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In other UK news: “Rain like this happens once every 1,000 years”

By Joe Romm  

"In other UK news: “Rain like this happens once every 1,000 years”"

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Britain hit by floods after record rainfall

A bunch of illegally hacked UK e-mails storm the anti-scientific side of the blogosphere at the same time as an uber-extreme weather event hits Britain.  I guess when it rains, it pours — literally:

Forecasters said the rainfall was unprecedented. Britain’s Meteorological Office said a record 12.3 inches of rain fell in 24 hours in the area “” the heaviest rainfall ever recorded in the U.K….

Environment Secretary Hilary Benn told the BBC that flood defenses were meant to withstand a one-in-100-years flood “” but could not cope with the volume of water.

“What we dealt with last night was probably more like one-in-a-1,000, so even the very best defenses, if you have such quantities of rain in such a short space of time, can be over-topped,” Benn said.

Britain’s Meteorological Office added that the amount of rain expected for all of November had fallen in one day.

Local House of Commons lawmaker Tony Cunningham said the flood was “of biblical proportions.”  That’s why CP calls it Hell and High Water.  The headline quote was from the Times Online story.  Here’s the UK Independent:

Statistics compiled by MeteoGroup, the weather division of the Press Association, show the deluge is the greatest seen since meteorologists started using instruments to record rainfall – back in 1727.

None of those stories make the climate change link, though two years ago, after flooding almost as rec0rd-breaking, PM Gordon Brown said, “Obviously like every advanced industrial country we’re coming to terms with some of the issues surrounding climate change…. This has been, if you like, a one in 150 years set of incidents that has taken place in both Yorkshire and Humberside and now in Gloucestershire and the Severn.”  Sadly, 1-in-150 year deluges — or 1-in-1000 — just aren’t what they used to be.  Environment Secretary Hilary Benn went further back then, noting that “the scientific consensus was that the climate was changing,” and adding, The world is going to have to come to terms, so the scientists are telling us, with more extreme weather events and that’s why we need to anticipate them and try and plan for them.”

Significantly, climate science actually predicts that, increasingly, the old age is right:  When it rains, it pours.

I have called this type of rapid deluge, “global warming type” record rainfall, since it is one of the most basic predictions of global warming science “” and it’s an impact that has already been documented to have started.  For completeness’ sake on the subject, I’ll run through some of the literature.  Regular readers can skip the rest of this post.  You can find more at “Hell and High Water hits Georgia,” and there’s some terrific  technical meteorological analysis at “Weather Channel expert on Georgia’s record-smashing global-warming-type deluge.”

In 2004, the Journal of Hydrometeorology published an analysis by NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center that found “Over the contiguous United States, precipitation, temperature, streamflow, and heavy and very heavy precipitation have increased during the twentieth century.”

They found (here) that over the course of the 20th century, the “Cold season (October through April),” saw a 16% increase in “heavy” precipitation events (roughly greater than 2 inches [when it comes as rain] in one day), and a 25% increase in “very heavy” precipitation events (roughly greater than 4 inches in one day)- and a 36% rise in “extreme” precipitation events (those in the 99.9% percentile “” 1 in 1000 events). This rise in extreme precipitation is precisely what is predicted by global warming models in the scientific literature.

In fact, the last few decades have seen rising extreme precipitation over the United States in the historical record, according to NCDC’s Climate Extremes Index (CEI):

An increasing trend in the area experiencing much above-normal proportion of heavy daily precipitation is observed from about 1950 to the present.

No surprise, then, that as a recent WWF post noted, U.S. Sees Wettest October on Record; Arkansas Records are Washed Away.

Even the Bush Administration in its must-read U.S. Climate Change Science Program report, Weather and Climate Extremes in a Changing Climate, acknowledged:

Many extremes and their associated impacts are now changing”¦. Heavy downpours have become more frequent and intense”¦.

It is well established through formal attribution studies that the global warming of the past 50 years is due primarily to human-induced increases in heat-trapping gases.”¦ The increase in heavy precipitation events is associated with an increase in water vapor, and the latter has been attributed to human-induced warming.

In the future, with continued global warming, heat waves and heavy downpours are very likely to further increase in frequency and intensity. Substantial areas of North America are likely to have more frequent droughts of greater severity.

In short, get used to it.

And let’s end with a NYT quote about record-breaking extreme weather in Australia earlier this year from someone’s whose emails are now, ironically enough, in the news:

The flooding in the northeast and the combustible conditions in the south were consistent with what is forecast as a result of recent shifts in climate patterns linked to rising concentrations of greenhouse gases, said Kevin Trenberth, a scientist at the United States National Center for Atmospheric Research.

‹ Superstition still reigns

Newtongate: The final nail in the coffin of Renaissance and Enlightenment “thinking” ›

21 Responses to In other UK news: “Rain like this happens once every 1,000 years”

  1. paullm says:

    Ireland also in dire straits.

    I do believe there are now a few over there who realize that Climate Change is catastrophic and its going to bring not just the 3rd world, but also developed countries to their knees.

    Ireland’s flood crisis now requires “all hands on deck”
    http://www.independent.ie/national-news/martin-calls-for-all-hands-on-deck-amid-floods-chaos-1950737.html

    “In this city (Cork) alone there are 18,000 householders — 50,000 people — without water. There is an emerging public health concern because of the lack of sanitation, it is unique in an emergency context,” Minister Martin said.

