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Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Romm: Mississippi burning — and flooding: Haley Barbour to be remembered as man who gave his state 90°F temps 5 months a year plus countless Katrinas?

From ClimateProgress, Joseph Romm's blog, today, July 7, 2009

Mississippi burning — and flooding: Haley Barbour to be remembered as man who gave his state 90°F temps 5 months a year plus countless Katrinas?

Posted: 06 Jul 2009 05:54 PM PDT

Over the next few months, senators and other major state political figures will be taking sides on the climate and clean energy bill in front of Congress. Thanks to the new landmark 13-agency report, Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States, we now know how those state “leaders” who oppose action will be remembered if they succeed.

I will start with Mississippi because Governor and former dirty-energy lobbyist Haley Barbour is helping to lead the GOP charge to destroy a livable climate at a hearing Tuesday — and because one of the main reasons I wrote Hell and High Water and started this blog is that my brother lost his Pass Christian, Mississippi home to Hurricane Katrina [see "The Storm of the Century (so far)"].

The grim figure above — along with an extended excerpt on Southeast climate impacts from the NOAA-led report — can be found here. The map on he right shows that in the IPCC’s A2 scenario, by 2090, most of Mississippi would see some 150 days with peak temperature above 90°F every year — an almost nonstop heat wave that starts in May goes through June, July, and August, not ending until late September! Further, much of the state would see temperatures above 98°F for more than two months a year (see “When can we expect extremely high surface temperatures?“).

Worse, we are on pace to exceed the A2 scenario (which is “only” about 850 ppm in 2100): See U.S. media largely ignores latest warning from climate scientists: “Recent observations confirm … the worst-case IPCC scenario trajectories (or even worse) are being realised” — 1000 ppm. So if if we listen to deniers and delayers like Barbour, the impacts will be worse than the report projects. Barbour will have turned Mississippi into Mexico.

Along with this heat will come much more severe droughts, an impact that has already begun throughout the region:

The area of moderate to severe spring and summer drought has increased by 12 percent and 14 percent, respectively, since the mid-1970s.

And that will get much worse.

Decreased water availability is very -likely to impact the region’s economy as well as its natural systems. Decreased water availability due to increased temperature and longer periods of time between rainfall events, coupled with an increase in societal demand is very likely to affect many sectors of the Southeast’s economy.

The report shows a drop in summer precipitation of 10% to 20% over most of the state — and drops almost that large during winter and spring. That is a Dust-Bowl-level precipitation shorfall.

And when the rain does come down as “relief” from the epic “global-change-type droughts,” it is projected to be much more intense, leading to terrible flooding:

Heavy downpours that are now 1-in-20-year occurrences are projected to occur about every 4 to 15 years by the end of this century, depending on location, and the intensity of heavy downpours is also expected to increase. The 1-in-20-year heavy downpour is expected to be between 10 and 25 percent heavier by the end of the century than it is now.

So the state will see an almost unimaginable whipsawing between brutally hot droughts and devastating deluges. The worst of the deluges, of course, will come in the form of superstorms like Katrina:

The intensity of Atlantic hurricanes is likely to increase during this century with higher peak wind speeds, rainfall intensity, and storm surge height and strength.

For more on this see “Nature: Hurricanes ARE getting fiercer — and it’s going to get much worse” (which suggests we may see four more potential city-destroying super-hurricanes per year by mid-century) and “Why future Katrinas and Gustavs will be MUCH worse at landfall, Part 2.”

Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf coast — most especially those areas that were at or below sea level.

Intersate 90, St. Louis Bay in Pass Christian, Mississippi.”

The Mississippi Department of Transportation expected to spend in excess of $1 billion to replace the Biloxi and Bay St. Louis bridges, repair other portions of roadway, and remove debris. As of June 2007, more than $672 million had been spent.

And, of course, human-caused global warming gives us sea level rise on top of the super-hurricanes — or, rather the hurricanes are on top of the sea level rise. Even the 3 to 4 feet of SLR the report now anticipates for the nation will wipe out every beach in Mississippi, radically change the coastline, and dramatically increase vulnerability to storm surges:

As sea level rises, coastal shorelines will retreat. Wetlands will be inundated and eroded away, and low-lying areas including some communities will be inundated more frequently –- some permanently –- by the advancing sea….

Rapid acceleration in the rate of increase in sea-level rise could threaten a large portion of the Southeast coastal zone….

Compared to the present coastal situation, for which vulnerability is quite high, an increase in hurricane intensity will further affect low-lying coastal ecosystems and coastal communities along the Gulf and South Atlantic coastal margin. An increase in intensity is very likely to increase inland and coastal flooding, coastal
erosion rates, wind damage to coastal forests, and wetland loss. Major hurricanes also pose a severe risk to people, personal property, and public infrastructure in the Southeast, and this risk is likely to be exacerbated. Hurricanes have their greatest impact at the coastal margin where they make landfall, causing storm
surge, severe beach erosion, inland flooding, and wind-related casualties for both cultural and natural resources

As sea levels inexorably rise, the entire country will become consumed by urban triage—how to decide which major sea-side cities can be saved and which cannot. Since it is a poor state, and in the heart of hurricane alley, future Mississippi cities ravaged by super-hurricanes of the future may well never be rebuilt. “Beach-front” property will likely be a distant memory by century’s end. Indeed, with sea levels perhaps rising 1 to 2 inches a year by then, it is hard to even imagine what the future of the Mississippi Gulf Coast will be.

Two final points. First, as a major NOAA-led journal article pointed out, if we don’t reverse course shown then climate change is “largely irreversible for 1000 years.” Second, some of the worst impacts of global warming we are starting to experience today — like the bark beetle devastation destroying Western forests and causing record wildfire seasons in recent years — were not even predicted a few years ago.

What can be safely predicted is that if we do not avert catastrophic global warming — if we fail to make the transition to a clean energy economy that starts with passage of the Waxman-Markey bill — future generations of Mississippians will curse the names of politicians like Haley Barbour for their myopic greed, for lining their pockets with money from carbon polluters while devoting their efforts to the state’s self-destruction.


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