Hell And High Water Strikes, Media Miss The Forest For The Burning Trees

Waldo Canyon Fire via twitpic

If a tree burns down in a globally-warmed forest but the media doesn’t report why, does it make a sound?

Record-setting heat waves, wildfires, and deluges  — at the same time —  just what climate scientists have been forecasting for decades. That’s why I titled my 2006 book Hell and High Water.

The scientific literature increasingly says it’s happening now goosed on by human emissions of heat-trapping greenhouse gases (see “Must-Read Trenberth: How To Relate Climate Extremes to Climate Change“). See also study (4/12) finds Arctic warming favors extreme, prolonged weather events “such as drought, flooding, cold spells and heat waves.” And see study (9/10) finds global warming is driving increased frequency of extreme wet or dry summer weather in southeast, so droughts and deluges are likely to get worse.

Dr. Kevin Trenberth, former head of the Climate Analysis Section of the National Center for Atmospheric Research 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.” At the same time, the wildfires in the west, which include the most destructive wildfire in Colorado history, are being fueled by climate change.

UPDATE: After flying over the Waldo Canyon blaze, Governor John Hickenlooper said:

It was like looking at the worst movie set you could imagine. It’s almost surreal. You look at that, and it’s like nothing I’ve seen before.

But here’s the PBS story, “Tropical Storm Debby Saturates Florida, Extreme Heat Fans Fires in Colorado,” with nary a mention of global warming. Same for the ABC Evening News story last night on the Colorado fires and Midwest heatwave (“we’re rivaling some of the warmest temperatures on the planet right now”) and their morning story (“temperatures never seen before in that region”). Same for the ABC Evening News story last night on the Florida floods (over two feet of rain in places — “disaster by a million raindrops” and don’t miss the part about the snakes and balls of fire ants in the water!).

ABC now even has an “extreme weather team.” It would be great if they included some experts discussing how global warming has “juiced” the climate, as if it were on steroids, as, for instance, ClimateWire (subs. req’d) did in its story, “Minn. floods, early tropical storms fuel questions about changing climate”:


Rains ‘juiced’ by climate?

Experts observing from a greater distance say the intense rainfall and localized flooding may represent a new normal for places like northern Minnesota, where climate change is expressing itself in a variety of ways, including hotter summers, milder winters, a shift in species composition, and a general trend toward more frequent intense storm events.

“This type of storm reminds us that climate is changing in Minnesota. Not only in terms of quantity of precipitation, but in the character of precipitation as well. In recent decades a larger fraction of our annual total precipitation is coming in the form of intense thunderstorms,” Mark Seeley, an esteemed meteorologist and climatologist at the University of Minnesota Extension Service, wrote in his weekly “WeatherTalk” newsletter last week.

Meteorologist Paul Huttner, Minnesota Public Radio’s resident weather expert, wrote on the network’s “Updraft” weather blog that a “rearview mirror” reading of the Duluth storms allows observers “to look back and see how it fits into the overall picture of climate change in Minnesota.”

While downplaying any cause-and-effect relationship between climate change and the Duluth storms, Huttner said, “what we can credibly say is the extreme rainfall events are increasing in frequency in Minnesota, and that climate changes favoring a warmer wetter atmosphere may have enhanced or ‘juiced’ rainfall totals in the flood.”

Meanwhile, Paul Douglas, a well-known Twin Cities meteorologist and founder of the online publication “WeatherNation,” said in a recent blog post that he had little doubt the record rainfall in northern Minnesota last week was related to climate change.

“The question keeps coming up — people want to know if a warmer atmosphere somehow contributed to the mega-flood that may ultimately cost Minnesota well over $100 million,” Douglas wrote.

“My answer, after teeing this up with climate scientists I trust, is yes,” he continued. “People who say ‘you can’t link any one event with climate change’ are missing the point. Climate and weather are now hopelessly intertwined, linked — flip sides of the same coin. It’s basic physics: a warmer atmosphere holds more water vapor. If there’s more water floating overhead you increase the potential for these extreme rainfall events. You may argue over how much is ‘natural’ vs. man-made, but there’s no debating the fact that Minnesota is a warmer place than it was 30-40 years ago.”

How much rain has fallen in Florida thanks to the slow-moving Tropical Storm Debby?

The National Weather Service in Jacksonville provides these staggering totals in inches:

Debby rainfall totals

How hot has it been in the Midwest?

Capital Climate reports that “Dust Bowl Era” temperature records are now falling:

Hell and High Water. Get used to it.