    A crisis summit of the Government’s Emergency Task Force was yesterday told that the worst flooding disaster for decades has left hundreds of people homeless, tens of thousands of acres under water, 50,000 people in Cork city without drinking water, bankrupted businesses and left farmers facing a feed crisis that will last months.

    …farmers whose winter feed stocks have been destroyed. About 20,000 acres are under water in south Galway. “The situation for many families is almost unmanageable and it is making working conditions extremely difficult for farmers,” said the IFA president yesterday.

    Until this year, Galway’s record rainfall for November was in 2002 with 211mm. But by Wednesday of last week, the total had already reached 238.7mm and is likely to exceed 300mm by the end of the month.
    …local traders described the flooding caused by the Bandon and Bridewell rivers as the worst in the town’s history.

  2. Mark Shapiro says:

    Joe,

    It might be time to update your “An introduction to global warming impacts: Hell and High Water” post with impact number one: more droughts and more floods. This is easy to grasp, the evidence is piling up in the peer-reviewed literature, and in Australia in February, it even happened simultaneously.

    And how much coverage is this getting in the US press? As Jeff Huggins continuously points out, the NYT coverage (in this case non-coverage) is shameful.

  3. WAG says:

    This cartoon looks like hell and high water (from the Economist):
    http://www.economist.com/daily/news/displaystory.cfm?story_id=14917816&fsrc=nwl

    [JR: Great catch. I'll post it tomorrow.]

  4. Gail says:

    I read this article earlier, from the point of view of a UK resident: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/nov/22/britains-new-wild-west

  5. Andy says:

    What is amazing in the hydrometerology study is the stark contrast between rainfall and runoff in the hot years (1940′s and the 1990′s) versus the cool years when aerosols dampened the global temps, especially over North America (1960′s and 1970′s). During the cool years the weather was stable, during the hot years it went from extreme drought to extreme rainfall. Check out the river flow graphs.

  6. paul says:

    last time it was this warm ( 1000 years ago ) it probally rained just like this

  7. jyyh says:

    Rick hasn’t been following the news on Pacific Hurricanes

  8. shannon says:

    I hate that the people had to get rescued. You need to look at the lay of the land. there are dips,valleys and grooves b/c of past storms.

  9. beefeater says:

    But I thought weather wasn’t climate? Or is that only when it doesn’t fit the agenda?

  10. David Schonberger says:

    JR, I believe you meant to write “…the old adage is right…” Dictation software gotcha again? :-)

  11. Alex J says:

    Beefeater, it’s weather consistent with climate projections. The overall trend of warming is bound to start affecting weather events. Question is, do we wait till these types of occurrences are much more commonplace, and accompanied by other effects, before we start thinking about it? Considering thermal inertia and long-term feedbacks, that seems like a risky proposition.

  12. j.tomasella says:

    i live in brazil and after watching these events i should say, sadly, that the “bless in the disgrace” after the floods is the fact that developed countries need to realize that they will be heavily affected by global warming. everytime negociations re-start, i hear the same arguments from developed countries regarding jobs, economy, etc. if the co2 emissions continues at these rates, there will be no need for concerns about jobs, since our primary goal will be merely to survive the next extreme.

  13. paulm says:

    beefeater, well you thought wrong!

  14. JoelArmstrong says:

    It looks like maybe the storms much of the world will be the first wave of destruction caused by global warming. The high winds will not only destroy fields of houses, but also fields of forests. I doubt we’ve really seen anything yet, compared to what is to come. 10 years from now: “How could we not have seen this coming.”

  15. Texas Aggie says:

    While it is true, as beefeater says, that weather isn’t climate, what we are talking about here isn’t weather. The present storm is only part of the change. It isn’t as if this one storm were the only outlier. As the article made clear, there are clear indications that rainfall is changing on a yearly basis and that the character of the rainfall is changing. That is climate.

    Climate is the sum total of weather events over a period of time, not something separate and distinct.

  16. paulm says:

    Irish flood ‘worst for 800 years….
    This is 0.8C, we have 2C to go.

    Its flooding all over the N Hemisphere. Major flooding and snow fall AGAIN in Turkey…

    Turkish floods and landslides leave four dead
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/8372780.stm

  17. Phil says:

    I’ve seen reports stating that flood defences were built to contain once-in-a-hundred-years events. The big question is, is that looking 100 years into the past (the logical induction fallacy strikes again) or into the future?

  18. pete best says:

    Climate affects the weather, the duration, frequency, and intensity of weather events. The atmosphere can already 0.4 kg per m^3 and its going to fall somewhere more often, more intensly and even for longer.

  19. Andy Gunther says:

    @17: Phil, the entire basis of actuarial science is using frequencies of events in the past to predict the frequency of future events. That is going out the window with climate change, and it is causing serious rethinking in the insurance industry of how to pricing risk in the future. Check out the 2006 report from Lloyd’s of London called Adapt or Bust (http://www.lloyds.com/NR/rdonlyres/38782611-5ED3-4FDC-85A4-5DEAA88A2DA0/0/FINAL360climatechangereport.pdf)

  20. John says:

    Did they build the town on the river bank. We build buildings above the floodplain where I live or we will not get insurance.

  21. The high winds will not only destroy fields of houses, but also fields of forests. I doubt we’ve really seen anything yet, compared to what is to come. 10 years from now: “How could we not have