"Hell and High Water: As wildfires and floods ravage the country, Masters says, “We Have Never Seen a Year Like This Before”"
In a world of climate change, freak storms are the new normal. Why we’re unprepared for the harrowing future.
Those are the headlines from a recent Newsweek piece. And the extreme weather keeps coming — from more record flooding in the MidWest, a record-smashing deluge in California, and devastating heat, drought and wild fires in the Southwest:
Figure 1. Active wildfires and smoke as visualized at 9am EDT June 7, 2011 using our wundermap for the U.S. with the Fire layer turned on. Smoke from the Wallow fire and Horseshoe Two fire in Arizona extended more than 1,000 miles, covering most of the Midwest. [Via Masters]
DR. JEFF MASTERS, meteorologist: We have never seen a year like this before….
KATHARINE HAYHOE, climate scientist: As it gets warmer, the air can hold more water vapor. So whenever a storm comes through, there’s more water available to that storm, whether it’s rainfall in the summer or even snowfall in the winter.
We’re also seeing shifts in our weather patterns and circulation patterns. So, some places that are already quite dry are getting dryer. Other places that are already quite wet are getting wetter. And some places can even experience increases in heavy rainfall events and droughts at the same time, because if a lot of the water vapor comes down in a few storms then you have a longer dry period in between before you get the next one.
For a review of the recent scientific literature, see “Two seminal Nature papers join growing body of evidence that human emissions fuel extreme weather, flooding that harm humans and the environment.” For a discussion of the tornado-climate link, see “Tornadoes, extreme weather, and climate change.” For another head-exploding move from the GOP climate zombies, see Brad Johnson’s post at TP Green: “As Floods And Fires Mount, House Forbids FEMA, Coast Guard From Preparing For Climate Disasters.”
UPDATE: I am adding two reader comments, from CAP’s Western expert, Tom Kenworthy, and from Joan Savage with a link to the uber-fires in Russia.
I can’t keep up with all the record-smashing extreme weather the country is being ravaged by, so I’m going to excerpt a couple of recent posts from former Hurricane Hunter Masters:
Exceptional heat in the South
A sizzling June heat wave set record high temperatures across much of Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, and the Florida Panhandle on Sunday. The high temperature at the Houston, Texas airport hit 105 degrees, the warmest temperature ever recorded in the month of June (old record: 104 degrees on June 24th and June 26th, 2009.) The earliest Houston ever recorded a temperature of 105 degrees prior to Sunday was July 26th, 1954. Records for Houston date back to 1891. There have been only 15 days in which the temperature has reached or exceeded 105 degrees in Houston:
4 – 1909
1 – 1954
2 – 1962
3 – 1980
5 – 2000
So far this month, new maximum temperature records in Houston have been established on four out of the first five days. Galveston and Houston both crushed their previous record high temperature for the day (June 5th) by a remarkable seven degrees. Residents can expect another day of triple-digit heat today, thanks to the upper level ridge of high pressure parked over the state. Houston will likely break the old record of 98°F for the date….
Record rains in California
A large and unusually intense low pressure system moved inland over California over the weekend, bringing large areas of the state rains unheard of in June. According to our weather historian, Christopher C. Burt, rainfall at Mining Ridge on the Big Sur coast totaled 8.31″ Sunday, which, if verified, would be California’s heaviest 1-day June rainstorm on record. According to the document “Historic Rainstorms in California” Dept. of Water Resources, Aug. 1997, the previous maximum June daily rainfall was 5.83″ at Forni Ridge on June 18, 1982. San Francisco had its 2nd greatest June 1-day rainfall, going back to 1850, and both the San Francisco and Oakland airport have now had their rainiest Junes on record. Rainfall at Santa Barbara Airport yesterday totaled 1.24 inches, the wettest June day there on record (previous record: 0.51″ on June 5, 2009.) The 1.38″of rain so far this June has made it the wettest June in recorded history at Santa Barbara Airport, going back to 1941.
Normally June should be warm and dry. Many areas have had more rainfall in one day than they usually get in the entire month of June.
Figure 3. An intense low pressure system moves inland over California as seen in this satellite photo taken June 4, 2011, at 2pm PDT. Image credit: NASA/GSFC. Click to Enlarge.
That was from Monday. And here is from a Tuesday post (image at the top):
Smoke from Arizona’s third largest fire on record, the massive Wallow fire, has now blown downwind over 1,000 miles to Iowa. The fire, which is 0% contained, is expected to rage full-force for at least three more days due to unfavorable weather. Hot, dry, and windy weather is predicted again today over Eastern Arizona, where NOAA has issued red flag warnings for critical fire conditions. A large trough of low pressure is anchored over the Southwest, and several disturbances rippling along this trough will bring strong southwesterly surface winds of 20 – 30 mph, with gusts near 35 mph, through Thursday. Extremely low humidities of 5 – 15% and hot summer temperatures are also expected, creating a dangerous fire weather situation. Yesterday, Luna, New Mexico, located about 50 miles northeast of the fire, had wind gusts in excess of 30 mph for 8 hours, temperatures near 80°F, and humidities as low as 12%. During the day yesterday, the fire grew from 300 square miles to 365 square miles, 30% of the size of Rhode Island. A separate fire burning in Southeast Arizona, the 163-square-mile Horseshoe Two fire, is the state’s 5th largest fire on record. According to the Interagency Fire Center, 3.5 million acres have burned in the U.S. so far this year, the most on record for this early in the year–and more than double the 10-year average from 2001 – 2010 of 1.4 million acres. Extreme to exceptional drought conditions over most of Texas, New Mexico, and Eastern Arizona are largely responsible for the record fire season.
Ever more extreme droughts for the Southwest (and many other parts of the world) is one of the most widely replicated projections of climate science (see literature review here).
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!
- The year of living dangerously. Masters: “The stunning extremes we witnessed gives me concern that our climate is showing the early signs of instability”; Munich Re: “The only plausible explanation for the rise in weather-related catastrophes is climate change“
FEATURED COMMENT #1 from CAP’s Tom Kenworthy:
For many of us who live in the West, 2002 set the standard for awful fire seasons. It brought the largest fires ever seen to Arizona (the Rodeo-Chedeski fire at almost 470,000 acres), to Oregon (the Biscuit fire, about a half million acres) and to Colorado (the Hayman fire, 138,000 acres). Yet at this point in 2011, according to the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, the total acreage burned is almost three times what it was as of this date in 2002. We shouldn’t be surprised. Climate change is here, and it’s doing what the models predict in the desert Southwest.
Tom will be doing some follow-up reporting on the fires for us today!
FEATURED COMMENT #2 and #3 from Joan Savage, who studied at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry:
“Russia’s wildfires engulf 3 times more land than last year’s destructive blazes” [ that's up to this date, not for the whole year ] http://www.google.com/hostednews/canadianpress/article/ALeqM5j3xVxxzvyQb0UIKDnb-Gq4SbQe6A?docId=7078467U.S. Corn-Crop Delays Signal Tightest World Supply Since 1974, Price Gains.
“Wet weather that delayed corn planting in the U.S., the world’s largest exporter, may send global inventories to their lowest in 37 years, signaling higher costs for consumers and livestock producers. ”