Media wakes up to Hell and High Water: Moscow’s 1000-year heat wave and “Pakistan’s Katrina”

ClimateProgress Today Joe Romm blogged about the international weather-related disasters that are simultaneously taking place in Russia, China and Pakistan and the United States this week in his well-respected blog "Climate Progress." He reported that the mainstream media is finally addressing the fact that these horrific weather incidents are more than likely due to climate change. He aggregates articles from sources like BBC, Reuters, USA Today, Time and CNN linking the high temperatures, increased rainfall and flooding to global warming. Most of the articles also indicate that there is more to come in the ways of these natural disasters.



Posted August 12, 2010

By Joe Romm, Climate Progress

BBC, Reuters, USA Today, Time link warming and extreme weather;
Trenberth, Stott, and Masters explain the science

August 12, 2010

How hot is it?  So hot that even the status quo media is waking
up to the fact that human emissions of greenhouse gases are changing the
climate and causing  record-smashing extreme weather events, just  as
scientist predicted decades ago.

It happened to CNN
meteorologist Chad Myers
, and  I have a roundup from other  major
media outlets — please add links to ones I missed.

At the end is a discussion of the science of Hell and High Water in
pieces by NCAR’s Kevin Trenberth, The Met Office’s Peter Stott, and Jeff
Masters — along with links for those who want to donate to help out in
the “massive humanitarian crisis in Pakistan.”  For more background, see
Intro
to global warming impacts: Hell and High Water
.”

BBC: Climate
change ‘partly to blame’ for sweltering Moscow

Global climate change is partly to blame for the
abnormally hot and dry weather in Moscow, cloaked in a haze of smoke
from wildfires, say researchers.

The UK Met Office said there are likely to be more extreme high
temperatures in the future….

Jeff Knight, a climate variability scientist at the UK Met Office,
attributed the situation in Moscow to a number of factors, among them
greenhouse gas concentrations, which are steadily rising.

Reuters (NYT):  Analysis:
Pakistan Floods, Russia Heat Fit Climate Trend

OSLO (Reuters) – Devastating floods in Pakistan and
Russia’s heatwave match predictions of extremes caused by global
warming even though it is impossible to blame mankind for single severe
weather events, scientists say.

This year is on track to be the warmest since reliable temperature
records began in the mid-19th century, beating 1998, mainly due to a
build-up of greenhouse gases from fossil fuels, according to the U.N.
World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

“We will always have climate extremes. But it looks like climate
change is exacerbating the intensity of the extremes,” said Omar
Baddour, chief of climate data management applications at WMO
headquarters in Geneva….

Recent extremes include mudslides in China and heat records from
Finland to Kuwait — adding to evidence of a changing climate even as
U.N. negotiations on a new global treaty for costly cuts in greenhouse
gas emissions have stalled.

Reinsurer Munich Re said a natural catastrophe database it runs
“shows that the number of extreme weather events like windstorm and
floods has tripled since 1980, and the trend is expected to persist.”

The worst floods in Pakistan in 80 years have killed more than 1,600
people and left 2 million homeless.

“Global warming is one reason” for the rare spate of weather
extremes, said Friedrich-Wilhelm Gerstengarbe, a professor at the
Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

He pointed to the heatwave and related forest fires in Russia,
floods in Pakistan, rains in China and downpours in countries including
Germany and Poland. “We have four such extremes in the last few weeks.
This is very seldom,” he said.

The weather extremes, and the chance of a record-warm 2010, undercut
a view of skeptics that the world is merely witnessing natural swings
perhaps caused by variations in the sun’s output.

USA Today:  Think
this summer is hot? Get used to it

This summer’s stifling, deadly heat along the Eastern Seaboard and Deep South
could be a preview of summers to come over the next few decades,
according to a report about global warming to be published Wednesday by
the National Wildlife Federation and the Asthma and Allergy Foundation
of America.

In fact, according to NWF climate scientist Amanda Staudt, the
summer of 2010 might actually be considered mild compared with the
typical summers in the future. “We all think this summer is miserable,
but it’s nothing compared to what’s in store for us,” she says.

The East just sweltered through one of its hottest Julys on record,
the National
Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
reported Monday. Every state
from Maine
to Florida
endured one its top-10 warmest Julys since records began in 1880. Two
states, Delaware and Rhode
Island
, had their hottest July ever.

