Tag Archives: extreme weather

California’s past megafloods – and the coming ARkStorm

Summary: To boost our fear, activists and journalists report the weather with amnesia about the past. Ten year records become astonishing events; weather catastrophes of 50 or 100 years ago are forgotten. It makes for good clickbait but cripples our ability to prepare for the inevitable. California’s history of floods and droughts gives a fine example — if we listen to the US Geological Survey’s reminder of past megafloods, and their warning of the coming ARkStorm.

” A 43-day storm that began in December 1861 put central and southern California underwater for up to six months, and it could happen again.”
— “California Megaflood: Lessons from a Forgotten Catastrophe” by B. Lynn Ingram (prof of Earth Science, Berkeley) in Scientific America, January 2013.

Inundation of Sacramento in 1862

Lithograph of K Street in Sacramento, CA during the 1862 flood. From Wikimedia commons.

One of the key events in California history has disappeared from our minds. For a reminder see this by the US Geological Survey.

“Beginning on Christmas Eve, 1861, and continuing into early 1862, an extreme series of storms lasting 45 days struck California. The storms caused severe flooding, turning the Sacramento Valley into an inland sea, forcing the State Capital to be moved from Sacramento to San Francisco for a time, and requiring Governor Leland Stanford to take a rowboat to his inauguration. William Brewer, author of Up and Down California in 1860-1864, wrote on January 19, 1862, ‘The great central valley of the state is under water — the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys — a region 250 to 300 miles long and an average of at least twenty miles wide, or probably three to three and a half millions of acres!’

‘In southern California lakes were formed in the Mojave Desert and the Los Angeles Basin. The Santa Ana River tripled its highest-ever estimated discharge, cutting arroyos into the southern California landscape and obliterating the ironically named Agua Mansa (Smooth Water), then the largest community between New Mexico and Los Angeles. The storms wiped out nearly a third of the taxable land in California, leaving the State bankrupt.

“The 1861-62 series of storms were probably the largest and longest California storms on record. However, geological evidence suggests that earlier, prehistoric floods were likely even bigger. There is no scientific evidence to suggest that such extreme storms could not happen again. However, despite the historical and prehistorical evidence for extreme winter storms on the West Coast, the potential for these extreme events has not attracted public concern, as have hurricanes. The storms of 1861-62 happened long before living memory, and the hazards associated with such extreme winter storms have not tested modern infrastructure nor the preparedness of the emergency management community.”

For an account of the flood from that time see this by J. M. Guinn; an excerpt from Exceptional Years: A History of California Floods and Drought (1890).

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What happens to the losers of the public debate about climate change?

Summary: Liberals believed that 2017 would mark a new start for US public policy to manage climate change. Now Conservatives agree, in a different sense. Both are wrong. The weather will determine who will win. The stakes for both sides are large (as are the possible effects on the world). The consequences for the losers will be severe. Just as we are unprepared for climate change (even repeat of past extreme weather), both sides are unprepared for defeat. This is an update and expansion of a post from March.

Cover of "Turning the Tide On Climate Change" by Robert Kandel

Cover of “Turning the Tide On Climate Change” by Robert Kandel (2009).

“The future is not what is coming at us, but what we are headed for.”
— Jean-Marie Guyau in Le Genèse de l’idée du temps, translated by Astragale.

The US public policy debate about climate has run for 28 years, from James Hansen’s famous Senate testimony to Trump’s threat to cut NASA’s climate research. This is one of the largest publicity campaigns in American history. Many people assume that US politics will determine the eventual winner, skeptics or alarmists. I disagree: the weather will determine who wins the public policy debate.

So far the weather has sided with the skeptics, with little of the extreme weather activists predicted. No surge of hurricanes after Katrina (despite the predictions). No sign of the methane monster; little evidence that we have passed the long-predicted tipping points. So, despite the efforts of government agencies, academia, and many ngo’s, the public’s policy priorities have been unaffected (see yesterday’s post). As a result, activists are going thru the 5 stages of grief for their campaign.

Global surface temperatures, flattish for 14 years (except for the 2015-16 El Nino).
October 2016 shows the El Nino spike, but exaggerates the recent flatness.
Warming is concentrated in months of May, June, & July.

NOAA Global temperature anomalies: October

From NOAA. Temperature in October of each year. Reference period is the 20th century.

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A leaked memo about climate change explains why we’re unprepared

Summary: A leaked memo from the highest levels of the Democratic Party leadership discuss how to build public support for large-scale climate policy initiatives. It shows why their efforts failed, and raises questions about the coming Hillary Clinton administration.

