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2010 - 2011: Earth's most extreme weather since 1816?

Posted on 27 June 2011 by Jeff Masters

Every year extraordinary weather events rock the Earth. Records that have stood centuries are broken. Great floods, droughts, and storms affect millions of people, and truly exceptional weather events unprecedented in human history may occur. But the wild roller-coaster ride of incredible weather events during 2010, in my mind, makes that year the planet's most extraordinary year for extreme weather since reliable global upper-air data began in the late 1940s. Never in my 30 years as a meteorologist have I witnessed a year like 2010--the astonishing number of weather disasters and unprecedented wild swings in Earth's atmospheric circulation were like nothing I've seen. The pace of incredible extreme weather events in the U.S. over the past few months have kept me so busy that I've been unable to write-up a retrospective look at the weather events of 2010. But I've finally managed to finish, so fasten your seat belts for a tour through the top twenty most remarkable weather events of 2010. At the end, I'll reflect on what the wild weather events of 2010 and 2011 imply for our future.

Earth's hottest year on record
Unprecedented heat scorched the Earth's surface in 2010, tying 2005 for the warmest year since accurate records began in the late 1800s. Temperatures in Earth's lower atmosphere also tied for warmest year on record, according to independent satellite measurements. Earth's 2010 record warmth was unusual because it occurred during the deepest solar energy minimum since satellite measurements of the sun began in the 1970s. Unofficially, nineteen nations (plus the the U.K.'s Ascension Island) set all-time extreme heat records in 2010. This includes Asia's hottest reliably measured temperature of all-time, the remarkable 128.3°F (53.5°C) in Pakistan in May 2010. This measurement is also the hottest reliably recorded temperature anywhere on the planet except for in Death Valley, California. The countries that experienced all-time extreme highs in 2010 constituted over 20% of Earth's land surface area.

Figure 1. Climate Central and Weather Underground put together this graphic showing the nineteen nations (plus one UK territory, Ascension Island) that set new extreme heat records in 2010.

Most extreme winter Arctic atmospheric circulation on record; "Snowmageddon" results
The atmospheric circulation in the Arctic took on its most extreme configuration in 145 years of record keeping during the winter of 2009 - 2010. The Arctic is normally dominated by low pressure in winter, and a "Polar Vortex" of counter-clockwise circulating winds develops surrounding the North Pole. However, during the winter of 2009 - 2010, high pressure replaced low pressure over the Arctic, and the Polar Vortex weakened and even reversed at times, with a clockwise flow of air replacing the usual counter-clockwise flow of air. This unusual flow pattern allowed cold air to spill southwards and be replaced by warm air moving poleward. Like leaving the refrigerator door ajar, the Arctic "refrigerator" warmed, and cold Arctic air spilled out into "living room" where people live. A natural climate pattern called the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO), and its close cousin, the Arctic Oscillation (AO) were responsible. Both of these patterns experienced their strongest-on-record negative phase, when measured as the pressure difference between the Icelandic Low and Azores High.

The extreme Arctic circulation caused a bizarre upside-down winter over North America--Canada had its warmest and driest winter on record, forcing snow to be trucked in for the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, but the U.S. had its coldest winter in 25 years. A series of remarkable snow storms pounded the Eastern U.S., with the "Snowmageddon" blizzard dumping more than two feet of snow on Baltimore and Philadelphia. Western Europe also experienced unusually cold and snowy conditions, with the UK recording its 8th coldest January. A highly extreme negative phase of the NAO and AO returned again during November 2010, and lasted into January 2011. Exceptionally cold and snowy conditions hit much of Western Europe and the Eastern U.S. again in the winter of 2010 - 2011. During these two extreme winters, New York City recorded three of its top-ten snowstorms since 1869, and Philadelphia recorded four of its top-ten snowstorms since 1884. During December 2010, the extreme Arctic circulation over Greenland created the strongest ridge of high pressure ever recorded at middle levels of the atmosphere, anywhere on the globe (since accurate records began in 1948.) New research suggests that major losses of Arctic sea ice could cause the Arctic circulation to behave so strangely, but this work is still speculative.

Figure 2. Digging out in Maryland after "Snowmageddon". Image credit: wunderphotographer chills.

Arctic sea ice: lowest volume on record, 3rd lowest extent
Sea ice in the Arctic reached its third lowest areal extent on record in September 2010. Compared to sea ice levels 30 years ago, 1/3 of the polar ice cap was missing--an area the size of the Mediterranean Sea. The Arctic has seen a steady loss of meters-thick, multi-year-old ice in recent years that has left thin, 1 - 2 year-old ice as the predominant ice type. As a result, sea ice volume in 2010 was the lowest on record. More than half of the polar icecap by volume--60%--was missing in September 2010, compared to the average from 1979 - 2010. All this melting allowed the Northwest Passage through the normally ice-choked waters of Canada to open up in 2010. The Northeast Passage along the coast of northern Russia also opened up, and this was the third consecutive year--and third time in recorded history--that both passages melted open. Two sailing expeditions--one Russian and one Norwegian--successfully navigated both the Northeast Passage and the Northwest Passage in 2010, the first time this feat has been accomplished. Mariners have been attempting to sail the Northwest Passage since 1497, and have failed to accomplish this feat without an icebreaker until the 2000s. In December 2010, Arctic sea ice fell to its lowest winter extent on record, the beginning of a 3-month streak of record lows. Canada's Hudson Bay did not freeze over until mid-January of 2011, the latest freeze-over date in recorded history.

Figure 3. The Arctic's minimum sea ice extent for 2010 was reached on September 21, and was the third lowest on record. Image credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center.

Record melting in Greenland, and a massive calving event
Greenland's climate in 2010 was marked by record-setting high air temperatures, the greatest ice loss by melting since accurate records began in 1958, the greatest mass loss of ocean-terminating glaciers on record, and the calving of a 100 square-mile ice island--the largest calving event in the Arctic since 1962. Many of these events were due to record warm water temperatures along the west coast of Greenland, which averaged 2.9°C (5.2°F) above average during October 2010, a remarkable 1.4°C above the previous record high water temperatures in 2003.

Figure 4. The 100 square-mile ice island that broke off the Petermann Glacier heads out of the Petermann Fjord in this 7-frame satellite animation. The animation begins on August 5, 2010, and ends on September 21, with images spaced about 8 days apart. The images were taken by NASA's Aqua and Terra satellites.

Second most extreme shift from El Niño to La Niña
The year 2010 opened with a strong El Niño event and exceptionally warm ocean waters in the Eastern Pacific. However, El Niño rapidly waned in the spring, and a moderate to strong La Niña developed by the end of the year, strongly cooling these ocean waters. Since accurate records began in 1950, only 1973 has seen a more extreme swing from El Niño to La Niña. The strong El Niño and La Niña events contributed to many of the record flood events seen globally in 2010, and during the first half of 2011.

Figure 5. The departure of sea surface temperatures from average at the beginning of 2010 (top) and the end of 2010 (bottom) shows the remarkable transition from strong El Niño to strong La Niña conditions that occurred during the year. Image credit: NOAA/NESDIS.

