Floods? Droughts? Wildfires? Hurricanes? Yes, there is a climate change connection

September 12, 2011

For years, climate scientists were circumspect when asked if a specific bit of violent weather — for example, Hurricane Irene, the late-summer storm that slammed the heavily populated U.S. East Coast — could be blamed in some way on climate change.

“Climate is what you expect,” the scientists would say, “while weather is what you get.” They would often go on to say that while increasingly severe weather and correspondingly serious costs and consequences were forecast in climate change computer simulations, there was no way to directly blame a given storm on human-generated heat-trapping gases in Earth’s atmosphere.

There still is no direct line between a certain amount of warming and a certain storm, wildfire, drought or flood. But there is a “new normal,” detailed by scientists on a new website . Staffed and advised by some of the most well-known climate change experts in the United States and elsewhere, the site says plainly that what the computer models foretold in 2007 is clearly documented to be occurring.

“All weather events are now influenced by climate change because all weather now develops in a different environment than before,” the Climate Communication site noted in an article released days after Irene dumped record amounts of rain on the U.S. Mid-Atlantic and Northeast.

“While natural variability continues to play a key role in extreme weather, climate change has shifted the odds and changed the natural limits, making certain types of extreme weather more frequent and more intense. The kinds of extreme weather events that would be expected to occur more often in a warming world are indeed increasing.”

So what has really changed? For one thing, it’s just plain getting hotter, the Climate Communication scientists say, citing U.S. and global statistics.

Sixty years ago, the number of new record high temperatures in the contiguous United States was about the same as the number of new record lows. Now, the number of new record highs each year is twice the number of new record lows, a sign of a warming climate, these scientists said.

Unveiled as wildfires consumed hundreds of homes in Texas and heavy rains swamped parts of New England, the site had its public unveiling as some Republican presidential candidates expressed doubts that climate change was happening — or that humans contributed to it.

Another climate change signal showed up in September’s early days: the National Snow and Ice Data Center reported that Arctic sea ice was at near-record lows in August, with both the Northwest Passage and the Northern Sea route open. The extent of sea ice in August was near the record lows of 2007, when it dipped to its lowest point in the satellite record that started in 1979. Arctic sea ice generally hits its lowest extent sometime in the next few weeks. Stay tuned.

Photo credits: REUTERS/Mike Stone (Flames roar near Bastrop State Park as a wildfire burns out of control near Bastrop, Texas, September 5, 2011)

REUTERS/Lucas Jackson (A man walks down a flooded street in the town of Totowa, New Jersey August 30, 2011)



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The problem is correlation is not causation.

Consider the following:

1. The IPCC states AGW started around 1976
2. Globally glaciers have been receding since the mid 1800s.

What global warming mechanism between 1850 and 1970 caused the glaciers to melt since man made global warming, as stated by the IPCC, only started in the mid 1970s?

There is a significant difference between GW and AGW that many scientists (and lot of liberal journalists with BAs in Journalism) consistently and resolutely overlook and then conflate into the underlying cause of catastrophes being experienced. Or did the American dust bowl of the 1930s simply anticipate AGW?

I bet there are parts of the world where recent weather has been benign.

Posted by eleno | Report as abusive

Global arming will be the issue that breaks governments and our current way of life. There will be no easy adaptation to it.

How can governments with already negligible credibility and who so far have only developed a very spurious carbon-trading scheme, really manage to slow the issue let alone stop it? Can economies afford to transfer so much wealth from the status quo to whatever adaptation might actually work? There’s not a lot of room for mistakes of poor aim so I very much doubt it. No solution that impoverishes whatever is thriving now will want to die “for the cause” or the cure.

The modern way of highly technological life was not arrived at in a sequence of faultless acts of invention. It evolved over centuries and was characterized by enormous waste of wealth, and lives. And in spite of appearances that change occurs at break neck speed, it really goes slowly. One could say the Internet is really only an extension of the telephone. It is able to use part of the old infrastructure. And all the things that we use today evolved through many imperfect attempts before they took their present and provisional forms.

Adaptation of a species or way of life usually takes ages and seems to be accomplished incrementally. But global warming is an environmental challenge that requires enormous change rapidly. And there is anything but common agreement that it is a challenge at all. I know many people who think human activity couldn’t possibly make a difference to global climate and yet they will willingly believe that human activity can influence just about any other aspect of life on this planet – as long as it is an influence they stand to profit by.

Extreme weather will punish deficits and make them worse at every level of government.

Lewis Mumford may have been right after all. Tyranopolis fades into Necropolis, all the while kicking and screaming in its death throes. The old system will collapse taking with it much of the wealth it was able to create and leaving little or nothing for the changes that must be made. That is the most likely scenario.

