"Hell And High Water Strikes, Media Miss The Forest For The Burning Trees"
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:
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!
- 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.”