41 Responses to As nation, Russia, and world swelter under record-smashing heat waves, The New York Times sets one-day record for most unilluminating stories
Globally NOAA just reported that June is the fourth month in a row of record global temperatures, and the first half of 2010 is on a record pace. This is all the more powerful evidence of human-caused warming “because it occurs when the recent minimum of solar irradiance is having its maximum cooling effect,” as a recent NASA paper noted.
Globally nine countries have smashed all-time temperature records, “making 2010 the year with the most national extreme heat records,” as meteorologist Jeff Masters has reported.
“This is a serious abnormality. The Russian weather service has never measured such temperatures in Moscow in July,” said Dmitry Kiktyov, Deputy Director of the Hydrometeorological Center of Russia.
Daily highs outpaced daily lows across the United States nearly 5-to-1 in June and over 3-to-1 in July — whereas the ratio for the decade of the 2000s was 2.04-to-1, up from 1.36-to-1 in the 1990s (see below).
Sunday, the New York Times dedicated six stories on the weather across the country. Six! There were four regional “human interest” stories:
- In This Weather, Even the Melons Are in Peril (July 25, 2010)
- Cold Treats Can Be a Hot Ordeal (July 25, 2010)
- Weather Bragging Rights in Los Angeles (July 25, 2010)
- No Air-Conditioning, and Happy (July 25, 2010)
You learn such important pieces of news as “Contrary to what one might expect, extremely hot days are no good for ice cream truck drivers.” Oh, and LA had slightly below normal temperatures: “Among the pleasures of living in Southern California, none may be as wonderful as the climate, and the ability of residents to use it as a meteorological bat against the collective heads of their fellow Americans.” All the news that’s fit to print, folks.
But wait, the fourth story reports:
Stan Cox, a hometown author and agricultural scientist, describes these kinds of temperatures as “thermally hostile” in his recent book, “Losing Our Cool,” which argues for reduced dependence on air-conditioning for the good of the environment and for overall health. “In response to record-breaking summers, we’re relying more on air-conditioning, which produces greenhouse emissions that make the summers hotter,” he said. “It’s a cycle that makes you wonder: How long can it go on?”
Well, it may make Cox and many other Americans wonder, but not the NY Times. Their main story was “The Heat Goes On, Scorching Much of the Nation,” which opens:
When people in the nation’s capital talked about an endless summer this week, they did not mean surfing or margaritas (though they surely craved them). Throughout the mid-Atlantic states, from New York to Georgia, and out through the Great Plains, the heat this spring and summer has been relentless, causing clothes, hair and spirits to wilt well before the dog days of August.
Saturday, as one meteorologist had predicted with scientific precision, was “one of those just downright awful summer days.”
The slight mocking tone toward science would be harmless, except the story goes on to say:
It is not that any one day has set an all-time heat record, but a large area of the country has been assaulted by a succession of heat waves. Washington in June recorded the highest average temperature for the month since record keeping began in 1871 “” including 18 days of 90 degrees or more. July is on its way to a similar unwelcome record.
Well, actually, lots of days have seen all-time heat records around the country, as the data above from Steve Scolnik of Capital Climate shows. For new readers, here’s the caption:
Total number of daily high and low temperature records set in the U.S., data from NOAA National Climatic Data Center, background image © Kevin Ambrose. Includes historical daily observations archived in NCDC’s Cooperative Summary of the Day data set and preliminary reports from Cooperative Observers and First Order National Weather Service stations. All stations have a Period of Record of at least 30 years.
I like the statistical aggregation across the country, since it gets us beyond the oft-repeated point that you can’t pin any one record temperature on global warming. If you want to know how to judge whether the 2010 record highs-to-lows ratios are big deals, here’s what a 2009 National Center for Atmospheric Research study found for “1,800 weather stations in the 48 contiguous United States” (see “Record high temperatures far outpace record lows across U.S.“):
Now the NY Times can certainly choose to ignore the story, or maybe do one piece, but if they are going to do five heat wave pieces they really ought to have a more substantive “big picture” than this:
The stifling heat blanketing the mid-Atlantic this summer seems to be part of a global trend. So far, 2010 is on track to overtake 2005 as the warmest year ever recorded for the planet, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
In Germany, a French fry crisis is looming: the length of fries may decline by nearly half an inch because heat and drought have cut the harvest of larger potatoes, Reuters reported.
But even the endless summer of 2010 cannot compare to the hottest year of all, said Stephen Fybish, a weather historian in New York. In a class by itself, he said, was the Dust Bowl summer of 1936, when 15 states set records for heat that stand to this day.
Still, the news did not bring much relief to Zach Massey, a produce vendor at the Soulard Farmer’s Market in St. Louis. Although business was brisk on Friday, the heat was too much for him, and he was closing his stand early for the day.
“I’ll sell this stuff tomorrow,” Mr. Massey, 19, said as he drew a tarp over the day’s unsold strawberries. “I’m going swimming.”
So the NYT mentions the global trend, but not that this was predicted by climate scientists on the basis of our unrelenting emissions of heat trapping greenhouse gases. And then it manages to find a statistic to “balance” the global trend, even though it is somewhat at odds with the earlier sentence “It is not that any one day has set an all-time heat record, but a large area of the country has been assaulted by a succession of heat waves.”
And, of course, there is no mention whatsoever of the fact that 2010 is “the year with the most national extreme heat records” — which covers a far larger fraction of the globe than the continental United States.
No, it’s all about human interest for the New York Times — french fries in Germany, a produce vendor in St. Louis. Or, I should say, it’s about narrow short-term human interest.
One could say the New York Times loves human interest stories about weather but has little interest in the fate of humans in a world of unrestricted greenhouse gas emissions (other than their opinion columnists, that is).
