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Up to 5 Feet of Rain in 10 Days Spurred by Warming Waters is “One of the Most Dramatic Disasters in its History,” Prez Says

By Joe Romm on October 29, 2011 at 12:25 pm

"Up to 5 Feet of Rain in 10 Days Spurred by Warming Waters is “One of the Most Dramatic Disasters in its History,” Prez Says"

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Thailand’s Great Flood Likely to Peak this Weekend and Damage One Quarter of Rice Crop of World’s Top Exporter

No, the main headline wasn’t about Thailand — it was about El Salvador (as is the picture).  We’ve been seeing twin uber-deluges this month on opposite sides of the Earth, both spurred by warming waters, as meteorologist and former hurricane hunter Dr. Jeff Masters explains on his blog.

The Thai floods have gotten more attention, because of their epic nature — and global economic impact on rice prices (see below).  So let’s start with El Salvador and Central America:

“I want to tell the world that El Salvador is going through one of the most dramatic disasters in its history,” President Mauricio Funes said on national radio and television Wednesday night, as he appealed for international aid. A week of torrential rains across Central America have triggered extreme floods and landslides that have killed 105 people, according to media reports. El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua have declared states of emergency due to the disaster. El Salvador and Guatemala have seen the worst flooding, with 34 and 38 people killed, respectively. Another 18 have died in Honduras, 13 in Nicaragua, and 5 in Costa Rica. The rains were due to a large area of low pressure that was moistened by the landfall of Tropical Depression 12-E near the Mexico/Guatemala border last week.

Contributing to the record-intensity rains were ocean temperatures off the coast of El Salvador that were 0.5 – 1°C above average during the first half of October, allowing more water vapor than usual to evaporate into the air. Over the past ten days, rainfall amounts of over a meter (39.4″) have fallen over a large area of southwest El Salvador (Figure 2.) At Huizucar, an astonishing 1.513 meters (4.96 feet) of rain fell in the past ten days.

Climatologist Kevin Trenberth explained the deluge-warming connection in an interview with Climate Progress last year:

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.

The AFP reports that many in Central America do understand the connection between warming and deluging:

Officials have blamed the effects of global warming for the spate of deadly rains and flooding.

“Climate change is not something that is coming in the future, we are already suffering its effects,” said Raul Artiga with the Central American Commission on Environment and Development (CCAD).

Here’s a graphic of the “astonishing” amount of rain El Salvador has been hit by:

CLICK HERE TO READ MORE OR COMMENT

Rainfall [in mm] in El Salvador for the 10-day period ending on Friday, October 21, at 8 am EDT. At Huizucar, an astonishing 1.513 meters (4.96 feet) of rain fell during those ten days. Image credit: Hydrological Service of El Salvador.

Here’s the latest on the unfolding catastrophe in Thailand:

Thailand’s Great Flood likely to peak this weekend
The most damaging natural disaster in Thailand history is growing more serious, as the flood waters besieging the capital of Bangkok continue to overwhelm defenses and inundate the city. Heavy rains during September and October have led to extreme flooding that has killed 373 people and caused that nation’s most expensive natural disaster in history, with a cost now estimated at $6 billion. Thailand’s previous most expensive disaster was the $1.3 billion price tag of the November 27, 1993 flood, according to the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED). Floodwaters have swamped fields and cities in a third of Thailand’s provinces, affected 9 million people, and damaged approximately 10% of the nation’s rice crop. Thailand is the world’s largest exporter of rice, so the disaster may put further upward pressure on world food prices, which are already at the highest levels since the late 1970s. The highest tide of the month occurs this weekend at 8:07 am ICT in the capital of Bangkok, and the additional pressure that incoming salt water puts on the flood walls protecting the city is a major concern. Fortunately, the monsoon has been quiet this week over Southeast Asia, and the latest GFS model precipitation forecast show little additional rain over the country in the coming week. Heavy monsoon rains are common in Thailand and Southeast Asia during La Niña events, and we currently have a weak La Niña event occurring.

Ocean temperatures in the waters surrounding Thailand during September and October have been approximately 0.3°C above average, which has increased rainfall amounts by putting more water vapor into the air. The remains of Tropical Storm Haitang and Typhoon Nesat also brought heavy rains in late September which contributed to the flooding.


Figure 3. Top ten most expensive natural disasters in Thailand since 1900, as tabulated by the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED). This month’s disaster (number one on the table above) is not yet in the CRED data base.

And here’s what the deluge is doing to food insecurity:

BANGKOK: Thailand may lose a quarter of its main rice crop in the nation’s worst flooding in decades, the government estimates, which could boost prices of the staple and further squeeze shipments from the world’s top exporter. The flood damage to rice comes at a time when Thailand, which accounts for about 30% of global trade, has in place an intervention scheme that is likely to push prices even higher, encouraging buyers to seek alternative origins.

