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Extreme weather costs lives, health, economy

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“April is the cruelest month.” — T. S. Eliot

CAP’s Daniel J. Weiss, Valeri Vasquez, and Ben Kaldunski have written an excellent 34–page report, “The Year of Living Dangerously.”  Its conclusion begins, “The extreme weather in 2010 could be a preview of a not-too-distant future should we fail to reduce carbon dioxide pollution.”

Here is an overview of that report by the authors.

April 2011 has been a cruel month indeed for Americans due to extreme weather. The Weather Channel observed that:

It’s been a truly awful, record-setting, tornadic April. We’ve had eleven major severe weather events, some lasting multiple days.

These extreme events included “supercell thunderstorms” in Iowa, severe drought and record wildfires in Texas, and heavy rains across the United States. The recent southeastern storms and tornados took at least 297 lives across eight states. And heavy rains in the Mississippi River valley could cause the most severe, damaging floods there in nearly a century.

This extreme weather, though record setting in some places, may be the new normal. Last year, unprecedented extreme weather led to a record number of disaster declarations by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The United States and the world were swept by flooding, severe winter storms, heat waves, droughts, hurricanes, and tornadoes.

The extreme weather of 2010 exacted a huge human and economic toll as well. More than 380 people died and 1,700 were injured due to weather events in the United States throughout the year. And the magnitude of these events forced the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, to declare 81 disasters last year. For nearly 60 years, the annual average has been 33. In 2010, total damages exceeded a whopping $6.7 billion. As of April 2011, FEMA had dedicated more than $2 billion in financial assistance to those harmed by extreme weather in 2010.

A February 2011 special report from Reuters noted that it’s been rough going for the $500 billion U.S. property insurance business, explaining that “storms are happening in places they never happened before, at intensities they have never reached before and at times of year when they didn’t used to happen.”

It is precisely this uncertainty “associated with climate change that substantiates the risks to the economy and society,” says George Backus, D.Engr., of the Discrete Mathematics and Complex Systems Department at Sandia National Laboratories. This is bad news for a nation just emerging from the grips of the Great Recession. Per Backus, a 2010 report from Sandia estimates that “the climate uncertainty as it pertains to rainfall alone [puts] the U.S. economy is at risk of losing between $600 billion and $2 trillion, and between 4 million and 13 million U.S. jobs over the next 40 years.”

Dr. Evan Mills, a scientist in the Environmental Energy Technologies Division at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory confirms that in the United States, “insured weather-related losses in recent years have been trending upward much faster than population, inflation, or insurance penetration, and far outpace losses for non-weather-related events.”

It is difficult, of course, to link or “attribute” individual extreme weather events in a single year to global warming. Climate factors””including human influences””shape weather patterns. According to Munich Re, one of the world’s largest reinsurers, “the only plausible explanation for the rise in weather-related catastrophes is climate change.” And as Kevin Trenberth, Sc.D., head of the Climate Analysis Section at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, explained at the American Meteorological Society’s January 2011 meeting, “Given that global warming is unequivocal, the null hypothesis should be that all weather events are affected by global warming rather than the inane statements along the lines of ‘of course we cannot attribute any particular weather event to global warming.’”

In other words, says Trenberth, “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.”

Atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas pollutants are turning up the heat on our planet. Scientists agree that the string of disastrous weather extremes this past year are the types of severe weather that will become more frequent or ferocious as the planet continues to warm. For instance, in the “first major paper of its kind” tracking global climatic trends from 1951 to 1999, Scottish and Canadian researchers used sophisticated computer models to confirm a human contribution to more intense precipitation extremes with very high confidence.

This analysis is supported by a 2010 Duke University-led study that found, “Global warming is driving increased frequency of extreme wet or dry summer weather in southeast, so droughts and deluges are likely to get worse.”

A study published in the 2011 Journal of Climate presents “evidence of a significant human influence on the increasing severity of extremely warm nights and decreasing severity of extremely cold days and nights.”

Likewise, a report by the National Center for Atmospheric Research, Climate Central, The Weather Channel, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows that “if temperatures were not warming, the number of record daily highs and lows being set each year would be approximately even. Instead “¦ record high temperatures far outpace record lows across the U.S.”

The recent extreme weather should not be a surprise. In 1999, Trenberth projected that global warming would lead to severe precipitation.

An increase in heavy precipitation events should be a primary manifestation of the climate change that accompanies increases in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Nine years later, the U.S. Climate Change Program under President George W. Bush came to a very similar conclusion. “Heavy downpours have become more frequent and intense. Droughts are becoming more severe in some regions.” These are some of the extreme weather events we experienced this April, and in 2010.

Because we have not brought carbon pollution under control, the weather events of 2010 will continue to revisit us””with a vengeance. We must act quickly and unequivocally to address climate change before the threat becomes insurmountable. This includes recognizing that global warming is already affecting us both domestically and internationally.

