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.
EUROPE “Hurricane-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.