Climate

Masters on Brazilian floods: Brazil’s deadliest natural disaster in history

The role of near-record sea surface temperatures

Torrential rains inundated a heavily populated, steep-sloped area about 40 miles north of Rio de Janeiro on Tuesday and Wednesday, triggering flash floods and mudslides that have claimed at least 511 lives. Rainfall amounts of approximately 300 mm (12 inches) fell in just a few hours in the hardest-hit regions, Teresopolis and Nova Friburgo. Many more people are missing, and the death toll is expected to go much higher once rescuers reach remote villages that have been cut off from communications. The death toll makes the January 2011 floods Brazil’s worst single-day natural disaster in its history. Brazil suffers hundreds of deaths each year due to flooding and mudslides, but the past 12 months have been particularly devastating. Flooding and landslides near Rio in April last year killed 246 people and did about $13 billion in damage, and at least 85 people perished last January during a similar event.

Following fast on the heels of another extreme drought hitting the Amazon comes devastating Brazilian floods.  According to scientists, this climate-whipsawing from mega-drought to mega-flood will become increasingly common as human emissions intensify the hydrological cycle (see Study: Global warming is driving increased frequency of extreme wet or dry summer weather in southeast, so droughts and deluges are likely to get worse).  Indeed, it’s just happened to both Australia and this country (see “Hell and High Water hits Georgia“).

In this Wunderblog repost, Meteorologist and former hurricane hunter Dr. Jeff Masters has the story — and an analysis of the “departure of temperature from average for the moisture source regions of the globe’s four most extreme flooding disasters over the past 12 months”

Role of near-record sea surface temperatures in Brazil’s flood
This week’s heavy rains occurred when a storm system crossing from west to east over southern Brazil drew in a moist southerly flow air off the Atlantic Ocean over southern Brazil. Sea surface temperatures along the Brazilian coast are at near-record warm levels, which likely contributed to the heavy rains. Record rains are more likely when sea surface temperatures over the nearby moisture source regions are at record high levels. This occurs because increased amounts of water vapor evaporate into the atmosphere from a warm ocean compared to a cold one, due to the extra motion and energy of the hotter water molecules. According to an analysis I did of the UK Met Office Hadley Centre sea surface temperature data set, December 2010 sea surface temperatures in the 5×5 degree region of Earth’s surface along the Brazilian shore nearest the disaster area, 20S to 25S and 45W to 40W, were the second warmest on record since 1900. Temperatures were 1.05°C (1.9°F) above average in this region last month. Only 2007, with a 1.21°C departure from average, had warmer December ocean temperatures.

Meteorologist Eugenio Hackbart, with the Brazilian private weather forecasting company Metsul, wrote in his blog today, “Heavy rains early this year coincide with the strong warming of the Atlantic along the coasts of southern and southeastern Brazil. With waters up to 2°C warmer than average in some places, there is a major release of moisture in the atmosphere essential for the formation of storms.”


Figure 2. Newspaper front page story in Brazil after the March 18, 1967 flooding disaster, Brazil’s previous deadliest single-day natural disaster. Image credit: Metsul.

Brazil’s previous worst natural disaster: the March 18, 1967 flood
The previous worst natural disaster in Brazilian history occurred on March 18, 1967 when a tsunami-like flood of water, mud and rocks swept down a hillside in the coastal city of Caraguatatuba, near Sao Paulo, killing 300 – 500 people. According to meteorologist Eugenio Hackbart with the private Brazilian weather company Metsul, a rainguage at nearby Sao Sebastao measured 115 mm (4.5″) on March 17, and 420 mm (17″) on March 18. Hackbart puts the death toll from the 1967 disaster at 300 – 500, and refers to it as Brazil’s deadliest single-day natural disaster in history. Heavy rains at other locations in Brazil that month caused additional mudslides and flooding deaths, and Wikipedia lists the total death toll for the Brazil March 1967 floods at 785.

I looked at the sea surface temperatures for March 1967 to see if unusually warm ocean waters may have contributed to that year’s flooding disaster. Sea surface temperatures in the 5×5 degree region of Earth’s surface nearest the disaster site (20S to 25S, 50W to 45W) were 0.24°C (0.4°F) above average, which is not significantly different from normal. So, we can get record rains and flooding when sea surface temperatures are near normal, and it is possible that this week’s catastrophe was not significantly impacted by the exceptionally warm water near the coast. However, heating up the oceans loads the dice in favor of extreme rainfall events, and makes it more likely we will have an unprecedented flood.

