Global boiling: Freak storms on every continent

Second known tropical cyclone forms in “cooler” South Atlantic, while Red River braces for fourth “ten-year flood” in a row!

I actually think the science around climate change is real. It is potentially devastating,” Obama told reporters Monday [March 24, 2009]. “If you look at the flooding that’s going on right now in North Dakota and you say to yourself, ‘If you see an increase of two degrees, what does that do, in terms of the situation there?’ That indicates the degree to which we have to take this seriously.

The media love to focus on the few extreme weather events that they (mistakenly) believe are inconsistent with human-caused climate change [see “Was the ‘Blizzard of 2009’ a ‘global warming type’ of record snowfall “” or an opportunity for the media to blow the extreme weather story (again)?“].  But will they keep ignoring all the extreme weather that scientists have been predicting for years would become more common as we pour more heat trapping gases into the atmosphere?

It will interesting to see the coverage this year of the impending crest of the Red River in Fargo, which smashed records last year (see Why the “never seen before” Fargo flooding is just what you’d expect from global warming, as Obama warns).  It appears all but certain to be the fourth year in a row with at least a “ten-year flood,” the ninth since 1989.  They just don’t make ten-year floods like they used to!

Besides Obama, the British and the Chinese understand global warming has driven their record flooding. The United States media? Not so much.

Brad Johnson of Wonkroom, notes “Record warmth on sea and land is helping to fuel extreme weather around the globe. As man takes over from nature as the primary driver of climate, the need to eliminate global warming pollution and mobilize for increased climate disruption grows.”  Here’s his roundup of extreme weather:

SOUTH AMERICA Tropical Storm 90Q, also known as Anita, the “second known tropical cyclone to form in the cooler South Atlantic Ocean,” is circling off the Argentina coast. The first known South Atlantic tropical cyclone, Catarina, was in 2004.

The sea surface temperature threshold for powering up a hurricane is around 80°F, so as the oceans warms, South Atlantic hurricanes are likely to become more common.  According to NASA, it was the warmest December through February on record (since 1880) for the southern hemisphere.

NORTH AMERICA Weeks after some of the strongest snowstorms ever to hit the East Coast, another powerful winter storm drenches the Northeast, kills eight people, and knocks out power for hundreds of thousands. Record warmth in North Dakota and Minnesota threatens another year of catastrophic flooding.

EUROPEHurricane-force winds and widespread flooding battered vast swathes of western France and left more than a million homes without power,” as the storm named Xynthia “killed at least 62 people across western Europe” in Spain, Portugal, France, Belgium, and Germany en route to Scandinavia.

AFRICA The death toll has risen to 36 people “and nearly 38,000 left homeless when tropical storm Hubert smashed into Madagascar this week.” Last month, stormy weather wreaked havoc across Egypt, as twenty-foot waves crashed into Alexandria and a hail storm killed four people in Cairo.

ASIA “A severe sandstorm hit Xinjiang’s Hotan Prefecture in northwest China on Friday, reducing visibility to zero.” The sandstorms are sweeping across China, and “are expected to hit Taiwan Tuesday.”

AUSTRALIA-PACIFIC Tomas, a Category Four cyclone, is plowing through Fiji, forcing thousands to evacuate. A “beast of a storm” ripped through Melbourne, Australia last week, “bringing with it hailstones the size of tennis balls” and causing $200 million in damage. Meanwhile flooding “which has smashed all the records known” in Queensland peaked in the country’s northeast, “parts of which have been in drought for almost a decade.”

Jeff Masters notes, “The first Category 5 tropical cyclone of the year, Tropical Cyclone Uliu, has weakened from its impressive peak as a Category 5 storm with 160 mph winds to a low-end Category 4 storm with 132 mph winds.”

ANTARCTICA Okay, so Antarctica has enjoyed a sunny and balmy summer. Unfortunately, with the pleasant skies have come accelerated melting of the ice shelves, causing sea levels to rise, the U.S. Geological Survey and the British Antarctic Survey have found.

As for the science of intense precipitation, 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.

Even the Bush Administration, in its 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.

Indeed, in the northern part of the country, we’re likely to see more snow — see Massive moisture-driven extreme precipitation during warmest winter in the satellite record and An amazing, though clearly little-known, scientific fact: We get more snow storms in warm years! Then we’re going to see earlier snow melts with intense rain storms.  And that will inevitably drive more and more severe flooding.

Given that we’ve only warmed about a degree Fahrenheit in the past half century and much of this country projected to warm 9°F or more on our current emissions path, it’s hard to imagine the kind of extreme weather we will ultimately be seen.


33 Responses to Global boiling: Freak storms on every continent

  1. Brad Johnson says:


    Given that we’ve only warmed about a degree Fahrenheit in the past half century and much of this country projected to warm 9°F or more on our current emissions path, it’s hard to imagine the kind of extreme weather we will ultimately be seen.