Or, rather, we’ve only warmed about a degree and a half Fahrenheit in the past century.  We are on track to warm five times times that or more this century, assuming we keep listening to the do-little or do-nothing crowd.

So there will never be a normal to get used to any more. It’ll just keep getting warmer and more extreme through the century. We ain’t seen nothing yet!

Related Post:

  • Network News Coverage of Climate Change Collapsed in 2011
  • Trenberth on media miscoverage of extreme weather: “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.”

58 Responses to Hell And High Water Strikes, Media Miss The Forest For The Burning Trees

  1. Dan Ives says:

    I live here in CO, and indeed the media reports on the fires are frustrating. One thing I have yet to see reported is how the pine beetle epidemic (caused by global warming) is a further ingredient that is compounding these destructive fires. We have drought, record heat, and plenty of extra dead trees from the beetles that make nearly every lightning strike capable of igniting the next blaze. With more thunderstorms forecast over the coming days, it’s likely only going to get worse for us Coloradans.

  2. prokaryotes says:

    ABC News
    See realtime coverage
    32K told to flee as Colo. Blaze doubles in size

    Forest which burns today will release carbon for at least the next 10 years. So this is a positive feedback – especially worrying when you have record breaking events.

  3. David Goldstein says:

    Here’s a wondering: is the pervasive Media omitting of climate change due to
    1) Basic ignorance about the ‘secondary effects’ of extra atmospheric energy?
    2) Unconscious denial and dread of what is happening? (Perhaps as the symptoms such as wildfires are right there in our faces-the denial ratchets up even higher)
    3) Dictates from the corporate ‘higher ups’ that they simply not mention climate change?

    or, likely, a combination of all 3 factors?

  4. prokaryotes says:

    “It was like looking at the worst movie set you could imagine,” Gov. John Hickenlooper said after flying over the 9-square-mile fire late Tuesday. “It’s almost surreal. You look at that, and it’s like nothing I’ve seen before.”

    Good he mentioned climate change….ohw, wait a minute…

  5. prokaryotes says:

    The nation is experiencing “a super-heated spike on top of a decades-long warming trend,” said Derek Arndt, head of climate monitoring at the National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C.

    A super heated spike – oh come on…

  6. Paul Magnus says:

    Must see vid of fire… woa were in trouble…

    US Airforce Pilot Calmly Films Massive Wildfire From His Home

    Conflagration! Waldo Canyon Fire, Colorado Springs June 26 2012-Airforce Pilot Calmly Films Massive Wildfire From His Home

  7. Paul Magnus says:

    all the above…

  8. caerbannog says:

    Was visiting family in Colorado last Fall. Drove through the west side of Colorado Springs (Garden of the Gods is a must-see, BTW).

    I remember thinking to myself, “This place is a disaster waiting to happen” (as is much of the rest of the Front Range). Lots of big homes nestled amongst brush and trees — that is, big homes with shake roofs, wooden decks, open beams… lots of nooks and crannies to nurture wayward hot embers….

    The last decade or two here in Southern California has caused me to look at vegetation like what you see in the Front Range suburbs as “gasoline with needles and leaves”.

    I suspect that in the not-too-distant future, Front Range residents may have a lot of trouble getting/keeping fire insurance.

  9. Spike says:

    Margaret Heffernan’s book is an interesting read on the psychology of denial and wilful blindness

  10. David Goldstein says:

    wow!…what a video. It is only enhanced by the fact that it is an Airforce pilot narrating. He keeps his cool, but you can tell he is ‘impressed’. It is THIS kind of footage that may start to ‘creep’ the dialogue on climate change forward. Clearly, hard science is not enough.

  11. Doug Bostrom says:

    Add in the problem of editors and reporters being viciously attacked w/verbal abuse by a volunteer goon squad every time climate change is mentioned. This will have an effect; ask yourself how brave you’d be?

  12. Doug Bostrom says:

    Shake roofs are crazy indeed; like covering your home with kindling.

  13. Tom L says:

    #3 mostly. It’s a cover-up, it’s deliberate, intentional and not the result of pure ignorance. The public is connecting the dots without the help of the media or the president which says a lot about the glaringly obvious obfuscation the media is engaged in. The big boys running the show know exactly what they’re doing.

  14. Mark E says:

    That’s what I’ve always thought too. Earlier today I spotted this from the Denver Post, where science is having trouble documenting the (supposedly) obvious connection.

    Disclaimer, I have not read the actual paper itself, just the news account about it.

  15. David F. says:

    Like Dr. Masters said back in March, this isn’t the atmosphere we grew up with. This weather is very alarming… it is incredibly dry here in Ohio. I could only imagine what it’s like further west. This could be a disastrous summer. The drought and heat wave in 1988 caused almost $80 billion in damages.