The purpose of this report is to gather, condense, and synthesize some of the massive amount of data about extreme weather and its links to global warming. This summary of climate science can help provide context to the recent surge in extreme weather events. In this report we will catalogue the extreme U.S. weather in 2010 and then examine the consequences on our health and economy.

As we note in the conclusion, conservatives remain eager to dismiss these weather extremes by claiming they are solely due to natural variability. What’s more, the House of Representatives voted to defund federal science programs that gather and analyze the data essential to understand changes in global weather patterns and other climate impacts. But all this denial cannot make this threat disappear. We must act before cruel Aprils occur every month.

Download this report (pdf)

Download the introduction and summary (pdf)

Daniel J. Weiss is a Senior Fellow and the Director of Climate Strategy, Valeri Vasquez is a Special Assistant for Energy Policy, and Ben Kaldunski is a former intern with the Energy Team at American Progress.  The authors thank Dr. Heidi Cullen, CAPAF Senior Fellow Dr. Joseph Romm, and CAPAF Think Progress Climate Editor Brad Johnson.

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53 Responses to Extreme weather costs lives, health, economy

  1. PurpleOzone says:

    new words/phrases now coming:

    extreme weather
    superstorm
    once in 100/500/1000 years or never before
    wide tornado
    tied record or new record

    What’s the proportion of TV news broadcasting now devoted to weather incidents compared with 50 years ago?

  2. PurpleOzone says:

    oops, I meant “common” not “coming”

  3. David Fox says:

    Apparently the extreme weather we’ve had this April is “just bad luck”.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/04/29/tornadoes-climate-change-2011_n_855369.html

  4. Craig says:

    THE vicious, violent, deadly storms that ravaged the southern U.S. this week, and the other violent weather across the country this past month reminds us just how precious life is. It is good the Federal Emergency Management Agency has been dispatched by Pres Obama to provide all the assistance the U.S. government has to offer in these disaster areas. We all need to keep these people and communities in our prayers and thoughts and donate what we can to relief agencies. BUT, it must be noted, most of these areas devastated by violent weather have elected repiglican and tea-baggers to federal and state office, elected officials who support rep paul ryan’s buget proposal that drastically slashes non-defense government funding, a budget that practically eliminates FEMA. Now that these people need FEMA , and are receiving federal disaster assistance, maybe they will reconsider the propaganda and deception of their repiglican and tea-bagger elected officials? We will see….

  5. Peter W Houlihan says:

    CAP needs to do a better job of describing methods, and their use of references and sources. Don’t get me wrong I just finished giving a lecture on the near scientific certainty of AGW to 300 undergraduates about an hour ago. This report simply lacks rigor. In my courses I teach students about information literacy. I would never except a report like this as a source for their work. I was particularly concerned about this statement: “This report also uses information from Joseph Romm’s Climate Progress, Yale University’s e360, Jeff Master’s Wunderblog, and several other blogs that are well- respected within the scientific community.” Joe I love your blog, but you are not a primary source. Referencing blogs is just the sort of thing that the Heritage Foundation has been criticized for. Policy focused groups can’t afford to start getting sloppy and getting caught up in a self-referencing circle. There are plenty of peer-reviewed articles, reviews papers, and reports that CAP could draw on. What they have done is relied on many sources that are one or more steps removed from the peer-reviewed literature. I don’t trust right-leaning groups that do this. Why should should I trust left-leaning that do it?

    [JR: Sorry, I don't buy it. You didn't do the minimal work needed to make this accusation and you cherry-picked the very end of the "Sources and methodology" section.

    First off there are multiple active links on every page to the scientific literature and primary sources.

    Second, Masters does primary analysis, which you must know if you read this blog.

    Third, my posts themselves link to and synthesize multiple primary sources, as does Yale e360. It is quite safe to say that if you don't click on the links to my posts and accept that analysis, then you wouldn't accept this analysis. This isn't meant to be an IPCC report.

    Fourth, here is the full "Sources and methodology" section (minus the active links):

    The data in the tables and graphs of this report come from the National Climatic Data Center’s Storm Database, which allows the user to search for information by state, time period, event type, and many other criteria. Using this database in conjunction with FEMA incident reports and preliminary damage assessments allowed us to compile information about fatalities, injuries, and economic damage in the absence of comprehensive annual reports.

    The National Weather Service, Insurance Information Institute, Swiss Re, National Agricultural Statistics Service, and NOAA produce annual reports that provide more accurate data on property losses, crop damage, and other effects of severe weather events.

    Information pertaining to the science of climate change, observed trends from the 20th century, climate models, and projections for the 21st century under different emissions scenarios was derived from several reports, most notably the U.S. Global Change Research Program’s 2010 report “Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States,” and the U.S. Climate Change Program’s 2009 report “Extreme Weather in a Changing Climate: Regional Focus on North America, Hawaii, Caribbean and U.S. Pacific Islands.” The findings from these independent publications build on those of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fourth Assessment Report of 2007.

