Masters: Midwest deluge enhanced by near-record Gulf of Mexico sea surface temperatures

Unprecedented flooding predicted for Ohio River

This week’s storm system, in combination with heavy rains earlier this month, have pushed the Ohio River and Mississippi River to near-record levels near their confluence. The Ohio River at Cairo, Illinois is expected to crest at 60.5 feet on May 1. This would exceed 100-year flood stage, and be the highest flood in history, besting the 59.5′ mark of 1937.

The latest River Flood Outlook from NOAA shows major flooding is occurring over many of the nation’s major rivers.

Multiple torrential downpours are setting the stage for more 100-year floods in the coming days, as meteorologist Dr. Jeff Masters reports today.

Extreme weather disasters, especially deluges and floods, are on the rise — and the best analysis says human-caused warming is contributing (see Two seminal Nature papers join growing body of evidence that human emissions fuel extreme weather, flooding).  Last year, we had Tennessee’s 1000-year deluge aka Nashville’s ‘Katrina’.  And  Coastal North Carolina’s suffered its second 500-year rainfall in 11 years.

Craig Fugate, who heads the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency, said in December, “The term ‘100-year event’ really lost its meaning this year” (see Munich Re: “The only plausible explanation for the rise in weather-related catastrophes is climate change”).

Former hurricane-hunter Masters has a good analysis of how the “Midwest deluge [is] enhanced by near-record Gulf of Mexico sea surface temperatures”:

The deluge of rain that caused this flood found its genesis in a flow of warm, humid air coming from the Gulf of Mexico. Sea surface temperatures (SSTs) in the Gulf of Mexico are currently close to 1°C above average. Only two Aprils since the 1800s (2002 and 1991) have had April SSTs more than 1 °C above average, so current SSTs are among the highest on record.

These warm ocean temperatures helped set record high air temperatures in many locations in Texas yesterday, including Galveston (84°F, a tie with 1898), Del Rio (104°F, old record 103° in 1984), San Angelo (97°F, old record 96° in 1994). Record highs were also set on Monday in Baton Rouge and Shreveport in Louisiana, and in Austin, Mineral Wells, and Cotulla la Salle in Texas.

Since this week’s storm brought plenty of cloud cover that kept temperatures from setting record highs in many locations, a more telling statistic of how warm this air mass was is the huge number of record high minimum temperature records that were set over the past two days. For example, the minimum temperature reached only 79°F in Brownsville, TX Monday morning, beating the previous record high minimum of 77°F set in 2006. In Texas, Austin, Houston, Port Arthur, Cotulla la Salle, Victoria, College Station, Victoria, Corpus Christi, McAllen, and Brownsville all set record high minimums on Monday, as did New Orleans, Lafayette, Monroe, Shreveport, and Alexandria in Louisiana, as well as Jackson and Tupelo in Mississippi.

Since record amounts of water vapor can evaporate into air heated to record warm levels, it is not a surprise that incredible rains and unprecedented floods are resulting from this month’s near-record warm SSTs in the Gulf of Mexico.

This final point is the link to human-caused climate change.

Dr. Kevin Trenberth, head of the Climate Analysis Section of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, explained this key connection between human-caused global warming and superstorms in an interview with ClimateProgress last year,:

“I find it systematically tends to get underplayed and it often gets underplayed by my fellow scientists. Because one of the opening statements, which I’m sure you’ve probably heard is “Well you can’t attribute a single event to climate change.” But 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.”

Back in August, Trenberth told the NY Times, “It’s not the right question to ask if this storm or that storm is due to global warming, or is it natural variability. Nowadays, there’s always an element of both.”

Masters showed back in January the connection between high SSTs and record flooding around the world:

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)

Finally, we’ve only warmed about a degree and a half Fahrenheit in the past century.  The problem for our children and grandchildren is that, if we continue anywhere near our current greenhouse gas emissions pathway, we are on track to warm five times times that or more this century (see M.I.T. doubles its 2095 warming projection to 10°F “” with 866 ppm and Arctic warming of 20°F ).

In short, we ain’t seen nothing yet!

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62 Responses to Masters: Midwest deluge enhanced by near-record Gulf of Mexico sea surface temperatures

  1. paulm says:

    “It’s not the right question to ask if this storm or that storm is due to global warming, or is it natural variability. Nowadays, there’s always an element of both.”

    Yes, but because the GW element drives the record, one can attribute a record extreme event to the GW which allowed it, surely.

  2. John Atkeison says:

    Another way to put it is to point out that since this aspect of climate — the change to warmer, more energetic conditions — affects the whole of weather in specific ways then *all* these events are partially explained by the influence of global warming. even the cold weather, as we saw this past winter.
    Thanks again, Joe. Between you and and a few others, we actually have a pretty good *understandable* info stream. Now if we will all use the info to make powerful moral persuasion to larger number of regular folks, perhaps we can turn the political situation around in time.

  3. Gnobuddy says:

    @2 – John Atkeison says “perhaps we can turn the political situation around in time.”
    That’s the big question, isn’t it? Is there time? If by some magic you could convince every government on earth to shut down 30% of their CO2 emissions tomorrow, would the thawing permafrost re-freeze? The melting glaciers re-form? Dengue fever move back into the tropics it came from? The 40% of oceanic plankton that have died off come back? Oceanic acid levels fall back to pre-industrial?

    And then there’s the minor inconvenient detail that there has never been one single case on record at any time in human history when every government pulled in the same direction…

    There is no turning back the clock, and whatever faint hopes remain are on minimizing, not preventing, the extent of the inevitable catastrophe that is already unfolding. Just ask Tennessee, North Korea, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Benin, Australia, Russia, the Amazon basin, or any of the other regions hit by massive weather-related catastrophes during the last few months.


  4. Silas Barta says:

    Wow, and just to put this in context, we are seeing the DIRECT results of AGW more and more, providing in-your-face, undeniable evidence, and yet the deniers still pimp their lies like they have a case. I mean, when we get this record flooding, record hurricane activity, record tsunami damage that sets off a friggin nuke plant, the time for debate about miniscule flaws in this or that dataset is over.