    To the Congressional Budget Office:

    Most of the economy involves activities that are not likely to be directly affected by changes in climate. Moreover, researchers generally expect the growth in the U.S. economy over the coming century to be concentrated in sectors — such as information technology and medical care — that are relatively insulated from climate effects. Damages are therefore likely to be a smaller share of the future economy than they would be if they occurred today. As a consequence, a relatively pessimistic estimate for the loss in projected real gross domestic product is about 3 percent for warming of about 7° Fahrenheit (F) by 2100. [Dale W. Jorgenson et al., 2004]

    Economists are trying to kill us.

  2. Neven says:

    Economists are trying to kill us.

    They sure are, and the murder weapon is the neoclassical economic concept of unending, exponential growth in our finite system.

  3. Wes Rolley says:

    The economists expect the growth to come from the health care industry. Every time Well Point or some other insurer raises their rates the GDP goes up. Maybe we need to use some other measure than the GDP. How about the Levy Institute Measure of Economic Well-Being?

  4. Chris Dudley says:

    I guess having the second warmest February on record has nothing to do with any of this….

  5. Leif says:

    It is helpful to think of the increase in the ocean heat index as charging a battery. Currently the excess energy captured by the increased CO2, ~0.5+W/m2, equates to ~190,000 Nuclear Power Plants directly discharging ALL their output directly into the environment. About 90% of that energy has gone into raising the top 2,000 feet of ocean water the ~1F observed. (Potential energy!) And most of that has been concentrated in the polar regions. Notice the reduction of Arctic ice for example. For those that consider a couple of degrees F no big deal I would remind you to look at the effects that a relatively small, but well known ~1 to 2F+or-, variation can have on the earths weather patterns. El Nino. With that in mind, now transpose that energy imbalance in spades to the Arctic Ocean, related Arctic out flows, and effects on the Jet Streams. A tad more vigorous weather response would be expected, don’t you think? Even in the winter!

    By focusing on atmospheric warming we have been looking at the “least observable” part of the problem, ~1F/50 years. Put more energy into the pot and the water will boil harder. “Climatic Aggravation” might be a more appropriate term than global warming. It is not rocket science.

  6. Aaron Lewis says:

    In 1970, rain on Greenland was very rare. It had been reported, but almost nobody had actually seen it. Now, it rains on some part of Greenland every month. By my count it has rained somewhere in Greenland in at least the last 30 consecutive calendar months. Rain in Greenland in January? Yes, two years in a row. This is not your father’s Greenland.

    Last fall, long after Greenland should have frozen for the winter, the satellite images showed new melt water drainage channels forming higher on the flanks of the ice, and melt water lakes that had drained in August, refilling.

    By the climate records of 1970, the current weather in Greenland is off the charts weird.

    However, there is not much in the MSM about the rain and ice melt in Greenland.

  7. john atcheson says:

    I keep coming back to the boiling frog story — we are inured to that which happens gradually. It is becoming apparent, but we are in a race between awareness and irrevocability.

    And the economists — as ever — are doing their best to obscure reality. How can a discipline which has gotten so much wrong, for so long, have even a scrap of credibility left?

  8. Michael T says:

    Here is another global temperature chart from NOAA/NCDC that I found on their ‘Global Climate Change Indicators’ page:

  9. catman306 says:

    I doubt and hope that these extreme weather events will not be orders of magnitude greater than what we see today, but just more frequent, much more frequent. No category 6 hurricanes. No F6 tornados. I hope.

    Can the energy that drives hurricanes and tornados be even more concentrated than in category 5 hurricanes and F5 tornados? I’d expect bigger (in area and length of track) and more frequent storms but not stronger. Perhaps someone will correct my assumption.

  10. paulm says:

    You forget the very impressive recent floods :


    and the 2nd 100yr Zud in Mongolia now on going.

  11. Dorothy says:

    John, #7, I agree with you so completely about us being inured to what happens gradually. And we are also inured to anything that happens beyond our senses of vision, sound and smell, as well as anything that takes place after we die.

    We think we understand big important things, but we really don’t. We talk of trillions of dollars without realizing that if you counted a whole trillion by seconds, it would take about 31,709.8 years.

    We are cursed with a genetic flaw – the intelligence to dramatically and dangerously change our world without the special wisdom needed to recognize the impact on future generations.

    We have try to understand we’re not a bit as great as we like to think. We’ve learned to live with the idea that we can’t run as fast as a cheetah or dive as deep as a sperm whale. Now we have to accept the fact that our brains haven’t evolved as much as needed and compensate for this.

    One solution might be for us all to make an conscious effort to “personalize” information about economic and climate science projections, to “golden rule” all our decisions. Because our OWN survival now depends of learning how to do this.

