Hell and High Water: Weather Channel labels Texas drought and Mississippi floods truly “exceptional”

Masters: This is “only” a “1-in-100 to 1-in-300 year flood.”

WC drought

Click on image for Weather Channel video.

Weather Channel Senior Meteorologist Jonathan Erdman writes today:

There comes a point at which a meteorological event becomes truly “exceptional”.

We’ve already seen two events just in the past few weeks that pushed the record books to the limit: The deadly swarm of tornadoes from April 25-28 particularly in the South, and now the slow-moving flood disaster that, in some areas is topping the Great Flood of 1927.

There is another weather event that has now crossed the “exceptional” threshold … the Southern drought.

Here’s a question:  At what point do three nearly simultaneous truly exceptional weather events in the same part of one country become something beyond exceptional?

I’d call them climactic climatic events, but in all likelihood they will be fairly un-exceptional weather events in a few decades if we stay anywhere near our current greenhouse gas emissions path.

Erdman himself does make the link to climate change:

In my view, Texas is one of the most “feast or famine” precipitation states in the nation. TWC Meteorologist Carl Parker says Texas has gone from being at least 82% in drought to less than 12% in drought 14 times over the last 11 years!

Parker says this may be evidence of the amplification of the water cycle as predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), relating to greater evaporation over land and water.

It not just the Southern Plains, either. Just under one-third of the state of New Mexico is also in exceptional drought.

The science is increasingly strong on how warming is driving the amplification of the water cycle in the United States itself (see 2010 Study: Global warming is driving increased frequency of extreme wet or dry summer weather in southeast, so droughts and deluges are likely to get worse).

The scientific warnings that we will see stronger and stronger droughts and Dust Bowls in the Southwest have themselves become stronger and stronger, with multiple publications in the last two years (see USGS on Dust-Bowlification in the SW and NCAR analysis warns we risk multiple, devastating global droughts even on moderate emissions path and links therein).

Here’s more on the exceptional weather from meteorologist Dr. Jeff Masters of WunderBlog:

The Mississippi River continues to rise to heights never seen before along its course through the states of Mississippi and Louisiana. At Natchez, Mississippi, the river has already hit 59 feet, breaking the previous all-time record of 58 feet set in the great 1937 flood. The river is expected to keep rising at Natchez until May 21, when a crest of 64 feet–a full six feet above the previous all-time record–is expected. Record crests are also expected downstream from Natchez, at Red River Landing and Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on May 22. Fortunately, the levee system on the Lower Mississippi constructed by the Army Corps of Engineers is built to withstand a greater than 1-in-500 year flood, and this flood is “only” a 1-in-100 to 1-in-300 year flood….

A record number of billion-dollar weather disasters for so early in the year
The U.S. has already had five weather disasters costing more than a billion dollars this year, which has set a record for the most number of such disasters so early in the year. We’ve already beat the total for billion-dollar weather disaster for all of 2010 (three), and with hurricane season still to come, this year has a chance of beating 2008’s record of nine such disasters. The billion dollar weather disasters of 2011 so far:

1) 2011 Groundhog Day’s blizzard ($1 – $4 billion)
2) April 3 -5 Southeast U.S. severe weather outbreak ($2 billion)
3) April 8 – 11 severe weather outbreak ($2.25 billion)
4) April 25 – 28 super tornado outbreak ($3.7 – $5.5 billion)
5) Mississippi River flood of 2011 ($2+ billion)

Losses from the on-going Texas drought and wildfires are already at $180 million, and this is likely to be a billion-dollar disaster by the time all the agricultural losses are tallied.

Again, we’ve only warmed about a degree Fahrenheit in the past half-century.  We are on track to warm nearly 10 times that this century (see M.I.T. doubles its 2095 warming projection to 10°F “” with 866 ppm and Arctic warming of 20°F).  So we ain’t seen nothing “truly exceptional” yet!

Related Posts:

  • Tornadoes, extreme weather, and climate change
  • Hell and High Water: “Great Texas Drought” drives record wildfires as record deluge drives Mississippi floods; NOAA reports “April 2011: historic U.S. extremes in rains, floods, tornadoes, and fires”
  • All extreme weather events are now subject to human influence,” said Dr. Peter Gleick, a climate & water scientist and president of the Pacific Institute, at a Capitol Hill briefing on Monday organized by the American Meteorological Society. “We are loading the dice and painting higher numbers on them.”
  • Stu Ostro, Weather Channel Senior Meteorologist, “The Katrina of tornado outbreaks“:  “The atmosphere is extraordinarily complex, and ultimately what’s happened the past month is probably a combination of influences, including La Nina, other natural variability, and anthropogenic global warming.”
  • NCAR’s Trenberth on the link between global warming and extreme deluges:  “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.”

