The pictures today from around the world of dramatic rooftop rescues from raging waters, makes it seem as though natural disasters are becoming an everyday occurrence. But they’re not all that natural; climate scientists say man-made global warming is the sudden force behind the forces of nature.
That’s from an ABC News story posted last night, whose headline and subhed I repeated above. The actual ABC evening news story from Thursday is one of the best climate change stories ever to appear on a major network’s evening news show:
Dr. Richard Somerville, a coordinating lead author on the IPCC’s 2007 review of climate science, explains bluntly:
This is no longer something that’s theory or conjecture or something that comes out of computer models. We’re observing the climate changing. It’s real. It’s happening. It’s scientific fact.
The evening news story ends:
Many scientists say the forecast is looking more and more extreme.
Absolutely true (see 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”).
Here’s more of the outstanding online story:
On the other side of the globe, floods in Queensland, Australia have ravaged an area the size of France and Germany combined.
Things are pretty devastating,” June Lense, a resident of Brisbane, said.And in Sri Lanka, officials say flooding there has affected more than a million people, and the death toll has risen to 23. Sewage lines and holding tanks have overflowed in the floods, and a spokesperson for the health ministry there said officials are concerned about waterborne diseases like typhoid and diarrhea.
“If left unchecked, climate warming will continue so the things that we’re having hints of now, foretastes of now, will come stronger,” Richard Sommerville, a climate scientist at the University of California at San Diego and author of “The Forgiving Air: Understanding Environmental Change,” said.
The extreme weather the world has seen is part of a larger trend, he said. “The world is warming up … It’s warming for sure and science is very confident that most of the warming is due to human causes.”
Every time we burn fossil fuels like coal, oil and natural gas, Sommerville said, we emit carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Now, climate scientists see “the changed odds, the loaded dice that favors more extreme events and more high temperature records being broken,” he said.The decade that just ended saw nine of the 10 warmest years on record, and warmer temperatures mean more moisture in the air. That moisture can fall as torrential, flooding rains in the summertime or blizzards in the winter.“Because the whole water cycle speeds up in a warming world, there’s more water in the atmosphere today than there was a few years ago on average, and you’re seeing a lot of that in the heavy rains and floods for example in Australia,” Sommervile said.
Last year tied with the warmest on record, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Derek Arndt, chief of NOAA’s Climate Monitoring Branch in the National Climate Data Center, said 2010 was “an exclamation point on several decades of warming.”He said NOAA is tracking disasters like the floods in Brazil and Australia. “We are measuring certain types of extreme events that we would expect to see more often in a warming world, and these are indeed increasing,” Arndt said.The added moisture in the atmosphere also explains the phenomenon we’ve seen this week at home — where snow blanketed the ground in 49 of 50 states. During yesterday’s snowstorm, Hartford, Conn. and Albany, N.Y. both set records for snowfall in a single day.“This is no longer something that’s theory or conjecture or something that comes out of computer models,” Sommerville said. “We’re observing the climate changing — it’s happening, it’s real, it’s a fact.”
Okay, I bold-faced almost the whole story because it’s just that good.
I have also written about how the warmest sea surface temperatures on record fuel ‘biblical’ Australian floods:
The Australian Bureau of Meteorology released its “Annual Australian Climate Statement 2010,” which helps explain why “” record sea surface temperatures:
Based on preliminary data (to November 30), sea surface temperatures in the Australian region during 2010 were +0.54 °C above the 1961 to 1990 average. This is the warmest value on record for the Australian region. Individual high monthly sea surface temperature records were also set during 2010 in March, April, June, September, October and November. Along with favourable hemispheric circulation associated with the 2010 La Ni±a, very warm sea surface temperatures contributed to the record rainfall and very high humidity across eastern Australia during winter and spring. The most recent decade (2001ˆ’2010) was also the warmest decade on record for sea surface temperatures following the pattern observed over land.
Dr. Kevin Trenberth, head of NCAR’s Climate Analysis Section, has explained the connection between human-caused global warming and extreme deluges: “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.”
See also Deadly flash flood hits Australia after six inches of rain fell in just 30 minutes for another amazing video of the flooding.
Parts of the media are starting to connect the dots — see New York Times front-page story: In Weather Chaos, a Case for Global Warming! Trenberth: “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.”
A Reuters story, “Scientists see climate change link to Australian floods,” notes “Climate change has likely intensified the monsoon rains that have triggered record floods in Australia’s Queensland state, scientists said on Wednesday, with several months of heavy rain and storms still to come.”
What follows is the Nightline story, which is pretty good, though not as thorough as the ABC evening news story:
Kudos to ABC for getting the story right.
h/t WR’s Brad Johnson for the first video.
- Munich Re: “The only plausible explanation for the rise in weather-related catastrophes is climate change”
- Extreme weather events help drive food prices to record highs
- High Water: Hottest year ends with unprecedented, “biblical” Australian floods covering an area “the size of France and Germany combined.”
- An amazing, though clearly little-known, scientific fact: We get more snow storms in warm years!