Second worst coral bleaching year
Coral reefs took their 2nd-worst beating on record in 2010, thanks to record or near-record warm summer water temperatures over much of Earth's tropical oceans. The warm waters caused the most coral bleaching since 1998, when 16 percent of the world's reefs were killed off. "Clearly, we are on track for this to be the second worst (bleaching) on record," NOAA coral expert Mark Eakin in a 2010 interview. "All we're waiting on now is the body count." The summer 2010 coral bleaching episodes were worst in the Philippines and Southeast Asia, where El Niño warming of the tropical ocean waters during the first half of the year was significant. In Indonesia's Aceh province, 80% of the bleached corals died, and Malaysia closed several popular dive sites after nearly all the coral were damaged by bleaching. In some portions of the Caribbean, such as Venezuela and Panama, coral bleaching was the worst on record.

Figure 6. An example of coral bleaching that occurred during the record-strength 1997-1998 El Niño event. Image credit: Craig Quirolo, Reef Relief/Marine Photobank, in Climate, Carbon and Coral Reefs

Wettest year over land
The year 2010 also set a new record for wettest year in Earth's recorded history over land areas. The difference in precipitation from average in 2010 was about 13% higher than that of the previous record wettest year, 1956. However, this record is not that significant, since it was due in large part to random variability of the jet stream weather patterns during 2010. The record wetness over land was counterbalanced by relatively dry conditions over the oceans.

Figure 7. Global departure of precipitation over land areas from average for 1900 - 2010. The year 2010 set a new record for wettest year over land areas in Earth's recorded history. The difference in precipitation from average in 2010 was about 13% higher than that of the previous record wettest year, 1956. Image credit: NOAA's National Climatic Data Center.

Amazon rainforest experiences its 2nd 100-year drought in 5 years
South America's Amazon rainforest experienced its second 100-year drought in five years during 2010, with the largest northern tributary of the Amazon River--the Rio Negro--dropping to thirteen feet (four meters) below its usual dry season level. This was its lowest level since record keeping began in 1902. The low water mark is all the more remarkable since the Rio Negro caused devastating flooding in 2009, when it hit an all-time record high, 53 ft (16 m) higher than the 2010 record low. The 2010 drought was similar in intensity and scope to the region's previous 100-year drought in 2005. Drought makes a regular appearance in the Amazon, with significant droughts occurring an average of once every twelve years. In the 20th century, these droughts typically occurred during El Niño years, when the unusually warm waters present along the Pacific coast of South America altered rainfall patterns. But the 2005 and 2010 droughts did not occur during El Niño conditions, and it is theorized that they were instead caused by record warm sea surface temperatures in the Atlantic.

We often hear about how important Arctic sea ice is for keeping Earth's climate cool, but a healthy Amazon is just as vital. Photosynthesis in the world's largest rainforest takes about 2 billion tons of carbon dioxide out of the air each year. However, in 2005, the drought reversed this process. The Amazon emitted 3 billion tons of CO2 to the atmosphere, causing a net 5 billion ton increase in CO2 to the atmosphere--roughly equivalent to 16 - 22% of the total CO2 emissions to the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels that year. The Amazon stores CO2 in its soils and biomass equivalent to about fifteen years of human-caused emissions, so a massive die-back of the forest could greatly accelerate global warming.

Figure 8. Hundreds of fires (red squares) generate thick smoke over a 1000 mile-wide region of the southern Amazon rain forest in this image taken by NASA's Aqua satellite on August 16, 2010. The Bolivian government declared a state of emergency in mid-August due to the out-of-control fires burning over much of the country. Image credit: NASA.

Global tropical cyclone activity lowest on record
The year 2010 was one of the strangest on record for tropical cyclones. Each year, the globe has about 92 tropical cyclones--called hurricanes in the Atlantic and Eastern Pacific, typhoons in the Western Pacific, and tropical cyclones in the Southern Hemisphere. But in 2010, we had just 68 of these storms--the fewest since the dawn of the satellite era in 1970. The previous record slowest year was 1977, when 69 tropical cyclones occurred world-wide. Both the Western Pacific and Eastern Pacific had their quietest seasons on record in 2010, but the Atlantic was hyperactive, recording its 3rd busiest season since record keeping began in 1851. The Southern Hemisphere had a slightly below average season. The Atlantic ordinarily accounts for just 13% of global cyclone activity, but accounted for 28% in 2010--the greatest proportion since accurate tropical cyclone records began in the 1970s.

A common theme of many recent publications on the future of tropical cyclones globally in a warming climate is that the total number of these storms will decrease, but the strongest storms will get stronger. For example, a 2010 review paper published in Nature Geosciences concluded that the strongest storms would increase in intensity by 2 - 11% by 2100, but the total number of storms would fall by 6 - 34%. It is interesting that 2010 saw the lowest number of global tropical cyclones on record, but an average number of very strong Category 4 and 5 storms (the 25-year average is 13 Category 4 and 5 storms, and 2010 had 14.) Fully 21% of 2010's tropical cyclones reached Category 4 or 5 strength, versus just 14% during the period 1983 - 2007. Most notably, in 2010 we had Super Typhoon Megi. Megi's sustained winds cranked up to a ferocious 190 mph and its central pressure bottomed out at 885 mb on October 16, making it the 8th most intense tropical cyclone in world history. Other notable storms in 2010 included the second strongest tropical cyclone on record in the Arabian Sea (Category 4 Cyclone Phet in June), and the strongest tropical cyclone ever to hit Myanmar/Burma (October's Tropical Cyclone Giri, an upper end Category 4 storm with 155 mph winds.)

Figure 9. Visible satellite image of Tropical Cyclone Phet on Thursday, June 3, 2010. Record heat over southern Asia in May helped heat up the Arabian Sea to 2°C above normal, and the exceptionally warm SSTs helped fuel Tropical Cyclone Phet into the second strongest tropical cyclone ever recorded in the Arabian Sea. Phet peaked at Category 4 strength with 145 mph winds, and killed 44 people and did $700 million in damage to Oman. Only Category 5 Cyclone Gonu of 2007 was a stronger Arabian Sea cyclone.

A hyperactive Atlantic hurricane season: 3rd busiest on record
Sea surface temperatures that were the hottest on record over the main development region for Atlantic hurricanes helped fuel an exceptionally active 2010 Atlantic hurricane season. The nineteen named storms were the third most since 1851; the twelve hurricanes of 2010 ranked second most. Three major hurricanes occurred in rare or unprecedented locations. Julia was the easternmost major hurricane on record, Karl was the southernmost major hurricane on record in the Gulf of Mexico, and Earl was the 4th strongest hurricane so far north. The formation of Tomas so far south and east so late in the season (October 29) was unprecedented in the historical record; no named storm had ever been present east of the Lesser Antilles (61.5°W) and south of 12°N latitude so late in the year. Tomas made the 2010 the 4th consecutive year with a November hurricane in the Atlantic--an occurrence unprecedented since records began in 1851.

Figure 10. Hurricane Earl as seen from the International Space Station on Thursday, September 2, 2010. Image credit: NASA astronaut Douglas Wheelock.

A rare tropical storm in the South Atlantic
A rare tropical storm formed in the South Atlantic off the coast of Brazil on March 10 - 11, and was named Tropical Storm Anita. Brazil has had only one landfalling tropical cyclone in its history, Cyclone Catarina of March 2004, one of only seven known tropical or subtropical cyclones to form in the South Atlantic, and the only one to reach hurricane strength. Anita of 2010 is probably the fourth strongest tropical/subtropical storm in the South Atlantic, behind Hurricane Catarina, an unnamed February 2006 storm that may have attained wind speeds of 65 mph, and a subtropical storm that brought heavy flooding to the coast of Uruguay in January 2009. Tropical cyclones rarely form in the South Atlantic Ocean, due to strong upper-level wind shear, cool water temperatures, and the lack of an initial disturbance to get things spinning (no African waves or Intertropical Convergence Zone.)