37 Responses to Hell and High Water: Weather Channel labels Texas drought and Mississippi floods truly “exceptional”

  1. Michael T says:

    NASA posted their global temperature analysis for April:

    April 2011 was +0.55C (above the 1951-1980 average) making it the 4th warmest in NASA’s record.

    And here is the global map:

    Europe and Russia were much warmer than average. The La Nina also appears to be transitioning to neutral conditions.

    [JR: Thanks. I’ll do a post on this Sunday or Monday.]

  2. Lazarus says:

    Exceptional perhaps but also bizarre that there is such an ‘exceptional’ drought cut through by an ‘exceptional’ flood.

  3. Richard Brenne says:

    Another great summary, Joe. Erdman’s view that is written and seen by hundreds or thousands at most on his blog needs to be repeated on The Weather Channel itself and all other networks so it’s viewed by millions.

    Even better and more likely, Jeff Masters and especially Climate Progress need to grow their audiences into the millions, one way or another. Imagine if Brian Williams and his other network clones turned not to the climate change timid Cantore as their outside expert but to an unmuzzled Masters or Romm.

    Either that or the kind of witchcraft communicated by Inhofe, Barrasso, Watts and the other villains regularly showing up here will grow along with the size and frequency of the disasters and that ideology and ignorance will end in the burning at the stake of anyone not equally batsh*t and their witchcraft wingnuttery will win. Congratulations! You’ve advocated and created a dead planet!

  4. Quit flip-flopping, Texas! Are you in flood, or are you in drought? Make up your mind.

  5. Lou Grinzo says:

    And let us not forget the other contributor to the flooding, last winter’s Snowmageddon. Check the NBC News clip in my post below.

    This is extremely worrisome — we get more snow because of the greater moisture in the air and then when spring comes it melts and combines with heaver than normal rain to produce the rolling disaster that’s just now reaching New Orleans. If that doesn’t sound like the beginning of a very nasty pattern, even if it happens “only” one year in ten, say, then I don’t know what would.

  6. Ed Hummel says:

    Lazarus #2, it’s not really bizarre at all if one understands that floods and droughts are both caused by atmospheric circulation blocking patterns. The more sluggish the patterns become (reflected in weaker and more meandering jet streams) as the Arctic continues to warm (less contrast with the tropics) the greater the incidence of blocking patterns leading to floods on the wet side and droughts on the dry side of the blocks. Also, the warmer atmosphere also leads to more evaporation from both oceans and continents to feed the rain producing systems while drying out the drought areas even more. As Joe likes to say, “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet!” That’s also the reason he titled his book HELL AND HIGH WATER. That to me was a stroke of genius in framing what we can expect over the coming years.

  7. Mark Shapiro says:

    Rutgers Snow Lab tracks snow cover in the northern hemisphere:

    The seasonal charts tell the story. Winter snowcover is increasing a tad, but spring snowcover is declining rapidly. This means not only more, faster spring runoff, but also amplification of warming from lower albedo.

  8. Michael says:

    Michael T (1):

    The La Nina also appears to be transitioning to neutral conditions.

    It appears to be doing more than just that; the SOI has literally gone off a cliff over the past couple weeks and trade winds have weakened across most of the Pacific, with significant westerly wind anomalies appearing in the western Pacific, plus heat content has remained above average, which all supports Hansen’s idea of an El Nino developing this summer*:

    *The only caveat is, 2008 had a similar progression in ENSO indices, but didn’t flip to El Nino, but then it was a couple months later than this year; March-June is typically when El Ninos develop (caveat also on the strength of any El Nino).

  9. Douglas says:

    Is it me, or has the NYT been burying their flood coverage? I have seen very few “above the fold” (top half of the screen) stories on their web page at least.

    Granted, the OBL coverage knocked a lot of things off for a few days, but even now they seem to be neglecting what looks like a huge story.

  10. Pete Dunkelberg says:

    If you think it’s hot in south Texas, try northern Mexico. Without air conditioning.

  11. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Texas is sounding more and more like the wondrous land of Oz everyday. To keep our spot in the top 10 we may have to do something even more extreme and soon. Given the precipitous drop in the SOI [@ 8], we may just manage that.