If we look at the departure of temperature from average for the moisture source regions of the globe’s four most extreme flooding disasters over the past 12 months, we find that these ocean temperatures ranked 2nd or 3rd warmest, going back through 111 years of history:

  • January 2011 Brazilian floods: 2nd warmest SSTs on record, +1.05°C (20S to 25S, 45W to 40W)
  • November 2010 Colombia floods: 3rd warmest SSTs on record, +0.65°C (10N to 0N, 80W to 75W)
  • December 2010 Australian floods: 3rd warmest SSTs on record, +1.05°C (10S to 25S, 145E to 155E)
  • July 2010 Pakistani floods: 2nd warmest SSTs on record, +0.95°C (Bay of Bengal, 10N to 20N, 80E to 95E)

The size of the ocean source region appropriate to use for these calculations is uncertain, and these rankings will move up or down by averaging in a larger or smaller region of ocean. For example, if one includes an adjacent 5×5 degree area of ocean next to Brazil’s coast that may have also contributed moisture to this week’s floods, the SSTs rank as 7th warmest in the past 111 years, instead of 2nd warmest. It would take detailed modeling studies to determine just how much impact these near-record sea surface temperatures had on the heavy rains that occurred, and what portion of the ocean served as the moisture source region.


Figure 3. Predicted total precipitation amounts in South America for the 7-day period ending at 7am EST January 21, 2011, as forecast by the 06Z run of the GFS Ensemble model made January 14, 2011. Image credit: Florida State University.

— Dr. Jeff Masters, in a Wunderblog repost.

JR:  As if to emphasize how little they know about basic meteorology or climate science, Morano linked to a piece by the world’s must uninformed blogger, Steven Goddard, who actually wrote a post titled, “All Of Brazil Has Below Normal Temperatures – Romm Blames The Rain On Global Warming.”  No wonder Watts threw him off WhatsUpWithThat, he couldn’t even meet WUWT’s minimal standards for disinformation (see Fastest disinformer retraction: Watts says Goddard’s “Arctic ice increasing by 50000 km2 per year” post is “an example of what not to do when graphing trends”).

Related Post:

Munich Re’s natural catastrophe database, the most comprehensive of its kind in the world, shows a marked increase in the number of weather-related events. For instance, globally there has been a more than threefold increase in loss-related floods since 1980 and more than double the number of windstorm natural catastrophes, with particularly heavy losses as a result of Atlantic hurricanes.

The rise in natural catastrophe losses is primarily due to socio-economic factors. In many countries, populations are rising, and more and more people moving into exposed areas. At the same time, greater prosperity is leading to higher property values. Nevertheless, it would seem that the only plausible explanation for the rise in weather-related catastrophes is climate change. The view that weather extremes are more frequent and intense due to global warming coincides with the current state of scientific knowledge as set out in the Fourth IPCC Assessment Report.

55 Responses to Masters on Brazilian floods: Brazil’s deadliest natural disaster in history

  1. Wes Rolley says:

    For those who would put social justice above being thought a treehugger, the world wide flooding (Pakistan, Benin, Burkina Faso, Columbia, Sri Lanka, Brazil in April and now,Nashville) would seem to have neither heart nor head.

  2. K. Nockels says:

    extremes in the jet streams, departures from normal in both speed and latitude upper and lower levels also seem to be playing a role along side warm sea temps. The atmospheric ciculation is affecting or being affected by deep moisture plumes as more evaporation of warmer waters takes place. Is anyone at NASA (Shindell) able to model this interaction?

  3. mikkel says:

    Joe, is there any chance you can start a page that keeps track of 100+ year drought/floods and have a permalink to it on the sidebar? I keep trying to tell people about not only the increasing amount of extreme conditions but how many of the worst flooded areas were preceded by major droughts, showing how “adaptation” is not feasible; but it’s hard to do when there isn’t a concise list of it all.

    [JR: I have a category on “extreme weather.” Right now, that’s the best I can do.]

  4. Bob Lang says:

    I predict boom times for lawyers involved in legal battles between property insurance companies and policy holders.

  5. Prokaryotes says:

    Outlaw Fossil Energy Now!

  6. Lou Grinzo says:

    The list of these horrible events is already much longer than anyone would want, and it seems virtually certain that it will get much longer yet in the near future.

    Yet the deniers still try to squirm and claim the obvious isn’t happening. They would have us believe that you can crank up the heat energy in the environment without radically changing the basic water cycle or set massive amounts of ice in motion. This is third grade science, not quantum physics.

  7. Prokaryotes says:

    Figure 3, The red dot is close to the so called developed country USA.