Figure 11. Visible satellite image of the Brazilian Tropical Storm Anita.

Strongest storm in Southwestern U.S. history
The most powerful low pressure system in 140 years of record keeping swept through the Southwest U.S. on January 20 - 21, 2010, bringing deadly flooding, tornadoes, hail, hurricane force winds, and blizzard conditions. The storm set all-time low pressure records over roughly 10 - 15% of the U.S.--southern Oregon, California, Nevada, Arizona, and Utah. Old records were broken by a wide margin in many locations, most notably in Los Angeles, where the old record of 29.25" set January 17, 1988, was shattered by .18" (6 mb). The record-setting low spawned an extremely intense cold front that swept through the Southwest. Winds ahead of the cold front hit sustained speeds of hurricane force--74 mph--at Apache Junction, 40 miles east of Phoenix, and wind gusts as high as 94 mph were recorded in Ajo, Arizona. High winds plunged visibility to zero in blowing dust on I-10 connecting Phoenix and Tucson, closing the Interstate.

Figure 12. Ominous clouds hover over Arizona's Superstition Mountains during Arizona's most powerful storm on record, on January 21, 2010. Image credit: wunderphotographer ChandlerMike.

Strongest non-coastal storm in U.S. history
A massive low pressure system intensified to record strength over northern Minnesota on October 26, 2010, resulting in the lowest barometric pressure readings ever recorded in the continental United States, except for from hurricanes and nor'easters affecting the Atlantic seaboard. The 955 mb sea level pressure reported from Bigfork, Minnesota beat the previous low pressure record of 958 mb set during the Great Ohio Blizzard of January 26, 1978. Both Minnesota and Wisconsin set all time low pressure readings during the October 26 storm, and International Falls beat their previous low pressure record by nearly one-half inch of mercury--a truly amazing anomaly. The massive storm spawned 67 tornadoes over a four-day period, and brought sustained winds of 68 mph to Lake Superior.

Figure 13. Visible satellite image of the October 26, 2010 superstorm taken at 5:32pm EDT. At the time, Bigfork, Minnesota was reporting the lowest pressure ever recorded in a U.S. non-coastal storm, 955 mb. Image credit: NASA/GSFC.

Weakest and latest-ending East Asian monsoon on record
The summer monsoon over China's South China Sea was the weakest and latest ending monsoon on record since detailed records began in 1951, according to the Beijing Climate Center. The monsoon did not end until late October, nearly a month later than usual. The abnormal monsoon helped lead to precipitation 30% - 80% below normal in Northern China and Mongolia, and 30 - 100% above average across a wide swath of Central China. Western China saw summer precipitation more than 200% above average, and torrential monsoon rains triggered catastrophic landslides that killed 2137 people and did $759 million in damage. Monsoon floods in China killed an additional 1911 people, affected 134 million, and did $18 billion in damage in 2010, according to the WHO Collaborating Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED). This was the 2nd most expensive flooding disaster in Chinese history, behind the $30 billion price tag of the 1998 floods that killed 3656 people. China had floods in 1915, 1931, and 1959 that killed 3 million, 3.7 million, and 2 million people, respectively, but no damage estimates are available for these floods.

Figure 14. Paramilitary policemen help evacuate residents from Wanjia village of Fuzhou City, East China's Jiangxi province, June 22, 2010. Days of heavy rain burst the Changkai Dike of Fu River on June 21, threatening the lives of 145,000 local people. Image credit: Xinhua.

No monsoon depressions in India's Southwest Monsoon for 2nd time in 134 years
The Southwest Monsoon that affects India was fairly normal in 2010, bringing India rains within 2% of average. Much of the rain that falls in India from the monsoon typically comes from large regions of low pressure that form in the Bay of Bengal and move westwards over India. Typically, seven of these lows grow strong and well-organized enough to be labelled monsoon depressions, which are similar to but larger than tropical depressions. In 2010, no monsoon depressions formed--the only year besides 2002 (since 1877) that no monsoon depressions have been observed.

The Pakistani flood: most expensive natural disaster in Pakistan's history
A large monsoon low developed over the Bay of Bengal in late July and moved west towards Pakistan, creating a strong flow of moisture that helped trigger the deadly Pakistan floods of 2010. The floods were worsened by a persistent and unusually-far southwards dip in the jet stream, which brought cold air and rain-bearing low pressure systems over Pakistan. This unusual bend in the jet stream also helped bring Russia its record heat wave and drought. The Pakistani floods were the most expensive natural disaster in Pakistani history, killing 1985 people, affecting 20 million, and doing $9.5 billion in damage.

Figure 15. Local residents attempt to cross a washed-out road during the Pakistani flood catastrophe of 2010. Image credit: Pakistan Meteorology Department.

The Russian heat wave and drought: deadliest heat wave in human history
A scorching heat wave struck Moscow in late June 2010, and steadily increased in intensity through July as the jet stream remained "stuck" in an unusual loop that kept cool air and rain-bearing low pressure systems far north of the country. By July 14, the mercury hit 31°C (87°F) in Moscow, the first day of an incredible 33-day stretch with a maximum temperatures of 30°C (86°F) or higher. Moscow's old extreme heat record, 37°C (99°F) in 1920, was equaled or exceeded five times in a two-week period from July 26 - August 6 2010, including an incredible 38.2°C (101°F) on July 29. Over a thousand Russians seeking to escape the heat drowned in swimming accidents, and thousands more died from the heat and from inhaling smoke and toxic fumes from massive wild fires. The associated drought cut Russia's wheat crop by 40%, cost the nation $15 billion, and led to a ban on grain exports. The grain export ban, in combination with bad weather elsewhere in the globe during 2010 - 2011, caused a sharp spike in world food prices that helped trigger civil unrest across much of northern Africa and the Middle East in 2011. At least 55,000 people died due to the heat wave, making it the deadliest heat wave in human history. A 2011 NOAA study concluded that "while a contribution to the heat wave from climate change could not be entirely ruled out, if it was present, it played a much smaller role than naturally occurring meteorological processes in explaining this heat wave's intensity." However, they noted that the climate models used for the study showed a rapidly increasing risk of such heat waves in western Russia, from less than 1% per year in 2010, to 10% or more per year by 2100.

Figure 16. Smoke from wildfires burning to the southeast of Moscow on August 12, 2010. Northerly winds were keeping the smoke from blowing over the city. Image credit: NASA.

Record rains trigger Australia's most expensive natural disaster in history
Australia's most expensive natural disaster in history is now the Queensland flood of 2010 - 2011, with a price tag as high as $30 billion. At least 35 were killed. The Australian Bureau of Meteorology's annual summary reported, "Sea surface temperatures in the Australian region during 2010 were 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, November and December. Along with favourable hemispheric circulation associated with the 2010 La Niña, very warm sea surface temperatures contributed to the record rainfall and very high humidity across eastern Australia during winter and spring." In 2010, Australia had its wettest spring (September - November) since records began 111 years ago, with some sections of coastal Queensland receiving over 4 feet (1200 mm) of rain. Rainfall in Queensland and all of eastern Australia in December was the greatest on record, and the year 2010 was the rainiest year on record for Queensland. Queensland has an area the size of Germany and France combined, and 3/4 of the region was declared a disaster zone.