    This report also uses information from Joseph Romm’s Climate Progress, Yale University’s e360, Jeff Master’s Wunderblog, and several other blogs that are wellrespected
    within the scientific community.

    This report is a useful synthesis. Of course, regular ClimateProgress readers will have seen most of this before, although not all in one place.]

  6. Jim says:

    If climate-altered rainfall alone is costing $2 trillion over 40 years (Sandia), and if this should arguably be tripled to account for other climate effects, that would be $6 trillion, or $150 billion, a year.

    So, by ignoring the climate challenge, Congress has imposed a Climate Tax of about $1500 on each of the nation’s 100 million taxpayers – moreover, this tax is collected through increased insurance premiums. property destruction, lost productivity, etc.

    Climate deniers in Congress have imposed a $1500 annual Climate Tax on each American taxpayer. Tax and Deny.

  7. Richard Brenne says:

    This comment is in moderation five posts below and is relevant here:

    I know the culture over at the Weather Channel as well as death threats might make it hard for Stu Ostro to be as completely candid as he would like, but I caught the tail end of a “causes” discussion about the tornadoes yesterday where he said “Yesterday (April 28) it was 91 degrees with 70 per cent humidity in Alabama. Those are summertime conditions.”

    Those summertime conditions met an impressive end-of-April cold front. I don’t have the exact figures (Colorado Bob? Prokaryotes? Ed Hummel? Buehler?) but my guess is that cold front was possible in 1 out of a few years. But the warmth and humidity in Alabama for the date was maybe something like a 1 in 50 year event during the 20th Century, and now it might be closer to something like a 1 in 10 (figures just for illustration purposes provided courtesy of my backside) year event.

    So yes, global warming was a contributing factor in the recent tornado outbreak, no matter what anyone says, no matter how expert.

  8. catman306 says:

    The little known Old River Control Structures, a frail line of defense between the raging Mississippi River and a total dislocation of the US economy, by way of the Atchafalaya River.

    With the great flood coming downstream, this could very well be the year that the Mississippi changes course.

    http://www.dailyimpact.net/2011/04/28/mississippi-rising-apocalypse-now/

  9. dbmetzger says:

    “Perfect storm” Kills 290 in Southern US
    At least 290 people have been killed and countless homes destroyed as what is being described as a “perfect storm” hits six states in the US’ south.
    http://www.newslook.com/videos/308024-perfect-storm-kills-290-in-southern-us?autoplay=true

  10. Colorado Bob says:

    catman306 @ #9

    Yep, that very old chuck on concrete will be sorely tested.

  11. Colorado Bob says:

    One thing I have noticed this spring, and the Tuscaloosa storm was another example of it. As that cell crossed into Alabama , it was 54,000 feet at the tops.

    Nothing makes grapefruit sized hail like a super cell that is 10 miles high. The size of hail stones and the number of reports of baseball sized hail is on the increase.

  12. Richard Brenne says:

    catman306 (#8) – That is a great link. Would you consider that as a guest post, Joe?

  13. Robert In New Orleans says:

    What happens when insurance companies start raising rates and/or stop selling policies altogether?

  14. Steve Bloom says:

    This is a paragraph from the intro, starting with the zombie framing and ending with Trenberth’s admonition to STOP USING IT (my bolding, and please excuse the shouting):

    It is difficult, of course, to link or “attribute” individual extreme weather events in a single year to global warming. Although the climate system is driven by the law of physics, its daily expression in the form of weather is chaotic. But it is clear that climate factors—including human influences—shape weather patterns. According to Munich Re, one of the world’s largest reinsurers, “the only plausible explanation for the rise in weather-related catastrophes is climate change.” And as Kevin Trenberth, Sc.D., head of the Climate Analysis Section at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, explained at the American Meteorological Society’s January 2011 meeting, “Given that global warming is unequivocal, the null hypothesis should be that all weather events are affected by global warming rather than the inane statements along the lines of ‘of course we cannot attribute any particular weather event to global warming.’”

    *sigh*

  15. Steve Bloom says:

    Just to add the probably obvious point that what is needed is not just a statement of what we shouldn’t say, but what we should say. Note that there are two cases to cover, one of events made more likely (either more frequent or stronger) by global climate disruption and the other (much rarer, so far) of events where individual attribution can be done since they could not have occurred without the influence of global climate disruption (an example being last summer’s Russia/Pakistan event as analyzed by Trenberth).

  16. Steve Bloom says:

    Oops, I see that the first comment to which I just referred is in moderation. All will make sense once it appears, I promise.

  17. MarkB says:

    Reading Revkin’s post prompted me to do some research on the possible thunderstorm/tornado link to climate change, as absent from his post were some studies I had recalled reading about.

    From 2007:

    “Global warming could bring the USA a dramatic increase in the frequency of weather conditions that feed severe thunderstorms and tornadoes by the end of the 21st century, says a study out Monday.