“We don’t even plan for the past.”
— Steven Mosher (member of Berkeley Earth; bio here), a comment posted at Climate Etc.

Climate Change Drama

Memorandum: “Climate: A unifying theory to the case“,
Emailed from John Podesta to Chris Lehane, 28 January 2014.

This memo was emailed to Podesta (a senior White House official) from Lehane (partner in the strategic communications firm Fabiani & Lehane, dissolved in Nov 2015). We have it courtesy of Wikileaks — and whoever leaked it to them.

John Podesta was Chief of staff to Bill Clinton and Counselor to the President for Obama. He is Chairman of Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

Chris Lehane – When an attorney in the White House Counsel’s office, he and his current business partner Mark Fabiani called themselves the “Masters of Disaster” for their work as a “rapid-response” team responding to the many scandals of the Clinton Administration. Lehane co-authored a book on damage control titled Masters of Disaster: The Ten Commandments of Damage Control. Jim Jordan, Kerry’s former campaign manager, called him ”a master of the political hand-to-hand” for his work as a political strategist.

——————————————-

“Thank you for asking us to share some ideas for a holistic approach to climate. Per your direction, the goal is to unify policy, politics, and communications to help the Administration best execute an informed plan over a multi-year time period. …this document is intended to provide some food for thought as the Administration refines its thinking on climate. …{it} addresses the four components that the Administration may want to consider as it seeks to lead on this issue.

  1. Three-Year Framework. …
  2. Right v. Wrong. Make the case that climate must be approached as a challenge of historical social change where progress will depend in part on successfully casting the issue in moral terms of who is right and who is wrong …
  3. The Big Idea. …{It} could drive an Administration-wide approach to climate for the next three years. …
  4. 2014 Action Plan. …

“To achieve victory, we must treat climate change as an issue of historic importance that is worthy of a true political social movement to create change. This political social movement must be founded on moral principles with stark definitions of who is right and who is wrong, and it is important to outline the historically negative, irreversible implications if we were to not succeed.

“By pursuing this as a political social movement, President Obama and his Administration will best be able to assure that his legacy includes his unprecedented leadership on climate that initiated the shifting of the country’s political tectonic plates to enable transformative climate change policy, before it was too late.

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An eminent climate scientist explains what caused the record rains in Texas

Summary:  The heavy rains hitting Texas last May were record-breaking extreme weather evens. But were they natural (records routinely break as time passes) or the result — partially or mostly — the result of anthropogenic effects? Here an eminent climatologist gives a preliminary answer, based on solid evidence (not modeling). There is no visible trend to rainfall in Texas, but its distribution has changed — more concentrated in large storms.

“With the lack of a positive trend in monthly springtime precipitation, there is no direct observational evidence that the record-setting May 2015 statewide rainfall total in Texas had an anthropogenic component.”

Preparing for Extreme Weather

From the NCAR-Wyoming Supercomputing Center.

The mainstream news media have become more cautious in their coverage of extreme weather, unlike their previous uncritical reporting of everything as climate change. For example, see this by USA Today: “Wild weather shifts in Texas spark concern about “new normal’.” And “Climate Change May Have Souped Up Record-Breaking Texas Deluge” by Elizabeth Harball and Scott Detrow at Scientific American on 27 May 2015 — “Deadly downpours flooded Texas and Oklahoma and may have been exacerbated by global warming.” The link to climate change is strongly implied, but not stated as definite. The text reports climate scientists’ uncertainty about attribution of events to climate change.

Activists ignore the science, preferring simple narratives. Bill Nye, the children’s science guy, says on CNN: “The floods in Texas, the strengthening storms… these things are a result of human activity making things worse.”  As usual, the most over-the-top story comes from fantasy writer – climate activist Robert Marston Fanney (bio here) at his blog RobertScribbler: “The Merciless Rains of Climate Change Hammer Houston, Southeast Texas.”

Eventually scientists will produce papers with more definitive information. Here’s an excerpt from an early analysis (click on the link to read it in full)…

The faucet: Informal attribution of the May 2015 record-setting Texas rains

By John W. Nielsen-Gammon (see his bio)
Texas state climatologist and professor of atmospheric sciences at Texas A&M
From NOAA’s Annual Climate Diagnostics and Prediction Workshop, Oct 2015

(1) Introduction

Texas received its all-time wettest month of rainfall in May 2015, with an average of 9.05″ (230 mm) across the state… The purpose of this talk is to put the extreme rainfall events in Texas in 2015 in a historical perspective and to consider the possible role of contributing factors, including anthropogenic climate change …

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This El Niño is not Godzilla. What can we learn from the 2 years of hype?