  8. Prokaryotes says:

    I suggest adding this video to the article …

    Brazil Death Toll Over 600 in Massive Mudslides
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o5fIQwPA4xY&feature=player_embedded

  9. Leif says:

    RESIST THE WALL STREET WALL… “Renewable Energy is Homeland Security.”

    I have a theory:

    The fall of the Wall Street Wall will be much like the fall of the Berlin Wall. One day it is all you know the next it is gone! “Different Reality.” A good portion of the population, ~50%, will not know what hit them. The rest will cry for happy.

  10. Mimikatz says:

    Global warming IS a human rights issue, and should be recognized as such. The millions who are going to suffer the most, whether they live in shacks on a hillside or at the coasts, especially river deltas, or who will go without food and clean water, are largely poor. Inaction is putting those millions, even billions, in peril.

  11. Leland Palmer says:

    Well, now, this gets your attention, doesn’t it?

    If we look at the departure of temperature from average for the moisture source regions of the globe’s four most extreme flooding disasters over the past 12 months, we find that these ocean temperatures ranked 2nd or 3rd warmest, going back through 111 years of history:

    January 2011 Brazilian floods: 2nd warmest SSTs on record, +1.05°C (20S to 25S, 45W to 40W)
    November 2010 Colombia floods: 3rd warmest SSTs on record, +0.65°C (10N to 0N, 80W to 75W)
    December 2010 Australian floods: 3rd warmest SSTs on record, +1.05°C (10S to 25S, 145E to 155E)
    July 2010 Pakistani floods: 2nd warmest SSTs on record, +0.95°C (Bay of Bengal, 10N to 20N, 80E to 95E)

    All of this with only four percent or so more water vapor in the atmosphere, due to less than a degree of warming.

    At two degrees C of warming, we should have about 15% more water vapor in the atmosphere, than we have traditionally.

    How will weather change, then?

    A pulse of heat from our fossil fuel binge is working its way inexorably deeper in the oceans. Will that set off dissociation of the methane hydrates? Will large amounts of methane make it directly into the atmosphere, from these methane plumes?

    What sort of weather could we expect if we get 50% more water vapor in the atmosphere than we have had traditionally?

  12. Prokaryotes says:

    Brazil rains kill more than 600 as epidemic feared

    “The water started to cover the stairs and we placed some of the things over others, but it was impossible (to save anything) with the power of the water. Everything collapsed and we only had time to save ourselves,” said 49-year-old Maria de Lourdes, who is unemployed. “Everything I owned, I lost.”
    http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE70C3YC20110116

    With photo slideshow

  13. Prokaryotes says:

    Leland Palmer said “What sort of weather could we expect if we get 50% more water vapor in the atmosphere than we have had traditionally?”

    A climate which is great for reptiles? At least human infrastructure collapses within hours/days.

  14. jim says:

    I agree with #3 that this torrent of 100 year floods needs to be chronicled, and attributed. I have begun here.

    A CHRONICLE OF KOCH FLOODS

    MAY 2010 Nashville, United States
    JUL 2010 Pakistan
    JAN 2011 Queensland, Australia
    JAN 2011 Brazil

    KOCH FLOOD, noun; flooding caused by an extreme precipitation event intensified by additional heat in the atmosphere and in the near-surface layers of the ocean

  15. Rabid Doomsayer says:

    Drought, drought, flood, drought, drought, flood. The rainfall average is good, but when do we get a harvest?

  16. Steve Bloom says:

    Re #3: mikkel, there’s a (professional) extreme weather blogger over at WU who might be able to help with that data.

    Re #11: Leland, I was about to go looking for calculations of the relationship between increasing water vapor and temperature. Do you have a source for that?

  17. Leland Palmer says:

    Well, I kind of suspect that storm cellars might get pretty common, toward the middle of this century. Won’t do you much good in a flood, though.

    The Onion’s satire article about the Super Hurriphoonados (I think that was the term they used, meaning a combination hurricane, typhoon, and tornado) is looking less and less humorous, as time goes on.

    By the way, we should not forget ExxonMobil and Richard Mellon Scaife, when deciding who to put in prison for crimes against humanity. Scaife often funds in concert with ExxonMobil, and their combined funding for AGW denial must be pretty close to equal to Koch, if not more.

  18. Leland Palmer says:

    Oh, Hi Steve-

    From Wikipedia (Atmospheric Thermodynamics)

    Water vapour and global climate change
    The Clausius-Clapeyron equation governs the water-holding capacity of the atmosphere, which increases by about 8% per degree Celsius increase in temperature. Solving the Clausius-Clapeyron equation gives an expression for water vapor pressure in equilibrium above a plane surface of water (i.e., the “equilibrium vapor pressure”, more commonly called the “saturation vapor pressure”, though this is somewhat misleading, since air can actually hold much more water vapor than indicated by the saturation vapor pressure). The saturation water vapor pressure is nearly an exponential function of the temperature, and does not directly depend on other parameters like the pressure or density.