    Some locations could see as much as a 100% increase in the number of days that favor severe thunderstorms, says the study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.”

    http://www.usatoday.com/weather/climate/globalwarming/2007-12-03-severe-thunderstorms_N.htm

    “WASHINGTON — As the world warms, the USA will face more severe thunderstorms with deadly lightning, damaging hail and the potential for tornadoes, a trailblazing study by NASA scientists suggests.”

    http://www.usatoday.com/weather/climate/globalwarming/2007-08-31-severe-storms_N.htm

    http://www.agu.org/pubs/crossref/2007/2007GL030525.shtml

  18. Merrelyn Emery says:

    There is a statement by Trenberth and some great graphs re tornados from NOAA over on Tenney Naumer’s Climate change psychology blogspot. Anyone who tells you this was bad luck or nothing unusual can’t read a trend line, ME

  19. Richard Brenne says:

    Merrelyn Emery (#18) – The link is here:

    http://thinkprogress.org/2011/04/29/climate-science-tornadoes/

    It’s funny that from your comment I went to Tenney’s blog and then to her other blog and then to another blog that sent me to Wattsupwiththat (where there were tornadoes coming out of their ears at the suggestion of a connection between global warming and these tornadoes) to finally get this link to Brad Johnson’s post at ThinkProgress that I’m guessing (and hoping – praying?) that Joe will cross-post here, because I think it’s critical in this discussion.

    Kevin’s comment is most appropriate and knowledgeable, then Michael Mann’s, then Gavin’s. But to Gavin’s saying that the exact link between global warming and tornadoes has not been determined, I’d resurrect my earlier comment here at #7 and restate it here:

    With human fossil fuel burning there is increased CO2 and thus increased warming that increases the likelihood of record or near-record heat and humidity events like the 91 degrees and 70 per cent humidity in Alabama when the biggest tornadoes hit there two days ago.

    So while the exact links, mechanism and statistical analysis still needs to be done, from my sentence above isn’t it clear that the likelihood of this event occurring has increased with global warming, and thus there is a connection? Yes? No?

  20. WorryBug says:

    “We must act quickly and unequivocally to address climate change before the threat becomes insurmountable.”

    What do we do if it is already insurmountable? :(

    [JR: Still gotta make the switch to clean energy.]

  21. windsong says:

    We had a heat wave in Delaware and Md. that lasted 2 months in the BEGINNING of the summer (100 degree weather almost every day). I’ve never experienced a heat wave that lasted for more than a few DAYS previous to this. Russia was on fire for most of the summer, Pakistanis swimming for their lives most of the summer, Brazil experiencing catastrophic mud slides, China having sever weather, Japan almost disappeared, southern towns wiped out… we’ve had one climate catastrophe after the other for over a year and people STILL don’t connect the dots! (All the newspapers and people off the street says it’s not from climate change) Absolutely amazing!!

  22. Joan Savage says:

    “A February 2011 special report from Reuters noted that it’s been rough going for the $500 billion U.S. property insurance business, explaining that “storms are happening in places they never happened before, at intensities they have never reached before and at times of year when they didn’t used to happen.””

    The Reuters report also discussed the challenge of the insurance industry to establish housing standards that can withstand hurricane-force wind and 8 inches per hour of precipitation.

    Indigenous peoples who lived for thousands of years in the seasonal paths of tornadoes and hurricanes had two kinds of housing; one made of very lightweight fiber which was easy to replace, and the other a massive earth-sheltered structure. See information on Mandan, Arikara and Caddo traditional housing. This solution is similar to traditional Japanese housing that was adaptive to earthquakes and monsoons: it included two buildings, a wood-and-paper house and a stone strong-house.

    A modern wooden house with a reinforced concrete basement is basically the airy disposable housing version sitting on top of the earth refuge version.

    The CP post is in “Extreme Weather” and not “Adaptation,” but the Reuters link had that bit in it.

  23. Steve Bloom says:

    Re #5: I skimmed through the links and I think the scientific claims were sourced appropriately. Note that there was a section on the political implications, which would have been a little difficult to source from a climate science paper. If you can point to any specific citation that’s a problem, of course course you should do so and I’m sure a correction will be made.

    That said, this paragraph in the conclusions is a bit of disaster, starting off with the classic climate change stock-flow conflation and not precisely going uphill from there:

    “In order to avoid future extreme weather and hold Earth’s temperature increase to 3.6°F, the United States and other nations around the world must stabilize total carbon dioxide emissions in the 350 ppm to 400 ppm range. Most climate scientists agree that it will be necessary to stabilize at 450 ppm to avoid the worst problems from climate change, but debate rages on about the economic and political feasibility of the marker. The window of opportunity is closing rapidly and it might no longer be possible to reach the crucial reduction goals set for 2020 and 2050.”

    Are we still not clear that it really is 350 ppm *maximum*, rather than the minimum implied, noting that there is no longer any doubt that stabilizing at 390 ppm gets us a different planet? Evidence for most climate scientists thinking 450 ppm will avoid the worst effects? Also, what 2020 and 2050 goals? They’re not mentioned elsewhere in the document.