A rally in the market for Asia’s main staple could stoke tensions across a region where several nations are struggling with a double-digit increase in food inflation, although ample global reserves and new supplies in the pipeline are expected to keep buyers calm for now.

“The 6 million tonnes damage (to rice paddy) is just an initial estimate. We need to conduct a survey again after flood water recedes,” Apichart Jongsakul, head of the Office of Agriculture Economy, told Reuters, adding that the figure, which is a 50% jump from early estimates, referred to the main crop.

As a result, Thailand may not be able to meet its rice export commitments to Indonesia, the Indonesian trade minister said on Friday, forcing Southeast Asia’s largest economy to explore other sources.

“I just received information that they (Thailand) don’t appear to be able to fulfill their commitment to sell and ship rice to Indonesia,” trade minister Gita Wirjawan said….

The worsening flood situation could cut Thai production to 19 million tonnes of paddy, Apichart said, nearly a quarter down from the previous forecast of 25 million. Thailand has a second smaller crop producing around 7 million tonnes a year.

Thailand has seen about 1.6 million hectares of farmland inundated, forcing the government to cut its estimate for this year’s main crop by 24%.

High Water is here.

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38 Responses to Up to 5 Feet of Rain in 10 Days Spurred by Warming Waters is “One of the Most Dramatic Disasters in its History,” Prez Says

  1. prokaryotes says:

    Brought to you exclusively by ExxonMobil and the Koch Brothers

    • Joan Savage says:

      Oh, now…it’s not that exclusive.

      No need to leave out Massey Coal, Rio Tinto Coal, Chinese coal, Chesapeake Energy, Gazprom, Rozneft, Lukoil, BP, TNK-BP, Shell, Valero, Syncrude, and the rest of the fossil-extracting gang, past and present.

      • prokaryotes says:

        Yes, but the EM and KI are particular involved, because of their funding of the climate denial machine.

        • kevin says:

          or each and every one of us sucking down their products. these computers and all the associated communications gear, the airconditioners to cool them, the power used to produce them… etc ad naseum

          might be my not so humble opinion, but to point the finger at those providing what the mass consumes misses the point entirely. if it wasn’t the kochs it would be someone else, and had you been born a koch you’d be enjoying the power and position. the responsibility lies in all of us.

          • truehawk says:

            Wind and solar power a computer just the same.
            We are NOT all equally culpable, (though the the the neodymium magnets in the wind generator leave a mark of their own, it is a small open wound rather than the huge open wound of a strip coal mine.)

  2. fj says:

    like thinking about solar power might be a good time to think about rain power and all the energy required to get that water up into the atmosphere; released when it falls back to earth; heat, kinetic, etc.

  3. Joan Savage says:

    A blog comment from Asia on “How exceptional is Thailand’s rainfall in 2011?” by Andrew Walker includes footage of the 1942 Bangkok flood. Neither Walker nor his commenters mention climate change, but he has posted numbers (not linked to a source) on the rainfall in the Chao Phraya catchment and a graph (also unsourced) on rainfall from 1914 to 2011 in Chiang Mai.

    http://asiapacific.anu.edu.au/newmandala/2011/10/21/how-exceptional-is-thailands-rainfall-in-2011/

    • Joan Savage says:

      More on El Salvador from

      http://www.elfaro.net/es/201110/noticias/6388/

      Latino press coverage, in translation:

      80% of public infrastructure is damaged, and the country had floods in 10% of its territory and over 70% of municipalities were directly affected. With these data, since the weekend the government projected that losses in El Salvador would outweigh any previous record so far.

      and

      The economic cost is more than double the damage generated by Hurricane Mitch in 1998. That hurricane left 260 million in losses for over a decade was considered the most damaging natural phenomenon. He left 240 dead and the maximum level of accumulated rainfall was 860 millimeters.

      The Ministry of Agriculture (MAG) estimated that 35% of the harvest expected for 2011 was marred, ie about 5 million bushels of corn, beans and coffee.
      —–
      Thanks to Google Translate.

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      This is a standard denialist technique. Some huge flood occurs, but it was ‘worse’ in 1890, or 556BCE or some such, so where’s your ‘global warming’? Puerile stuff, of course, but we are dealing with little minds, not interested in the truth or in learning anything, but in winning and in beating the other side, the detested and despised Left and the viscerally hated ‘Greenies’. Oh, and protecting the economic system that is all they really believe in, and the trillions in fossil fuel wealth.

      • Joan Savage says:

        I’m not so sure that this was case-building like that. Inconclusive.
        The blogger pulled together stats that showed extraordinarily high precipitation cumulatively across the basin this year. The film footage seemed inserted for interest without trying to slant it to a conclusion, rather like Joe Romm’s use of pictures of the 1930s Dust Bowl.