    So, as an approximation, I’ve been using the 8% increase in water vapor per degree C of heating figure, which should be approximately correct for small increases in temperature of a few degrees C, I think.

    More water vapor of course also means more heat of condensation, and so more heat driving convection and storm formation.

  19. From Peru says:

    Something confuses me:

    Weren’t the high sea surface temperatures(SST) in the Tropical Atlantic the cause of the devastating drought in the Amazon dry season (July-October 2010)?

    That is, the high tropical atlantic SST caused a column of wet and warm air that ascended over the sea, then as it go up, it releases the water as rain over the ocean (causing tropical storms and hurricanes, the 2010 season was one of the most active on record) and turn to dry air.

    This dry air then descends over the Amazon basin forming a high pressure system (similar to the one that caused the heat wave and drought in Western Russia) that suppress precipitation and lead to high temperatures, causing extreme drought.

    But now high SST in the Tropical Atlantic cause floods instead of drought. Weird!

    Is there any difference in the SST pattern of December-January 2011(during flooding) and July-September 2010 (during drought)?

  20. Christopher Yaun says:

    #6 Lou Grinzo

    Global Warming is 3rd grade science!

    A new bumper sticker?

  21. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    It’s pretty apparent that the denialist propagandists who lead the denialist rabble by the nose, are almost 100% of the Right. In Australia there have been a number of Rightwing moral panics and campaigns in their eternal Kulturkampf in recent years, particularly after John Howard was elected PM in 1996, and the Right propaganda apparatus gained powerful patronage. There have been hate campaigns,-and I do mean hate, these have not been polite exchanges of differing opinions-against environmentalists, trade unions, Islam etc. One infamous example was the ‘Stolen Generations’ imbroglio. This country long had a policy of removing Aboriginal and part Aboriginal children from their families, as was also policy in New Zealand, Canada and the US. The results were devastating, and a Royal Commission into the whole sorry business led by an eminent and conservative High Court judge brought down a definitive report. Even before it was released, it was leaked to the Rightwing media by Howard’s office, and as soon as it saw the light of day, the report, its venerable author and the victims were subjected to a tsunami of abuse. They were lying, these were ‘false memories’, the children were not ‘stolen’, they were ‘rescued’ from savage and primitive parents etc. It was about the vilest outburst of carefully co-ordinated race hatred I’ve ever seen in this country, all designed to garner votes from the large racist community, and all with the full imprimatur of the highest office in the land.
    Need I say that without exception the Rightwing columnists who led this campaign are the most fervent denialists, and, judging by letters to the paper and blogs comments, their followers are also the same rabble. We are at a inflexion point in human history. We live in a period when humanity will decide whether to destroy itself or change its nature, irrevocably, because it must. But to survive we must recognise what we are up against. The forces of darkness and confusion, of obscurantism and ignorance, are not polite, concerned, fellow beings who differ from us only in their opinions. They are something far, far, more dangerous and, frankly, in my opinion, wicked. The evidence of their nature has been there forever, but it is a fearful and dreadful leap to acknowledge that not only are there evil amongst us, but that they dominate the planet and, so far, are calling all the shots.

  22. Kutter says:

    Lets inject some much needed truth into the hysteria. Australia, as is Brazil, suffers from BAD decisions caused by warmists, NOT by Anthropogenic Global Warming, which once again proves to be a SCAM. Particularly note the ***** I can’t wait for the CAGW trials to begin; I wish to attend the hangings:

    Ever more alarming facts are emerging to show how Brisbane’s floods were made infinitely worse by cockeyed decisions inspired by the obsession of the Australian authorities with global warming. Inevitably, the country’s warmist lobby has been voluble in claiming that such a “freak weather event” (as the BBC called it) is a consequence of man-made climate change. ****** But far from being an unprecedented “freak event”, the latest flood was nearly a foot below the level of one in 1974 and 10 feet below the record set in 1893. *****

    For years, Australia’s warmists have been advising the authorities that the danger posed to the country by global warming is not floods but droughts: not too much rain but too little. One result, in Brisbane, was a relaxation of planning rules, to allow building on areas vulnerable to flooding in the past. As long ago as 1999, this was seen as potentially disastrous by an expert Brisbane River Flood Study (which was ignored and for years kept secret). Instead of investing in its flood defences, Australia spent $13 billion on desalination plants. (Queensland’s was recently mothballed because of the excess of rain.)