Figure 17. The airport, the Bruce Highway, and large swaths of Rockhampton, Australia, went under water due to flooding from the Fitzroy River on January 9, 2011. The town of 75,000 was completely cut off by road and rail, and food, water and medicine had to be brought in by boat and helicopter. Image credit: NASA.

Heaviest rains on record trigger Colombia's worst flooding disaster in history
The 2010 rainy-season rains in Colombia were the heaviest in the 42 years since Colombia's weather service was created and began taking data. Floods and landslides killed 528, did $1 billion in damage, and left 2.2 million homeless, making it Colombia's most expensive, most widespread, and 2nd deadliest flooding disaster in history. Colombia's president Juan Manuel Santos said, "the tragedy the country is going through has no precedents in our history."

Figure 18. A daring rescue of two girls stranded in a taxi by flash flood waters Barranquilla, northern Colombia on August 14, 2010.

Tennessee's 1-in-1000 year flood kills 30, does $2.4 billion in damage
Tennessee's greatest disaster since the Civil War hit on May 1 - 2, 2010, when an epic deluge of rain brought by an "atmospheric river" of moisture dumped up to 17.73" of rain on the state. Nashville had its heaviest 1-day and 2-day rainfall amounts in its history, with a remarkable 7.25" on May 2, breaking the record for most rain in a single day. Only two days into the month, the May 1 - 2 rains made it the rainiest May in Nashville's history. The record rains sent the Cumberland River in downtown Nashville surging to 51.86', 12' over flood height, and the highest level the river has reached since a flood control project was completed in the early 1960s. At least four rivers in Tennessee reached their greatest flood heights on record. Most remarkable was the Duck River at Centreville, which crested at 47', a full 25 feet above flood stage, and ten feet higher than the previous record crest, achieved in 1948.

Figure 19. A portable classroom building from a nearby high school floats past submerged cars on I-24 near Nashville, TN on May 1, 2010. One person died in the flooding in this region of I-24. Roughly 200 - 250 vehicles got submerged on this section of I-24, according to wunderphotographer laughingjester, who was a tow truck operator called in to clear out the stranded vehicles.

When was the last time global weather was so extreme?
It is difficult to say whether the weather events of a particular year are more or less extreme globally than other years, since we have no objective global index that measures extremes. However, we do for the U.S.--NOAA's Climate Extremes Index (CEI), which looks at the percentage area of the contiguous U.S. experiencing top 10% or bottom 10% monthly maximum and minimum temperatures, monthly drought, and daily precipitation. The Climate Extremes Index rated 1998 as the most extreme year of the past century in the U.S. That year was also the warmest year since accurate records began in 1895, so it makes sense that the warmest year in Earth's recorded history--2010--was also probably one of the most extreme for both temperature and precipitation. Hot years tend to generate more wet and dry extremes than cold years. This occurs since there is more energy available to fuel the evaporation that drives heavy rains and snows, and to make droughts hotter and drier in places where storms are avoiding. Looking back through the 1800s, which was a very cool period, I can't find any years that had more exceptional global extremes in weather than 2010, until I reach 1816. That was the year of the devastating "Year Without a Summer"--caused by the massive climate-altering 1815 eruption of Indonesia's Mt. Tambora, the largest volcanic eruption since at least 536 A.D. It is quite possible that 2010 was the most extreme weather year globally since 1816.

Where will Earth's climate go from here?
The pace of extreme weather events has remained remarkably high during 2011, giving rise to the question--is the "Global Weirding" of 2010 and 2011 the new normal? Has human-caused climate change destabilized the climate, bringing these extreme, unprecedented weather events? Any one of the extreme weather events of 2010 or 2011 could have occurred naturally sometime during the past 1,000 years. But it is highly improbable that the remarkable extreme weather events of 2010 and 2011 could have all happened in such a short period of time without some powerful climate-altering force at work. The best science we have right now maintains that human-caused emissions of heat-trapping gases like CO2 are the most likely cause of such a climate-altering force.

Human-caused climate change has fundamentally altered the atmosphere by adding more heat and moisture. Observations confirm that global atmospheric water vapor has increased by about 4% since 1970, which is what theory says should have happened given the observed 0.5°C (0.9°F) warming of the planet's oceans during the same period. Shifts of this magnitude are capable of significantly affecting the path and strength of the jet stream, behavior of the planet's monsoons, and paths of rain and snow-bearing weather systems. For example, the average position of the jet stream retreated poleward 270 miles (435 km) during a 22-year period ending in 2001, in line with predictions from climate models. A naturally extreme year, when embedded in such a changed atmosphere, is capable of causing dramatic, unprecedented extremes like we observed during 2010 and 2011. That's the best theory I have to explain the extreme weather events of 2010 and 2011--natural extremes of El Niño, La Niña and other natural weather patterns combined with significant shifts in atmospheric circulation and the extra heat and atmospheric moisture due to human-caused climate change to create an extraordinary period of extreme weather. However, I don't believe that years like 2010 and 2011 will become the "new normal" in the coming decade. Many of the flood disasters in 2010 - 2011 were undoubtedly heavily influenced by the strong El Niño and La Niña events that occurred, and we're due for a few quiet years without a strong El Niño or La Niña. There's also the possibility that a major volcanic eruption in the tropics or a significant quiet period on the sun could help cool the climate for a few years, cutting down on heat and flooding extremes (though major eruptions tend to increase drought.) But the ever-increasing amounts of heat-trapping gases humans are emitting into the air puts tremendous pressure on the climate system to shift to a new, radically different, warmer state, and the extreme weather of 2010 - 2011 suggests that the transition is already well underway. A warmer planet has more energy to power stronger storms, hotter heat waves, more intense droughts, heavier flooding rains, and record glacier melt that will drive accelerating sea level rise. I expect that by 20 - 30 years from now, extreme weather years like we witnessed in 2010 will become the new normal.

Finally, I'll leave you with a quote from Dr. Ricky Rood's climate change blog, in his recent post,Changing the Conversation: Extreme Weather and Climate: "Given that greenhouse gases are well known to hold energy close to the Earth, those who deny a human-caused impact on weather need to pose a viable mechanism of how the Earth can hold in more energy and the weather not be changed. Think about it."

Reposted from Weather Underground by Dr Jeff Masters, Director of Meteorology.