    It’s time to act on this _clear and present danger_: help those affected by these extreme (and ever-more-frequent) events, and get CO2 emissions DOWN. And sue those who spread disinformation about “no, no, it was just a coincidence half the continental US is flooding…”

  5. Wait. I thought NPR pronounced this just normal weather.

  6. Ric Merritt says:

    Remember those Midwest floods some years back? Pretty bad in spots, but if you read carefully, you noticed some reassurances that the levee protecting St Louis was more than adequate that year.

    I’ve been predicting ever since that one of these years, it won’t be any more.

  7. dbmetzger says:

    Wild Weather Sweeps Through Americas
    Ten people are dead in the United States and 100 feared dead in Venezuela, Brazil and Colombia as torrential rain and tornadoes sweep North and South America.

    Now the midwest knows how most of australia felt earlier this year.

  8. Lewis C says:

    Paulm at 1. –

    “It’s not the right question to ask if this storm or that storm is due to global warming, or is it natural variability. Nowadays, there’s always an element of both.”

    The quote we need, preferably from Obama but Trenberth would be a good start, is:
    “No single weather event can be attributed solely to climate destabilization, but the further it departs from the long term average, the more certain that it is an example of that destabilization, this early in the rising curve of global warming.”
    . . . . . . .

    And yes, I’d entirely agree that
    “. . . one can attribute a record extreme event to the GW which allowed it.”
    It would be a self-censored nonsense not to do so. The destruction of much of New Orleans and nearby communities is a case in point. The hurricane hit exceptionally high sea temperatures, gained power at an unprecedented rate, hit land and drowned people in their thousands. Yet with over 1,800 bodies found and ~6,600 missing, the corporate media have been allowed, by politicians and commentators alike, to pretend that it was simply a ‘natural’ disaster.

    Personally I’m hoping for Miami next, or possibly Huston. The sooner the better, since it is thousands of dead Americans that seem most likely to force the hand of the AWOL POTUS to stop the wreckless brinkmanship with China, and to begin negotiating instead.



  9. joy hughes says:

    The first night’s rain was gentle – the next day was a downpour, a funnel cloud directly over my house, the biggest hail I’ve seen here in s. Colorado. Then it started to snow and by morning we had an ice storm.

  10. Richard Brenne says:

    This is another world-class post with more world-class comments. Gnobuddy’s comment at #3 is an absolute classic, and an ultra-realistic big picture perspective, even if epically depressing. But instead of becoming epically depressed we need to become epically active (and also use the world “epically” less).

    The mainstream media reports all these events as if each is an isolated event, almost never putting them into any sort of proper or useful context. It would be like a mega-outbreak of AIDS where each individual case of pneumonia is considered separately without ever linking them and seeing the big picture.

    How can we get this post and the work of Joe Romm and Jeff Masters and commenters like Gnobuddy seen by many, many millions and then billions instead of just the world’s most-educated thousands?

    Even most scientists and especially hydrologists don’t get the big picture anywhere near sufficiently as I point out in comment #10 on last weekend’s open thread, with great answers to my questions by experts:

  11. Richard Brenne says:

    In discussions with many conservative scientists and academics including hydrologists, geographers and engineers they’ll say, “Well of course no single weather event can be attributed to global warming” and I answer “Unless it is part of a pattern.”

  12. Hypnos says:

    Does anyone have links to studies in flood trends?

  13. dhogaza says:


    “…record tsunami damage that sets off a friggin nuke plant, the time for debate about miniscule flaws in this or that dataset is over.”

    Umm, this one’s not related to global warming. Let’s not get too excited …

  14. with the doves says:

    That “no single event can be attributed to global warming” talking point … what does it even mean?

    Weather is influenced by many factors, including the amount of heat the air and ocean, which is higher now in the global warming era. So every weather event is affected by AGW. No weather event is due solely to AGW. (It may be provable that some mega event in the future would never have happened w/o AGW – but that’s an awfully high bar.)

    And what is a “single weather event” anyway?? One storm? One tornado outbreak? One nine-day stretch with multiple outbreaks? One especially wet month? One cold year? One raindrop?

    That talking point needs to go. It’s a bogus set-up that leads even the good guys to sound mealy-mouthed. The second Trenberth quote is good.

  15. Richard Brenne says:

    dhogaza (#13) – Of course Silas’ tsunami comment made me react the same way, but the rest of Silas Barta’s comment at #4 was excellent.

    The way I look at it, all human impacts could come under an umbrella term I call Anthro-Earth, or the Earth of Humans. And by human impacts I include anything that lessens the ability of our current civilization to sustain or perpetuate itself indefinitely.

    One of the biggest and least-appreciated of these categories is building massive amounts of infrastructure of all kinds that is in harm’s way, in this case from a subduction zone that can generate our planet’s largest earthquakes, and also from tsunamis that hit the east coast of Japan about as much as any place in the world.

    In addition to all the infrastructure, building SIX (6!) nuclear power plants in harm’s way is extremely foolish and we’re seeing about the worst-case scenario as a result of that foolishness.

    Then as many of us have discussed and Climate Progress has reported, experts like Bill McGuire feel that there’s growing evidence that when icecaps like Greenland’s melt and all that weight is re-distributed throughout the oceans (more from the poles toward the equator and northern to southern hemisphere) this could act like lighting the fuses that trigger the powder keg of tectonic stresses, possibly triggering earthquakes earlier than they might otherwise have occurred. Here’s the link to last year’s CP post about this:

    I spoke to several scientists at the USGS and geologists specializing in earthquakes about this, and they agreed that while the exact links are not yet certain, the discussion and study of them is appropriate.

    The best evidence for this appears to have come after the filling of the Mediterranean to its current height, during which time an estimated 300% more volcanic activity has reportedly occurred.

    So while you’re right that Silas was making a link that has not been clearly established, I think the general tone of Silas’ comment absent that one connection is entirely appropriate. We need to get more excited by all the dangers we’re causing, not less. . .