  23. Prokaryotes says:

    Now Britain faces threat of flooding as torrential rain sends river levels surging to bursting point
    Daily Mail – ‎11 hours ago‎

    Under threat: Cocklemouth in Cumbria where 19 months ago hundreds of homes were flooded after torrential rain

    ‘There will be heavy bursts in it which will add to the high levels which have already fallen. Scotland will also experience heavy rainfall of up to 10mm per hour this morning, which will break up throughout the day.’

    In Shap, Cumbria, 110mm of rain was recorded yesterday along with wind gusts of 69mph. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1347442/UK-weather-Britain-faces-floods-torrential-rain-sees-river-levels-bursting-point.html?ito=feeds-newsxml

  24. Prokaryotes says:

    Extreme weather has been experienced across the world with the La Niña phenomenon causing floods in Australia, Brazil and Sri Lanka,

    Only a couple of weeks ago the UK was experiencing record-breaking cold weather conditions but now weathermen are saying that we should expect ‘abnormally mild’ temperatures rising to 14C in some places.

    However, with the warm temperatures come wetter conditions, forecaster Barry Grommet warned.

    ‘The air we are getting at the moment is coming from the subtropical part of the Atlantic. Not only is it mild and warm, it has got a lot of moisture in it. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1347442/UK-weather-Britain-faces-floods-torrential-rain-sees-river-levels-bursting-point.html?ito=feeds-newsxml

  25. Prokaryotes says:

    Photo gallery: Brazil landslide destruction

    Torrential rains in Brazil have caused flooding and landslides in a region north of Rio de Janeiro. At least 611 people have been killed, Brazil’s Civil Defense agency said. Rescue efforts have been hampered by even more rain. http://news.nationalpost.com/2011/01/16/photo-gallery-brazil-landslide-destruction/

  26. Lou Grinzo says:

    Speaking of potential Super Hurriphoonadoes:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/16/science/earth/16flood.html

    (Trust me, this one will make your hair stand on end, especially if you live in California.)

  27. Prokaryotes says:

    Floods: the tough emotional ride to come

    With the body recovery process underway and communities banding together, flood victims risk years of deep psychological and emotional torment.

    It has tortured so much of the state, slowly at first, meticulously, and then with unbridled ferocity. Will the disaster change the face of Queensland?

    FOR THE people of Murphys Creek in the Lockyer Valley, west of Brisbane, it came suddenly, accelerating in minutes from a rippling stream into a roaring wall that knocked over homes, carried away cars and turned a close-knit town into a scene from a disaster movie.

    For others, in Condamine, Chinchilla and Dalby, it came in savage fits and starts, a protracted torture spread over several weeks that has driven people from their homes three times. ”It’s the worst thing; never knowing if you’re coming or going,” said one woman.
    Advertisement: Story continues below

    And there were the hundreds of thousands in Brisbane for whom it crept up predictably but ferociously, threatening to exceed the flood of 1974 that killed 14 people. By week’s end, billions of tonnes of foul brown water had flooded three-quarters of Queensland, an area the size of Victoria and New South Wales combined.

    In far less time than it takes to have a school holiday, the big, bad wet has reshaped landscapes, moved the sharemarket, caused up to $20 billion of damage to the economy – proportionately greater than the impact of hurricane Katrina in the United States – and damaged and claimed many lives.

    ”It’s the worst natural disaster in our history and possibly in the history of our nation,” said Queensland Premier Anna Bligh.

    They will need to be tough for what is to come, a slow and difficult reconstruction that Bligh says will be of ”postwar” proportions.

    Blakely, who led the reconstruction in New Orleans after hurricane Katrina, warned that flooding will worsen under climate change. ”Areas subject to multiple floodings will have to be bought out and the people compensated. The worst thing you can do is just say, ‘We are going to rebuild.’ ”

    Under climate-change scenarios from the CSIRO, south-east Queensland is due to become hotter and drier, but extreme rainfall events such as these floods will become more destructive. Deborah Abbs, who works in marine and atmospheric research for the CSIRO, helped write reports commissioned by Sydney’s water authority and the Gold Coast Council on the effects of climate change.

    That work predicts that by 2050, extreme rainfall events in southern Queensland and northern NSW will increase in intensity by 20 per cent. ”The rarer they are, the greater the increase in intensity,” she says. ”You hear of one-in-100-year events – we expect them to increase in intensity more [so] than one-in-five-year events. If this event or the 1974 event occurred in 2050, then we would expect more rainfall from it.”

