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Thursday, June 25, 2009

More water vapor in the atmosphere = more rainfall, duh! Tiger Woods affected!

U.S. Open at Bethpage Black hit by “global warming type” of record rainfall — Tiger Woods falls victim to a bad draw and bad putting

by Joseph Romm, Climate Progress, posted 24 Jun 2009 06:07 PM PDT

They called this year’s U.S. Open “Bathpage.”

And yes, Tiger Woods lost, even though I called him an “all-climate player” after he won “the brown British Open” at drought-stricken Royal Liverpool in 2006 and the “Hottest Major of All Time.” In fact, I had predicted “No doubt he’ll some day win the ‘wettest major of all time,’ too” — but a bad draw and bad putting thwarted him, as I’ll discuss at the end.

And this was a bath. As Newsday reported Thursday evening about the rainsoaked first day,

The golf-hating storm system that soaked the U.S. Open tournament in Farmingdale Thursday broke records for the date in Long Island and New York City, continuing a streak that may make this one of the wettest Junes on record, according to the National Weather Service….

“If this keeps up, New York City could see its rainiest June”….

A weather station at Long Island MacArthur Airport recorded 1.53 inches by 8 p.m., beating its previous record of 1.44 inches.

The 2.26 inches that fell at Kennedy Airport shattered the record of 1.49 inches set in 1972.

I’m going to borrow and modify a term from the scientific literature and call this a “global-warming-type” deluge — see Must-have PPT: The “global-change-type drought” and the future of extreme weather. After all, this type of extreme downpour is precisely what climate science projects would happen when you put more water vapor into the air. And it is precisely what major peer-reviewed studies have shown the United States has been experiencing in the past few decades (see Why the “never seen before” Fargo flooding is just what you’d expect from global warming, as Obama warns):

In 2004, the Journal of Hydrometeorology published an analysis by NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center that found “Over the contiguous United States, precipitation, temperature, streamflow, and heavy and very heavy precipitation have increased during the twentieth century.”

They found (here) that over the course of the 20th century, the “Cold season (October through April),” saw a 16% increase in “heavy” precipitation events (roughly greater than 2 inches [when it comes as rain] in one day), and a 25% increase in “very heavy” precipitation events (roughly greater than 4 inches in one day)– and a 36% rise in “extreme” precipitation events (those in the 99.9% percentile — 1 in 1000 events). This rise in extreme precipitation is precisely what is predicted by global warming models in the scientific literature.

In fact, the last few decades have seen rising extreme precipitation over the United States in the historical record, according to NCDC’s Climate Extremes Index (CEI):

An increasing trend in the area experiencing much above-normal proportion of heavy daily precipitation is observed from about 1950 to the present.

Here is a plot of the percentage of this country (times two) with much greater than normal proportion of precipitation derived from extreme 1-day precipitation events (where extreme equals the highest tenth percentile of deluges, click to enlarge):

cei-4-08.gif

Didn’t know that our government kept a Climate Extremes Index? Why would you? The media never writes about it.

The U.S. Climate Extremes Index was explicitly created to take a complicated subject (”multivariate and multidimensional climate changes in the United States“) and make it more easily understood by American citizens and policy makers. As far back as 1995, analysis by the National Climatic Data Center showed that over the course of the 20th century, the United States had suffered a statistically significant increase in a variety of extreme weather events, the very ones you would expect from global warming, such as more — and more intense — precipitation. That analysis concluded the chances were only “5 to 10 percent” this increase was due to factors other than global warming, such as “natural climate variability.” And since 1995, the climate has gotten much more extreme.

Characteristically, Roger Pielke, Jr. tried to smear the integrity of the authors of the recent landmark NOAA-led interagency report on US climate impacts — see “Why do deniers like Pielke shout down any talk of a link between climate change and extreme weather?” — while asserting that “those wanting a more rounded picture of extremes in the United States” should read the Bush Administration’s 2008 report, “Weather and Climate Extremes in a Changing Climate.”

I think that is a great idea (see “Sorry, deniers: Even U.S gov says human emissions are changing the climate“). But whatever you do, don’t read Pielke’s absurdly cherry-picked synopsis. Read the actual report, whose conclusions are the exact opposite of what “political” scientist Pielke claims. Indeed, this report is really an “I told you so” from NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center and Tom Karl in particular, who has been a real leader in this area, helping to create the still rarely-discussed Climate Extremes Index (see “Global warming causes deluges and flooding, just like the Midwest is seeing (again).”

If you don’t read the whole report, at least read the synopsis:

Changes in extreme weather and climate events have significant impacts and are among the most serious challenges to society in coping with a changing climate.