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Comments 51 to 100 out of 419:

  1. actually thoughtful @ 22, A deterministic solution is one answer to a question, even though producing one answer might not be the best science. A good example is a forecast of temperature for 7 days from now. I can tell you that our forecast is 90F, which is a deterministic forecast. A deterministic model produces one solution. An ensemble produces multiple solutions by varying one of two things, either the initial conditions or the model physics. It allows a forecaster (weather or climate) to quantify the uncertainty in the forecast by looking at the range of solutions created by very small changes. Ed Lorenz is the grandfather of the ensemble idea courtesy of his "Deterministic Nonperiodic Flow" paper ( CPC relies on not just their own CFS model, but the whole suite of model solutions seen in the IRI chart. By that chart, the majority of models indicate a neutral phase, with a few outliers (CFS included) in either direction. Their weekly and monthly summaries do follow a template, but I agree that they don't discuss the envelope of solutions as thoroughly as they could.
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  2. Eric @ 37 and 47, The answer is both. Some of the SST forecasts are produced by GCMs and others are shorter-range dynamical models (or statistical models, which don't replicate the atmosphere like a GCM does). GCMs are still not handling ENSO well, and that includes both amplitude and phase. Some GCMs indicate that in a warmer climate, ENSO could look more "La Nina-like", while others look more "El Nino-like". I don't have a specific reference handy, unfortunately, but I did listen to a lecture by Michael Mann just this spring, and he was inclined to think the La Nina-like solutions might be more favored. Until the models get better at resolving ENSO events in climate simulations, though, much of this is scientific speculation and very early hypothesis generation! Regarding model resolution of the steepness of the curve in early vs later runs, I actually don't have a good answer for you, but that is a very good question. Again, hope this has helped!
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  3. adelady@46: I am not familiar with all the dynamics of Aussie flooding, so can't comment on them. AS far as USA flooding: 1. The flood on the Mississippi this spring did not exceed the flood of 1927, if memory serves me. 2. The flood on the Missouri River basin has two causes: a. There is a natural wet dry cycle in this part of North America. We are now in the wet cycle, and have been since approx 1992. b. Extremely poor management of the Missouri River dams. During the dry cycle the dams were low on water and the Fish and Wildlife were screaming to decrease the discharge rates. Well, they got their way and the damn were refilled with no room for flood mitigation. All last winter and spring the dams have been releasing minimal amounts of water. So when the rain, enhanced by La Nina in this area, came this spring the dams were full. When the snow pack started melting, the discharge rate had to be increased to a very high level. Without the damn, the flooding would have been minimal. The same applies to the Mouse River. The floods on the Missouri and Mouse are man made.
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  4. camburn "There is a natural wet dry cycle in this part of North America. We are now in the wet cycle, and have been since approx 1992. ... During the dry cycle the dams were low on water and the Fish and Wildlife were screaming ... and the dams were refilled with no room for flood mitigation. All last winter and spring the dams have been releasing minimal amounts of water. ...this spring the dams were full." Since 1992? How come the flooding wasn't so extensive during the previous 8 years of the 'wet cycle'?
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  5. Norman @39, from Neumayer and Barthel, 2011: Note, a Major disaster is a disaster in which 100 or more people died, or in which there was a certain, time adjusted value of damage done. So Norman, is that the information you wanted me to get from that paper? Or did you just want me to cherry pick the data on their normalized damages (which is down by their method of normalizing, but up by the more standard measure)? In the paper Neumayer and Barthel address the key issue of whether the decline in normalized losses (by their method) is due to a decrease in damaging potential of disasters, or to improved methods of mitigating:
    "One of the problems with normalizing damage from natural disasters, independently of the method chosen, is our inability to take into account defensive mitigating measures, which rational individuals would undertake in response to an increasing frequency and/or intensity of natural hazards. An increase in such measures could prevent an increasing trend in natural disaster loss that would otherwise occur in the absence of such measures and could thus prevent detection of a potential climate change signal in the data. For example, flood defence measures in Western Europe have dramatically reduced the risk of flood damages from winter storms (e.g., Lavery and Donovan (2005) on the River Thames tidal defences or Ronde et al. (2003) on flood defence development in the Netherlands), while stricter building codes introduced in parts of coastal Florida from the mid-1990s onwards have significantly reduced hurricane damage from Hurricane Charley in 2004 (Institute for Business and Home Safety 2008). Our findings of a downward trend in natural disaster loss with the alternative method for all natural disasters and for all non-geophysical disasters at the global level could be driven by such measures. Splitting up the sample into developed versus developing countries, we find a strong and more clearly statistically significant downward trend for developed countries, but no trend whatsoever for developing countries. This would also be consistent with increased defensive mitigating measures since developed countries are much better able to fund such measures than developing countries. To be sure, increased mitigating measures are only one possible explanation for the findings, but not the only one."
    (My emphasis) They discuss this issue at length, and show (charts given above) that geophysical disasters have increased slightly over a thirty year period, but that weather related disasters have increased substantially. They then discuss the possibility that this is just due to increased reporting. They show that the significantly greater increase of weather related disasters persists if you only look at major disasters, that would not be under reported in the past. They also point out that even in densely inhabited nations like Germany, where no previously uninhabited areas have become inhabited over the past thirty years, the same pattern exists. They conclude:
    "Independently of the reason behind the strong increase in the frequency count of weather-related disasters over our period of analysis, how can this be reconciled with our finding of no upward trend in normalized damage from natural disasters? There are three possibilities. First, there could be an opposite reporting bias in terms of damage caused such that economic loss is over-estimated in the early years of our study period and under-estimated in the later years. Second, weather-related natural disasters could have become less intensive over time. Third, weather-related natural disasters have not become less intensive, but defensive mitigating measures have prevented increasingly frequent weather-related natural disasters from causing an upward trend in normalized natural disaster loss. Since there is little reason to presume that loss has been systematically over-estimated in the past or that weather related natural disasters have become less intensive, the third explanation presents a distinct possibility."
    I consider the last sentence a significant under statement. There is a significant irony in your pointing to this paper. You have argued that Munich Re data should be ignored because it measures disasters (damaging events) rather than hazards (potentially damaging events). Now you look at a paper and cherry pick the damage done as being significant, while ignoring the clear evidence on the number of events, and that the increase in damaging events is correlated with an increase in hazards. And you now accept a study financed by, and using data from Munich Re because you think it supports your case. Your selective standards could not be more openly displayed.
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  6. Based on Bern #49 - advice for all my Canadian friends DO NOT buy a mobile home! These things are proven to attract tornadoes. Indeed there is strong evidence that the extreme tornado season has more to do with the sale of mobile homes in the Southern USA than ANYTHING to do with AGW Heh - probably the only time I will be referencing Dr. Roy Spencer - unless to question his results....
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  7. Camburn @42, here Norman @46, I cited five peer reviewed papers, but you dispute that because you can cite a web page? Seriously?
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  8. actually thoughtful @50 I did break down the 20th Century to see if there was a signal from warming. From the Jeff Masters article above he states that the Earth has warmed 0.5 C since the 1970's. With this in mind I will break up the 20th century data. Same link as earlier for reference. El Nino events in 20th Century broken down by decade. 1900-1910 2 1911-1920 3 1921-1930 3 1931-1940 2 1941-1950 1 1951-1960 3 1961-1970 2 1971-1980 2 1981-1990 2 1991-2000 3 From this breakdown it is hard to see how the 0.5C increase in Global Temps since the 1970's is causing a noticeable increase in the frequency of El Nino events.
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  9. Bern @49, to make matters worse, the "unaltered river basins" include among their number that pristine environment, the Thames river valley. By unaltered, they mean un-dammed, and the study takes no account of, and makes no adjustment for any loss of water for irrigation, or urban and/or industrial use.