    In other words, the worst kind of flood now will be even worse in future.

    Lovelock warns that rising sea levels will also raise flood levels.

    http://www.theage.com.au/national/will-the-deluge-change-the-face-of-queensland-20110114-19rd3.html

  28. Leif says:

    Crop scarcity, brings up interesting questions. Who gets to eat? Who gets to eat first? Will a farmer be able to sell to his neighbor or will governments conscript the food for the masses?

    I don’t think I like where that thought line is going… Going for a walk, It is ~52F here at 48+degrees N lat.

  29. #18 Leland – are you saying that at 2C we’re looking at 16% more water vapour in the atmos? Wouldn’t that also mean more water avail to become much worse flooding than we’ve yet seen and even worse droughts (since (the water has to come from some where right?)

    +2C doesn’t sound too safe to me

  30. Greg says:

    #18 Leland – I still don’t get it. How does The Clausius-Clapeyron equation explain much more than 8 or 16% increases in rainfall in which we are seeing several standard deviations increases in records and in far more localized areas and in very short periods of time? Is it possible that that 16% is concentrated in a smaller area of a storm and thus is much greater? Could the vertical column be higher and holding much more? Are there other factors at play?

  31. Lou Grinzo says:

    Stephen Leahy: “+2C doesn’t sound too safe to me”

    Me neither. +2C is too often treated like a hard and fast, highly certain border between “unsafe” and”safe”, when it’s really nothing more than an educated guess that was carved into the stone of policy making. If nothing else, consider that it was chosen as “the” guardrail before the years of “it’s worse than we thought” news we’ve all seen unfold.

    Similarly, our fetish with what happens by the year 2100 distorts our view of the climate challenge we’ve created for ourselves.

    We need a major recalibration of our perception regarding both climate change and peak oil.

  32. david glover says:

    #22 kutter

    the wivenhow dam in Queensland was built in 1985

    the amount of rain in this latest event is estimated @ 2.5 gigalitres compared to 1.5 gigalitres in 1974 and yet the flood levels in Brisbane came close to the 1974 level

    also in victoria both the Hume and the Dartmouth dams hold approx. the amount of water as the Sydney Harbour, however the flooding in Vivtoria is breaking all time records

  33. Prokaryotes says:

    Leif said “Crop scarcity, brings up interesting questions. Who gets to eat? Who gets to eat first? Will a farmer be able to sell to his neighbor or will governments conscript the food for the masses?”

    What is more? While infrastructure becomes scarce too, even with harvest, who lives near enough to the farmer?

  34. bill says:

    Yes, it’s not just Queensland in Australia experiencing unprecedented flooding – what’s going on in Victoria, while not as dramatically life-threatening, is absolutely gob-smacking.

    Deluges sweep away rainfall records

    Many towns in western Victoria are now experiencing their third major flood in 5 months – some are onto their fourth – many stations received their summer average rainfall in 5 days, and some stations received half their annual average in 6 days!

    This is Australia’s ‘temperate’ south-east, not the tropical or sub-tropical north, I might add. And it comes right on the heels of a decade of spectacular drought, and as a result is disproportionately impacting areas that were already reeling economically.

  35. Leland Palmer says:

    Hi Greg-

    My far from complete understanding of it is that sea surface temperatures are driving evaporation, but at the same time increased water vapor concentrations are adding more heat energy to the storms as the water vapor condenses into water droplets or ice crystals, driving increased convection and cyclonic action.

    It takes heat to evaporate water- this is called heat of evaporation, heat of vaporization, or enthalpy of vaporization.

    Wikipedia- Enthalpy of vaporization

    When that water condenses back into water droplets or ice crystals, that same amount of heat is released- this is called heat of condensation or enthalpy of condensation.

    So our weather is being affected by both increased evaporation at the source, and increased heat released at the point where the water vapor condenses into water droplets. This increased heat of condensation drives increased convection, and increased cyclonic action, I think.

    This is as far as my understanding of it goes, Joe had a better explanation from Dr. Jeff Masters a month or two ago.

    If we’re seeing these sorts of disruptive events from only a four percent increase in water vapor, what will we see from a sixteen percent increase, when AGW increases global average temperatures by two degrees C? Yes, chances are the increased evaporation will be concentrated into distinct geographic areas, and the storms resulting from increased heat of condensation will dump it more rapidly.

    Hi Lou- post #26

    Oh, great. I live in Northern California. :)

    My house might be relatively safe, unless water saturated soil and high winds weaken and blow over one of our redwood trees. Then, our house could get kind of squished.

