near Whitesburg, west of Palmetto. The old record was 29.11 feet, set on Dec. 11, 1919.

Downstream, the Chattahoochee on Tuesday beat another nine-decade record near Franklin, reaching 29.97 feet. The new record bested a Dec. 15, 1919 mark.

The largest jumps came at Utoy Creek, near Atlanta, where the water level surged to 27.54 feet, nearly 11 feet over the May 2003 record of 16.86 feet, and Sweetwater Creek at Austell, where Tuesday’s crest of 30.17 feet topped the previous record of 21.81 feet set in 2005.

I have called this type of rapid deluge, “global warming type” record rainfall, since it is one of the most basic predictions of climate science — and its an impact that has already been documented to have started (see below).

And on top of the direct storm-related deaths, it is a broad threat to human health.  As the AJC reported yesterday:

The record rains of the past few days flooded out sewage treatment plants in Fulton, Cobb and Gwinnett counties, dumping millions of gallons of untreated sewage into local waterways.

So, water already polluted by oil and gasoline, trash, pesticides and other ground contaminants will also be carrying debris and bacteria from human waste….

The damaged plants around metro Atlanta continue to dump untreated, or not-fully-treated sewage into floodwaters that then end up rising into homes and businesses.

The main reason I am writing about Georgia’s once-in-a-century flooding, though, is that just a short while ago, the region was hit by a once-in-a-century drought (see “And the drought goes on“).  This is the climatic whipsawing of Hell and High Water.  Here is how things looked in October 2007:

As the New York Times reported back then:

For the first time in more than 100 years, much of the Southeast has reached the most severe category of drought, climatologists said Monday, creating an emergency so serious that some cities are just months away from running out of water”¦.

The situation has gotten so bad that by all of [state climatologist David] Stooksbury’s measures “” the percentage of moisture in the soil, the flow rate of rivers, inches of rain “” this drought has broken every record in Georgia’s history“¦.

And no, far be it from me to say that current flooding is caused directly by global warming.  Wouldn’t want to earn the wrath of the deniers and delayers who rush from house to house removing the batteries from the smoke detectors.

But funny how we are seeing these wild swings from extreme drought to extreme flooding more and more, just like those pesky climate scientists warned — see, for instance, my June post, AP, Washington Times: “Experts suspect global warming may be driving wild climate swings that appear to be punishing the Amazon with increasing frequency”:

Across the Amazon basin, river dwellers are adding new floors to their stilt houses, trying to stay above rising floodwaters that have killed 48 people and left 405,000 homeless.

Flooding is common in the world’s largest remaining tropical wilderness, but this year the waters rose higher and stayed longer than they have in decades, leaving some fruit trees entirely submerged.

The surprise isn’t just the record flooding, it’s that the flooding followed record droughts:

Only four years ago, the same communities suffered an unprecedented drought that ruined crops and left mounds of river fish flapping and rotting in the mud.

Experts suspect global warming may be driving wild climate swings that appear to be punishing the Amazon with increasing frequency.

The BBC also got the story right in May, “Experts say global warming may be behind the wild climate swings that have brought periods of unprecedented droughts and flooding to the Amazon in recent years.”

Interestingly, the same exact swings in extreme weather hit Louisiana in 2005, as I wrote in my book Hell and High Water:

While the U.S. suffered a record-smashing hurricane season that deluged southern Louisiana with rain in the summer of 2005, “the eight months since October 1, 2005 have been the driest in 111 years of record-keeping” in southern Louisiana, the U.S. National Climatic Data Center reported in July 2006.

What makes the AP and the Washington Times story on Brazil so unusual is not only that the Times is a right-wing newspaper, but that the story continues with an extended discussion of the climate issue:

… climatologists say the world should expect more extreme weather in the years ahead. Already, what happens in the Amazon could be affecting rainfall elsewhere, from Brazil’s agricultural heartland to the U.S. grain belt, as rising ocean temperatures and rainforest destruction cause shifts in global climate patterns.