The report, a supplement to a 2009 report on heat waves, notes that
more extremely hot summer days are projected for every part of the
country by the year 2050: “Summers like the current one, or even worse,
will become the norm by 2050 if global warming pollution continues to
increase unabated.”

A federal report by the U.S. Global Change Research Program in 2009,
which much of this report was based on, found that average
temperatures in the USA have increased more than 2 degrees Fahrenheit
in the past five decades, largely as the result of emissions of
heat-trapping greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, which are
produced by burning fossil fuels.

Time (Walsh’s blog):  
The Asian Floods—Signs of Climate Catastrophes to Come?

They haven’t gotten anywhere near the attention they deserve, but the
floods that have struck much of Asia over the past couple of weeks may be
the biggest humanitarian disaster in recent memory—bigger even than the
earthquake that hit Haiti in January and the 2004 Asian tsunami. Both
of those catastrophes killed far more, but the floods have affected 13
million people in Pakistan alone, and parts of India, China and North
Korea have also suffered from the rains. The floods will destroy homes
and business, wreck agriculture and destroy infrastructure, leave
disease and disability in their wake. Flooding in China has already killed more than 1,100 people this year and
caused tens of billions of dollars of damage. In shaky Pakistan, where
the public has been enraged by the government’s typically fumbling
response to the flood, it could even increase support for hard-line Islamic groups.

As governments and charities grapple with the extent of the floods,
the question arises, as it does every time there is a major weather
event like this one: was this disaster truly natural, or is it
connected in some way to climate change? Now it’s important to remember
that major floods have been happening in this part of the world since well before humans began
worrying about the impacts of global warming. And the massive number of
people affected by these floods—or for that matter, the sky-high death
tolls of the Haiti quake and the Asian tsunami—have as much to do with
the growing number of people living in high-risk areas like the coast,
earthquake zones and flood plains as it does with the strength of a
storm or a temblor. The Haiti quake killed as many as 300,000 people, but at a magnitude of
7.0, it was slightly weaker than the 1989 Bay Area temblor that killed
62 people—the difference was Haiti’s population density, poverty and complete lack of earthquake building codes.

Still, the unrelenting rains that have produced the Asian flood is
the sort of extreme weather that is likely to become more common with
climate change, as Alister Doyle points out for Reuters

It’s all part of what Thomas Friedman has called “global weirding“—the weather gets strange and
unpredictable, with the extremes getting more extreme. And
unpredictability can kill—cities and countries are forced to deal with
natural disasters on a scale they’ve never had to before, no longer
able to look to the past for a reasonable expectation of what the
future will be. We’ll need to get better at adapting to disasters—even
poor countries can provide some protection, as Bangladesh has shown by fortifying itself against sea-level rise.
But the heartbreaking Asian floods should be one more reminder of the
need to put the world on a path to lower carbon emissions—before the
weather reaches extremes that no one can handle.

NY Times (Revkin’s blog):  Scientists
See Links From Asian Floods to Russian Heat

Two climatologists, Peter Stott
at the British Met Office and Kevin Trenberth of the
National Center for Atmospheric Research
, have separately
described atmospheric dynamics that appear to link the extreme
rains and flooding in Asia
with Russia’s unrelenting, extraordinary
heat and resulting conflagrations
.

Peter Stott, head of climate monitoring and attribution at UK’s Met
Office in UK Guardian:  There
have always been extremes of weather around the world but evidence
suggests human influence is changing the odds
:

Over the past week or so, Pakistan
has been devastated by its worst floods for generations
and Moscow
has suffered under a blanket of smog
after its hottest day in 130
years of records. What is causing these and other recent extreme
weather events and are they linked to climate
change
?

Because of a rare meteorological pattern we can see a connection
between extreme weather across Eurasia. Usually, the flow in the upper
troposphere over northern India, the Himalayas and Pakistan is
dominated by the monsoon anticyclone which pushes the sub-tropical jet
to the north of the Tibetan Plateau. This prevents mid-latitude weather
systems from penetrating very far south, unlike this year, when active
weather systems have spread southwards into Pakistan. Here this has
combined with the monsoon to produce record rainfall. The
record-breaking high temperatures in Moscow, forest fires and damaged
crops are another consequence, as was the excessive rain over China
when the Three
Gorges Dam almost reached capacity a few short weeks ago
.