  12. Leif says:

    Catman360, #9: While there may well be a physical limit to intensity, at what point does a tornado become a hurricane, shear size can have it’s own destruction. Look up information on the “Frankenstorm” of the west last January. Even though it was not significantly strong the record low pressure raised the high water 2 feet above predicted for almost two days.

  13. Dennis says:

    Where are the idiots on Faux News now, who just a few weeks ago were reporting on all the snow?

    Remember Inhofe’s Igloo a few weeks ago?

    NORTH AMERICA — Someone put together a photo of James Inhofe in a rowboat travelling down a road in Fargo.

    EUROPE — Someone put together a photo of James Inhofe getting battered bt rain on a beach in Spain.

    AFRICA — Someone put together a photo of James Inhofe in a hailstorm in front of the Pyramids.

    ASIA — Someone put together a photo of James Inhofe in a sandstorm in front of the Great Wall of China.

  14. Michael T says:

    This past January was the first time I know of where we had a tornado watch here in NC. I never thought there could possibly be tornadoes in January, but sure enough on Jan 25 the central part of the state was under a tornado watch and a severe thunderstorm warning in the middle of winter. It was unbelievable.

  15. dhogaza says:

    Here’s video of flooding in La Antilla, a coastal town a bit west of Huelva in southern Spain.

    Storm surge + full moon tide combined for an exceptional event. I think this was the same storm that caused so much damage in France (it did in Spain, too, but there was less publicity about it here in the US, probably because fewer died).

  16. paulm says:

    Oh yeah I forgot a couple of other of the impressive floods/mudslides…


  17. Dorothy says:

    Great imagery, Dennis and dhogaza. Video is especially effective.

    Taking this a step further, I’ve been thinking about another way to enhance our consciousness. How about 3D HiDef? All this would amount to is engineering a prosthesis of a sort to augment our understanding of our world. I saw Avatar, and although it was a bit metabolically challenging for someone my age, I thought it was pretty cool, especially those little butterfly-like creatures. I wasn’t the only person in the audience reaching out to touch them.

    To really boost our perception, though, we’d have to engineer another couple of dimensions: smell and taste. Especially for scenes of war. And this might even bring an end to war. Hmm.

    It would be interesting if a study were taken of Avatar audiences to determine just why the film was is so popular, and especially what it teaches people. It sure didn’t make resource wars look too good, did it?

  18. Michael T says:

    Warmest and driest winter ever recorded in Canada, breaking the previous record warm winter in 2006:

  19. Lou Grinzo says:

    Holy cow–do I really have to remind people here that bashing all economists, without qualification, is just as intellectually dishonest and lazy as the garbage the deniers keep shoveling?

    Yes, I’m an economist, and I’ve been researching and writing about energy and environmental issues for six years. The “economists are trying to kill us” idiocy stopped being fun a long time ago.

  20. From Peru says:

    A month ago extreme rainfall hit Southern Peruvian Andes. The flooding was widespread in the Cuzco, Ayacucho, Huanuco, Junin and Puno Regions.

    In particular, flooding and mudflows hit the cities of Huamanga (capital of the Ayacucho Region) and Cuzco (capital of Cuzco Region).

    Also, the town of Aguas Calientes near Macchu Picchu was destroyed by the furious waters of Vilcanota River, leaving the legendary Macchu Picchu Inca City isolated as the railway was broken in more than 100 points. It will take months to rebuild the railway, eliminating the biggest turism attractor of Peru.

    See:”Flooding near Machu Picchu, Peru”

    A thing more: in last months in this blog the extreme rainfall in Peru was totally ignored. I think disasters in the Andine Region deserve a bit more attention.

  21. Dave says:

    As Michael mentioned, Canada had its warmest and driest winter (7.2 degrees Fahrenheit above normal!). Lots of record warmth across the Upper Midwest and New England of late to with nary a mention of it over at Watts Up With That. They never miss an opportunity to highlight a cold or snowfall record. Not to mention that the denier’s favorite temperature source over at UAH had its warmest January and second warmest February and seems poised to completely shatter the March record.

    It’s going to interesting to see how they spin it, if the satellites end up beating out 1998 this year. Just a year ago, correct me if I’m wrong, wasn’t it a major meme amongst the denier community that we were heading into a solar minimum induced global cooling? It’ll be particularly funny if GISS doesn’t beat out 2005, because that’ll mean their satellites have actually recorded a more recent record than the surface stations that they all claim are so errant as to be of no use.

  22. dhogaza says:

    Just a year ago, correct me if I’m wrong, wasn’t it a major meme amongst the denier community that we were heading into a solar minimum induced global cooling?

    Yeah, there was a lot of gleeful jumping-up-and-down over the 2nd coming of the little ice age and all that.

  23. Michael T says:

    Dave says:
    “Just a year ago, correct me if I’m wrong, wasn’t it a major meme amongst the denier community that we were heading into a solar minimum induced global cooling?”