  16. Paul Magnus says:

    Yes, happening everywhere now.

    Over and over… Hell n High Water groundhog years.

  17. Tom L says:

    That’s probably a bigger problem at the local level. Celebrity reporters in the national media are attacked ruthlessly every day for just about every percieved bias,tone of voice or hair out of place. Celebrities of all stripes get death threats and violent sentiments thrown their way on a regular schedule by true nut jobs. I’m not sure a another threat over a climate report would make any difference to Bryan Williams or any of the others. I’m afraid the threats they fear most come from their bosses.

  18. Mark E says:

    In late Sept, with crops dead in the fields, Republicos will suddenly embrace their own former cap & trade program, and they’ll announce it with a backdrop of nerds in white coats, just to look like they’re
    “doing something” (and POTUS ain’t).

    Landslide for Romney… GOP voters will vote for him regardless, and a ton of swing and conservative dems will too.

    And all it will take is the GOP’s sudden renewed interested in their own past proposals, and the backdrop of a failed harvest.

  19. SecularAnimist says:

    With all due respect, Joe: the media are not “missing” anything. It’s a deliberate coverup.

  20. Tom L says:

    Arkansas Forestry Commision this week declared the entire state is now at HIGH Wildfire risk with nearly every county now in a burn ban. If a summer or more of fire across the west and beyond is enough to become the climate ‘Pearl Harbor’ event to bring paradigm shift this could be the beginning. At some point we will no longer have fire seasons, just fire.

  21. Paul Magnus says:

    “Building drought and waves of heat continue to raise concerns about the corn crop and other agriculture in the Midwest to the central Plains.
    In most areas, the drought is not as bad as 1988, but the situation has the potential to reach crisis level in part of the Corn Belt with typically the hottest part of the summer ahead.”

  22. M Tucker says:

    I think people have gotten used to it. It’s just weather. In the winter it gets cold and we could have record snow storms or hardly any snow at all. In the summer it gets hot and we could have heat waves, droughts and wildfires. We have the tornado and hurricane seasons and sometimes we will get flooding. No one is saying it is too much, no one is saying it is too extreme. At rallies for the candidates no one shouts out, “Why do we have all these extreme weather events?” In surveys asking what issues trouble voters most extreme weather events never comes up. It’s just weather.

    Surveys do indicate some people would like to see action to reduce GHG but even that is not a priority when it comes to electing anyone, President or otherwise. Waiting for in depth reports connecting global warming, climate change and extreme weather is like waiting for Godot. He ain’t comin’.

    It doesn’t matter how bad the drought and heat gets this year…just another tough year, maybe it will be like the costly drought of 1988…no demonstrations will erupt, farmers will not ask for government action to reduce GHG, and the American consumer will just pay more for food. Heck even the great dustbowl of the 1930’s did not cause food shortages, maybe the US will just export less corn this season.

  23. Ken Barrows says:

    Climate change ain’t Hickenlooper’s thing. Oh, he’s a Democrat. (I live in Denver.)

  24. Doug Bostrom says:

    Waldo and Debby. What a couple.

    Check out this iconic picture of Debby aftermath:

    Had enough yet?

  25. Tom L says:

    I can’t think of any other words to describe it but coverup. Which stories make it to air and how they’re framed are corporate decisions. If anyone thinks this is untrue ask yourself why Justin Bieber’s awesomeness and the behind the scenes connect-the-dots details of why are so much more important than what should be the most sensational story in journalism history. The corpomedia put on a show, not responsible journalism in the public interest.

  26. Ominous Clouds Overhead says:

    I’m in Glenwood Springs Colorado, and it’s so dry the scrub oak on the hillsides is starting to turn yellow like in autumn. Last night I woke to a big lightning storm. It’s just a matter of time before other areas in Colorado start burning, Utah too, and who knows where else.

  27. Mark E says:

    Recall how media went berserk in the 70s about “Global Cooling” (even though the bulk of the sci lit said otherwise). Sometimes I wonder if the oiligopoly laid out their media strategy back then, starting with the Global Cooling craze. Nahhhhhh…… I’m probably just being paranoid…..

  28. SecularAnimist says:

    Last Friday, I listened to NPR’s Diane Rehm Show, which was doing their hour-long weekly panel discussion of international news.

    Towards the end of the program, which was dominated by a discussion of whether or when the US and/or Israel would bomb Iran, a listener phoned in to say that he “could not believe” that they had gone through the entire hour without once even mentioning the Rio conference, the outcome of which would affect nothing less than “the future of life on Earth”.