    Last week around here, we went from well over a month of temps running at 7-8C above average to 7-8C below average in the space of 48 hours, ME

  12. Joan Savage says:

    The New Orleans Times-Picayune published a detailed map of how many hours are expected to elapse as water moves into sections of the Morganza Floodway, once the floodgates are opened.

    as part of a longer article

    And on a Grist post by David Roberts, bbecker’s comment has a stark description of declining federal funds to deal with disasters.

    “For example, in this time of historic floods and record drought and political heat about federal spending, the National Flood Insurance Program, which the federal government subsidizes insurance for people who are vulnerable to flooding, is nearly $19 billion in the red and one major disaster away from insolvency. Next will be the Federal Crop Insurance Program.” – bbecker

    “Climate disasters: unlikely to be agents of progressive change”

  13. Fred Teal, Jr says:

    I heard a TV broadcast last night describing the floods along the Mississippi and the Texas droughts. They also covered the extent to which the droughts would reduce the soybean and corn crops if there was not more rain very soon. They also mentioned the reduction of the Russian wheat crop from last summer’s drought and the problems that we can expect in the near future from insufficient food supplies.

    What amazed me was that the lede was something like “This is Mother Nature’s One Two Punch”. They never mentioned climate change. How can this still be happening? I weep for us all. Does the fossil fuel industry have this much control over the main stream media?

  14. Vic says:

    The charges are laid and the fuse is lit as last year’s Russian firestorms look set to pale into insignificance. 

    According to Russia’s Ministry of Emergency Situations, about 2,000 fires have started so far this year… with the areas most prone to forest fires increasing by 50 percent from last year.

    “To date, the number of fires is more than eight times that of last year in the Republic of Tuva, in Buryatia… 3.5 times, in the Altai Territory… double, in the Krasnoyarsk Territory… five times. Unfortunately, these regions were not ready for this.”
    According to forecasts by the Ministry of Emergency Situations, nearly one-third of Russia may experience forest fires.

    “The fires in the forests and peat bogs have started earlier and are more dangerous than last year,” said Alexei Yaroshenko, head of Greenpeace Russia’s forest programme, at a news conference.

    This month, forest fires are already raging in Siberia, the Urals, and far eastern Russia, while peat bogs are smouldering in central Russia, Yaroshenko said.

    “In a week’s time, the situation risks escalating in a catastrophic manner… and we will have a repeat of last year’s situation,” he said.

    The noxious smoke could veil Moscow a month earlier than last year, in July, he warned.

  15. paulm says:

    LAKE PROVIDENCE, La. (AP) — In an agonizing trade-off, Army engineers said they will open a key spillway along the bulging Mississippi River as early as Saturday and inundate thousands of homes and farms in Louisiana’s Cajun country to avert a potentially bigger disaster in Baton Rouge and New Orleans.

    About 25,000 people and 11,000 structures could be in harm’s way when the gates on the Morganza spillway are unlocked for the first time in 38 years.

    (CLICK HERE for live updates of the Mississippi River flooding)

    Opening the spillway will release a torrent that could submerge about 3,000 square miles under as much as 25 feet of water but take the pressure off the downstream levees protecting New Orleans, Baton Rouge and the numerous oil refineries and chemical plants along the lower reaches of the Mississippi.

  16. paulm says:

    So US did not pay much attention to Pakistan!

    Well climate disruption for them has arrived.

    Head in the sand is head under water!

  17. paulm says:

    Engineers feared that weeks of pressure on the levees could cause them to fail, swamping New Orleans under as much as 20 feet of water in a disaster that would have been much worse than Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

    “Now’s the time for our people to execute their plans. That water’s coming.”

    [19sq mile!!! Of green mud!!]

    In far northeastern Louisiana, where Tap Parker and about 50 other farmers filled and stacked massive sandbags along an old levee to no avail. The Mississippi flowed over the top Thursday, and nearly 19 square miles of soybeans and corn, known in the industry as “green gold,” was lost.

  18. paulm says:

    The river’s rise may also force the closing of the river to shipping, from Baton Rouge to the mouth of the Mississippi, as early as next week. That would cause grain barges from the heartland to stack up along with other commodities.

    If the portion is closed, the U.S. economy could lose hundreds of millions of dollars a day. In 2008, a 100-mile stretch of the river was closed for six days after a tugboat collided with a tanker, spilling about 500,000 gallons of fuel. The Port of New Orleans estimated the shutdown cost the economy up to $275 million a day.

  19. Vic says:

    When push comes to shove… 

    The murky world of “Carbon Border Adjustments” gets a good stirring as the European Union places a tariff on incoming Qantas flights.

    Qantas would be faced with the tax because its headquarters is in Australia, which does not have a price on carbon.