Summary: After two years of hype (often hysterical), this El Niño might peak in December and then rapidly decline. No “super monster” or “Godzilla” El Niño; just severe weather (we won’t know how severe until it ends). With the UN Conference of Parties in Paris (COP21) still running in Paris, it’s time to start thinking about lessons learned if activists are wrong and this El Niño doesn’t wreck destruction on the world.

Godzilla in action

Let’s rewind the news tape to better understand where we are (see the posts at the end for documentation). Last year climate activists warned of the “super monster” El Niño coming. It was a dud. This year they warned of the “Godzilla” El Niño, telling lurid tales of the epic destruction that awaited us. NOAA provided a calming voice of reason, largely ignored by journalists who found the activists provided better clickbait.

In mid-November the major weather models predicted that this El Niño was peaking, and by January would begin a rapid decline in intensity. That was ignored, as journalists trumpeted that this “Massive El Niño sweeping globe is now the biggest ever recorded” (New Scientist, 2 Dec), forgetting to mention by some (not all) metrics, by small amounts (perhaps insignificant), and in the short records.

Eventually the news begins to catch up with the data, seen in technical analysis such as NOAA’s Weekly ENSO report and Bob Tisdale’s El Nino Update.

This El Niño is not over. It might strength again. Many of the effects have yet to appear. But If the models’ forecasts prove accurate, what might we learn from the 2014 and 2015 bouts of El Niño hysteria?

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Update on El Niño: will Gaia disappoint the climate activists?

Summary: Climate alarmists have run wild with predictions about the “monster” “Godzilla” El Niño, their last throw of the dice before the COP-21 climate conference in Paris. Here is an example by Brad Plummer, with some debunking. The latest forecasts of the major climate models suggest that it will disappoint activists (but match NOAA’s more cautious predictions).

El Nino in action, from NOAA

When did we “pathologize” weather? When did commonplace weather become abnormal? The debates over the past and future of anthropogenic climate change are of great importance (climate change is ubiquitous in history). But the news increasingly describes normal weather as a kind of plague, something to fear.

For example see “El Niño, explained: A guide to the biggest weather story of 2015” by Brad Plummer at Vox. Plummer’s perspective is clearly stated by his tagline: “On the apocalypse beat, more or less.” His article is a masterpiece of propaganda, creating fear to advance his public policy agenda. A few excerpts, matched with reality, tell the tale.

“Now it looks like we’re in for a monster. The El Niño currently brewing in the Pacific is shaping up to be one of the strongest ever recorded.”

Plummer links to a page by the World Meteorological Organization, which gives different message. Their forecast is “placing this El Niño event among the three strongest previous events since 1950 (1972-73, 1982-83, 1997-98).” Plummer says “strongest ever recorded”, which suggests a long-term record. Unlike saying one of the four strongest since 1950, which is not alarming.

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El Niño, The Media Star: Separating Hype from Probability

Summary: Unscrupulous activists and publishers desperate for clicks prey our fearfulness, giving America hysteria about the normal events of life. Last year was Ebola and the “super monster” El Nino (both duds). This year we have the “Godzilla El Nino” (unprecedented since 1950, excerpt for 1982-83 and 1978-79). There are sources of reliable information. Previous posts pointed to journalists and our meteorological agencies. This post gives more detail about its effects, giving an excerpt from the Browning World Climate Monitor.

North America during a Strong El Nino

NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center.

El Niño, The Media Star: Separating Hype from Probability

Excerpt from the November 2015 issue of the Browning World Climate Bulletin
Posted with their generous permission.

El Niño may be the only climate event that needs its own press agent. Once it was determined that there will be a strong El Niño, it has dominated the headlines. Some of these headlines are intelligent warnings and others are exercises in attention-grabbing hyperbole. Let’s separate the probability from the hype.

The Danger of Analog Years

One of the great dangers of some of the current headlines is that many of the reporters are comparing this upcoming El Niño event to the huge El Niño of 1997/1998. While both years have powerful El Niños dominating the Tropical Pacific, they have a number of climate factors that do not match.

Climate probability is a mosaic of factors. North American winters are shaped by what is happening in the Atlantic and Arctic as well as the Pacific. Even in the Pacific, El Niño is not the only factor affecting the West Coast.

Summary forecast for the US: Expect a strong El Nino this winter to warmer conditions in the northern tier of states and most of Canada lead to lower heating demand, as well as fewer travel and transportation difficulties. The southern tier of states should get cooler, wetter conditions, usually enough to end drought conditions in all but Southern California. California should expect more precipitation but not enough to end the drought.

The West Coast – The Region Most Affected by El Niño

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