    One of the panelists quickly dismissed the Rio conference as “unimportant” and immediately, and rather contemptuously, said “Now, if we could return to the matter of bombing Iran …”

    I thought that moment perfectly encapsulated the utter, abject idiocy of today’s media — and keep in mind, that’s not Fox News, it’s NPR.

    We may be destroying the capacity of this planet to support life, but hey, we’re gonna keep on bombing each other to the very end!

  29. John F Guillaume says:

    The Flagstaff fire is one and a half miles from the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colorado. This is the building featured in Woody Allen’s movie, “Sleeper”. At a press conference, on the Internet, they mentioned that the area around it had been previously cleared to make it defensible.

    Crews are set up in nearby south Boulder neighborhoods in case the winds shift. But there haven’t been any evacuations yet.

    Anyone waiting for such extreme situations to end should be reminded that they are a consequence of global warming. And as such, they’ll only be getting worse.

  30. prokaryotes says:

    Guys check out this video!

    “Slate” is mentioning climate change during the wildfire coverage.!

  31. Joan Savage says:

    “Weather forecasts are currently outweighing market fundamentals for row crops.”

    Corn futures inch higher on dry, hot weather forecasts

  32. Mark E says:

    I spent years in Boulder myself.

    What is not often reported is that….

    (A) these forests are largely Ponderosa Pine. Pre-European they were stands of big trees with grassy spaces between, and had creeping grass fires every few years. Then we showed up and started putting out all the fires.

    (B) being open forests, they have nice views, so people like to build their homes up there – often very nice homes – and then drive their big 4x4s to work and get the milk.

    My heart goes to those who are losing their homes, but another part of me asks…. should we really be building in those places in the first place?

  33. Doug Bostrom says:

    Informative article on changes in forests here: Waldo Canyon is latest super fire; get used to them, expert says


  34. Joan Savage says:

    LA Times quotes forest fire expert Fulé on the connection between climate change and super-fires.

    Waldo Canyon is latest super fire; get used to them, expert says,0,2411143.story

  35. Rabid Doomsayer says:

    Some of those warnings should terrify people. As bad as it has been over the last few days, some of the current red flag warnings read like something out of a science fiction novel. The combination of conditions is more than just scary.

    I really do not want to think about what the next few days will bring.

  36. gus says:

    Yeah, they should … but too many people will just tune them out as being “elsewhere.” I work with supposedly college-educated, mostly fairly liberal people, but can’t even get them to turn the computers off when they go home! Our office has WAY too many lights, and people routinely turn the AC on when opening a window would be just as cool.

    Until we all start seeing that what we do everyday IS the problem, it’s only going to get worse. This story won’t surprise anyone here, I’m sure…

  37. D. R. Tucker says:

    Solo ocean rower Roz Savage joins us with an ironic update on her most recent crossing, this one aborted due to melting glaciers. The National Geographic Adventurer of the Year will once again inspire!

    Next‘s David Roberts on this week’s US Circuit Court ruling upholding EPA regs on pollution and his fellow senior writer, Greg Hanscom, just back from Rio to report on what did, and did not happen at the 2012 Earth Summit.

    Read more:
    Under Creative Commons License: Attribution

  38. John C. Wilson says:

    Just export less. Right.

    Should there be a significant shortfall in the harvest we will eat less. Immediately. There are no longer any vast stockpiles of agricultural commodities. Anywhere. Everything is “just in time”. Any shortage anywhere affects the entire system.

    In even a slight global food shortage exports from anywhere to anywhere will cease. What would we offer to someone who has the most valuable commodity? Federal Reserve notes? Treasury paper? Can’t eat those. Once we might have traded land for food but when the forest is burned and the crops won’t grow that land is much depreciated. And few will want to be the new neighbor when the locals are bible-bangin’ gun totin’ Republicans who have been taught for two generations that furriners are for target practice.

  39. Doug Bostrom says:

    Something tells me this guy is a deeply confused teabagger:

    [name omitted to protect the idiotic], standing shirtless in his front yard, was reduced to helpless fury by the evacuation warning.

    “I hope the whole thing burns to prove the government should have put out the fire a long time ago instead of pussy footing around. They let it get out of control,” said Lingle, who divides his time between homes in Colorado and Texas. “If they can’t put out a little bitty fire, how are they going to put out one that is in the whole town?”


    Yeah, that awful government.

    Meanwhile I don’t mean to seem cruel but this picture is sort of a metaphor for the whole problem. The SUV, the useless crap, the tears when the chickens come home to roost.

