Climate Change Driving Our Weather Crazy

flooding of jersey shore
Flooding of New Jersey shoreline

By Stephen Leahy

Helle Thorning-Schmidt came home at 3:30am one night last August to find her home flooded after heavy rains. Ironically the Danish prime minister had been attending European Commission meetings discussing climate change among other topics. As she cleaned up the soggy mess at home, she recalls thinking that “climate change truly affects us all”.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Synthesis Report, there are now more and longer-lasting heat waves, more heavy rainfall events, bigger storm surges, larger wildfires and other extreme events than prior to 1950. Some of these “have been linked to human influences” and such events are “very likely” to get worse in future than they are today, the IPCC report concludes.

For example, Denmark has experienced extensive flooding in recent years. In 2011, one downpour resulted in 5 billion euros in damages to the city of Copenhagen alone. “We’re having lots of floods now and these are badly damaging our infrastructure,” Thorning-Schmidt told 750 attendees at the IARU Sustainability Science Congress in Copenhagen in October. “Climate change is happening now.”

“All weather events are affected by climate change because the environment in which they occur is warmer and moister than it used to be,” says Kevin Trenberth, senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NOAA) in Boulder, Colorado and an expert on extreme events.

Conditions in the atmosphere have fundamentally changed, he explains, thanks to hundreds of millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide emitted from burning fossil fuels. Carbon dioxide traps the sun’s heat and as a result there is far more heat energy in the climate system and warmer temperatures. This also means 4-6% more moisture in the air – “fuel” for storms that makes them more destructive, says Trenberth.

“This is the new normal,” he says. “It doesn’t make sense to rebuild in some regions – they’ll just be swept away again.”

Changing odds

This new normal is borne out by a ground-breaking series of studies of 16 extreme weather events in 2013, most of which bear the fingerprints of climate change according to a team of researchers from around the world. For the first time, thanks to new data and better computer models, scientists were able attribute the odds of actual extreme events occurring with or without climate change. They found that climate change increased the odds of nine extremes in 2013: heat waves in Australia, Europe, China, Japan and Korea, intense rain in parts of the United States and India, and severe droughts in California and New Zealand. The studies were published in the special edition of the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society in September.

California’s devastating drought is ongoing and researchers at Stanford University determined that the warming from carbon emissions was three times more likely to create the conditions for drought than with no emissions. “There was a strong link to climate warming,” says Stanford’s Daniel Swain.

Australia’s record breaking heat wave in 2013, meanwhile, would not have happened without climate change, Swain told chinadialogue. Not all extreme events are so clearly connected to global warming, however, in large part because the complex natural variability of weather systems and a lack of data in some cases, he added.Seaside Heights, New Jersey, on October 31, 2012. (AP Photo:Mike Groll)

Forecasting where and when extreme events will occur is even more challenging. However a new mathematical method based on “big data” may help to predict extreme rainfall in the South American Andes. An international team of scientists led by Germany’s Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) say they can “correctly predict 90% of extreme rainfall events in the Central Andes”.

“The data was there, but nobody joined the dots like this before,” says co-author Jürgen Kurths of PIK.

Rising costs

The insurance industry is getting increasingly worried by the strengthening evidence that climate change is increasing extreme weather since they face rapidly rising bills. In Canada, for example, property damages from extreme weather averaged US$200 to US$500 million a year over 24 consecutive years. In the last six years it shot up to US$1 billion a year and in 2013 it was US$3.4 billion.

“Extreme weather events are increasing in frequency and intensity,” explains Blair Feltmate, professor at Canada’s University of Waterloo and chair of the Climate Change Adaptation Project Canada, though not every event is caused by climate change.

“It’s like a baseball player on steroids: you can’t say every home run is because of the drug but it does increase the odds of hitting more home runs.”

He adds: “What people need to understand is this is only going to get much worse. A US$35 billion flood is coming to Canada.”

Many countries have contributed relatively little CO2 to the fossil-fuel blanket heating the planet but are, like the Philippines with Typhoon Haiyan, which killed more than 6,000 people, already experiencing significant impacts from extreme events. This reality was officially recognised at a contentious United Nations climate treaty meeting last December in Warsaw, Poland.

After 36 straight hours of intense negotiations industrialised nations finally agreed with developing nations that a new climate treaty will have what’s called a “loss and damage mechanism”, or the “Warsaw mechanism”. This recognises that the impacts of climate change will lead to both economic and non-economic losses, including the growing issue of climate refugees.

TXTornadoesDots
Aftermath of an early tornado in Lancaster, Texas. To join thousands of others connecting the dots between climate change and extreme weather, visit ClimateDots.org.

Nearly a year later there has been little progress on fleshing out how the Warsaw Mechanism will work. A leaked internal US State Department document revealed US fears that poor nations will seek “redress for climate damages from sea level rise, droughts, powerful storms and other adverse impacts”.