    Well this year the solar minimum has ended and should be heading toward maximum sometime around 2013.

    So it is safe to assume that an even larger increase in global temperature may take place, maybe after 2013.

  24. prokaryote says:

    paulm check out this november 2009 saudi arabia flood …

  25. paulm says:

    prokaryote #24 that was quite impressive!
    The guy filming it was either very brave or an idiot sitting there while that water rushed by like that!

  26. paulm says:

    I dont think many of us realize what the impact of heavy priciptiation is going to be like. Its not water-world, but mud-world.

    Its one of the extreme events which takes a back seat, to say sea level rise, but judging by whats happened in the last year its going to be a nightmare. Those mud slides have been just unbelievably.

  27. Bill W says:

    Re #23, Michael wrote:
    “Well this year the solar minimum has ended and should be heading toward maximum sometime around 2013.”

    And of course the deniers will crow that ALL the warming is due to the solar maximum.

  28. James Newberry says:

    Current weather events are the result of emissions from decades in the past. Today’s much larger global emissions will bring an order of magnitude increase in the planet’s eventual response.

    We are causing solar heat trapping through radiative forcing of something like 200,000 atomic reactors pouring all their output as heat into the oceans, not to mention acidification from carbonic acid. (Carbon dioxide can also be referred to as carbonic acid gas.) The commodification of hydrocarbons (and uranium) as “energy resources” will soon destroy civilization, unless massive transformation of resource economics is created by the people.

    Good luck to all during the coming revolution (or disaster).

  29. From Peru says:

    James Newberry:

    Well said: present warming is caused by PAST emissions. Current emissions will cause further climate change in the future.

    To put it in numbers:

    0,9 W/m^2 of present energy imbalance: warming “in the pipeline”

    1,5 W/m^2 greenhouse forcing masked by aerosol dimming: more warming in the pipeline!

    Given that total greenhouse warming is near 3 W/m^2, aerosols masked half of it and 0,9 W/m^2 of that half still are not equilibrated… 80% of greenhouse warming(2,4 W/m^2) is still in the pipeline!

  30. From Peru says:

    I think we have already committed to 2,4ºC, because:

    Current antropogenic forcing: 1,5 W/m^2
    Current energy imbalance(non-equilibrated forcing): 0,9 W/m^2
    Difference: 0,6 W/m^2 (these have already warmed earth)

    So, the climate sensitivity:

    Forcing/warming= (0,6 W/m^2)/(0,6 ºC)= 1 ºC/(W/m^2)

    Now, computing the “warming in the pipeline”:

    Current aerosol (cooling)forcing: 1,5 W/m^2
    Current energy imbalance (non-equilibrated forcing): 0,9 W/m^
    Total: 2,4 W/m^2

    Warming in the pipeline: (2,4 W/m^2)(0,1 ºC/(W/m^2))= 2,4ºC


  31. Neven says:

    Lou Grinzo wrote:

    Holy cow–do I really have to remind people here that bashing all economists, without qualification, is just as intellectually dishonest and lazy as the garbage the deniers keep shoveling?

    Yes, I’m an economist, and I’ve been researching and writing about energy and environmental issues for six years. The “economists are trying to kill us” idiocy stopped being fun a long time ago.

    Lou, you’re 100% right about the ‘without qualification’ part, but at the same time it’s understandable that people will refer to ‘all economists’ when criticizing, simply because the neoclassical economic theory has been so dominant for so long. Sometimes it seems there is no alternative economic theory whatsoever, and we have tens of thousands students worldwide who are every year brainwashed with this illusion that has almost no basis in the biophysical reality.

    The neoclassical concept of unending growth has synergized so much with culture and society (most of everything we do to relate to each other and to shape our identity is fueled unconsciously by the ever-growing need to grow) that it has become as natural as breathing, ie nobody ever thinks about how deep it goes.

    Well, I for one believe that the neoclassical concept of unending economic growth (stimulating the short term view) is at the root of all current environmental, global and societal problems, not just AGW, which is one of the many symptoms. Maybe I’m wrong about that, but I really feel that ecological/biophysical/steady state economics is a much better alternative to the current suicidal economic paradigm.

    One thing I’m thinking about a lot lately is the question whether it’s possible to have capitalism without the growth-paradigm. I think it is, and emphasizing this should undercut the FUD of ‘it’s a communist plot for a world government!’.

  32. catman306 says:

    Neven: I’d add another problem with constant growth economics: the idea of ‘compound interest’ which has at it’s roots the same fallacy of infinity.

    Take some miniscule principle and a apply a tiny amount of compound interest to it for a very, very long time and it will, too, approach infinity. ‘Simple interest’, with no time component, is also a part of steady state economics. We’ve been completely mesmerized by the idea of time, and its measurement, for too long.

    Steady state has all the time in the world.