  40. Oggy Bleacher says:

    I can’t attest to the “high water” part of the title but here in Austin, TX I can confess this is the most unbearable heat I’ve ever felt. 109 on the thermometer but with heat index something like 113 and it feels like 275. I have to put a glove on to take the key of the ignition. The heat radiation from the asphalt is withering. It’s truly hellish and I’ve been to Death Valley (where it’s cooler right now) and La Paz, Mexico (where it’s also cooler right now). Simply the hottest temperatures that I’ve ever felt and last year Austin had 90 consecutive days over 100 degrees. Three solid months over the century mark. But because it’s gradual (average is 92 degrees) and it did finally cool down in February people have short memories. The status quo has to change.

  41. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    In Australia, during the last few years of record rains and great floods,(coning straight after dire decade-long drought)the words’ anthropogenic climate change’ almost never passed the lips of the MSM stooges. The fault was entirely that of ‘La Nina’, and the very occasional mention of climate change was the cue for previously unknown minor academics from minor institutions to rant in denial. The brainwashing in the MSM to all Rightwing ideological positions, no matter how absurd, is absolute-careers depend on the proper recitation of groupthink.

  42. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    ‘Hick ‘n’ Loopy’!!?? Is this some sort of joke?

  43. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    I’d add (4) Conscious denialism as Rightwing ideological requirement, from a MSM that is populated entirely by Rightwingers, after years of ideological cleansing.

  44. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Cynical, hence insightful.

  45. squidboy6 says:

    chapparal that hasn’t burned for three decades is a powder keg and building in the foothills really went too far…

    Then the mud from bare hillsides smother the kelp beds when the rains come.

    The charm of Southern California died long ago when the coastal foothills were developed.

  46. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Very soon the genocides visited on Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria etc will spread. Malthusian and violent population reduction is absolutely on the global rulers’ agenda. The next ‘bird ‘flu’ may very well be a vector for this cleansing.

  47. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    There just has to be more than one ‘human’ species. And it has a vote!

  48. Doug Bostrom says:

    Colorado governor Hickenlooper on conservatives whining that the federal government isn’t waving a magic wand to replace missing tax revenue:

    “”Were these the same conservatives that were so worried about the Obama administration spending too much money, or were these different conservatives?”


    Well played.

  49. Paul Hoover says:

    Look on the bright side Dan, once the forests have burned to the ground no more beetles to destroy the forest.

    Wonder why the deniers aren’t touting that benefit.

  50. Sumner says:

    I love this article. I have a daughter who lives in Colorado Springs; the photos she’s taken from her front porch are pretty dramatic. But to better illustrate the hell that the American West is feeling right now, take a look at the inciweb website, which tracks all fires in the US. They have a google map interface, which if you zoom out far enough, can show you all the active fires in the US right now– a pretty impressive map, to say the least! Here’s the map I’ve been using for the Waldo Canyon fire:
    Just zoom out as far as you’d like to see how it compares/relates to other active fires around the West…

  51. Marion Delgado says:

    I think we’re just now sort of feeling most of the effects of stuff I, personally, told as many people as possible about (and was eventually vilified as so many of us have been). I.e., the warming from ‘then’ is hitting us ‘now.’

    People would ask is it as serious as the ozone problem and I’d say not exactly, finishing up the ozone fixes is crucial, but if we never get started, in 25 year or so it’s going to be as pressing as ozone is now.

    Just saying, that’s an experience I’ve now had. Up till now it was in the pipeline so nothing I said or did could have mattered, now it really is a shame this didn’t become a big deal publicly.

  52. Karl says:

    Those homes never should have been built there. Say what you want about global warming, but it was only a matter of time until this area caught fire and burned.

  53. Glenn says:

    We need to get the language of global climate change and its attendant global warming right. There is no such thing as “the new normal”. There is the ‘new abnormal’ because we are shifting the climate, by degrees, from relative stability to increasing instability and extremes. To speak of the new normal implies that the future will continue to be predictable when of course it will not.

    Even ‘global weirding’ is misleading because there is nothing weird about what is happening. We know the immediate cause of the changing climate and we know what needs to be done to put things back on track. The use of the term “weirding” puts human agency and responsibility in the background.

    As the article conveys so well, the only “weirding” that is going on right now is denial of global warming.

  54. Tramey says:

    I don’t think most reporters are right wing. I do believe that they have been trained in the “false equivalence” technique of reporting, and also have been burned by the heavy hand of climate deniers. Would you really like to go through what Michael Mann has endured as a climate change scientist?