  16. Barry says:

    The important thing for all the folks to remember that find themselves in harms way from this extreme weather is that the GOP has assured us that there is nothing we can do about it.

    If the increase in extreme weather events was caused by fossil fuel pollution trapping extra heat…well, then we could do something to stop it from getting a lot worse.

    But as Republicans all say: humans are not affecting the climate in any meaningful way. America according to them is a nation too incompetent to understand complex scientific problem or how to solve them.

    It is so reassuring to know that if all the wacky and dangerous weather keeps getting worse that we are just plain old helpless to do anything about it.

  17. adelady says:

    When it comes to downpours causing floods and the is it/ isn’t it caused by climate disruption question, just focus on that 4% extra moisture figure.

    After a flood, it’s usually possible to get numbers for the quantity of water which fell in the days under discussion. Simply take away 4% and see how that affects the flood level reached. Of course, there’s an implicit fib in there – it’s not so simple to do the calculations. But the _concept_ is simple and people might understand a bit better if the result is presented that way.

    (There’s another fib lurking. 4% is the global average – not likely to apply in a region affected by ultra-high SST. But that’s a bit complicated for general discussion with non-experts.)

  18. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Lewis C #8. While you wait for a Miami or Huston, with an estimated viewing audience of 2b, would this help?

    Tornado rips through Westminster Abbey just as Kate says ‘I do’, ME

  19. Richard Brenne says:

    with the doves (#14) – I agree with everything you say so well!

    Like all generalizations this is a gross one, but generally there are two kinds of thinking and speaking about climate change by scientists. One is conservative and won’t say anything without abundant and abundantly clear data to back it up.

    The other is more candid and courageous and connects dots, looks at the big picture and talks about possibilities even when there is uncertainty.

    The conservative approach includes many scientists who want the most bomb-proof data they can get before saying or doing anything.

    But I think the best scientists and the ones I appreciate and respect most talk about possibilities even when there are uncertainties, and those would include Jim Hansen, Kevin Trenberth, Tom Karl and unfortunately few others.

    Tom Karl told me he felt that there was a relationship between global warming and an increase in tornadoes, and that surprised me because I haven’t seen that reflected in scientific papers yet (maybe someone else has?). When I said something to that effect he said that with more water vapor and energy in the system, when cold dry air would inevitably collide with warmer and moister air, more tornadoes would result.

    As the longtime head of the National Climatic Data Center, former President of the AMS and the author of countless papers I respect, I’m going to listen to Tom (and Kevin, and Jim) more about this than more cautious and less candid scientists, and certainly all those less expert about this kind of big picture perspective than they are, which includes pretty much everyone.

  20. Dan Miller says:

    @3 Gnobuddy: “Is there time?” I’ve had the good fortune to spend time with Jim Hansen and I have to say he is more optimistic than I am. When I brought up the subject of what would happen if we ceased emissions tomorrow, he thought we would be in decent shape and CO2 levels would begin moving back towards 350.

    He did say that he thought we only had a year or two (“10 years would be too long”) to *begin* reducing CO2 emissions, or else we will eventually end up with a world without ice. After a few more years, the rate of reductions needed to get back to 350 would be beyond what we could achieve (except, of course, for collapse).

    He and I are not optimistic about the path we are on.

  21. Vic says:

    Merrelyn @ 18,

    “Tornado rips through Westminster Abbey just as Kate says ‘I do’”.

    Not sure we could rely on that, but I certainly get the impression that Britain’s last ever monarch can now be seen as a glint in William’s eye.

  22. Ben Lieberman says:

    NPR in its wisdom chose to utilize John Christy as their expert in a recent story. He so downplayed the possibility that the recent spate of tornadoes was at all unusual that even the host expressed some incredulity.

    For those who wish to subject themselves:

  23. Vic says:

    Adelady @ 17,

    “just focus on that 4% extra moisture figure.”

    If at a party or a pub, a good, mind-blowing way of broaching this subject is to mention the 4% extra condensation on the outside of the glass your listener is holding, and the glass of that guy over there, and hers over there…

  24. Lewis C says:

    Merelyn – it would indeed be a benign act of Creation to manage the timing of such a tornado with such finesse as to get the vows completed – let alone the targetting of one of such unprecedented scale as to rip through that ancient stone abbey.

    Bloody Murdoch would make a mint of course – as he did out of the death of Princess Dianna – (did anyone else have a billion-$ motive ?).

    Vic – it seems you are suffering from miopic crystals balls, so I feel I should clarify the British commitment to a constitutional monarchy for your better information.

    The monarch is widely recognized here as the final defence against politicians’ hunger for supreme power. For example, when the hag Thatcher was elected (by 28% of the electorate) within days she had ‘The Times’ declare that:
    “The Prime Minister has requested an audience at the palace to discuss the transfer of the alliegance of the armed forces from the monarch to the office of the Prime Minister.”

    Nothing more was heard of that meeting, nor of her gross disrespect in publicizing her demand, nor of the absurd idea of the armed forces serving a politician – but relations between Downing St and the palace were thenceforth icy.

    Looking at the current crop of presidents of the sundry republics around the world, I see no greater surety of getting people of integrity and full-term perspective to occupy the top of the power structure via the rather dated system known as republicanism, whose roots reflect the plutocratic patriarchial slave-owning cultures of ancient Greece and Rome.

    So I’m pretty confident that the constitutional monarchy we cherish in Britain as the bulwark of democracy will continue to serve future generations. Tornadoes permitting of course.



  25. Lewis C says:

    Dan at 20. –

    I’m interested by your report of Hansen’s response to your question regarding the outcome of a notional overnight end of GHG outputs.

    Given the information available on timelagged warming and parasol-loss warming, alongside the current levels and trajectories of albido-decline warming, forest wildfire emissions, tundra permafrost melt-pool emissions, ESAS clathrate emissions, etc, it begs further explanation.