    The airline is still calculating the likely impact on ticket prices and a spokeswoman said the carrier would face a second carbon hit on flights into Britain when Britain’s “green tax” took effect.

    Government sources believe US airlines, which will also face the EU carbon impost, are likely to challenge its validity in the World Trade Organisation.


  20. Richard Brenne says:

    Ed Hummel (#6) – There you go again (to quote someone I admire a lot less than I admire you)! That’s exactly the kind of thing I was asking for 7 posts below in the National Academy post in my comments there #19 and #22.

    I’ve had pieces of that explained in various times and ways by Trenberth, Ostro and others, but never have I seen it so succinctly, clearly and completely explained so that even I get it now (better than I did before).

    Thank you! And please explain things like that often in as many different ways as possible because you never know when sometime a (compact fluorescent or LED) light bulb will go off near the brain of even us dimmest bulbs.

  21. Pete Dunkelberg says:

    Tex-Mex temps from Capital Climate, which lists records without end.

  22. Wonhyo says:

    “I’d call them climactic climatic events, but in all likelihood they will be fairly un-exceptional weather events in a few decades if we stay anywhere near our current greenhouse gas emissions path.”

    In all likelihood, they will be fairly unexceptional events in a year or two, even if we start cutting our greenhouse gas emissions immediately and dramatically.

    To have any chance of actually restabilizing the climate, humankind has to cut GHG emissions to near-zero as soon as possible (years, not decades), then focus all of its technological prowess on safely removing excess GHGs from the atmosphere.

    In the meantime, we should proactively evacuate people from flood, fire, and drought prone areas, and move them to new locations where livability is more sustainable in the face of inevitable climate change effects that are already in the pipeline.

  23. paulm says:

    we seem to have hit a threshold. Extreme weather cycling in a 5-7yr cycle and less….

    Record Fargo floods for 3rd year in a row | ClimateSignals

  24. paulm says:

    Looks like the flood is not only going to affect the price of food…but the price of gas too.
    Seems to be a price feedback there too….

  25. paulm says:

    The latest couple of pages from climate signals reads like hell, high water and damnation…

  26. John Mason says:

    If this gets much worse/more frequent, we’ll be talking triage.

    You’re right – it seems that the hydrological cycle is getting amplified towards a state beyond anything we’ve ever experienced.

    Cheers – John

  27. Richard Brenne says:

    Lou Grinzo (#5) – Have you or has anyone heard the most accurate estimates about how much of this water came from this year’s often record or near-record snowstorms? How long does it take for water to get from headwaters of the Ohio down to Cairo and the confluence of the Mississippi and then to New Orleans? I’d imagine less time now with those rivers running near all-time record high measured flows.

    Is there a saturation effect from these snowpack’s that must have melted in the last two months at lower elevations?

    Is there still any significant snowpack in the Appalachias that flow into the Ohio to make a difference?

    Or how much of the snowpack came from Minnesota, Wisconsin and other Upper Mississippi locations and Missouri River and its tributaries (although the Missouri River has dams)?

    Is all the snowmelt combined contributing 20%? More? Less?

    Of course the biggest floods on the Columbia and Willamette here in Oregon have historically been a combination of the largest snowpacks combined with the heaviest Pineapple Express rainstorms falling on them. This is over a much smaller drainage (though a wet and mountainous one, the Columbia is America’s fourth-largest river) with more straightforward hydrology.

    The biggest floods have come in 1996, 1964, 1948, 1894 and 1890, with the biggest on record in 1861. Because of the colder climate then there was often a much larger snowpack all the way down to the valley floors. In many of the years the ground was frozen and the initial Pineapple Express rains ran off more quickly, like they also now do with all the roofs and pavement of all kinds.

    The snowmelt could be 40% or more of the run-off in those Northwest floods. There appears to be a smaller chance of significant snowpack down to the Willamette and other valley floors as the years go by, but the potential for increased rainfall from just the rainstorms will surely compensate in some years. Also there are more dams than 1948 and before.

    Interestingly the 1861 flood on the Willamette River had something like 2 and 1/2 times the water volume as the 1996 flood, but the far more natural multi-channeled Willamette with most of its natural wetlands meant that they absorbed much of the water so that after the Willamette was narrowed into usually one channel rather than several when the 1996 flood happened and the river overflowed its banks it flooded a total area comparable to the 1861 flood. Evidently the river wanted to get back to its old stomping, or sloshing, grounds.

    Back on the Mississippi, the human contributions to these floods:

    Building mega-infrastructure too near the river and in harm’s way.

    Human-caused global warming increasing the likelihood and severity of last winter’s snowstorms and thus snowpack, run-off and ground saturation.