  24. Richard Brenne says:

    I don’t mean to beat a dead horse but rather Brian Williams, who I admit I’m all over like a cheap suit (not that you can tell from his wardrobe).

    I feel Brian is one of the good guys in journalism, with a truly world-class sense of humor seen when he reported the death of the inventor of the teleprompter a few days ago, then reading how “Anyone as dumb as a box of rocks can read the news from a teleprompter” while showing us those exact words as he read them from, you guessed it, his teleprompter.

    But when the future of all living things is on the line and not reported, I’m hyper-critical of underreporting the story of this or any other century, climate change, especially when a teachable moment to this degree last appeared during Katrina almost six years ago.

    So I brightened like a bride in Westminster Abbey when tonight (April 29 NBC Evening News) Brian started a dialog with the Weather Channel’s Jim Cantore about what is going on with our weather. Cantore said something like “When you’ve got global warming you get the jet stream trying to spread the growing warmth around the world. Also more heat and humidity help create these kinds of things.”

    After little more was said and even less clarified, Williams ended by saying “I guess we’re all trying to explain away what is happening.”

    Huh? (Translation for Canadians: Eh?) Brian, it is not your job to explain away anything, but it is your job (with experts) to explain what is happening. Instead of the immensely charismatic Cantore, you should have the immensely more expert Kevin Trenberth or Tom Karl or others of comparable stature and knowledge on the air.

    Cantore should have said what his colleague Stu Ostro said the day before that I quote in comment #7 above, how Alabama’s 91 degrees and 70 per cent humidity on April 27 was made far more likely by global warming. That alone is enough of a link, as is the 4% additional water vapor in the atmosphere since around 1970, the extra energy in the system equivalent to the output of 190,000 nuclear power plants since that same year, etc.

    Instead of breathless coverage of the royal family’s attempting an occasional genetic outcross, TELL US WHAT WE ARE DOING TO OUR WORLD! NOW!

  25. Steve Bloom says:

    Re #19: Richard, I think the nuance is that while all else equal we should expect more and stronger tornadoes along with the general increase in severe convective storms, the historical data on them is too poor to tell if it’s happening (tornadoes being hard to observe if they form where no one can see them). In addition, as with tropical cyclones, there are possible countervailing factors that might come into play.

    Re #24: What, Kate’s not German!!!??? :)

  26. kiwichick says:

    the scary thing is that the situation is much worse than even most of the credible experts are either recognising or acknowledging

    it is not climate change by itself but the combination of human population and resource depletion on top of AGW

    http://peakoil.com/production/abc-catalyst-peak-oil-report/

  27. Peter W Houlihan says:

    My criticism was aimed at using blogs as sources. I certainly did the minimum work needed to make that statement. When we start using blogs as sources we are taking a step backward and we open ourselves up for reasonable criticism. Blogs are an appropriate medium for communicating about science and policy, but there are no standards in place that justify using them as sources. I would have hoped my comment would have opened up a useful discussion about this issue. Instead I am dismissed outright with the condemnation that I am a cherry-picker. An epithet on this blog usually rightly reserved for climate change denialists, a party I am not even remotely a member of. Perhaps the report is a useful synthesis, that does not mean it is above criticism.

    [JR: So you came to a blog to criticize the credibility of blogs as sources. And you thought that would be met with a positive reaction? Many blogs are at least as good as the traditional media, who are regularly used as sources. The best blogs are better than most of the MSM. I can see no inherent reason why a general report can't cite them, especially once it is clear to everyone that said report extensively cites the scientific literature.]

  28. Richard Brenne says:

    Steve Bloom (#25) – Well put, I agree. As much as I like Brian, on this issue I’d give you his job in a heartbeat. I also agree with kiwichick, in fact with all of them.

  29. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Richard #19 and Steve #25. I am sure Gavin is correct in the precise scientific way of things but I find statements such as his in this context of rapidly accelerating disasters, increasingly problematic.

    Surely now, the public and the media should be getting direct unequivocal statements from scientists so that the doubters, the deniers and the ignorant are left with no loopholes to do their double sommersault with pike dives through.

    Your logic sounds good to me Richard and is in line with Trenberth’s increasingly direct statements and I just wish there were more of them. ‘Strike while the iron is hot’ is still a useful piece of folklore, ME

  30. Merrelyn Emery says:

    The graphs I mentioned #18 are from http://www.spc.noaa.gov/wcm/ ME

  31. catman306 says:

    Meanwhile fires continue to rage in West Texas:
    http://www.cnn.com/2011/US/04/29/texas.wildfires/

    Spirit 1968 The Great Canyon Fire in General
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JRHMHBgDH-I

  32. Colorado Bob says:

    Some extreme weather in Texas today (Friday) -
    97F ( A new daily record ) with SW winds at 45 mph gusting to 68 mph.