    Darn- I like those trees. Getting them taken out would cost a couple of thousand dollars, at least. I imagine many people are in a similar situation- balancing risks versus cost.

    Where I work, though, could be flooded out, it is very near sea level and we got some worrisome but not catastrophic flooding a couple of years ago.

    The levies in Sacramento often are strained during flood season. A really severe event could likely rupture those, I think.

  36. Mike says:

    @27, Something else from The Age:

    It’s time to talk of climate change
    Ellen Sandell
    January 14, 2011

    What kind of world are we going to leave for the next generation?

    IN APRIL 2009 the Los Angeles Times ran the headline: “What will global warming look like? Scientists point to Australia”. The article said events unfolding in Australia – record-breaking droughts, killer bushfires and devastating floods – gave a snapshot of our future in a globally warmed world. Nearly two years on, it seems very little has changed.

    http://www.theage.com.au/opinion/society-and-culture/its-time-to-talk-of-climate-change-20110113-19pr3.html

  37. Joe P says:

    Is it possible that the 1967 event was related to SST in the Pacific? and not the Atlantic. We are in La Ninia in Aus and the Pacific off our coast is so warm it feels like air temp when you go swimming. Is it possible that Brazil is dry in the west and wet in the east because of this?

  38. Tom Bennion says:

    Also from the The Age I note the changed tone of conservative columnist and long time climate skeptic Paul Sheehan.

    In April 2009 he was praising Ian Plimer’s book “Heaven and Earth:

    http://www.theage.com.au/opinion/society-and-culture/next-shock-will-be-high-food-prices-20110116-19sen.html

    Compare his previous columns with his latest one here:

    http://www.theage.com.au/opinion/issues/climate-change/by/paul-sheehan

    In his most recent column he talks about food shocks, seems to as good as admit that climate change really is a problem and talks about the need to start growing local foods:

    http://www.theage.com.au/opinion/society-and-culture/next-shock-will-be-high-food-prices-20110116-19sen.html

    Plainly, he is shaken. Finally, the message is getting through. But its very very late.

  39. Steve says:

    LOS ANGELES (AP) — Scientists say a plausible super-storm that could devastate California would be fed by an “atmospheric river” moving water at the same rate as 50 Mississippi rivers discharging water into the Gulf of Mexico.

    Scientists who studied historic storms to understand the risks modern California faces discussed on Friday a developing scaling system to measure the intensity of an atmospheric river — a huge hose-like flow of Pacific Ocean moisture into the state.

    http://losangeles.cbslocal.com/2011/01/14/scientists-forsee-possible-super-storm-in-california/

  40. Prokaryotes says:

    Btw. Great Theme for the next Hollywood, Roland Emmerich Flick

  41. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Now is Kutter #22, evidence of the reality that I spoke of in the previous post #21, or a big put-on, parodying (rather crudely, I’m afraid), the hysterical venomousness of so many denialists. And Tom Bennion, it will be a cold day in Hades when Paul ‘Magic Water Sheehan ceases being a denialist. He was one of the leading Rightwing blatherers who led the attack on the ‘Stolen Generations’ Report and has a particularly vitriolic line in criticism of non-‘European’ immigration into this country.

  42. Paulm says:

    36 mike,

    It’s a moral issue….

    http://moralground.com/mission/

    Climate destabilization and environmental degradation are scientific and technological issues, to be sure. But they are also fundamentally moral issues.  It’s unjust that the wealthy few reap the benefits of their profligate use of natural resources and cast the burdens on those unable to speak in their own defense (future people, organisms and ecosystems, the marginalized poor, young people.)  Industrial growth economies are creating a sixth great extinction, a human impact on Creation as cataclysmic as the impact of the asteroids that wiped out the dinosaurs.  The dislocation and suffering caused by climate change have created an ongoing crisis. Technological fixes are not enough; they simply make it easier for us to continue wasteful and unjust behavior.

    Yes, it’s wrong to leave behind a ransacked and dangerously unstable world.
    Yes, our lives must be an expression of what we most deeply value.
    Yes, we can and must make conscience-driven choices about how we spend our money and time.
    Yes, we must provide a safe and thriving future for our children.
    Yes, tending to the Earth and reversing climate destruction are a moral, spiritual and religious imperative.

  43. Dappledwater says:

    From Peru @ 19 – Something confuses me: Weren’t the high sea surface temperatures(SST) in the Tropical Atlantic the cause of the devastating drought in the Amazon dry season (July-October 2010)?…………….

    FP, the Southern Hemisphere summer (DJF) is onset of the South American Monsoon (Amazon rainy season). In the Northern Hemisphere summer (Amazon dry season) the “rain-making engine” is shifted as the ITCZ migrates north in response to greater warming there. See graphic: Intertropical Convergence Zone.