“It’s important to note that it’s likely that these types of record-breaking climate events will become more and more frequent in the near future,” Mr. Nobre [a climatologist with Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research] said. “So we all have to brace for more extreme climate in the near future: It’s not for the next generation””¦

“Something is telling us to be more careful with the planet. Changes are happening around the world, and we’re seeing them as well in Brazil,” President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said this month on his radio program”¦.

Duh?

And for completeness’ sake on the subject of “global warming type” record rainfall, let’s run through some of the literature one more time.  Regular readers can skip the rest of this post.

In 2004, the Journal of Hydrometeorology published an analysis by NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center that found “Over the contiguous United States, precipitation, temperature, streamflow, and heavy and very heavy precipitation have increased during the twentieth century.”

They found (here) that over the course of the 20th century, the “Cold season (October through April),” saw a 16% increase in “heavy” precipitation events (roughly greater than 2 inches [when it comes as rain] in one day), and a 25% increase in “very heavy” precipitation events (roughly greater than 4 inches in one day)- and a 36% rise in “extreme” precipitation events (those in the 99.9% percentile “” 1 in 1000 events). This rise in extreme precipitation is precisely what is predicted by global warming models in the scientific literature.

In fact, the last few decades have seen rising extreme precipitation over the United States in the historical record, according to NCDC’s Climate Extremes Index (CEI):

An increasing trend in the area experiencing much above-normal proportion of heavy daily precipitation is observed from about 1950 to the present.

Here is a plot of the percentage of this country (times two) with much greater than normal proportion of precipitation derived from extreme 1-day precipitation events (where extreme equals the highest tenth percentile of deluges, click to enlarge):

cei-4-08.gif

Even the Bush Administration in its must-read U.S. Climate Change Science Program report, Weather and Climate Extremes in a Changing Climate, acknowledged:

Many extremes and their associated impacts are now changing”¦. Heavy downpours have become more frequent and intense”¦.

It is well established through formal attribution studies that the global warming of the past 50 years is due primarily to human-induced increases in heat-trapping gases.“¦ The increase in heavy precipitation events is associated with an increase in water vapor, and the latter has been attributed to human-induced warming.

In the future, with continued global warming, heat waves and heavy downpours are very likely to further increase in frequency and intensity. Substantial areas of North America are likely to have more frequent droughts of greater severity.

In short, get used to it.

If you are a journalist wondering what is a reasonable way to talk about this, one of the best recent examples comes from a New York Times story on Australia made possible by our friend Andrew Revkin:

The firestorms and heat in the south revived discussions in Australia of whether human-caused global warming was contributing to the continent’s climate woes of late “” including recent prolonged drought in some places and severe flooding last week in Queensland, in the northeast.

Climate scientists say that no single rare event like the deadly heat wave or fires can be attributed to global warming, but the chances of experiencing such conditions are rising along with the temperature. In 2007, Australia’s national science agency published a 147-page report on projected climate changes, concluding, among other things, that “high-fire-danger weather is likely to increase in the southeast.”

The flooding in the northeast and the combustible conditions in the south were consistent with what is forecast as a result of recent shifts in climate patterns linked to rising concentrations of greenhouse gases, said Kevin Trenberth, a scientist at the United States National Center for Atmospheric Research.

That’s how it is done.

And no, I’m not say that the media should link every extreme weather event the way Revkin did. But when we have “worst on record” type events, or 100-year floods “” and especially ones that last more than a day and hit a broad area “” then I think the reporter has an obligation to include the issue.

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33 Responses to Hell and High Water hits Georgia

  1. This makes a nice bookend with the dust storms from Sydney story. And it’s a good reminder to keep asking: if this happens at 0.8 degrees centigrade, why are we making 2 degrees a goal? It feels ‘catastrophic’ already.