    We set 3 new high temp records in April , and booked the driest April on record here.

  33. Colorado Bob says:

    The U.S. probably won’t take significant steps to curb climate change until an environmental disaster sways public view and prompts political action, Robert Stavins of Harvard University said.

    “It’s unlikely that the U.S. is going to take serious action on climate change until there are observable, dramatic events, almost catastrophic in nature, that drive public opinion and drive the political process in that direction,” Stavins, director of Harvard’s Environmental Economics Program in Cambridge, Massachusetts, said today in an interview in Bloomberg’s Boston office.

    http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-04-29/disaster-needed-for-u-s-to-act-on-climate-change-stavins-says.html

  34. Richard Brenne says:

    Thanks for your last two posts (#28 and #29) Merrelyn. Yeah in meteorological experience combined with atmospheric science knowledge combined with candor (perhaps due to his senior position) I think Kevin’s the go-to guy on this, with of course others I mention helpful as well.

    Jeff Masters had this convincing data about how tornadoes aren’t necessarily increasing in 2008 that he’s still using as his reference, but I think that data will be updated over enough time, perhaps especially when measuring the largest tornado outbreaks that occur when there’s record or near-record heat, humidity and Gulf of Mexico sea surface temperatures as there were in this case. Here’s his link, notice it’s over three years old now:

    http://www.wunderground.com/blog/JeffMasters/comment.html?entrynum=910&tstamp=200802

    Scientists like Kevin, Jim Hansen, Susan Solomon and the handful of most experienced, courageous, big picture viewers can often be a decade or two ahead of the mainstream scientific conclusions that finally catch up with their conclusions (though those are constantly changing) eventually. If I were building or insuring something in a vulnerable area over many decades I’d listen to them and others like them more than all the 20th Century and obsolete data combined. But that’s just me, I like to see who I feel is most expert and candid and then synthesize their views rather than those of less experienced and less candid folks who might have a dog in a particular fight (and I don’t think Gavin does, or at least Vick told me he didn’t).

    If you want to be a good, conservative scientist you’ll look at the hydrological records for the U.S. and say “What increase in flooding?” as I said Robert M. Hirsch and many other top hydrologists do. The same with tornadoes.

    What these top scientists in every way are saying is the same as what Joe says: “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.” Just because up to .8 degree over a century hasn’t necessarily been reflected in flooding and tornadoes over 2% of the Earth’s surface (the over-represented – I’m sure you’ll agree – 48 states) measured mostly up through the 20th Century doesn’t mean that there won’t be an increase in severe flooding and tornadoes globally over the next century when there could be up to 10 times the temperature increase and thus 40% more water vapor (equivalent to 15 Lake Superiors) in the atmosphere and the energy equivalent to the output of almost 2 million nuclear reactors in the system. I think that would create weather no human living now can imagine.

    It’s high time scientists drop their most timid, confusing, caveat-laden clichés and follow the lead of people like Kevin, Jim and Joe with far bolder and ultimately far more accurate statements.

    Or learn to tread water, and air.

  35. Colorado Bob says:

    Hawke’s Bay flooding may impact farmers for years

    More than 500mm of rain fell in the space of 15 hours – that’s almost half the annual rainfall in less than a day.

    http://www.3news.co.nz/Hawkes-Bay-flooding-may-impact-farmers-for-years/tabid/423/articleID/209103/Default.aspx

  36. Peter M says:

    #31 Colorado Bob

    The events in the south where certainly catastrophic, and the drought and fires in Texas as well. What can add to this gallery of weather anomalies?

    A CAT 4 hurricane hitting New Orleans or the northeast this summer? Or perhaps a drought further north in the corn-belt like that in Russia last year?

    I guess you are right- a continued serious of disastrous weather events will be hard to ignore, even by prostitutes in the MSM- and a public thus far disengaged from the harsh realities we are beginning to face. Will it be by 2019? 2029, when opinions shift?

    Its fair to say these catastrophic events are worsening. An ice free arctic in the next few years will amplify anomalies in mid latitudes.

    I know JR has said here- and correct me if I am wrong- that by 2030 we will see events that will be greatly magnified, with warming in the pipeline and feedback’s kicking in. Not too mention by then C02 at over 440ppm.

  37. Joan Savage says:

    As bizarre as this may sound, extreme weather is in a sense a SIDE effect of global climate change. A more distinctive character of human-driven global climate change is change in pattern.

    The solid change in the pattern’s components includes global temperature, methane release, ocean acidification, among others.

    Adding up a stream of catastrophic events, each one of which is still barely in the range of historic extremes, is not as distinctive as being able to see changes in pattern that indicate things will not be returning to normal.

    Right now the US is like a bunch of riders in a roller coaster car that has cranked half way up the steepest incline, and at the half-way up place some of us can still look around and see something familiar, scenes of the 1927 Mississippi flood or the Dust Bowl of the 1930s.