The NYT actually had one more extreme weather story Sunday, “Iowa Dam Ruptures Under Torrential Rain“:
Heavy rain ruptured the Lake Delhi dam on Saturday, sending a torrent into the Maquoketa River below and forcing the evacuation of hundreds of homes and vacation cabins in eastern Iowa. Officials estimated that 8,000 people were affected by the flooding. No injuries or deaths were reported.Unrelenting rainfall “” 15 inches in the past 48 hours, according to Jeremy Sands of the Delhi Fire Department “” caused the early afternoon breaching of the 83-year-old dam. “The dam wasn’t unsafe,” Firefighter Sands said. “It’s just one of those acts of God.”
Yes, God is angry at us — probably for ignoring all of the evidence he is sending our way that our myopic greed is destroying this one-time Garden of Eden.
No need to even mention the possibility that warming leads to more water vapor in the air leads to more extreme deluges. As Dr. Kevin Trenberth, head of the Climate Analysis Section at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, told me earlier this month:
There is a systematic influence on all of these weather events now-a-days because of the fact that there is this extra water vapor lurking around in the atmosphere than there used to be say 30 years ago. It’s about a 4% extra amount, it invigorates the storms, it provides plenty of moisture for these storms and it’s unfortunate that the public is not associating these with the fact that this is one manifestation of climate change. And the prospects are that these kinds of things will only get bigger and worse in the future.
Wisconsin had its record-breaking “monsoon,” as Capital Climate noted:
Record-breaking rainfall caused widespread flooding across southern Wisconsin on Thursday. In Milwaukee, many roads and the city’s airport were closed by high water. A sinkhole 40 feet wide and 20 feet deep swallowed a Cadillac SUV with the driver inside, along with a traffic light. The driver was rescued, although the fate of the vehicle was less certain.
The 5.79″ of rain at Milwaukee was over 4 times the old record for the date, and it was the second highest daily precipitation of all time, second only to the 6.81″ on August 6, 1986.
The 3.62″ at Madison broke the old record for the date of 2.21″ in 1885.
See, Climate Progress can do human interest — and SUV interest — too! Gotta love the irony, no?
And speaking of human interest, Russians are still getting slammed. Although the New York Times didn’t see fit to mention this brutal record-obliterating heat wave in its 5 heat wave stories yesterday, Jeff Masters reported a week ago:
A heat wave of unprecedented intensity has brought the world’s largest country its hottest temperature in history. On July 11, the ongoing Russian heat wave sent the mercury to 44.0°C (111.2°F) in Yashkul, Kalmykia Republic, in the European portion of Russia near the Kazakhstan border…..
Russia’s remarkable heat wave has led to a state of emergency to be declared for 19 of Russia’s 83 provinces, and record number of Russians have been drowning in swimming accidents as they take to the water to escape the heat. Over 1200 Russians drowned in June, with another 233 dying between July 5 and 12. The heat has also created dangerous levels of air pollution in Moscow, and severely impacted agriculture.
Now, a week later, RT.com reports:
“This is a serious abnormality. The Russian weather service has never measured such temperatures in Moscow in July,” said Dmitry Kiktyov, Deputy Director of the Hydrometeorological Center of Russia. “According to our calculations, it hasn’t even reached its peak yet.”
UPDATE: Bloomberg noted yesterday “the number of Russians who drowned trying to beat the heat reached about 2,000″ and “Today’s temperature in the capital was the hottest since records began 130 years ago.”
The Voice of Russia reports, “Russia struck by worst drought in 100 years“:
The heatwave has triggered forest fires and destroyed millions of hectares of crops. Pavel Skurikhin, President of the National Union of Grain Producers, forecasts this year’s grain harvest at 80 million tons, a 20-25% fall on last year, but still quite sufficient to meet domestic demand.
Meanwhile, Russia’s grain export potential has been downgraded from 20 million to 15 million tons.
“Certainly, such a long period of hot weather in unusual for central Russia. But the global tendency proves that in future, such climate abnormalities will become only more frequent”, says Alexey Kokorin, the Head of Climate and Energy Program of the World Wide Fund (WWF) Russia.
RIA Novsti reports:
On Friday, a source in the city’s meteorological bureau said July 2010 had become the hottest month on record in Moscow….
According to environmentalists, the heat wave in Russia has been caused by man-made global warming.
You go, “Russia’s leading news agency in terms of multimedia technologies, website audience reach and quoting by the Russian media.” That’s not exactly what the enviros said to RIA Novsti:
A blistering heat wave in Russia has been caused by man-made global warming, WWF Russia and Greenpeace Russia said on Wednesday….
Many farmers are on the brink of bankruptcy, while a state of emergency has been declared in 17 Russian regions. Nearly 10 million hectares of crops have been destroyed by drought.
“Such long periods of summer drought have been registered before, for instance, in 1936, but over the past few years they have become more frequent,” Alexei Kokorin, the head of WWF Russia’s climate program, told RIA Novosti.
“This is a reaction of the climate system to man-made changes in atmospheric chemistry,” he said.
But kudos to Russians for not being afraid to talk about the link of global warming to extreme weather.
Record-smashing temps are precisely what scientists have been predicting. As the UK’s Royal Society and Met Office (the UK’s National Weather Service [i.e. meteorological office], within the Ministry of Defence) said in their must-read statement on the connection between global warming and extreme weather:
We expect some of the most significant impacts of climate change to occur when natural variability is exacerbated by long-term global warming, so that even small changes in global temperatures can produce damaging local and regional effects.
So we have the lingering effects of the El Ni±o coupled with the long-term trend of human-caused global warming.
For other ways scientists and some in the media talk about the link, see “We’re having a heat wave. New daily high temperature records beat new cold records by nearly 5 to 1 in June.”