Monday, March 5, 2012

Weather on steroids

2011 tornado damage
in north Minneapolis
The outbreak of over 100 tornados throughout a large section of the southern United States at such an early date had me thinking about the impact of global climate change. Turns out Paul Douglas, a meteorologist with over 30 years of experience, recently wrote about this on his "On Weather" blog. Following are a few of his recent entries....
What Is Going On? I'm temporarily speechless. A speechless meteorologist? Oxymoron. I'm watching tornado coverage on CNN, scanning the SPC web site. 101 tornadoes on Friday. Unusual, even for late April.
If I didn't know better I'd say Mother Nature is having a loud, violent nervous breakdown. America's weather has always been severe but this is awe-inspiring, and very sad. The Symphony of Seasons is playing wildly out of tune; a Beethoven Concerto with a rap-funk beat. Not. Right.
Suddenly the weather maps make no sense. Mile-wide tornadoes, epic floods, drought; flowers already in bloom in New England? We'll see 50 by Tuesday here in the Twin Cities metro; the GFS hints at highs near 70 by mid-March. We seem to have skipped a month. Maybe two.
Tornado victims
A warmer atmosphere holds more water, more fuel for storms. 2010 was Minnesota's wettest year on record. We also saw 145 tornadoes. Coincidence? I don't think so.
Uh oh, I feel a climate change lecture coming on. Spare us a Sunday Sermon, Paul. Why remind us? Because, after looking at the data and listening very carefully to peer-reviewed climate scientists (not blustery radio talk show hosts) climate change will almost certainly be one of the 3 big stories of the 21st century. Because someday your grandkids may come up and ask what you knew....when... and what you did about it.
Outbreaks of bizarre weather are a symptom - our atmosphere is running a slight, low-grade fever. If you're not at all concerned you're not paying attention.

Americans Get It: Global Warming Is Poisoning Our Weather.  Poison is a strong word - I still prefer the "weather on steroids" metaphor. We've always had severe storms, but having a warmer, wetter atmosphere floating overhead increases the fundamental odds of wild weather. The story from Think Progress: "Killer tornadoes are marking the transition from a freakishly warm winter into yet another freakishly dangerous spring. The multi-billion-dollar drought in Texas and Oklahoma is expected to continue into the indefinite futurePlanting seasonsmaple syrup seasons, and cherry blossom festivals are starting at weirder and weirder times. Torrential rains and record heat waves are becoming commonplace. Migrating birds are straying from their normal path, insect pests are multiplying, and trees are dying. Americans are starting to trust the evidence of their own senses about the growing impacts of climate change, instead of the barrage of misinformation and confusion that comes from media sources."

Why The Global Warming Skeptics Are Wrong. If you read one story about the (manufactured) controversy over climate change, read this essay from William Nordhaus at the New York Review Of Books. Here's an excerpt: "One might argue that there are many uncertainties here, and we should wait until the uncertainties are resolved. Yes, there are many uncertainties. That does not imply that action should be delayed. Indeed, my experience in studying this subject for many years is that we have discovered more puzzles and greater uncertainties as researchers dig deeper into the field. There are continuing major questions about the future of the great ice sheets of Greenland and West Antarctica; the thawing of vast deposits of frozen methane; changes in the circulation patterns of the North Atlantic; the potential for runaway warming; and the impacts of ocean carbonization and acidification. Moreover, our economic models have great difficulties incorporating these major geophysical changes and their impacts in a reliable manner. Policies implemented today serve as a hedge against unsuspected future dangers that suddenly emerge to threaten our economies or environment. So, if anything, the uncertainties would point to a more rather than less forceful policy—and one starting sooner rather than later—to slow climate change."

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