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  10. Windbarb - "Some GCMs indicate that in a warmer climate, ENSO could look more "La Nina-like", while others look more "El Nino-like" This misconception continues to pop up, I notice in the scientific literature even climate scientists get confused on the topic. The 'El Nino- like' or 'La Nina-like' simply describes a change to the background state. That is: either the Central and Eastern tropical Pacific warm more the the Western Pacific (El Nino-like), or the Eastern and Central tropical Pacific are cooler than the Western tropical Pacific (La Nina-like). It is a separate issue (but of course related) to the evolution of ENSO events.
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  11. adelady@54: This year we have a La Nina, which as a rule increases our snow/rain. The previous 8 years have not been as wet as this year. It took 6 years to refill the dams. This year we are wet because we went into last fall saturated.....La Nina again. That link I posted from NOAA shows the area of the USA that gets above normal precip. A large part of that area is the Missouri River Basin. Anyways, it was a fight between the corp and the fish and wildlife folks. Not a happy ending.
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  12. Camburn @53, the same accusations were falsely made regarding the Brisbane flood. Unless the discharge from the dams exceeded the inflow for significant periods, then it is certain that the floods would have been worse without the dams. That does not mean the floods could not have been mitigated better, but that is quite different from saying they are man made. I have looked at the dam levels for the relevant dams and they are quite constant over the period making it very unlikely that they have discharged more than their inflows. Therefore, in the absence of significant evidence, you should probably stop your slanders.
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  13. Tom@57....thanks.
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  14. Tom: Look a little closer please. Right now, the discharge rate from Garrison is 150,000CFS+. The inflow is less. The reason for the 150,000CFS+ is that there was danger of going over the emergency spillway and potentially dam failure. With the increased flow, the positive is that the river is cleaning itself back to historical depths. I am not slandering anyone. There has been a fight for years on the level of Garrison.
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  15. Rob @60, yes, thank you for catching me there. Future ENSO events will occur on top of a background state that may look more like a modern El Nino or La Nina. The resulting impact to weather patterns around the globe, though, is likely to reflect the tendencies of whichever background state the SSTs do approach... thus impacting extreme weather events. In other words, if the future background state looks similar to current La Nina SST patterns, the impact on the storm track is likely to be similar, meaning that areas favored for (say) higher than usual tornado activity during/following a La Nina might trend in that direction in a climate changed world, too.
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  16. Norman, You ignore the 50% increase in the current decade. That could be an artifact, or it could be that some tipping point has been exceeded, thus switching us to a busier ENSO cycle. Also, I find your counting of cycles to be fairly unsatisfying. Even myself, not trained in this area, am asking basic questions you apparently have not thought about: 1) How long was each event in each decade? 2) How strong was each event in each decade? You might be exactly right, or you might be confusing number of events with duration and intensity - the point is your analysis leaves us with more questions than answers. I can't imagine drawing any conclusions from the sparse data you have presented (and as I recall, when I last checked your data I found it was off by at least 50%). I haven't checked your data yet as you are missing so much at the logical level it doesn't seem warranted yet.
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  17. Windbarb @ 65 - Yeah, I think the impact of the change in the background state is completely overlooked by many bloggers. As you point out that in itself will have a noticeable impact, particularly its effect on drought in the Amazon-should an El Nino-like state emerge.
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  18. Camburn - do you have facts (not anctedotes) to back up your claim that the Mississippi flooding is manmade? This has been a slow moving tragedy - it is hard to imagine those dams haven't been wide open for quite some time. Can you show reservoir levels for each year in April, for example, and show that they have been filling for 19 years (1992 Clinton was a new President - long time ago). Can you show that dam managers didn't follow best practices to manage/mitigate the flood situation? It really is a strong charge that these floods were manmade - other than in the broad sense that dams exist (or if you want to pin it on AGW) - but even that you would have to show it would have been better with no dams - which is not an obvious outcome. Or that the probability of this event WITHOUT AGW is less than 20% (a standard I just made up...). On a broader scale I think that is the problem. Dr. Masters has pointed out that all the things we are seeing are precisely what climate scientists are predicting, but to claim that it is caused by AGW (in a chaotic weather system (paging Dr. Lorenz)) you would need to establish a statistical likelihood without AGW, and then see a trend (more than one year) that demonstrated you were seeing those weather events well beyond the statistical likelihood. I think Dr. Masters did it for one year - but too soon to be able to scientifically make that claim (I think). I do think 2010 was a watershed year (pun intended) wherein we went from "we should see x because of AGW" to "we are seeing x because of AGW" - I personally have a lot less patience for those who claim it isn't happening, given the overwhelming evidence even the common person can observe.
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  19. windbarb - thank you for clarifying some of the jargon. I see that the Lorenz of ensemble results is the same Lorenz of butterfly chaos theory (indeed that the latter suggests/requires the former) - that just makes me happy. Maybe the default of La Nina conditions is why CFS went with La Nina in the fall, even though most models disagree?
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  20. Two comments on Norman's list: First, the author of the website made his list for the 19th century and earlier by taking a list of events made from examining logs of ships in ENSO effected areas around the globe, and then adding in other events as derived from other proxies. The risk of double counting with such a procedure is large. Second, the websites claims about 20th century El Ninos should be checked against the ENSO Southern Oscillation Index: Clearly the website he is relying on has very dubious information.
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  21. Actually thoughtful: I spose I could dig up all the pertinent information with links etc but that is a huge task. I do know that in April and early to mid may, the discharge from Garrison was less than minor flood stage in Bismarck. I do know that NOAA has long range forcasts that showed above average precip. I do know the state has been asking the corp to release more water from Garrison for over 6 months so that the flow could be better regulated when the snow pack started melting. This article sums up the Missouri River flood. I fear that the effectiveness of the dams may be lost. Current state of Missouri
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  22. Must have done something wrong. Here is the link about the Missouri River
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  23. 71, Camburn, I fear that I agree that the effectiveness of the dams may be lost... around the world. Very many dams were built with an entirely different climate in mind, and will be overwhelmed. Maybe not today or tomorrow with any regularity, but it's inevitable, and sad. But for some people, until we can statistically prove that 95% of all pre-2000 dams are now worthless, they won't admit that climate change is a problem.
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  24. actually thoughtful @ 66 Looks like Tom Curtis provides answers to your questions @ post 70. His graph shows number and intensity of both El Nino and La Nina.
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  25. I would hesitate to extrapolate such a small number so far into the future as the statistical uncertainty is overwhelming. While I cannot verify of refute his El Nino numbers, no one has thus far presented any evidence that the frequency on ENSO events has increased due to global warming. That said, I would refer back to the NOAA link as to the cause of the record snowfall.