A new climate treaty that effectively phases out carbon emissions entirely was signed by all nations in Paris in December 2015. However difficult issues including financial assistance for adaptation and a functional Warsaw Mechanism were not resolved in Paris.

“From a science perspective there is a good case that climate change contributed substantially to the damage from Haiyan,” says NOAA’s Trenberth. How much damage is hard to determine. In addition perhaps there were too many people living in too vulnerable a region he said. “Who was responsible for that?”

Updated dec 2015. First published on China Dialogue 17.11.2014

Climate Inaction Is a Clear Failure of Democracy

Jersey shore Superstorm Sandy flood

Re-engineering our societies to prosper on green alternatives is only option

By Stephen Leahy

UXBRIDGE, Canada, Jan 4 2013 (IPS)

Around the world, 2012 was the year of extreme weather, when we unequivocally learned that the fossil fuel energy that powers our societies is destroying them. Accepting this reality is the biggest challenge of the brand new year.

Re-engineering our societies and lifestyles to prosper on green alternatives is the penultimate challenge of this decade.There is no more important task for all of us to engage in because climate change affects everything from food to water availability.

A number of scientific analyses have demonstrated we already have the technology to re-engineer our society to thrive on green alternative energy. The newest of these was published Wednesday in the prestigious journal Nature. It plainly states that politics is the real barrier, not technology nor cost. (It is far cheaper to act than not.)

Keeping global warming to less than two degrees C is mainly dependent on “when countries will begin to take serious action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions”, according to the study “Probabilistic cost estimates for climate change mitigation”.

Climate change has already pushed global temperatures up 0.8 degrees C, with significant consequences. No climate scientist thinks two degrees C will be “safe”. Many countries, especially least-developed countries and small island states, want the global target to be less than 1.5C of heating. Even then large portions of the Arctic and Antarctic will continue to melt raising sea levels, albeit at a slower rate.

Delay in making the shift to non-fossil fuel energy sources will be very costly. Waiting until 2020 to curb global emissions will cost twice as much compared with peaking emissions by 2015, the Nature analysis shows.

Serious action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions means 65 percent of current coal power plants will have to be shut down in the next decade or two, a previous Nature study reported by IPS shows.

Continue reading

Sandy Says: Not “Targeting” New York or Anywhere Else

To be absolutely clear: I am not “targeting” New York City or anywhere else. I am pushed and pulled by temperature and pressure differences. My winds are powered by warm water and moisture. And there is enough heat and moisture for my winds to make 12-foot high waves over a 3 million sq km area – one third the size of the US.

Read full post at Hurricane Sandy Speaks (crosspost)

Extreme weather new normal with Climate Change

Climate change plays a role in all extreme weather now – atmosphere is 0.8C hotter and 4-6% wetter – turns out small increases can have big impacts. — Stephen

Stephen Leahy, International Environmental Journalist

By Stephen Leahy

CAIRNS, Australia, Apr 3, 2012 (Tierramérica)

Extreme weather is fast becoming the new normal. Canada and much of the United States experienced summer temperatures during winter this year, confirming the findings of a new report on extreme weather.

For two weeks this March most of North America baked under extraordinarily warm temperatures that melted all the snow and ice and broke 150-year-old temperature records by large margins.

Last year the U.S. endured 14 separate billion-dollar-plus weather disasters including flooding, hurricanes and tornados.

A new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), released Mar. 28, provides solid evidence that record-breaking weather events are increasing in number and becoming more extreme. And if current rates of greenhouse gas emissions are maintained, these events will reach dangerous new levels over the coming century.

Since 1950 there have been many more heat waves and record warm temperatures than in…

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Hundreds of Millions May Soon Be Fleeing the Floodwaters

More than 5 million affected by flooding in Pakistan Sept 2011 - a repeat of 2010.

Climate disruption shrinking areas where people can live.

Mexico faces $10 billion in storm/flood damage to roads, schools, clinics, etc every year

By Stephen Leahy

OSLO, Jun 9, 2011 (IPS)

Mass migration will inevitably be part of human adaptation to climate change, experts agree, since parts of the world will become uninhabitable in the coming decades.

Last year, 38 million people were displaced by climate-related disasters such as the flooding in Pakistan and China.

“Human displacement due to climate change is happening now. There is no need to debate it,” Jonas Gahr Støre, Norway’s minister of foreign affairs, told over 200 delegates attending the Nansen Conference on Climate Change and Displacement in the 21st Century in Oslo Jun. 6-7.

Governments and the humanitarian community need to understand this fact – and that it will get much worse in the coming decades, Støre said.

This independent environmental journalism depends on public support. Click here learn more.

Without major emissions reductions, climate change could get far worse than anyone is prepared to think about.

“It may be more realistic to consider four degrees C of warming rather than two degrees C,” suggested Harald Dovland, former head of the Norwegian Delegation to the United Nations climate change negotiations.