    The date is a factor of course – so could you say how long ago he gave that response?
    If it was recently, i.e. with the benefit of current information and projections, then I wonder if he gave any explanation as to why the interactive feedbacks would decelerate under the heavily intensifying warming to which we are committed, and thereby reduce their outputs and refrain from swamping the remaining annual carbon sinks ?

    If this can be explained by one of his expertise it would be the best news I’ve heard in many years.



  26. Ed Hummel says:

    Richard #19, I can understand very well why Tom Karl would feel the way he does about the increases in frequency and strength of tornadoes with the increase of 4% in average atmospheric water Vapor. Since this excess water tends to get concentrated when drawn into the low pressure systems formed at the boundary between dry, chilly polar air and very warm and humid tropical air, there is always a lot more latent heat energy available as subsequent uplift and condensation occur than there used to be to drive the severe weather phenomena (thunderstorms and tornadoes) that develop in these system’s warm sectors. So it shouldn’t be surprising to anyone if there actually is a direct link between increased water vapor brought about by warmer oceans and more evaporation and the increase in severe thunderstorm and tornado activity, especially in proximity to an already warm body of water such as the Gulf of Mexico.

    I think one of the problems concerning actually establishing a direct link with a high degree of certainty is our still incomplete knowledge of the exact mechanisms that produce and drive tornadoes. We’ve learned a lot over the last 50 years, but probably not enough yet to make a definitive connection. But I would agree with Karl’s gut feeling based on our general knowledge of how these things operate.

    Of course as Jeff Masters points out, there shouldn’t be any question about the correlation between the high sea surface temperatures in the Gulf and the extraordinary rain events that have been occurring over the plains, Southeast and Midwest (and even into New England) the last few years. I really don’t understand how any meteorologist would doubt such a connection since it’s all pretty basic stuff; warmer sea surface and air temperatures, more evaporation, more precipitable water available to any precipitation mechanism that becomes active (in both warm and cold sectors of the overall storm system), and therefore more rain which tends to fall in heavier concentrations and more often as sluggish patterns tend to move slowly or get stuck (another result of a warming atmosphere which results in a weaker jet stream and more sluggish circulation patterns).

    Anyway, I agree with you that some good comments have shown up on this thread, even the ones about earthquakes and tsunamis which may not have much to back them up at the present time, but which still highlight the human follies that have led us to our present predicament.

  27. adelady says:

    “The Prime Minister … transfer the allegiance of the armed forces …”

    !!! Good grief!

    So that’s why the Queen made the horrible harridan stand throughout her áudiences during all those interminable years of her prime ministership.

  28. catman306 says:

    @Ben Lieberman
    R.I.P.: NPR=FLN
    They were worth supporting when they presented a different point of view, closer to the truth, than the commercial media. I’ve been a listener since the first year (73?), but no longer. They started selling the same crap as Fox TV only on radio and a few shades lighter. Fox Lite News

  29. Oale says:

    The heat in the atmosphere retains the Gulf moisture a bit longer time, it sorta jumps over Texas, falls down and soon you may have a situation with Mississippi having a high flow rate(if not a flood) amidst the fires. (ref. Hell and high water)

  30. Dan Miller says:

    Lewis at 25:

    Dr. Hansen was out here in the Bay Area late last year and spoke at Chabot Space and Science Center and the Commonwealth Club/Climate One. In his talk at Chabot, he showed the graph of CO2 this century based on different emission reduction scenarios and said we couldn’t reduce more than 6%/year (IIRC) under normal circumstances. That’s where the next year or two requirement comes from. I think you can find the graph on Jim’s web site: You can watch his interview at Climate One on YouTube. It’s a nice talk because its all Q&A… he doesn’t use slides.

    I’m not sure what assumptions he’s making regarding aerosols and the immediate cessation of emissions. Of course, Joe reported about Jim’s new paper that says aerosols are hiding half of the current warming and CO2 lasts for hundreds of years and aerosols last for a few weeks, so that when we finally clean up our pollution, our “Faustian payment” will be due. I spoke to Dr. Hansen about this last week. I should add that Jim thought the MIT study that says there is a 50% chance we would hit +5C this century was wrong because (1) ocean thermal inertia, and (2) melting ice shelves will cool the oceans temporarily (!!) and therefore, hold the air temperature down. I’m not sure he’s right about this and I’m checking this with another climate scientist I know (her initial reaction was that Jim is wrong on this).

    I co-authored a paper in the journal Oceanography that says the temperature will go above +2C if we cease all emissions today, but a lot depends on assumptions about aerosols, CO2 stability, etc. The scary conclusion of the paper is that whatever temperature we hit, it will take a a very long time to get it back down because of the inertia of the oceans. I don’t think Jim agrees with our conclusions — or at least he has a different set of assumptions.


  31. MapleLeaf says:

    Maybe Joe could highlight this striking image of the area that is being affected by the flooding (from NASA).

    And also on a sombre note, my thoughts are with those people who have lost loved ones and who have been otherwise affected by the the flooding and tornadoes. Very sad. I’m afraid to say the Storm Prediction Center’s forecasts for long-tracked severe tornadoes yesterday and today verified. And the GOP want to cut funding to NOAA…..

  32. Richard Brenne says:

    Lewis C (#25) and Gnobuddy (#3) – I don’t often disagree with Hansen about anything, but based on Dan Miller’s conversation with Hansen (related at #20) I agree with both your views that positive feedbacks already having kicked or kicking in combined with the Tragedy of the Commons from the individual to the national level make it hard to imagine any reason for optimism.

    Could it be, Dan, that your conversation with Hansen was long enough before Copenhagen for him to be optimistic about an international accord?

    Scientists are the most rational of all people, and many might assume the masses, economists and politicians will all ultimately behave rationally as well, when of course they’ve proven otherwise for as long as all three groups have existed.

    I feel our odds of making it are about the same as for Merrelyn’s F5 tornado to interrupt the vows by dancing down the center of Westminster Abbey, and I’m of course rooting for both.