  2. Andy says:

    Notice the flooded homes in your opening photo are all brand new tract houses. These are built to requirements which keep them out of the 100 year floodplain; either by being built on what in the past has been safe high ground, or by being protected by a levee whose crown is safely above past floods and with some added freeboard just to be sure. This is evidence that what is occurring today doesn’t reflect the past 100+ years of climate in Georgia.

    I’m not familiar with the area, but usually past river peaks are higher than present due to the presence of numerous flood control/water supply dams. If this is so, then this week’s river levels were even more astounding.

  3. David B. Benson says:

    What bill mckibben wrote!

  4. ecostew says:

    The most detailed satellite information available shows that ice sheets in Greenland and western Antarctica are shrinking faster than scientists thought and in some places are already in runaway melt mode, a new study found.

    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/32985250/ns/us_news-environment/

  5. Dean says:

    The Washington Times? Is some editor going to get transferred to the obituaries department?

    You know we’ve had a hot summer in the PNW. Just yesterday set the record for most 90+ degree days in a year for Portland. The local CBS affiliate had a report – I only caught the end of it. Seemed to be focusing on how our hot summer is just weather, nothing to do with global warming. I looked on their website to see the full report, but couldn’t find it.

    Let’s follow how the Atlanta media covers it.

  6. paulm says:

    Well put Joe.
    I think we are at the point when we can start attributing extreme weather events to Climate Change. It really is a mind set. Funny how all this has happened for the Climate Change summit. Will it make a difference?

    Red sky in the morning shepherds warning.
    Red sky at night shepared delight.
    Red sky all day…we’re in trouble.

  7. Mike#22 says:

    @ bill, what you said.

  8. Gail says:

    Bill McKibben, WHY wasn’t 350.org front and center at the opening of the Age of Stupid? It almost seemed as though the 1010 campaign is in competition with the 350 effort, which if true is ridiculous. They specifically said 2 degrees is the most important number in the world, as in only 2 degrees warming. 350 being the most important number makes a lot more sense to me because it is measuring something real, not a prediction that is impossible to make with any certainty. I thought it was an outrage that the Age of Stupid contingent was publicly urging a very large and sympathetic audience to “do something” and never even mentioned the planned action on October 24! It was a terrible missed opportunity, so vast a mistake that I can only assume it was a deliberate omission.

    I also felt Dr. Hansen deserved some credit that he didn’t get.

    How are we going to unite to support Copenhagen if climate activists indulge in petty tactics amongst ourselves? We need an umbrella group that leaves the egos at the door (please don’t infer I mean you Bill).

  9. Jaimes handson says:

    So the previous record rain of Dec 15, 1919 was due to warming?

    It is ironic that records stand for 90 years. The plural of anecdote is not data.

    As a scientist, pavement, roads bridges and cleared farmland contribute to rapid runoff and flooding. It most likely is Not global warming.

    [JR: But the climate isn’t changing, I tell, you it isn’t … glub, glub, glub. What’s ironic is that you don’t understand the growing frequency of 100-year weather events. Before the climate changes permanently and irreversibly and your children and my children are screwed along with the next 100 billion people to walk the planet, the frequency of extreme events grows, much as it is now. No, the climate hasn’t permanently shifted to a completely different state — yet, thank goodness. But the warnings and data and science is all here for anyone who is paying attention.]

  10. With extreme weather gripping the southeast US: drought followed by flooding, Australian extreme climate change-caused weather may well portend what’s in store for the US mid-west and southeast. And the US people still elect corporatists, keepin…g it’s government in grid-lock – over the imperative to change the failed growth economy to a steady-state, green collar economy. So the US gets the economic collapse and ecological collapse it votes for, in the form of the duopolistic, corporatist dysfunctional miscreant elected office holders, attracted by greed into politics.

