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Sunday, February 20, 2011

Jeff Masters: In my thirty years as a meteorologist, I’ve never seen global weather patterns as strange as those we had in 2010. The stunning extremes we witnessed gives me concern that our climate is showing the early signs of instability

Readers please read the take home message, which is the statement by Dr. Jeff Masters at the very end of this post.

Excerpts from Joseph Romm's Climate Progress post of February 1, 2011

If there is any one out there who seriously disputes that extreme weather events were a major contributor to the run-up in food prices, please raise your hand so we can ignore your all of your analyses in the future.

The only serious debate is over the question of whether global warming played a role in the extreme events, particularly the Russian heat-wave/drought/fires and the floods elsewhere.

Scientific American notes that “Many experts have linked the series of floods and fires with climate change.”  ABC news talked to 10 scientists for its stories on the subject, which concluded“Raging Waters In Australia and Brazil Product of Global Warming” and that global warming is playing a role in the extreme winter weather.

Russia of course famously banned wheat exports through the 2011 growing season thanks to an event so extreme that even the formerly skeptic Russian leadership made the link to climate — see Russian President Medvedev: “What is happening now in our central regions is evidence of this global climate change, because we have never in our history faced such weather conditions in the past.” More extreme heat waves are one of the most basic predictions of climate science.  Tamino calculated (at length) that global warming made the Moscow heat wave roughly eight times more likely:  “Without global warming, this once-in-a-century-or-two event would have been closer to a once-in-a-millenium event.”

The deluge/flooding link is equally strong.  Dr. Richard Somerville, a coordinating lead author on the IPCC’s 2007 review of climate science, explained to ABC bluntly:
This is no longer something that’s theory or conjecture or something that comes out of computer models. We’re observing the climate changing. It’s real. It’s happening. It’s scientific fact…. 
“Because the whole water cycle speeds up in a warming world, there’s more water in the atmosphere today than there was a few years ago on average, and you’re seeing a lot of that in the heavy rains and floods for example in Australia,” Sommervile said.
NOAA found that 2010 was both the hottest year on record and the wettest.
Derek Arndt, chief of NOAA’s Climate Monitoring Branch in the National Climate Data Center, said 2010 was “an exclamation point on several decades of warming.” 
He said NOAA is tracking disasters like the floods in Brazil and Australia. “We are measuring certain types of extreme events that we would expect to see more often in a warming world, and these are indeed increasing,” Arndt said.
In an exclusive interview with ClimateProgress earlier this year, Kevin Trenberth, head of NCAR’s Climate Analysis Section, explained a key connection between human-caused global warming and superstorms:
“I find it systematically tends to get underplayed and it often gets underplayed by my fellow scientists. Because one of the opening statements, which I’m sure you’ve probably heard is “Well you can’t attribute a single event to climate change.” But there is a systematic influence on all of these weather events now-a-days because of the fact that there is this extra water vapor lurking around in the atmosphere than there used to be say 30 years ago. It’s about a 4% extra amount, it invigorates the storms, it provides plenty of moisture for these storms and it’s unfortunate that the public is not associating these with the fact that this is one manifestation of climate change. And the prospects are that these kinds of things will only get bigger and worse in the future.”
Back in August 2010, Trenberth told the NY Times, “It’s not the right question to ask if this storm or that storm is due to global warming, or is it natural variability. Nowadays, there’s always an element of both.”  Trenberth explainedon NPR, that “some [weather events] we’ve had this year it’s clear– even though the research has not been done in detail yet –that the odds have changed, and we can probably say some of these would not have happened without global warming, without the human influence on climate.”

Munich Re, one of the world’s leading reinsurers, issued a news release in late September, “large number of weather extremes as strong indication of climate change,” which noted:
Floods in central Europe, wildfires in Russia, widespread flooding in Pakistan. The number and scale of weather-related natural catastrophe losses in the first nine months of 2010 was exceptionally high….  Munich Re emphasises the probability of a link between the increasing number of weather extremes and climate change…. 
Munich Re’s natural catastrophe database, the most comprehensive of its kind in the world, shows a marked increase in the number of weather-related events. For instance, globally there has been a more than threefold increase in loss-related floods since 1980 and more than double the number of windstorm natural catastrophes, with particularly heavy losses as a result of Atlantic hurricanes. 
The rise in natural catastrophe losses is primarily due to socio-economic factors. In many countries, populations are rising, and more and more people moving into exposed areas. At the same time, greater prosperity is leading to higher property values.  
Nevertheless, it would seem that the only plausible explanation for the rise in weather-related catastrophes is climate change. The view that weather extremes are more frequent and intense due to global warming coincides with the current state of scientific knowledge as set out in the Fourth IPCC Assessment Report.

Meteorologist and former NOAA Hurricane hunter Dr. Jeff Masters of Weather Underground did an analysis of the big recent floods, which I reposted:
If we look at the departure of temperature from average for the moisture source regions of the globe’s four most extreme flooding disasters over the past 12 months, we find that these ocean temperatures ranked 2nd or 3rd warmest, going back through 111 years of history:
  • January 2011 Brazilian floods: 2nd warmest SSTs on record, +1.05 °C (20° S to 25° S, 45° W to 40° W)
  • November 2010 Colombia floods: 3rd warmest SSTs on record, +0.65 °C (10°N to 0° N, 80° W to 75° W)
  • December 2010 Australian floods: 3rd warmest SSTs on record, +1.05 °C (10° S to 25° S, 145° E to 155° E)
  • July 2010 Pakistani floods: 2nd warmest SSTs on record, +0.95 °C (Bay of Bengal, 10° N to 20° N, 80° E to 95° E)
The Australian Bureau of Meteorology’s “Annual Australian Climate Statement 2010,” explained, “very warm sea surface temperatures contributed to the record rainfall and very high humidity across eastern Australia during winter and spring. The most recent decade (2001−2010) was also the warmest decade on record for sea surface temperatures following the pattern observed over land.”

Masters himself told me:
In my thirty years as a meteorologist, I’ve never seen global weather patterns as strange as those we had in 2010. The stunning extremes we witnessed gives me concern that our climate is showing the early signs of instability. Natural variability probably did play a significant role in the wild weather of 2010, and 2011 will likely not be nearly as extreme. However, I suspect that crazy weather years like 2010 will become the norm a decade from now, as the climate continues to adjust to the steady build-up of heat-trapping gases we are pumping into the air. 
Forty years from now, the crazy weather of 2010 will seem pretty tame. We’ve bequeathed to our children a future with a radically changed climate that will regularly bring unprecedented weather events–many of them extremely destructive–to every corner of the globe. This year’s wild ride was just the beginning.

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