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  26. Tom Curtis @ 55 "There is a significant irony in your pointing to this paper. You have argued that Munich Re data should be ignored because it measures disasters (damaging events) rather than hazards (potentially damaging events). Now you look at a paper and cherry pick the damage done as being significant, while ignoring the clear evidence on the number of events, and that the increase in damaging events is correlated with an increase in hazards. And you now accept a study financed by, and using data from Munich Re because you think it supports your case. Your selective standards could not be more openly displayed." Actually I was not arguing that Munich Re should be ignored because it measures disasters rather than hazards. I was claiming that Munich Re is not an unbiased scientific group and that I do not know how they came up with their graphs. On the hazard vs disaster argument I was claiming that an increase in disasters did not necessarily mean an increase in hazards. I said it could but it did not have to as there are other variables involved. If population number was static and did not move then an increase in disasters would strongly indicate an increase in hazards. A disaster is a hazard that involves people (death and property destruction). If your population grows during the same time period as your graph of disasters it adds a variable that will not allow a clear correlation between hazard and disaster. Here is a link to US population growth since 1960. If you match the Munich Re graph of incresaed storm disasters in US with this graph, do they go up with the same slope? US Population growth since 1960. This can easily explain the increase in weather related disasters vs earthquakes. A large earthquake will be a disaster if if hits a populated area regardless of population growth. If Los Angeles grew in population by 10% it would not increase the disaster of an earthquake in that area, the population growth would not affect that. However if you have population growth in the plains where there are storms (tornadoes, winds, hail). The most severe part of a storm is smaller than the overall cell and if you have more population targets available to hit, the probability of a hazard becoming a disaster goes up. If you have links to actual numbers of severe storms in US over a 30 year period that would be a much better source to determine if weather is getting worse than an indirect approach through disaster charts. Hope this long post clears up my position. Some of my posts are just isolated attempts to answer some specific question posed.
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  27. Tom Curtis @57 I did look at your M. Latif/ Keenlyside paper. There looks to be no obvious trend in the graph from 1870 to 2010. The paper is based upon a model prediction that the ENSO will get much more intense in the future with further warming. It would not explain the increased levels of storms that are thought to be happening at this time.
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  28. Norman @77 continues to show his double standards when it comes to evidence. In this case he wants to argue that population growth is the cause the increase in disasters, and it is indeed a factor, but not sufficient to explain the entire trend as discussed in 55 above. However, he wants to argue that the trend in geophysical events is less likely to be effected by population growth than is the trend in weather related events. To do this he imagines the trend in geophysical events can be modeled by considering a quake in Los Angeles. In fact the entirety of California is heavily faulted, and quakes come at all levels on the Richter scale. Consequently California's population growth would see more people being likely to be harmed by small quakes, just as the US population growth would leave more people likely to be harmed by weather related hazards. What is more, large weather related hazards, such as a tornado outbreak, are counted as just one disaster even though they may spawn many thousands of thunderstorms and hundreds of individual tornadoes. It is only by assuming that earthquakes are always large, and come only at a very few locations and that weather related disasters are typically small and dispersed that he thinks he can get his argument up, whereas no such distinction exists.
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  29. Dr. Master's report is the basis of the in-depth article: "Climate change hots up in 2010, the year of extreme weather" by Jon Vidal, Environmental Editor, Guardian/UK, June 27, 2011
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  30. Regarding the Neumayer and Barthel Paper: The authors found, "What the results tell us is that, based on historical data, there is no evidence so far that climate change has increased the normalized economic loss from natural disasters. More cannot be inferred from the data. In particular, one cannot infer from our analysis that there have not been more frequent and/or more intensive weather-related natural disasters." And, "We find no evidence for an increasing trend in the normalized economic toll from natural disasters based on historical data, but given our inability to control for defensive mitigating measures we cannot rule out its existence, let alone rule out the possibility of an increasing trend in the future."
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  31. Norman's posts proove once again how difficult it is for a climate denier to mask his/her true identity and purpose.
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  32. Camburn @ 71 Here is a link from February discussing the spring runoff and plans. Gavin's point was releasing 21,000 cfs durning winter. Army Corp Winter plans for Missouri River.
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  33. Tom Curtis @78 "What is more, large weather related hazards, such as a tornado outbreak, are counted as just one disaster even though they may spawn many thousands of thunderstorms and hundreds of individual tornadoes." Why do would they do this? If Omaha got hit the same day as Huntsville, Alabama these would not be counted as seperate disasters? On the Earthquakes. The larger disaster causing earthquakes are small in number. I am sending two links. One with Earthquake number (global) and the other is the level they become disasters. Global Earthquakes last 10 years. Earthquake damage chart. In order for Earthquakes to cause more disasters, a growing population would have to migrate to places where noone is currently living yet prone to earthquakes. If they migrated to already populated areas (as they do) then an earthquake large enough to cause a disaster will not be effected by population growth. The number of targets is not increasing as is with population in storm areas or on flood plains. I am hoping that makes sense to you.
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  34. Badgersouth @ 81 If you want go to my post 33. It has a link to NOAA sight for Global Weather extremes on a monthly basis. Start looking at the different years and then demonstrate why you believe 2010 extremes were more extreme than other years. Is the evidence there, that first 2010 is really that extreme and also that the extremes are linked to global warming (as I have asked in numerous posts...what are the specific mechanisms that have been altered by global warming that would cause exterme weahter in 2010?)
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  35. Badgersouth I posted this information previously and thought I would repost for you. Am I a "denier" or is the evidence still lacking to make a link with Global Warming causing more extreme weather. Texas Droughts. I need good solid evidence. A list of weather extremes in 2010 would not be enough unless the list was embedded in Historical data showing that last year's extremes were way beyond the normal for extremes that occur every year.
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  36. Norman @83, an earthquake of a given strength will lose strength as it propagates away from the epicenter. Consequently a small magnitude 5.5 quake, which is strong enough to do significant damage in a particular area will be felt as a magnitude 4 quake, or less, just a few miles away. Now consider this map of faults just north of Los Angeles: A small quake on the Simi-Santa Rosa fault zone, Camarillo-Santa Rosa section fault (98b) might well not cause any damage in Thousand Oaks or Oxnard ten or twenty years ago, but cause damage now because of expansion of the urban fringe. In this it is no different from a small tornado near an urban centre in the midwest. Because California, like most earthquake prone regions, is netted with faults, possible epicenters for quakes can be found virtually anywhere in the state. Indeed, they are found everywhere in the state on a daily basis (see map above). Therefore it is likely that small quakes which are large enough to do damage will most often occur in rural areas or just outside the surburban fringe. The expansion of the suburbs into rural areas will increase the risk of a an earthquake hazard becoming an earthquake disaster in exactly the same way that expansion of cities will increase the risk that a weather related hazard will become a weather related disaster. The map above shows the earthquakes in California in the past week. None were above 3 on the Richter scale, but as you can see they are more or less randomly distributed along the major fault lines. All the major fault lines have their own cloud of small fault lines (as shown in the first map) increasing the distribution of potential earthquake hazards. You think there is an important distinction only because you have in your mind that an Earthquake is a big thing hitting a large region. Of course, the damaging region of most earthquakes is in fact small, but you typically think of the big newsworthy quakes. In contrast your idea of a weather related disaster is just a single thunderstorm or twister. In fact, for statistical purposes it is a weather front, or a tornado outbreak; so while a big earthquake is pretty much guaranteed to damage nearby cities, a large weather related disaster is very likely to hit multiple states, or even countries.
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  37. It turns out that the industry whose business depends on understanding the risk of extreme weather events is very worried about climate change: Insurance industry facing a climate of fear
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  38. I need to point out that all efforts to measure and dismiss extreme weather events through either death tolls or economic losses fail abysmally on two counts. The first is that the noise in the numbers is far too great. Modern warning systems, building methods, response plans and equipment, and such far, far outweigh the strength or frequency of events. There's just no way to properly compare 1950 to 2010 using economics or fatalities and to say with any degree of confidence whatsoever "there's nothing to worry about." That's just looking for the silver lining by very purposefully ignoring the entire cloud. The second is that we're only into the very, very earliest start of climate change. This is the worst denial distraction there is: "I don't see anything to worry about yet." Except that we haven't doubled CO2 yet, even though it seems beyond inevitable, and the impacts of the CO2 that we have added have not yet been felt (i.e. the temperature of the earth is still trying to catch up, and slow feedbacks like albedo change and additional bio-generated CO2 have not yet made its way into the system). More than this, I expect changes in weather (this is unsupported and unsupportable opinion, not fact) to be incremental and non-linear. I think there will be points reached where people suddenly go "holy cow, when did all this start?" We may even be there now, or maybe it will only happen for the moment during ENSO events. We'll see, unfortunately. But I go once again to my favorite analogy, the story of the man who jumped from the top of a skyscraper, and was heard to remark, each time he passed an open window, "so far, so good." That, in a nutshell, is most denial to me, and the seeming perspective of Norman, Camburn, Eric the Red, and others. "So far, so good," they say, as the air whistles in their ears and they watch the windows of the building fly by, one by one.... but not forever.