    The developed US/Euro population is complacent being in 100% denial to take ownership of the fact of being historically responsible for 2/3 of the total global greenhouse gas (GHG) contribution since 1750. The Copenhagen conference must insist that those historic contributors transfer (to emerging countries) the resources and means (of mitigation, adaptation and restoration) to the extent of their contributions to-date to the unacceptable level of GHG. What is abhorrent to the historic contributors is that threat to their unsustainable wasteful, consumptive “way of life.” Like it or not, the US is a debtor nation and will be given no choice by emerging nations to become frugal and smarter.

    http://www.abc.net.au/science/articles/2009/09/23/2694330.htm
    Dust storm born out of flooding rains › News in Science (ABC Science)
    Source: http://www.abc.net.au
    The spectacular dust storm that swept through most of eastern Australia may have had its origins twelve months ago, says an Australian expert.

  11. To my friend Bill Mckibben:

    What I understand the 2 degrees C threshold to be is a relative line of even more catastrophic ecological disasters. From the national geographic series “X Degrees Warmer”:

    1 Degree Warmer http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2_ZQRIsn2pA&NR=1

    2 Degrees Warmer http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P-0_gDXqYeQ&NR=1

    up to 6 degrees warmer bringing Mass Extinction

    ah – but homo sapien sapien is already well into the anthropocene era, the Sixth Great Extinction

  12. Brendan says:

    Jaimes handson,

    While I won’t answer your snarky question, you make a good point about the runoff. Assuming an equal sized event, the small difference can almost certainly be accounted for by increased runoff due to development. Similarly, I don’t know the exact soil conditions there or what the weather was like leading up to the 1919 event, but if it was wetter leading up to the 1919 event and the soil conditions are such that dry soil is less absorbing (e.g. a damp sponge absorbs better than a bone dry one), that could also account for a difference as well.

    The likelihood of two 100-year events happening over a 90-year period is about 60% (.99^90 = 40% of it not happening). That’s more likely than not. So attributing this to normal climate is perfectly reasonable. The likelihood of two 50-year events is nearly 85%. A better question might be, if not for climate change, would this have only been a 50-year event? I don’t know if there’s been a concerted effort to track both extreme events and mid size events to show if there is a trend that can be be attributed to climate change. Specifically if you could show some type of up-side-down-bell-curve relationship, that would be a pretty good smoking gun. If you could show an increase in extreme wet and dry events replacing mid sized events, that would prove to be more concrete than just showing an increase in the size of events like the U.S. Climate Change Program did above. Unfortunately our rainfall records are really too short to chalk up differences like these to anything more than a lack of data telling us what exactly a 100-year event should look like without climate change. If one could show a clear lack of normal weather being replaced by extreme weather, I think that makes a much more convincing argument to both the moderately informed and un- and under-informed masses who are both not convinced, but open minded.

    I think you have to be somewhat careful about overstating your case, because then it just allows the dis-informers more things to attack in a convincing way. The message can suffer fatigue this way if you try to attribute too many events to climate change. Extreme events do happen by themselves. When you stick to the more clear-cut cases rather than using the more in-your-face but less clear-cut examples like this one, I think you can bring the point home better. There are plenty of more clear-cut cases out there. I think we’re beyond the point of convincing the U.S. citizens that anthropogenic climate change is “possible” and at the point where we need to convince people on the fence that it’s “almost certain.” Those who still don’t believe that it’s possible are for the most part a lost cause at this point. We just need to firm up the support of those who are truly skeptical. I’m not sure that this example really accomplishes that. I do, however, think what has been going on in Australia makes a very good case.

    [JR: I think you have missed the central point of this post. What the odds are of having a hundred-year flood within 2 years of a hundred year drought in the same place? That just doesn’t happen — or, I should say, it didn’t used to happen bloody often.]

  13. Stephan says:

    Our climate is changing and still we do not take sufficient action to even address this issue with the attention it deserves. More of these extreme events are occuring currently and more of these events are hitting the frontpage. However, actual action to do something about it is only progressing slowly. Hopefully some serious measures will be taken in Copenhagen.