    The distinctive patterns of climate change are most obvious in the Arctic, the “drunken forests,” flammable gas from under the ice, houses heaved by slip and slide of melting permafrost.

    In a blog debate with a retired meteorologist who was a denier, I waded though his information about the ENSO and other oscillations, and I found that my firm ground is on the patterns that have developed that are more persistent (global temperature increase, CO2 increase, loss of phytoplankton) and/or are running counter to natural cycles, like high temperatures recorded even though in a solar minimum.

  38. Timeslayer says:

    @ Steve Bloom, # 14-

    Agreed on the bewildering zombie formulation used by CAP in the report’s introduction. Nonsense like this really makes it tougher to go on reading the rest of the report, even if one recognizes that it probably does contain useful information. Sigh indeed.

    TS

  39. Preamble: I’m sceptical regarding AGW (which means I’m undecided, although I’ll admit the weight of the argument currently appears to be against the hypothesis).

    [JR: You'll "admit" a falsehood? That's what we call a concern troll.]

    I have no vested interest in who is right, I’m just interested in the science.

    [JR: Obviously not.]

    Hence this question, as I’ve read sceptical views and pro-AGW views on the recent tornados, and both seem to be saying different things based on the same observations.

    I will ask the opposite question on WUWT.

    Isn’t it the case that the last time the USA had a “record breaking” number of Tornados was in the mid seventies?

    Wasn’t that around the time when we were being led to believe we were in for a mini ice age?

    [JR: No.]

    Hence, if we get “record breaking tornados” in a a period of rapid cooling, and then again in a warming period, can we say anything at all about the relationship between AGW and tornados?

    [JR: Impressive Gish Gallup. But no, you are confusing/conflating about 3 things.]

  40. Richard Brenne says:

    Derek Sorenson (#38) – This is the cyber equivalent of a cadaver climbing onto the table asking to be thoroughly dissected by our beloved Dr. Joe.

  41. @JR: it’s an honest question. I only ask questions to which I don’t know the answer – which leaves me a lot of scope for questions, to be fair :)

    It’s not a deliberate troll, and I’m sorry it’s perceived that way. My preamble was to be clear about where I am in my thinking at the moment – no more or less.

    What are the 3 things I’m conflating?

    @Richard Brenne: I was at least partially aware of the possibility of being taken apart by someone who knows far more than I do. However, I hope for enlightenment rather than a toasting.

    [JR: My general rule is not to post long-debunked stuff like your comment, but I might loosen that up if it doesn't waste too much of my time than that of the rest of the commenters here. The scientific evidence which was overwhelming 5 years ago has today moved human-caused climate change to the realm of "settled fact" according to the relatively conservative National Academy of Sciences last year. So your first claim is just uninformed, if we take you at your word that you were serious. The 1970s stuff is a very old denier talk point that has been refuted so many times I can only assume that you don't actually spend much time on the websites of people who talk about real climate science. The tornado issue is complicated to be sure, but your 1970s question conflated your repetition of a denier talking point with generally ignoring the local conditions.]

  42. Thanks, Joe, although I still don’t understand I’m afraid.

    Not sure what you mean by “old denier talking point” wrt to the 70s. Are you saying there weren’t predictions of a mini-ice age? I’m old enough – just – to remember the seventies and we were definitely worried about it.

    [JR: Who is "we" tonto? Try reading on 70s myth this.]

    What are the local conditions I’m overlooking? Are they the ones I asked about on WUWT and for which I’m still awaiting a reply – see here:

    wattsupwiththat.com/2011/04/29/noaa-preliminary-analysis-of-april-27-28-tornado-outbreak-make-it-the-3rd-deadliest-so-far/#comment-651244

    You’ll note there the same preamble – I ask the sceptical question here because this is the best place to refute it, and the non-sceptical there because that’s the best place to refute it. In this way I hope to learn from those who know more than me.

  43. Richard Brenne says:

    Derek Sorensen (#41) – I’ve been accused here of feeding trolls (which itself is kind of a trollish, pointless comment), when I generally just bring them their food and put it in front of them.

    In your second comment at #41 you seem sincere, but in your first you use many of the same argumentative tactics used by those who are not sincere. These types of comments are often made by people who are insincere and speaking in bad faith and worst of all pretending to be sincere and speaking in good faith. Those who do that deserve all the skewering they’ve brought upon themselves, while if you’re sincere as you’re saying and I hope, then you don’t.

    If that is the case I apologize for being overly harsh, and just so you know, some of my best friends are cadavers.

  44. Richard Brenne says:

    Oh, and Derek if you’re sincerely interested in what the connection might be between global warming and severe tornado outbreaks as we just experienced in the U.S. South, one thing to keep in mind is how the likelihood of 91 degree temperatures and 70 per cent humidity has increased due to global warming in places like Alabama on April 27 where the most severe outbreak occurred.

    Another is to look back up this thread at comments # 7, 19, 24, 33 by me, comments 14, 15, 25 by Steve Bloom, 17 by MarkB and 36 by Joan Savage and you’ll know more about this than 99% of the public about the possible relationship between global warming and tornadoes.