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  39. Sphaerica @88, after I read your first paragraph, the joke of the optimist leaping of a skyscraper came to mind. Unfortunately it came to yours first, so I don't get to pretend I'm clever.
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  40. While the effects may indeed be exponential, and we cannot see or measure them yet, they could also be logarthimic - decelerating as CO2 increases. The problem is that the noise is too large to make accurate connections. While your analogy is nice, I feel we will know long before he hits the ground.
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  41. IMHO an extreme event is something that has not occured in the past 500 years. As far as frequency, from the literature posted it is obvious that, at this time, it is impossible to determine if events have increased, decreased, or stayed stable.
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  42. I will also add that the air is quit pleasant as I just just passed the 111th floor. I note my rate of decent has stabalized, allowing adequate time to observe my area of landing. There seems several to choose from, so I am in the process of deciding which soft spot to pick.
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  43. Camburn@91 Then we need only wait another 400 years to determine if decisive action is called for!
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  44. Tom Curtis @88 Finding information on the damage topic is not always so easy as I would expect. Here is a 5.2 earthquake that did not cause major damage just shook things up so it would not be listed as a disaster. What a 5.2 earthquake has done. Then this web page stating that a large earthquake can cause damage 100 miles away from the epicenter. What I am reading is that the energy released by each point on the scale is equal to 32 times more energy release. They have a nice graph showing how much more energy is released in a large disaster causing earthquake. Information on Earthquake damage. From the last link there is a statement down near the bottom. "An earthquake of magnitude 7 will cause near total devastation in the epicentral area and cause structural damage and collapse of poorly-built structures over a much larger area (remember, this earthquake is 30 times more powerful than a magnitude 6 event). The great earthquakes, those over magnitude 8, will destroy most of the infrastructure in a very large area, several 10s of miles in diameter, and can cause structural damage and collapse of poorly-built structures as much as 100 miles away. Great earthquakes can still be felt many hundreds of miles away."
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  45. Page 1 of this Scientific American article gives some details of Munich Re's compilation of weather and other disaster events for those who are interested.
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  46. Sphaerica @ 88 The argument I am making is to make sure these posts remain scientific, supported by evidence. This does not translate to a larger view of what policy the human race should pursue to satisfy its desire for higher living standards but causing minimal damage to the world that supports them. I think it is most wise to find alternative energy sources. Oil and coal are not unlimited and do pollute in various ways. It is possible a tipping point can occur in the future with CO2 increases. Oil use is causing other forms of turbulence with wars and aggression. Passenger vehicles that only get 15 mpg is ridiculous. Conservation and improved efficiency of energy use are very wise choices. I am all in favor of taking action and slowly moving away from dependance upon fossil fuels. That being said, it does not change my purpose for questioning posts of this nature. I am asking for evidence to prove a link between Global warming and increases in Extreme weather events. Tom Curtis has provided some evidence of increasing damage and states that is proof that weather is becoming more extreme. I countered this with my statement about population growth. And even if weather is becoming more extreme (which would require more than a selective list of weather extremes of 2010) one would need to find linking mechanisms to prove global warming would have resulted in increased floods, droughts or severe storms. Just accepting that weather is turning weirder without any research or study would not count as a scientific approach to the topic. Here is John Cook's founding statement for this website. "Skeptical Science is based on the notion that science by its very nature is skeptical. Genuine skepticism means you don't take someone's word for it but investigate for yourself. You look at all the facts before coming to a conclusion. In the case of climate science, our understanding of climate comes from considering the full body of evidence." This is what I am attempting in my posts and links. I am investigating the matter on my own. I am looking at all the facts (historical weather extremes) and then I can reach a conclusion. One post of extreme weather events in 2010 is not enough to demonstrate we are [ - snip- ]
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  47. Norman - From adelady's excellent reference: Munich Re, one of the world's largest reinsurance companies, has compiled the world's most comprehensive database of natural disasters, reaching all the way back to the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in A.D. 79. That's an enviable database. "Our figures indicate a trend towards an increase in extreme weather events that can only be fully explained by climate change," says Peter Höppe, head of Munich Re's Geo Risks Research/Corporate Climate Center: "It's as if the weather machine had changed up a gear." You have (several times, now) tried to counter this evidence with claims based on US only, Omaha only, and other subset (i.e., cherry-picked) data - given the global data, you are entirely incorrect. It's important to note that nobody can become expert in all things, and that it's therefore on occasion necessary to rely on others for information, such as in the global disaster/extreme weather case. Unless you (Norman) have the time, data access, and statistical background to truly investigate this topic, your personal opinion will still be less accurate than those who have made this their life's work.
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  48. Norman - One additional, but significant, point. Munich Re is not a scientific group, but a company that handles reinsurance. They have a huge incentive to get it right about disaster statistics and rates of occurrence - if they don't, they lose immense amounts of money.
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  49. KR: And if they exagerate, they can justify increasing the premium, hence the profit.
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  50. 96, Norman, Science is important, but science does not always work through irrefutable empirical evidence boiled down to simple, single, easy to graph scalar values. You know that. This is particularly true in an area such as extreme weather events, where the final impact of climate change on that particular symptom cannot be known until climate change itself has reached dangerous levels. The position that you are adopting amounts to saying "prove to me that the cancer I have will kill me by showing me my dead body, and until you do so, I just can't be sure that you're right." There is ample evidence for a thinking, reasoning being to assess which points to an increasing number of extreme weather events, even with only the relatively small degree of climate change that we have seen to date. The obvious and irrefutable conclusion is that things will get markedly worse as temperatures increase by several fold over the current anomaly. Your efforts to try to "scientifically" quantify the changes, through a lame series of cherry picked statistics (fatalities, damages, U.S. damages, fatalities through 2006, etc.) do not qualify as an effort "to make sure these posts remain scientific, supported by evidence." There are many, many ways to approach science, and I find your implication that the original post is unscientific, while your random, frenzied efforts to prove otherwise are scientific, merely because your efforts involve easy to graph scalar numbers, to be transparently misguided, at best. I would agree that at some point in the future, when it is statistically viable, science will need to formulate a systematic and objective way of measuring the change in extreme weather events. Such a measure does not currently exist. What we have instead are random, incoherent, easily cherry-picked numbers that can be used to try to prove whatever the cherry-picker wishes to prove, or else anecdotal events, considered and reviewed logically and seriously. The latter is more than good enough for me as evidence that my pre-existing fears, which are based on a whole raft of solid science, are almost certainly coming true. That it is not good enough for you is plain, but then, every post that I have seen from you suggests that you do not respect or give credence to the position of the vast majority of climate scientists, so your starting point is to expect nothing at all untoward to happen, and hence your stance on this particular issue is not surprising.
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