    For mroe news on the environment, have a look at this Green News.

  14. Mike says:

    “The main reason I am writing about Georgia’s once-in-a-century flooding, though, is that just a short while ago, the region was hit by a once-in-a-century drought (see “And the drought goes on“). This is the climatic whipsawing of Hell and High Water. ”

    By this logic, the extreme wet pattern that resulted in the record Lower Mississippi River floods in 1927 reversing itself into the Dust Bowl by 1931 had to be caused by global warming.

    You may keep deleting my comments if you wish, but the fact is that the summer of 2009 was characterized by NOAA as “normal” in Georgia as were the temperatures in the days immediately leading up to this flood. Weather is created by meteorological conditions at the specific location and time it is created. There is zero evidence this event had anything to do with global warming and everything to do with the particular synoptic pattern in place.

    The conditions regarding “normal” temperatures can be verified at: http://www.cdc.noaa.gov/cgi-bin/data/getpage.pl and, for Atlanta immediately before the recent torrential rains, http://www.weather.gov/climate/index.php?wfo=ffc .

  15. paulm says:

    Vancouver International Airport sets record high at 27.3 degrees

    May be overheating in the PNW is part of the reason that they are seeing the record rain fall in the south.

  16. pete best says:

    I an a european but I have just read the book UNQUENCHABLE about the looming water crisis in the USA. The book is compelling and tells stories of incredible politics of water rationing and the population of the USA moving to places where water is scarce and indeed not in plentiful supply.

    He mentions climate change, biofuels (ethanol uses masses of water in its production) and the sheer number of wells drilled by ordinary people to get water which is giving the water tables a hard time.

    Flooding and drought within years of each other and people moving here and there just potenitally demonstrates the problems looming.

  17. Greg N says:

    The North Dakota floods are a relevant comparison.

    A “once in a hundred years” flood occurs. Then a few years later there’s an even bigger flood.

  18. Gail says:

    Brendan, eventually it will simply become impossible to argue with the facts, and one fact is the US East Coast is well into ecosystem collapse. Here, the leaves are turning brown and falling off the trees. In New Jersey, where I live, the fall color normally peaks in mid to late October – and then we get freezing nights, and then the leaves fall off. Instead, with evening lows in the 60’s, at least 50% of them are already on the ground, right now, shriveled.

    Everyone is complaining that they got no tomatoes this year, or pumpkins, because it was too rainy.

    How people manage to ignore the disaster unfolding before their eyes is a complete mystery to me.

  19. Ben says:

    “Jaimes handson” LOL.

    By the way, I read Joe’s book years ago, and he warned us all about this. And people had been writing books like that for years when his came out. Anyone who is still driving and eating meat should be ashamed of themselves.

  20. Giove says:

    So what are the scenarios and choices now?
    1- “change everything so that nothing changes” (i.e once our power to impact on the ecosystem is demonstrated beyond doubt, and I think it is, we must take collective responsibility of managing the Earth to the best of our understanding). This costly, painful, difficult action must be swiftly undertaken, so that our lifestyle can be preserved with little changes.

    2- “little and late”. Well icecaps will melt away , disasters will happen but most will happen after we are dead. Hopefully. Mybe. Hmm..

    3- “Climageddon” (also named business as usual) … 1000ppm and meters of sea rise in a few years. Likelihood of a scenario similar to the Permian extinction… (we have no words to describe this, as probably the worse humanity has endured up to now were Biblical Catastrophes, which were actually pretty mild compared to this).

    Considering by how much IPCC has underestimated things in the last years, I would propose to make a statistical prediction of its systematic error and apply it to its future prediction to correct them .. Then, with the corrected predictions, design strategies to match the “change everything to change nothing” scenario.