  33. Richard Brenne says:

    Thanks Ed Hummel (#26) for your always-great insights.

    Here’s the list of people I know of who understand both big picture climate change and how it influences weather:

    Kevin Trenberth (trained and worked as meteorologist before PhD from MIT in big picture atmospheric science and has worked to synthesize them), Jim Hansen, Bob Henson (author of both “The Rough Guide to Weather” and the “Rough Guide to Climate Change,” writer for NCAR, masters in meteorology), Stu Ostro (Senior Meteorologist for the Weather Channel, longtime denier of human influence on climate who now gets it in a big way, pioneer in understanding how warming is causing more 500 milibar high pressure ridges, often with corresponding cut-off lows), Joe Romm (Duh – we see how well he gets the connection and communicates it here a number of times each week), Jeff Masters (ditto) and Ed Hummel (that would be you).

    Who else would folks say gets this critical connection and can communicate it to the masses?

    I produced a segment for the Discovery Channel on tornadoes featuring the tornado-guru (a human guru of tornadoes, not an actual tornado) Howie Bluestein (the inspiration for either Helen Hunt or the other guy in the movie “Tornado’). This was several years ago and he didn’t seem to feel at that time that there was a correlation between global warming and increased tornadic activity. In fact he wasn’t real sure about anything having to do with global warming, including the human contributions (maybe being at the University of Oklahoma in Inhofe’s state. . .). He was definitely a “trees” and not “forest” guy.

    Stu Ostro told me that after a lengthy conversation Stu convinced Howie of Stu’s position that global warming is very real and human-caused.

    I don’t know where Howie stands on the issue of increased tornadic activity, but I’d love to moderate a panel with Howie, Kevin, Kerry Emanuel (all got their PhDs from MIT atmospheric science within years of each other) and Tom Karl to address that subject.

    Also I’d like to moderate a panel with Inhofe, the Koch Brothers, Watts and Monckton in Westminster Abbey as an F5 tornado hit (again).

  34. Paulm says:

    Wonder what a f5 tornado cam do to a nuclear plant with a direct hit?

    4 nukes forced to close….

  35. Robert says:

    “Tornado rips through Westminster Abbey just as Kate says ‘I do’”.

    Unlikely, but I’ll keep my fingers crossed. I hope it doesn’t mess up the UK Republic street party I’ve organised tomorrow.

    (just joking – I love having my country turned into a medieval theme park for a day).

  36. Anne says:

    Just a year or two ago, the common climate science wisdom was that climate change can put “hurricanes on steroids” (to quote the late, great Steve Schneider) – but – there was no established link between climate change and tornadoes. While Tom Karl’s gut is more educated than my own, my instincts and personal sensibilities were not ready to take “tornadoes on steriods” off the table. It seems our entire meteorological system is being torqued and perturbed and distorted to the point where whole new equilibriums are being reached, with violent adjustments, weather itself becoming an increasingly unpredictable and deadly proposition. Mother Nature on a rampage!

    @Richard Brenne… ditto on the idea of a loony-tunes panel with Inhofe/KochBros/Watts/Monckton… love it!… but only if Lady Gaga moderates and Elton John sets it to music.

  37. Sarah says:

    @ Ben Lieberman 22, and catman306 #28

    Complain to NPR for picking Christy to comment on climate at

    If enough of us make enough noise every time they trot out that drivel, they could still be embarrassed into improving. Here we talk to the choir; we need to apply the same effort to pressure points that have wide and influential audiences.

  38. Lewis C says:

    Dan – many thanks for your detailed response.

    As a layman I’ve studied the last few decades’ papers as best I can and find your conclusion of at least 2.0C of warming without any further anthro emissions convincing, under the assumption of no action for albido restoration.

    However, short of some phenomena switching off the feedbacks, that 2.0C is evidently just the start of greater warming, given both current feedback outputs and the sheer scale of carbon held in marine and terrestrial banks, as well as the area of the cryosphere vulnerable to melting.

    The only natural negative feedback of relevant scale that I’ve heard of is the still controversial hypothesis of increased seismic activity resulting from the uneven and varying redistribution of mass through the melting of ancient terrestrial ice. This may generate greatly increased vulcanism ejecting sufficient sulphate aerosols to provide significant temporary cooling, but neither its timing nor its scale are predictable, so it cannot be considered as a component of strategy. (Nor, in human terms, remotely welcome).

    From this perspective the need of carbon recovery alongside emissions contraction seems very obvious – Hansen is on record as proposing 8ppmv/yr of recovery being a feasible eventual target via afforestation for biochar.

    What seems equally obvious to me (for all it is still a minority opinion) is that even with rapid anthro-emissions contraction, sufficient carbon recovery cannot physically be achieved before the feedbacks have been further amplified by the several decades of rapid warming to which we are committed, thereby driving them beyond the point of control by human intervention, and swamping both natural and new anthro carbon sinks with their outputs.

    In this light it appears that deploying the most benign effective form of albido restoration has become an inevitable interim requirement as the sufficient complement to emissions contraction and carbon recovery during the decades their completion will require. I’d suggest that each leg of this tripod strategy is necessary, and that only in combination do they offer a potentially sufficient response to our predicament.

    Hansen’s projection of a temporary ocean cooling due to ice melt doesn’t appear to negate the need for that third leg of albido restoration, as it would occur at the cost of massive albido loss that would accelerate the destabilization of both forest and tundra carbon banks at least for many decades. And that is if, of course, he were proved correct in the idea of significant ocean cooling via ice-melt.

    It is against this background that I’d greatly appreciate your thoughts on the advisability of rapid RD&D of albido restoration technologies as a focus for future campaign efforts.