      • prokaryotes says:

        Or the total disconnect from writing about the complications, in light of INSERT_RECENT_RECORD_BREAKING_EVENT_HERE

        Scientists Tie Extreme Rain to Global Warming http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2011/02/16/scitech/main20032304.shtml

      • prokaryotes says:

        The “Little minds” what you call it, are lead by a big mind and then you have the entire security branch, which sits and watches. There a re a few outspoken, mostly retired peopel which voice there opinion and that’s it. No actions to stop the dangerous denial.

        It seems the strategy is to bring the world to collapse and chaos. To bad the new world will be much less favorable for living in and threatens the very survival of the entire human species.

        Humans are too stupid to prevent climate change. Idiocy, burocraty, ignorance, recklessness, greed etc rule.

        It’s the end of the days :)

        • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

          I’m with you Pro. The masters cannot be so stupid as to believe the denialist balderdash they pay for. Ergo, they must want the disaster to occur. Why, is the BIG question.

          • WyrdWays says:

            Sad to say, but the stupidity is generously gifted to both the ‘masters’ and ‘little minded’ denialists referred to. No conspiracy is needed, just a very human short-sightedness and all-too easy failure of imagination.

            True leadership sees the spark of vision applied to fire the imagination and inspire new ways. But our system rewards only the cravenly self-interested and short-sighted.

          • prokaryotes says:

            I think they don’t know what they are unleashing.

            People like him think that if he is wrong, then he does not care about the consequences. This guy is 71 years old with cancer history, he won’t see much of what his actions are doing.

  4. Mimikatz says:

    And in northern Italy last week 20 inches of rain fell in the space of a few hours causing floods and mudslides in the Cinque Terre, a stretch of coastal Liguria that has been named a World Heritage site and is a favorite of tourists, also elsewhere in Liguria and Tuscany.

  5. Hank says:

    There’s a huge Nor’easter heading towards NY and Massachusetts, supposed to dump a foot of snow on western Mass.
    The skeptic blogosphere is eagerly awaiting which ‘science’ blog will be the first to blame that on CAGW.
    Any takers here? Joe…?

    • Joe Romm says:

      WUWT spent years highlighting every cold spell and snowstorm, implying it disproved AGW. When a few science sites starting posting the actual science in defense — warming drives more precip of all kinds — they went nuts saying “how dare you.”

      • WyrdWays says:

        True, but if both sides appear to be cherry-picking weather events, the average reader get’s pretty sick of the sight of all those cherries being flung..

        I liked the approach discussed on Real Climate, which goes over a recent paper by Rahmstormf and Coumou. That tied the Moscow heatwave in 2010 to global warming, with an 80% chance — based on trend analysis. Maybe we need that sort of treatment for all of these extreme weather events – climate scientists tying probabilities to them as being caused by AGW?

    • prokaryotes says:

      And aiming directly for the Occupy camps, which are stripeed from all energy generating machines.

      Against all odd’s.

  6. Joan Savage says:

    For comparison, I looked at an old (1986) world record range for precipitation in intervals ranging from five minutes to ten days.

    El Salvador’s five feet in ten days isn’t a new world record, but compared to where?

    The 1986 vintage world record line appears in “Depth-Duration Frequency for Precipitation in Texas,” Figure 1 Relation between precipitation depth and storm duration for world record, Texas record, and Texas data-base maxima.
    on Page 4 (pdf page 9) USGS WRI 98-4044.
    http://pubs.usgs.gov/wri/wri98-4044/

    I am hoping that there is public access to an updated world record line for precipitation events, as well a time series of frequency distribution of those events.
    If those are available they would add substance to the articles about trends in extreme weather.

  7. Leif says:

    About a year ago I asked how much 4% more water vapor amounted to. Not having a clue weather it might be a few hundred Olympic swimming pools worth or perhaps the amount of water in Lake Superior. Another CP commentator, (Cannot recall his name, but thank you again,) was kind enough to do some math and came back with approximately 1.5 times the volume of Lake Superior. (I would love to get that number peer reviewed). Clearly a whole lot of water vapor to condense hither and yon. Winter or summer. Imagine the amount of energy to evaporate that much water in the first place. (Thought. Could that amount be a cross check on CO2 heating estimates?) Also. just because that much rain falls out someplace does not mean the water has gone away. Oh No! Evaporation continues. Summer, winter, spring or fall. This is the NEW NORMAL. At least until we add more green house gas to the atmosphere. Then we get more! Of course if we start taking some CO2 out??? Welcome to climatic disruption.