The world has already warmed 0.8C and will rise to least 1.6 C even if all emissions of carbon and other greenhouse gases ended today, James Hansen, head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, told the conference.

A four-degree C warmer world is a very different planet and risks runaway climate change. Even two degrees C is not safe, Hansen said. 

“The last time the planet was two degrees C warmer was during the Pliocene (five to 2.4 million years ago) and sea levels were 25 metres higher,” he said. “If we burn all the fossil fuels (coal, oil, natural gas) we’re creating conditions that future generations will be unable to cope with.”

Even though a four-degree C warmer world “is choosing the suicidal path”, experts must avoid fuelling xenophobia with predictions of mass migrations and conflicts, says Francois Gemenne, research fellow at the Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations in Paris.

“This also feeds into a security agenda of panic and paranoia,” Gemenne said.

At least 20 percent of humanity will be at high risk of severe flooding due to sea level rise and extreme rainfall events in the coming decades.

“Too many people live in low-lying deltas and other parts of the world that are becoming too dangerous to live in,” said Gemenne. They will be forced to move and often this movement will be permanent.

Rather than building walls and barriers, countries and the international community need to encourage people to move to safer ground. “Lift the barriers so that people can use migration to adapt to climate change,” he urged delegates.  Continue reading

Cyclone Bingiza Hits Madagascar, Now Mozambique with Serious Flooding Pix

Bingiza off north east coast of Madagascar

Landfall Feb 14 Valentine’s Day

[Update 17 Feb:  Cyclone Bingiza to Worsen Mozambique, Madagascar Floods, UN Says see here for South African flooding NASA sat pix]

This is a big Cat 3 cyclone expected to affect 100,000’s of people. Sustained wind speeds of 160 kilometres per hour with gusts of up to 220 kilometres per hour, have been reported

NASA’s Terra satellite captured this image of Bingiza at 10:00 a.m. local time on Feb. 13, 2011. In the image, Bingiza’s eye approaches northern Madagascar, and a spiral arm grazes Antananarivo.

Related

Will Super Cyclone Yasi be Australia’s Katrina? Landfall Wed as Cat 5 Storm

The Yin and Yang of Climate Extremes We Will See More of

Hurricane Madness – 3 Hurricanes Spinning At One Time PIX


Will Super Cyclone Yasi be Australia’s Katrina? Landfall Wed as Cat 5 Storm

This is what climate change looks like

[Stunning satellite photo of Yasi on landfall here.]

[Update 24:00 EST Feb 2. Can it be true? No one has been killed or seriously injured? If that holds up over the next few days it will be absolutely stunning. Kudos to Australian govt and Australians.

[Update 17:30 EST Feb 2. Yasi has moved well inland leaving devastated coastal towns and landscape behind – houses flattened, 90% of trees broken, not a leaf left on bushes. Pix here

[Update 10:30 EST Feb 2 LANDFALL: South of Cairns at the beautiful town of Mission Beach as Cat 5. This is where Cyclone Larry came ashore in 2006, the worst cyclone in 100 yrs, and destroyed much of the area. The last 1500 endangered cassowaries — large flightless bird — live in the jungles there.

[Update: 18:00 EST Feb 1- Yasi landfall expected at high tide bringing storm surge of 3-4 9! metres propelled by 280-300 kph winds. City of Cairns in direct path. “Catastrophic” storm says Premier]

Following the recent record-breaking flooding, Queensland, Australia’s is facing yet another extreme weather event as super cyclone Yasi bears down on them. Yasi is expected to reach has reached dangerous Category 4 5 strength, generating winds of up to 280 300 kph when it hits the Queensland state coast early on Thursday (2pm Wednesday, GMT). Yasi is a huge storm as the satellite image above shows – it is about 600-700 km diameter making it an extremely large cyclone (cover half the USA). (Latest Met service satellite imagery)

For comparison Hurricane Katrina was also very large but only about a Cat 1 or 2 on landfall based on final data from NOAA that went largely unreported. Katrina’s storm surge caused most of the damage which could be the case with Yasi. One major difference is that Queensland does not have a major city on the coast (or even a small one protected by poorly designed levees). Shockingly even a year after Katrina more than 500,000 people remained displaced.

Large areas of Queensland are still underwater or mud-covered from flooding just 2 weeks ago that caused billions of dollars in damage. It was so bad that Australians now have to pay a temporary flood damage tax to help cover the costs… And now Yasi.

Australia may need a permanent climate change disaster tax.

This is what climate change looks like – record-breaking extreme weather events. The Queensland floods nor Yasi are the direct result of climate change. However because burning fossil fuels traps more of the sun’s heat in the atmosphere the odds and strength of extreme events increase as climate science has stated for two decades now. Here is my latest article on this The Yin and Yang of Climate Extremes We Will See More of.

Climate change loads the dice in favour of extreme events. Queensland has been very unlucky lately. Help them out if you can. — Stephen

This independent environmental journalism depends on public support. Click here learn more.

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