    Human-caused global warming increasing the likelihood and severity of the April rainstorms that set all-time monthly rain records in five states.

    Levees and channelization not allowing wetlands to absorb the floodwaters.

    An ever-increasing number of roofs and pavement of all kinds that doesn’t allow absorption and creates run-off.

    Deforestation meaning less absorption and more run-off.

    Notice how there is a large human component to each of these. I know I must be missing some other factors and I’d appreciate anyone pointing them out to me. Thanks!

  28. Oale says:

    a slight (but somewhat false?) relief for those affected by the flood could be a comparison with this and the Pakistani flood last year. has that one ended yet?

  29. PAUL DONOHUE says:

    It’s hard to feel sorry for all those folks. They are all in the denier belt states and elect influential denier representatives. The problem is they are draging us all down. I hope some good will come in the form of a wake up call and America will mobilize to lead the fight against global warming before it’s too late.

  30. Joan Savage says:

    paulm (#23)’s comment about short 5-7 cycles hit home in conjunction with Vic (#14) evidence of a second year of Russian fires and Merrelyn Emery’s (#11)’s numbers that suggest Australia is in for another extreme year.

    Have some cycles jumped to an even shorter interval, for some phenomena? How ironic that the Stanford study on food crops (Osborn et al. 2011) cut off at 2008 data.

    Like Richard Brenne (#20, #27) I yearn to know more about blocking patterns in the pressure systems, which interact with the weakened sub-Arctic jet stream’s wandering ways. But how.

    I doubt if the “denier belt” (PAUL DONOHUE #29) is monolithic in its opinions, though that’s quite a catch phrase. As recently as March 24, the New Orleans’ Times-Picayune published an op-ed by Oliver Houck (Professor of Law at Tulane University)

    Congress’ denial on carbon emissions is risky: Oliver Houck

  31. Peter M says:

    #29 Paul Donohue

    All the states in the effected areas are arch conservative bible belt, who all voted GOP big time in 2008, and 2010 as well. I really have little sympathy for them. They will deny global warming till their dying day- when drought, endless 100 degree days of heat make their lives a living hell.

    The regions that will be effected ‘less’ by climate change- and that term means ‘less horrific’ conditions, but will still see extreme nonetheless- will be New England ( still threatened by sea rise, more diseases, threat of super cyclonic storms, and increasing heat, and catastrophic precipitation events)A region likely to see climate refugees. Also the upper great lakes, and the upper Pacific northwest coast.

    The region of the nation likely to see the worst of climate change is actually ‘Red America’.

  32. paulm says:

    BreakingManitoba’s dike breach has begun
    CBC News Posted: May 14, 2011 5:51 AM CT Last Updated: May 14, 2011 7:19 AM CT

  33. paulm says:

    America’s Achilles’ heel: the Mississippi River’s Old River

  34. English Mark says:

    meanwhile the burning of rainforest and peat in Indonesia for palm oil plantations continues to cause local as well as global problems

  35. Richard Brenne says:

    Often an amazing thread needs to continue and jump from one post to another. I feel that this has never more been the case than with Meteorologist Ed Hummel’s two comments, the first on this thread at comment #6, about the mechanism of how global warming produces more extreme weather events. Basically the warming of the poles means the jet stream is less rigorous and less likely to be pushing storms and other weather systems across continents like North America from west to east.

    Instead the jet stream often becomes more sluggish, can dip from north to south and block storms or droughts in place for longer periods. With increased temperatures the droughts can become drier and longer because of increased ground soil evaporation. Increased temperatures also mean more water vapor that can cause more daily precipitation as well as longer storms because they’re stuck in one region for longer.

    That’s my own synopsis and a parrot could’ve come up with something similar (okay I admit it, one did). For the real deal look at Ed’s comment #22 in the “National Academy” post 7 posts below. This is the most complete explanation I’ve read and I’m hoping this might be considered for a post here:

    I also brought up these links in comment #30 on the Weekend Open Thread and why don’t we all meet to discuss this there!

  36. paulm says:

    Odd we have he’ll and high water up here in Canada alo…these provinces are nearly next to each other….
    Low humidity, warm temperatures and dry ground have created perfect conditions for fast-moving wildfires, says the province.
    Record flooding in Manitoba will cost the province around $200 million, says Premier Greg Selinger

  37. James Anderson says:

    I just hope some of the larger businesses in Texas are bracing for this…I know that larger organizations like Immediate Response Group have been there every step of the way for businesses to protect their assets and develop a pre and post disaster plan for them.