Many extremes and their associated impacts are now changing. For example, in recent decades most of North America has been experiencing more unusually hot days and nights, fewer unusually cold days and nights, and fewer frost days. Heavy downpours have become more frequent and intense. Droughts are becoming more severe in some regions, though there are no clear trends for North America as a whole. The power and frequency of Atlantic hurricanes have increased substantially in recent decades, though North American mainland land-falling hurricanes do not appear to have increased over the past century. Outside the tropics, storm tracks are shifting northward and the strongest storms are becoming even stronger.

It is well established through formal attribution studies that the global warming of the past 50 years is due primarily to human-induced increases in heat-trapping gases. Such studies have only recently been used to determine the causes of some changes in extremes at the scale of a continent. Certain aspects of observed increases in temperature extremes have been linked to human influences. The increase in heavy precipitation events is associated with an increase in water vapor, and the latter has been attributed to human-induced warming. No formal attribution studies for changes in drought severity in North America have been attempted. There is evidence suggesting a human contribution to recent changes in hurricane activity as well as in storms outside the tropics, though a confident assessment will require further study.

In the future, with continued global warming, heat waves and heavy downpours are very likely to further increase in frequency and intensity. Substantial areas of North America are likely to have more frequent droughts of greater severity. Hurricane wind speeds, rainfall intensity, and storm surge levels are likely to increase. The strongest cold season storms are likely to become more frequent, with stronger winds and more extreme wave heights.

Current and future impacts resulting from these changes depend not only on the changes in extremes, but also on responses by human and natural systems.

So yes, there is a strong link between climate change, which is now predominantly driven by human emissions of greenhouse gases, and the rise in many different type of extreme weather events — and that rise will accelerate in the future and the link will grow. Until, of course, the climate just changes, and in many regions we stop using the word drought, and use the word Dust Bowl — assuming that we aren’t smart enough to ignore the siren song of the deniers and solve this problem.

One final note on golf and Tiger Woods. Of all the major sports, golf is arguably most subject to the whims of weather. In the 2009 Open, the golfers in the first draw, like Tiger, played the first part of their round in the deluge, while those in the second part of the draw didn’t even have to go outside at all. As WP sports report Tom Boswell wrote in his piece, “It’s Not How You Play, But When You Play“:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/telegraph/multimedia/archive/01426/tiger_woods_get_1426467i.jpg

Let’s use Mickelson and Woods to illustrate the fate of those in opposite halves of this Open draw. On Thursday, Tiger rose at dawn for an early tee time, played six holes in swampy conditions and a steady rain, constantly changing in and out of a rainproof jacket. The day’s play was suspended at 10:15, so he had to finish his round on Friday, beginning at 7:30 a.m. He bogeyed the last two holes for 74. From the whole morning group, only two players shot 69. And the lowest score by a major champion was 71.

In contrast, Mickelson said, “I never even had to come to the course on Thursday. I watched a movie — “The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3.” Then he teed off at a pleasant 11:06 a.m. on Friday. About that time, the clouds parted and Bethpage became Bermuda. In one beautiful nine-hour stretch of sun, soft greens and mild breeze — in the midst of what may turn out to be the wettest and most miserable Open ever — Phil and a bunch of lucky stiffs got to play their entire first round and as much of their second round as they could complete before the sun set. It was like watching a land rush as players fired for defenseless limp flags at dusk.

Mickelson tied for second at 2 under par. Tiger finished at even par, 4 strokes back of the leader, who won at 4 under.

The golfers in the second draw had on average a two stroke advantage compared to the golfers in the first draw in just the first round. I believe Tiger is the only golfer in the first draw who even finished at par or better — none of the others in his draw could even overcome that disadvantage. Now Tiger lost by 4 strokes. Had he been in the second draw, and everyone else on the leaderboard been in the deluge draw, then he probably would have done no worse than tie for first. Indeed, Boswell writes:

It’s hard to prove exactly how many strokes this extreme example of the luck of the draw provided. But it’s fun to try. The difference in scoring average between the two groups was 1.89 shots in the first round. Since all the leaders played at least nine to 12 holes at dusk under even calmer conditions, you can probably add another shot of advantage. However, at the top of the leader board, where it matters most, the gap may be even greater. The average score of the six lowest players in the morning group was 70.33 vs. 66.50 for the six lowest in the afternoon group. So, a five-shot draw-and-weather advantage for this Open winner seems plausible.

Again, the draw may have cost Tiger the win.

But for anyone who watched the tournament, Tiger had his chances and didn’t seize them, especially with his putter. The fact that he outperformed everybody else in his draw and finished 4 off the leader makes clear he remains the best golfer in the world. But had he played like the greatest golfer of all time, which he is and which he usually does, he probably would have won this tournament anyway, in spite of the bad luck of the draw.

He remains the all-climate player.

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