  39. Ed Hummel says:

    Richard (#33), I didn’t know you had a violent streak! (F5 tornado at Westminster Abbey!) Also, I feel humbled that you would group me with such well respected and accomplished climate scientists. I’m just a retired meteorologist and science teacher living in the woods who likes to keep up with what’s happening around the world. I agree with Anne (#36) that having Lady Gaga moderate the Westminster discussion and having Elton John set it to music would be ideal. But I would hope that those two could escape the destruction. Also, Anne, I think you nailed it that there is a lot of uncertainty on just how the atmosphere and Mother Nature in general are going to deal with the increased energy that we’ve been so nice to give them to use. I still do some part-time local forecasting here in Maine and so get to watch daily and with fascination how “interesting” the atmospheric circulation patterns are becoming. And Sarah (#37), I also heard that interview on NPR and had to cringe when I heard it was with Christy. Sorry to say, he didn’t disappoint. I agree that we should let NPR and all the other news outlets know what we think of their unenlightened choices for interviewees on such matters. Thanks for the link.

  40. Prokaryotes says:

    Massive tornado outbreak kills 202; 100-year flood coming on Mississippi River

    NOTE: These images are not from Japan Tsunami! Welcome to the 3rd world!

  41. Prokaryotes says:

    A stunning tornado outbreak of incredible violence has left at least 202 dead across the Eastern U.S.; injuries probably number over a thousand, with 600 injured in the town of Tuscaloosa alone. The tornadoes carved huge swaths of damage, completely flattening large sections of many towns, and damage from the storms is likely to be the greatest in history for any tornado outbreak. Hardest hit was Alabama, with at least 149 dead; at least 36 were killed in neighboring Mississippi. NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center logged 160 preliminary reports of tornadoes between 8am EDT yesterday and 8am EDT today. At least 11 of these tornadoes were killer tornadoes; deaths occurred in six states. Damage from some of these storms appeared to be at least EF-4, and it is likely that there were multiple violent EF-4 or EF-5 tornadoes.

    The 3-day total of preliminary tornado reports from this outbreak is 278, close to the 323 preliminary tornado reports logged during the massive April 14 – 16 tornado outbreak. That outbreak has 155 confirmed tornadoes so far, making it the largest April tornado outbreak on record. It is unprecedented to have two such massive tornado outbreaks occur so close together. According to a list of tornado outbreaks maintained by Wikipedia, only two other tornado outbreaks have had as many as 150 twisters–the May 2004 outbreak (385), and the May 2003 outbreak (401).

    *** We starting to see now real change in the world.

  42. English Mark says:

    I watched the climate change movie “The Age of Stupid” recently. I was not surprised to see a fictional future BBC news on it which reported savage weather across the world, Amazonia ablaze etc… and finished with the question “is climate change happening?”. No doubt it was followed by a debate with one denier and one scientist, and obfuscation in the press. One wonders when if ever the penny will drop.

  43. Dan Miller says:

    Richard @32: Let me correct a misconception I may have created. Jim Hansen was optimistic that IF we cut emissions to zero, temperatures would stabilize rather quickly and natural processes would begin reducing CO2 back to 350. He is also optimistic that we can get back to 350 this century IF we begin reducing CO2 IMMEDIATELY at a rate of about 6%/year. Those are the biggest IFs in the world! He is not optimistic at all about the path we are on, which is why he is willing to be arrested in front of coal plants.

    Lewis @38: I agree that we will need to do some form of geo-engineering. That, in fact, is the conclusion of our Oceanography paper that I referenced above. Of course, as Jim Hansen points out in his latest paper, we already are doing SRM (solar radiation management) by releasing pollution into the air that is blocking around half of global warming… only we are not doing this SRM on purpose! While we might need to do more SRM for a while, it is very dangerous (kind of like chemotherapy). On the carbon reduction front, besides biochar, I like direct air capture systems. Besides meeting with Jim last week, I also met with Klaus Lackner (they are both at Columbia). Klaus is working on an air capture system that can eliminate ALL of our current emissions. We would only need to build about 100 million of these boxcar-size devices (the world makes about 70 million cars per year) and it would cost about $1 trillion/year to run. I think that’s the biggest bargain in the world! For more on Klaus’s system, see his excellent article in Scientific American last year.

  44. Lollipop says:

    I appreciate the commenters on this blog who know prominent climate scientists and are able talk about their various predictions and what they think of the situation. I don’t know anyone fancy or famous, but I can say that I worked a college reference desk in small midwestern town last night and our conservative Tea Party working class staff member spontaneously said to me, as we watched a tornado on radar near our library, “This is all global warming, isn’t it terrible.” I’m coming more and more to believe that the actual people who live out here in nowhere land know full well what is going on and what is causing it. It’s just the media who choose reflect a small minded and ignorant minority at the expense of the much larger majority of kind hearted and intelligent folks.

    A friend and colleague lost an aunt and uncle last night– prayers and well wishes for those mourning this morning.

  45. John McCormick says:

    RE # 42 Dan’s commnet RE Lewis # 38

    “Klaus is working on an air capture system that can eliminate ALL of our current emissions. We would only need to build about 100 million of these boxcar-size devices (the world makes about 70 million cars per year) and it would cost about $1 trillion/year to run.”

    Help me! Working on a plan to build 100 million air capture devices at what cost to increasing CO2 and other AGW gas emissions in the process and at a cost of $1 trillion/yr O&M costs is like talking into his hat.

    We cannot even persuade the US to limit domestic coal use and not increase coal exports. Where does Klaus think his plan will find the global agreement to share costs? Its all a paper exercise; not unlike clean coal and CCS.

    John McCormick

  46. Bob Doublin says:

    @34. I had heard 3 but believe your figure. I cannot get the image out of my head of what might happen if an EF5 scored a direct hit on the spent fuel storage pool of a reactor-these are the same style as Fukupshima. Further discomfort arises thinking about how the Weather Channel described it last night: “Debris is falling out of the sky all over northern Alabama.” You wouldn’t need an explosion to have one nightmare of a cleanup and contamination.

  47. Lewis C says:

    Dan – thanks again for your response –

    Your paper is perhaps the clearest exposition to date of the need for the tripod strategy and has my profound respect, and I’m sorry my question wasn’t more clearly put.