    One other point on Mulga M’s comment above @3+. I have seen references of an 800 year old church being swept away with floods. That would kick the time line back at least 800 years. Of course we still have Noah’ flood to contend with but that would present its own problems to the deniers.

    • climatehawk1 says:

      I’d love to get that Lake Superior number peer-reviewed too. Meanwhile, let’s break it down again. Wikipedia says Lake Superior contains 2,900 cubic miles of water. 1.5 times that would be 4,450 cubic miles of water. Wikipedia also says that Lake Superior contains enough water to cover the entire land mass of North and South America with a foot of water. Also, 1 cubic mile is roughly 1 trillion gallons, so 4,450 cubic miles is 4.45 quadrillion gallons. These are useful numbers to have in mind–occasionally a measurement pops up in the news, and it’s nice to have a comparison. For example, Justin Kenney at NOAA tweeted that the epic rains from Tropical Storm Lee dropped 45 trillion gallons in the U.S. earlier this year, or roughly 1% of the (1.5 x Lake Superior) referred to earlier.

      • Leif says:

        Interesting climatehawk 1. Thank you. The area of the earth is ~ 57.821 million sq. miles and the USA ~3.678 million, or 6% of the total. Since rain is obviously not distributed evenly across the earth’s surface we are clearly in the ball park I would think.

  8. Mossy says:

    I’m sick of hearing the phrase “natural disaster.” Did the Kochs invent this and order every news channel to utter this?

    Every weather event is now anthropogenically-enhanced, and they should be correctly labeled by everyone. Let’s start calling it like it is: man-enhanced disasters, or climate change disasters, or man-enhanced natural disasters, if you wish, but certainly not natural disasters.

    Gee, folks, let’s think clearly about this. We’re entitled to a bit of our own spin to counter the uber-spin of the FF industry. The term “natural disaster” is outdated!

    • Edith Wiethorn says:

      Good point! There’s so much new to describe that every writer & commenter is challenged to speak accurately & clearly. Just in general, not here, I have been reading so many tired & vague metaphors & analogies from sources that think better than they are writing about climate & social changes. They are overwhelmed & grasp the nearest phrase.

      Joe Romm has previously posted specifically about writing & messaging. I believe it could be a timely rallying point now to have a standing post on Climate Progress with accurate, short & quotable definitions or phrases of climate terms & maybe key issues. There are many areas in overall climate discussion/journalism where the vocabulary needs to be clarified to reflect actual climate science.

      The BBC has a much-needed glossary tool that includes a drop-down menu, link to full printable glossary & a link to add terms. Although it was updated today, the US pending climate legislation cited has not yet been updated.

      The CP website would be more useful with some of the archival features it had in the past – the list of key science posts in the right column, the list of the dozen most recent posts, and a CP climate science/policy glossary.

      These kinds of features make a website a destination resource where you can send thoughtful & busy people to get up to speed as accurately & quickly as possible. Such a resource is much-needed in the election year. Time is short for everybody.

    • Merrelyn Emery says:

      I agree Mossy. I use the term “unnatural disasters”. It stops people in their tracks and most ask a question which allows you to explain, ME

  9. John McCormick says:

    I want to see

    Humans are too stupid to prevent climate change

    on billboards all across America.

  10. Mauri Pelto says:

    It will be interesting to know how this affects the shrimp farming industry, which Thailand is the leader of. An excellent aerial survey of damage is available

    • Belgrave says:

      It’s certainly affected the crocodile farms. Lots of their inhabitants have escaped and headed into Bangkok, presumably in search of it’s famed cuisine (i.e. long pig). Also, venemous snakes, searching for the last dry land, are tending to end up in peoples gardens & backyards.

      Maybe these are a couple of minor “unknown unknowns” of climate change!

  11. Anderlan says:

    I’m wondering if the long-necked dinosaurs weren’t just well adapted to foraging but also snorkeling in the heavy floods of a warmer atmo.

  12. Colorado Bob says:

    9.37 inches at Miami this weekend, 7 inches which fell on Sunday.

  13. Raul M. says:

    it’s near Nov. 2011
    Close to the start of the new year.
    Those living as a general rule are having a much better standard of living than those who lived 100 years ago.
    Well, do we need to discount the morality issues involved with an age of the anthropogenic climate forcing?
    I understand that earlier generations had not the power to do much of the climate forcing of modern societies and so judging their intents is a non study.
    But, pollution is an older word and I think that it has had a meaning of a bad thing.
    So that earlier generations would have had the fortitude to do right seems to give them the benefit of the doubt. Giving moderns the benefit of the doubt seems grandfathered in without the new knowledge of the consequences.
    I’m not terribly surprised that so many “leaders” would yearn for the days of less knowledge hopping that the benefit of the doubt was still attached.
    Does look to be a grand bait and switch.