The French, Russian and Chinese revolutions were massive attempts by fairly sophisticated societies to adapt backward economies to rapid change. But they all meant tearing the old regimes down and starting over. Our highly technology driver economies can’t afford to tear down the means needed to effect the cures. of course those revolutions didn’t so much tear down their infrastructure and industries as have them destroyed in warfare to defend the revolutions themselves.

Technology never had to deal with being very careful about every aspect of its activity. And economies still live with the need for exploitation and the need to keep some costs “off the books”.

Posted by paintcan | Report as abusive

If IPCC stated that global warming only started around 1976, that may be silly in that global warming more likely started when man began burning fossil fuels to power industry, transportation and homes. However, the above comment is rather half-baked in itself, likewise denying the obvious, known factors. We know the Dust Bowl was in great part due to farming techniques, not the weather alone.

Journalists are journalists. They may not have the background or education to deeply understand some of the things they write about, such as health issues or climate, but neither do they have a single-minded view on politics. IMO, they are certainly no more slanted as a group than those who want to use “the church” to further control the government to the benefit of the wealthy and the corporations. That would be those who neither care about the well being of all people, to the contrary of the Christian religion they profess to follow, nor the ultimate effect of irresponsibility in management of energy transformation on the surface of the earth.

If we have a majority of “liberal journalists”, then we have a majority of people of the opposite political tangent who are more concerned with corporate bottom lines, bonuses and personal incomes than with the long-term effect of their methods to gain that income on matters of life such as the overall economy, global ecology and climate.

In other words, to them, the Kochs and the like, as long as they have their billions, their future family generations will be alright, no matter the rebellions that economic suppression may cause and no matter the environmental disasters that their industrial practices may cause. “Let them eat cake” is their short-sighted, non-liberal motto.

Posted by taxcorps2 | Report as abusive

The industrial revolution started around the mid 1800s on a massive scale. Those early days did not have the same regulations we have now, so the chemicals produced were more dangerous, even though there were less of them.

Posted by D3Jadwin | Report as abusive

IPCC has never stated that “global warming started around 1976″.

The basics have been known at least since the mid-1800’s, the first computed “model” results were published in scientific literature in 1896. These computations have been re-checked and refined ever since by thousands of researchers as various branches of sciences have developed.

It is well established science, just another field of application of physics. Nothing exotic either, just the well known laws of thermodynamics, chemistry, thermal radiation, mechanics, planetary astronomy, geology, geography, etc. Climate science is not a separate, independent entity. Just one small part of the range of physical sciences on which our technological culture has developed and relies upon, interlinked and verified by means of laboratory and field experiments.

Climatology seeks to explain averages, trends, ranges of variability etc. over long periods of time (30 years minimum). It’s value is primarily limited by the unpredictability of human behaviour, manifest in politics for instance. For this reason no “climate predictions” are made. Yet, a range of “scenarios” for the future have been developed. “Scenarios” are what-if analyses covering various possible political development paths that may be taken. As developed by the scientific community world-wide (and reported by the IPCC) they describe the probable consequences of various political choices.

As a personal opinion, I would predict that this century will not be a century of peace and prosperity. Wars of attrition will result in instability and losses that are bigger than in the 20th century. The range of scenarios presented by the IPCC do not adequately cover these likely developments.

Posted by Motomat | Report as abusive

A worthy reading free ebook regarding the solution of climate change at https://www.Crisis2Peace.org/. Enjoy the reading and hope to find discussion about its contents.

Posted by EarthDaughter | Report as abusive

Global climate change and mass extinctions go part and parcel. Earth’s temperatures have been very steady for the last 10-12,000 years. When compared to past warm periods in between the ice ages of the past million and a half years, the length and and stability of this period is unprecedented. So is the level of CO2. 25 % increase(300ppm in 1957;380ppm 2011) in just over 50 years. This stable period is given credit for the rise of human culture.

As the geologic historical shows, all past events are believed to be caused by gradual warming of the planet over 10s of thousands of years. No one in geological circles can agree on what specific events caused the planetary release of CO2, methane ,etc…, just that it happened. We are living through the beginning of the 16th known mass extinction.

Posted by coyotle | Report as abusive

@cayotte – this thread has remained i open since 912. It is probably too late for you to even see this question.

But where did you find any reference to 16 mass extinctions in the planetary record? The only one I ever heard about was the mass extinction of the dinosaurs.

I don’t even think the ice ages – and there weren’t 16 of them caused similar scaled mass extinction of anything but the mammoth. T I thought the mammoth may have been hunted to extinction by early man.

I’m not saying you’re full of it, but I would love to know where you found that info.

Posted by paintcan | Report as abusive