    What I sought was your opinion on whether campaigning by activists would be of net benefit on this issue, or whether it would unhelpfully risk triggering auto-rejection by the status quo, and so should be limited to ending obstructive opposition to Geo-E within the climate defence movement ?

    I should perhaps add that while SRM is a technically correct description of what is needed, it lacks both direct simplicity for public comprehension and the link to the fact that albedo is being suppressed and needs urgently to be restored. Thus I’m hoping to encourage the use of the term “albedo restoration.”

    With regard to carbon recovery via Lackner’s extraordinay machines, I have to say that I doubt they can match the potential financial, ecological and societal benefits of the afforestation-for-biochar route, though with a sufficiently high global carbon price they would clearly be affordable. The critical difference will I suspect be the co-product syngas output of biochar production (holding around 30% of the fuelwood’s energy potential) that is readily converted to liquid fuel – of which we are heading into extreme scarcity in the coming years.



  48. Joan Savage says:

    In extreme weather, human enterprises are often destroyed, but trees are still living, though missing some branches. The trees have gotten me thinking about carbon sequestration in biomass.

    I don’t need to be told that the anthropogenic emissions of fossil carbon currently exceed natural storage processes. Yet, decline in net primary production of biomass and decline in soil retention of carbon are part of the imbalance.

    One thought about plants and their symbiont soil biota is that they are the survivors of the C-T boundary mass extinction and the P-E extinction. They have a much larger genome, chock full of adaptive options, than do mammals.

    If I had to bet on what can survive carbon abuse, it would be microbes, fungi, plants and insects. Allying ourselves with those winners might be a way to squeak through.

    Before someone says there is no net increase in storage of carbon in a mature forest, remember there is no net *increase* in storage in an undisturbed vein of coal, either.

    Better yet, if a forest builds the soil beneath it, there is a slow net increase in carbon in the system. This can happen in temperate and arctic systems, while tropical forests tend to have little carbon retained in soil.

    And — terrestrial vegetation helps with cloud formation, which brings albedo effects.

    Reduce fossil carbon and increase biotic carbon!

  49. Richard Brenne says:

    Dan Miller (#43) – Thanks for your kind responses to Lewis and me.

    In addition to car production, the production of Klaus’ machines also relates well to WWII production of planes, ships and all motor vehicles that ultimately totaled many millions.

    The difference is that the nations making those things saw an immediate and visceral threat. Everyone in those nations agreed to that threat. No credible person disputed that Pearl Harbor had been attacked.

    Climate change is very different. Many if not most dispute how dangerous it really is, including some experts.

    So we’ve seen little or no meaningful action to address climate change.

    Scientists want to do their science and not be seen as advocates. Fine, do your science as a scientist, then change clothes and do your advocacy as a human being, as Hansen has done.

    Jim and Kevin are in the late-60s, obviously well-established in their careers and unafraid of what their employers or institutions might do to them if they speak out.

    But I think if we are to do the best we can to avoid the worst disasters, virtually every scientist needs to do this in every way they can, speaking to everyone they can through every media outlet they can.

    They also need to second the likes of Tom Karl, Anne (#36) and Ed Hummel (#39) and say things like, “While it takes many years of painstaking science to establish the link between global warming and tornadoes, a simple understanding of both physics and common sense leads me to believe that global warming is creating more tornadoes and more powerful ones as well. Higher sea surface temperatures alone would do that, and with more baseline warming we’re seeing greater likelihood of hotter atmosphere and sea surface temperatures. So yes, I’m going out on a limb that has an increased chance of being broken off by a tornado: Global warming is increasing tornadoes. And in a decade or so I’m confident the science will catch up with that fact.”

    Having kept science free of advocacy would be the smallest of consolations on a dead planet.

  50. Ken Krieger says:

    Dan Miller @43, thank you for your interesting comments and for the reference to Lackner, that’s one I had missed, and if feasible, an interesting, appealing idea. Although I am curious as to why this idea has not been more widely adopted by policy makers. Must be something wrong with it, no? Like John McCormick @ 45, I wonder what other problems exist with the idea? I truly hope I am wrong, but after years of studying these issues, one easily becomes skeptical of ideas that seem-too-good-to-be-true; they usually are. Among the many, many questions, wouldn’t the capital investment in 100 million boxcar sized devices be prohibitive? I looked at the Scientific American reference and noticed in the abstract that with mass production the claim is for $30 a ton cost of CO2 removal. Doesn’t that work out to about $0.30 a gallon? The cost to operate might be a reasonable tax to buy time for a transition period, but not the investment cost unless the $30 a ton includes a payback to capital. Even so, the amount of capital required may be too large.

  51. malcreado says:

    >boxcar-size devices (the world makes about 70 million cars per year) and it would cost about $1 trillion/year to run.

    How many CO2 sucking trees could you plant for 1 Trillion a year…

  52. Joan Savage says:

    Klaus Lackner’s daughter’s science experiment used sodium hydroxide to neutralize CO2. That reaction produces sodium carbonate and water.

    A geek pun is that it’s pretty basic.

    More broadly, others have also been looking at “rock weathering” as a neutralization method for CO2. That would be instead of accidentally destroying marble sculptures, intentionally exposing rocks to atmospheric carbon dioxide.

    Here’s recent article on a Finnish venture, Cuycha, which proposes to use feldspar, a silicate:

    Note: Where Lackner went from his daughter’s experiment in developing the chemical process is not clear from the press coverage. However he too mentions silicates, and CO2 extraction for sequestration. How the product development has come along since then is also hard to see right away. The GRT company doesn’t seem to have a firm grip on its web identity.

  53. Dan Miller says:

    Regarding comments on Lackner’s air capture (and similar) systems: This is still in the early stages of R&D. There is no way we are going to deploy this now unless (until) everyone gets scared (later this decade?). But right now, it makes sense to do more research and development on these types of systems so that they are ready when finally decide to deploy them.