    As sea surface temperatures warm further in the tropical Atlantic it is expected that this will enhance the dry season and suppress the onset of the rainy season.

  44. Colorado Bob says:

    Last Friday –

    The head of the Meteorology Department at King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah, Mansour Al-Mazrouei, told Arab News that Jeddah received 41.7mm of rainfall in four hours. The average amount of rain during the winter months (November to January) is about 51mm.

    http://arabnews.com/saudiarabia/article235968.ece

  45. Colorado Bob says:

    Tropical Cyclone 07P (Zelia) is headed for the north island of New Zealand , while it is forecast to weaken the flooding there the past few weeks leave them in the same boat as some of these other areas suffering repeated rain …..

    http://www.usno.navy.mil/JTWC/

  46. Colorado Bob says:

    MANILA, Philippines, Jan. 16 (UPI) — The flooding and landslide disaster in the Philippines set off by weeks of rains showed no signs of easing as the death toll and damage mounted, officials said.

    The widespread havoc has so far killed at least 51 people and affected an estimated 1.5 million people in the country as weeks of bad weather continued, the Philippine Examiner reported, quoting emergency relief authorities.

    Read more: http://www.upi.com/Top_News/World-News/2011/01/16/No-relief-from-flooding-in-Philippines/UPI-86631295236930/#ixzz1BIKNBsJg

  47. Colorado Bob says:

    Flood-hit Sri Lankan elephant calf found dead in tree

    He believes the photo will be a defining image of the country’s recent heavy flooding.

    “I have been working as a journalist for the last 10 years but this is likely to be one of the strangest photos I will ever take in my career,” Mr Ariyadasa told the BBC.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-south-asia-12185011

  48. John McCormick says:

    RE # 31

    Lou, great comments:

    “Similarly, our fetish with what happens by the year 2100 distorts our view of the climate challenge we’ve created for ourselves.

    We need a major recalibration of our perception regarding both climate change and peak oil.”

    Questions I have are: what process and when will make the pronouncement that current global temperature increase is adequate to cause extreme damage and threaten all nations with more intense weather and possible food shortages in the next decade.

    John McCormick

    And, we still have the pipeline heat to look forward to.

  49. Prokaryotes says:

    Storms bring floods, landslides to Northwest

    The rains in Oregon were pushing some rivers and streams over their banks at a time when many waterways were rising because of warming temperatures and melting snow, with some rivers reaching flood stage and more were expected to rise above that level.

    “This was not one of the most significant floods that we’ve had, but slightly above what we’d classify as a nuisance flood,” Gordon McCraw, Tillamook County Emergency Management director, told the Associated Press. http://www.usatoday.com/weather/floods/2011-01-17-northwest-storms-floods-landslides_N.htm

  50. riverat says:

    Leland, #35

    I would think if your redwoods are timber quality that someone would pay you to haul them away. There could be $10,000 worth of lumber in each tree. But I would be reluctant to cut them down myself.

  51. Tom Bennion says:

    Mulga Mumblebrain

    Understand what you say. My point about Sheehan is that he is quoting, extensively, advice to plant your own food from what he calls ‘alarmists’ – and he is endorsing that approach. At the same time he tries to maintain his line that global warming probably isnt a factor in the recent floods. But he is clearly hedging his bets – a lot. I am happy enough for a conservative commentator to be urging people to take steps to mitigate climate risks – whatever his reasoning. If he can take a good portion of his audience with him then it may save lives.

  52. dbmetzger says:

    the face of exterme flooding in Brazil…from the CBC
    Difficulty in Delivering Aid After Brazilian Mudslides
    More rain is hindering the search for survivors in a mountainous region in Brazil after a series of mudslides and floods killed at least 537 people. http://www.newslook.com/videos/283882-difficulty-in-delivering-aid-after-brazilian-mudslides?autoplay=true

  53. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Yes Tom #52, I see what you mean. I too hope that there is room for optimism that Sheehan has changed his spots, but I doubt it. I’ve read Sheehan for years and, in my opinion, he is a true, far Right ideologue. Can you think of any of this type, and I could enumerate forty in a trice from the Australian media, who have ever publicly acknowledged that their denialism was wrong, given the steadily increasing evidence all about us, and the ever strengthening scientific consensus? I cannot.

  54. Jay Banks says:

    Colorado Bob-

    That’s a great find, it really is a metaphore for the current state of Australia.

    I have been doing investigative journalism in Europe and as a professional I can see the value.

    Thanks for that.

    Jay