    Also you’ll see an even more complete list of these discussions in my comments #3 and #6 on the Weekend Open Thread four posts above.

    And then return here on Monday because Joe’s speaking to the best experts about this and synthesizing the current views in a much-anticipated post.

    And as an aside, my own conjecture is that the longstanding European oral tradition of trolls, ogres and giants might be many-generational ancestral memories of when our ancestors lived in Europe with Neanderthals, about the only place those populations overlapped. Neanderthals were the inexplicable “others” and so myths originated to help explain them. That doesn’t exactly relate to tornadoes unless some Neanderthals were carried away by them, something I’m hoping occurs during Donald Trump’s next speech.

  45. Steve Bloom says:

    An amusing sidebar for Monday’s article, Joe:

    So for the tornado story, NPR once again decides to resort to reliable contrarian John Christy. The interview was in between the outbreaks, though, so it gave Christy a perfect chance for self-pwnage:

    WERTHEIMER: So, John Christy, we’re looking at the wild weather continuing?

    Mr. CHRISTY: The wild weather is part of what happens in the United States in spring. I would certainly say somewhere in the United States, you will see some more wild weather coming this year. However, I think the tornado outbreak that we experienced last weekend, you know, is a fairly unusual event. You just don’t see those happening more than once a year.

    So spake the Alabama State Climatologist, just a few days before his state was hammered.

  46. Steve Bloom says:

    Oddly, Derek, I was in high school during the early ’70s and I recall no such ice age scare. The prospect certainly got mentioned, but at all times the expectation was that warming would dominate. Some years back when I was engaging on denialist blogs I would issue challenges for documentation of the scare claim. Surveying the popular media of the time wouldn’t be too difficult, but all I got back in response was the same two or three cherry-picked articles, far short of evidence for a scare. Instead, all of the denialists would just agree that they remembered it that way. Human memory is a funny thing.

  47. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Steve #45, that is priceless. And #46, we worked at ANU in the 1970s and I remember sitting around at lunch discussing global warming with some people wondering if it would ever get bad enough to disrupt the Gulf Stream and freeze the Northern hemisphere. But then we all laughed because of course, we would have well and truly cleaned up our act long before it got to that, ME

  48. Richard Brenne says:

    Steve Bloom (#45) – Christy seems consistently hammered himself. He seems to have become a reliable reverse barometer and inverse prophet, which would be funny if it weren’t so tragic on so many levels.

  49. Re: 1970s cooling, I can’t account for why our memories of the scare are different. I’m also not sure why it’s a big deal; I mentioned it only because at that time temperatures were cooler, and we had a big tornado year, today temperatures are hotter and we have a big tornado year.

    Why is it important that the 1970s weren’t thought to be heading for an ice age? It’s not as though science is ever final – science constantly adjusts, improves, and amends as more data becomes available. Why does it matter then whether scientists of the day thought the world was cooling?

  50. Richard Brenne says:

    Derek Sorensen (#49) – Why no bending over backwards to be polite complete with smiley faces? Because you weren’t sincere then or aren’t now?

    If memory serves there were two popular magazine covers about possible global cooling. The most credible scientist who was concerned about this was probably Stephen Schneider.

    The vast majority of scientific literature of the time was consistent with Arrhenius (1896) and Keeling’s observations since 1958.

    Even now global dimming from human pollution is thought to be reducing the warming that would come from fossil fuels by about half.

    So your phrase “scientists of the day thought the world was cooling” is misleading because a small minority of scientists thought that. Since the majority thought the reverse, “scientists of the day thought the world was warming” would be more accurate.

    Our linkmasters (I’m running out the door to check on Mt. Hood’s rapidly receding glaciers) can provide you with plenty of links about that, including here at CP, if you’re sincere in your concern.

  51. Michael T says:

    Derek Sorensen (#49)

    There was a strong La Nina in 1974 similar to the current 2011 La Nina. A La Nina tilts the odds toward more tornado outbreaks.

    Here is a NOAA video on this outbreak where they talk about the La Nina connection and a possible change in tornado frequency as the planet continues to warm:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KGNp56W-jDY&feature=channel_video_title

  52. @Richard (#50) [I think i get the reply convention now], I don’t really understand why you think I should be using smileys – the single smiley I have used in this thread was self-deprecating, when I admitted my lack of knowledge. Also, I’m not really interested in arguing, particularly about the ’70s. It was a straightforward question but if it’s not welcome then let’s skip it.

    @Michael (#51) thanks – straight answer to a straight question, much appreciated. Your answer would confirm something I’ve read elsewhere, that tornados are more influenced by La Nina than current warming.

  53. Michael T says:

    Derek Sorensen

    Thanks for the comment. If you want to see more videos and information on global warming check out my youtube channel “Climate Hawk”:
    http://www.youtube.com/user/ClimateHawk?feature=mhum