    As for other methods being more cost-effective, I think we should prepare to deploy all of them that don’t have nasty side effects. Reforestation is a no-brainer, but what if higher temperatures kill trees faster than we can plant new ones? Bio-char is great, but there is a limited amount of biomass available for this (and for biofuels, etc.). A trillion dollars per year would be a bargain compared to the cost of rising CO2 levels. The world GDP is about $60T I believe. So you either spend $1T/year or you lose $60T per year (and your life too).

    There is an old Jack Benny routine where he is walking down the street and thug comes up to him, sticks a gun in his face and says “Your money or your life!”. Jack just stands there. After a while the thug says “What are you waiting for?!”. Jack replies “I’m thinking. I’m thinking.” This is what is going on in the world. We think we have a choice, but it is like the choice to step on the brake or not to avoid driving off a cliff. I guess it is a choice, but not really.


  54. Joan Savage says:

    Dan Miller (#52)

    Thanks for putting the rock weathering R&D in context. I left an earlier post which Joe refrained from posting, a good idea, as in hindsight it may have looked too ‘infomercial’ regarding the different rock weathering initiatives.

    To respond to your question, “but what if higher temperatures kill trees faster than we can plant new ones?

    We can beat that.
    Match tree requirements up with new climate regimes.
    Diversify the species planted in an area, as the risks are too high with a monoculture.
    Spread plantings of a particular species out across its probable new range to give it a start.
    Give each pioneer planting an accompanying root ball of soil from its home range to bring along symbionts that help with water and nutrient intake.

    Trees are already doing this migration in some ways. Sassafras was formerly common in the coves of the Appalachians and rare in New York, but it is becoming more common in New York. Maples and pines have weakened, oaks are spreading.

  55. Robert says:

    Each year atmospheric CO2 drops about 6ppm over the summer months as carbon is captured by vegetation:

    If we could find a way of sequestering all that carbon before it re-oxidises at the end of the growing season we would be able to ratchet down CO2 to pre-industrial levels in about 16 years.

    All we have to do is issue a rake to everyone on the planet. Each person collects 5 tonnes of leaves in July, digs a big hole and shovels them in. Problem solved.

  56. Sarah says:

    Robert (#54)

    Just be sure all those 5-ton batches of leaves are sterilized before burial so all those inconvenient microbes that do the oxidation are eliminated. And the holes are completely sealed so none of the soil bacteria can get in. Oh, and be sure not to promote growth of anoxic bacteria either; they’ll make methane.

  57. Lewis C says:

    Dan – While I’m all for primary research of carbon recovery options, part of the beauty of fine discussion fora like CP is how they allow the comparative testing of options’ merits and demerits, that we may see where our limited resources as campaigners can best be applied. In this light I’d respectfully decline your proposal of an ‘all of the above’ (that don’t have nasty side-effects) approach –

    The feasibility of the operating cost of the Lackner Converters looks to me seriously problematic at 1/60th of GDP, given that they reportedly generate no very useful feedstock or product (?), but if deployed at scale would necessarily entail annual mineral supply and waste streams in volumes measured in gigatonnes (?).

    Moreover, such employment as they generate will likely to a large extent be focussed on centralized materials extraction-transport-&-deposition logistics, on skilled mobile plant maintenance crews, and on construction and delivery of additional plants – none of which are particularly beneficial for society, nor stimulating of new sustainable development.

    By contrast, taking the proposed operating budget for Lackner Converters of $1.0Tn/yr and applying it as the capital budget for Afforestation and local-scale Wood Refinery projects – could establish this option over a significant fraction – perhaps >20% – of the 1.5GHa.s of land worldwide that the recent WRI-IUCN report identified as “likely to be available for afforestation,” without diminishing land-use for farming.

    It is also worth noting that for reasons of sustainable productivity the most appropriate basic model for the forests’ sylviculture is likely to be “Coppice & Standards”, which has many variants worldwide and is acknowledged within Europe as accomodating “the greatest biodiversity of any European ecosystem.” It also happens to be labour intensive if it is done well, implying that low-wage rural economies could benefit strongly by its development, particularly by employing young people who otherwise tend drift to the cities to seek a living.

    Moreover, the potential output of liquid fuel from this global scale of forest resource program, as I meant to remark above, could be of global significance not merely in dollar value but also in stabilizing societies that find oil increasingly unaffordable – by supplying home grown fuel to serve proximate demand. Thus overall, this option arguably raises societies’ security in terms of climate, food, energy, ecology and rural prosperity.

    So in comparing the option of Biochar with that of the Lackner Converter, I wonder if we might agree that, apart from its lower capital demands and its potentials for self-funding operation, the highly attractive co-benefits of Biochar imply a far greater ease of adoption and development internationally – and so swifter deployment in the coming years ?



  58. Lewis C says:

    Robert –

    “All we have to do is issue a rake to everyone on the planet. Each person collects 5 tonnes of leaves in July, digs a big hole and shovels them in. Problem solved.”

    This seems a little hard on those unsung heroes of soil enhancement, the humble earthworms, for whom the leaves are an annual harvest. Not to mention the hedgehogs, who’d be right pissed off at losing their winter blankets . . . .



  59. Robert says:

    OK, the rake thing wouldn’t work, but the CO2 graph does give pause for thought. Nature sequesters carbon far faster than we put it into the air during the summer months so if we could figure out some way of locking it in then there might be the basis of a solution.

  60. Lewis C says:

    Robert –

    my post at 57. was an attempt to describe the merits of Afforestation for Biochar as offering just such a solution, and I’d urge you to re-read and consider it.

    As a private contributor I accept that my opinion has no formal profile or standing, so to resolve this I’d note that no less an authority than Hansen is on record as projecting the potential global Biochar capacity as being the recovery of 8.0ppmv CO2 /yr.



  61. Mark says:

    I wonder if this will be the year the Missippi decides to jump channels, an so bypass Baton Rouge and New Orleans?

  62. Mark says:

    Good schematic of the waterways in the lower Mississippi system and flood volumes that were (at least at one time) projected. If I am following the story right, the numbers went up, but the schematic is very interesting to a northern boy who had never heard of the “Old Control Structure”.