  21. Giove says:

    The above is not to criticize IPCC, but unfortunately we seem to know too little to predict the evolution of the scenarios with sufficient accuracy. We are in fact forced into a “learn while we run full speed” situation…

    Any decent manager would then take these planning uncertainties into account in designing successful strategies, while investing more in refining his prediction capability to reduce risks.

  22. Rockfish says:

    There is danger in pointing to “this” event or “that” event as “proof” of climate change, because 100 year events DO happen every 90 or 100 or 110 years. So they happened a century ago, and century before that, etc, and likely none of that was due to man-made climate change. And even if two 100 year storms occur in 50 years, nobody KNOWS it won’t average out with no storms over then next 200. It’s an un-winnable argument, and a distraction. We keep trying to point to the “Pearl Harbor” event that is considered necessary to get the general public to wakeup to the severity of the problem, but this ain’t it, and we may (hopefully, will) never get one.

    This is a long, hard grind.

    [JR: The bigger danger is not explaining to the public that what we are experiencing today is precisely what scientists have been predicting — and that hundred-year flooding following hundred-year droughts is very anomalous.]

  23. Giove says:

    there is a risk also transforming a message into a grind. After a while you risk people dismissing it out of boredom.

    Better is to give out a short, sharp, well structured message from someone in power. Think Churchill .. or any statist declaring war. Because the scale of the undertaking is not smaller than a global war, and as such must be addressed by global leaders, in my opinion.

    But, well, they know better then me, and luckily they seem to be doing it right now :)

  24. Gail says:

    Rockfish, I think it’s pretty conclusive that *some* extreme weather is caused by climate change.

    “We have made a link between global warming and some weather patterns,” said Jay Gulledge, senior scientist, Pew Climate Center.

    http://www.kvue.com/news/top/stories/072308kvueclimateweather-cb.844bd1f8.html

    As far as the Pearl Harbor moment, I vacillate between wishing people would wake up and dreading it. When the magnitude of the Hell and High Water we’re in for becomes apparent to everyone, heads will be exploding and terror will set in. Terrified mobs don’t usually behave very well.

  25. paulm says:

    Ben: Anyone who is still driving and eating meat should be ashamed of themselves.

    That would be must of us!

  26. Giove says:

    People turn into terrified mobs only when they think that their leaders are unable/unwilling to protect them. Strong leadership turns people into a powerful constructive force .. if they perceive it as being on their side, fair and making their collective interest.

  27. Gail says:

    Well then Giove, thank goodness for Obama! We could do no better.

  28. David B. Benson says:

    Rockfish — A 1 in 100 year flood means there is a one pervcent chance of flooding occuring each and every year. There is no quasiperiodicity to it.

    As for the chance of a 1 in 100 year drought followed within 2 years by a 1 in 100 years flood, probability is 0.01*(0.01 + 0.99*0.01) = 0.000199, about a 1 in 500 year event. That’s rare enough to begin to wonder whether the historical record, used to establish such frequencies of extreme weather events, is still reliable. Or has the climate changed?

  29. ecostew says:

    U.S. Department of the Interior
    U.S. Geological Survey

    News Release
    Sept 24, 2009 Edward H. Martin 770-903-9100 ehmartin@usgs.gov

    Brian E. McCallum 770-903-9127 bemccall@usgs.gov

    Atlanta Flooding Sets New Records

    The flooding around Atlanta this week is one for the record books. According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the rivers and streams had magnitudes so great that the odds of it happening were less than 0.2 percent in any given year. In other words, there was less than a 1 in 500 chance that parts of Cobb and Douglas counties were going to be hit with such an event.

    “The USGS can reliably say just how bad these floods were. They were epic!” said Brian McCallum, Assistant Director for the USGS Water Science Center in Georgia. “We have all witnessed the devastation caused by these floods, but now we can quantify it.” The data are gathered from the USGS real-time streamgaging network.

    On Sept. 22, USGS crews measured the greatest flow ever recorded (28,000 cubic feet per second) on Sweetwater Creek near Austell, Ga.

    Elsewhere in the Atlanta area:
    Ø The Yellow River streamgages in Gwinnett, DeKalb and Rockdale counties measured flows between the 1 percent chance (100-year) and 0.5 percent chance (200-year) flood magnitude.
    Ø Flows caused by the rain at Peachtree Creek in Atlanta were only near the 10 percent chance (10-year) flood magnitude, but the backwater effects from the Chattahoochee River pushed water levels over the 0.2 percent chance (500-year) flood at the gage location.
    Ø On the Chattahoochee, USGS measured a 1 percent chance exceedence (100-year) flood at Vinings and Roswell.

    “Today, six USGS crews are installing and repairing the 20 gages that were destroyed because of flooding. We expect that all but one gage should be operational by the end of the day,” said McCallum. “During flooding, these gages provide critical information to many users, so fixing the gages is our priority now.”

    USGS also has two crews measuring high water marks, and will continue taking these indirect measurements in earnest on Monday. Pictures taken over the past few days by USGS scientists as they work in flooded areas are available online.

    In Georgia the USGS maintains a network of more than 300 stream gages that provide data in real time. Data from these gages are used by local, state and federal officials for numerous purposes, including public safety and flood forecasting by the National Weather Service.

  30. Gail says:

    Thank you David B. Benson. This needs to be explained more frequently or perhaps the entire concept should be chucked for something less confusing. I also get the impression that when reports say “the worst rain/drought/ice storm” in 70/90/100 years doesn’t necessarily mean there was one just as bad x many years ago – it often means, records only go back that many years so effectively, it’s the worst event in the historical record. No?

  31. Richard Brenne says:

    I agree with Joe, who does the best job interpreting the science on a regular basis since Bill McKibben did a spectacular job of this beginning in 1989 with “The End of Nature,” which should be required reading to be a member of our species.

    Joe’s points agree with the IPCC and all the major climate modelling predictions about more severe droughts punctuated by more extreme precipitation events.

    Temperature records are the simplest for the public to understand. Since January 1, 2000 there have been over twice the number of heat records to cold records (over 288,000 to over 140,000 as of July, 2009). Models are predicting this to climb to a 20 to 1 ratio by 2050 and a 50 to 1 ratio by 2100. This needs to be communicated to the public at least during heat waves, even if station managers and TV meteorologists need to grow some cajones to do so. The same might be said of climate scientists as well, but their primary job isn’t to communicate with the public, though I’d like to make that part of their job description.

    Bringing up increased pavement and thus increased run-off and the 1927 Mississippi floods and 1930s Dustbowl are actually helpful. Rather than refute what Joe is saying, however, each is another example of The Anthropocene, or Age of Humans. The destruction of wetlands which act as a sponge to absorb Mississippi floods contributed to the 1927 and all Mississippi floods since, and the levees not allowing silt to regenerate the bayous also contributed to the storm surge impacting New Orleans during Katrina.

    The surge of tractors plowing the Great Plains and poor soil conservation contributed to the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. The common denominator is human impacts contributing to each. Literally one Great Ape has gone Ape – and no, not Bonobos – and has outgrown Earth’s carrying capacity. Deal.

    And by the way, McKibben’s 350 is by far the most proportionate response I’ve seen. It would be miraculous to achieve 350 ppm, but we need to at least go down swinging.

  32. Cynthia says:

    Good point, Bill. Two degrees does seem catastrophic, considering what’s happening now, at .8 degrees C. In a book I read a few years ago, the author stated that at 2 degrees, trees become a souce of CO2 instead of a sink. Since oceans and trees are the 2 main sinks we have to absorb most of the CO2, that leaves us in a pretty ugly predictament!

  33. Cynthia says:

    In 2003, when a major heat wave struct Europe and thousands of people died, trees became a source of Co2 and retained oxygen. (Photosynthesis broke down!) Imagine what would happen at 2 degrees of global warming!