So are we seeing the effects of climate change in these extreme
weather events? Analysing the observational data shows clearly that
there has been a rise in the number of extremely warm temperatures
recorded worldwide and that there have been increases in the number of
heavy rainfall events in many regions over land. Evidence, including in
India and China, that periods of heavy rain are getting heavier, is
entirely consistent with our understanding of the physics of the
atmosphere in which warmer air holds more moisture. Our climate change
predictions support the emerging trend in observations and show a clear
intensification of extreme rainfall events in a warmer world.

It can still be problematic to blame a specific individual extreme
weather event on climate change, because there have always been
extremes of weather around the world. However, if the likelihood of a
particular extreme weather event has changed it is possible to say
something. I and colleagues from Oxford University showed, in
a paper we published in Nature
, that the probability of the hot
European temperatures in 2003 had very likely doubled as a result of
human influence. While still relatively rare, the odds of such extreme
events are rapidly shortening and could become considered the norm by
the middle of this century.

Wired: Russian
Heat, Asian Floods May Be Linked

Russia’s killer heat wave and monster South Asian monsoon
floods could be more than isolated examples of extreme weather. Though
separated by a continent, they could be linked.

Monsoon rains drive air upward, and that air has to come down
somewhere. It usually comes down over the Mediterranean, producing the
region’s hot, dry climate. This year, some of that air seems to have
gone north to Russia.

“We haven’t done the studies, but there’s very good reason to suspect
that there’s a relationship,” said Kevin Trenberth,
head of climate analysis at the National Center for Atmospheric
Research. “It’s simply related to the idea that there is a monsoon with
very large circulation. There’s an upwards branch of it. There has to
be a downwards branch somewhere else.”

The Russian heat wave has persisted since late June, with daytime
temperatures at least 12 Fahrenheit degrees above normal — and often
much more — for over a month. In Moscow alone, an estimated 300
people a day have died
. The temperatures threaten wheat harvests and
have sent global prices rising in a manner reminiscent of the lead-up
to 2008’s
global food riots
.

Weather
Underground meteorologist Jeff Masters
called it “one of the most
remarkable weather events of my lifetime,” which is probably an
understatement. Russian meteorologists say it’s the most intense
heat wave
in a millennium.

Meanwhile, in South Asia and China, seasonal monsoons have been
exceptionally intense, setting off the worst flooding in 80 years.
Pakistan has been especially hard-hit, with 1,600 people dead and 2
million homeless in what’s been dubbed “Pakistan’s
Katrina
.”

Events like these fit with
general forecasts
of weather trends in a warming climate. But some
observers have wondered whether Russia’s
heat wave and Asia’s floods are linked
not just by a vague trend,
but by specific cause-and-effect meteorological dynamics. They will
undoubtedly be studied in detail for years to come, but according to
Trenberth, there’s good reason to think the extremes are connected.

“The two things are connected on a very large scale, through what we
call an overturning or monsoonal circulation,” he said. “There is a
monsoon where upwards motion is being fed by the very moist air that’s
going onshore, and there are exceptionally heavy rains. That drives
rising air. That air has to come down somewhere. Some of it comes down
over the north.”Fueling the monsoons’ intensity are warmer-than-usual
temperatures in and above the Indian Ocean. At 2 Fahrenheit degrees
above late-20th century levels, the air can hold about 8 percent more
water. At higher temperatures, the air is also more buoyant, and
“invigorates the storms,” said Trenberth.

“Air rises faster than before. It sucks more air in. It changes
moisture flow onto land even more. You can almost double the effect,” he
said. “From that 8 percent more water, there can be 16 percent more
rainfall.”

Finally, Jeff Masters on “Pakistan’s
Katrina
“:
The monsoon season of 2010 continues to
generate havoc in Asia, as lingering rains from the latest monsoon low
continue to affect hard-hit Pakistan, China, and India. At least 702
are now reported dead and 1,042 are missing in China’s Gansu province,
due to torrential monsoon rains that triggered a deadly landslide and
extreme flooding on Sunday. At least 137 died in floods and landslides in the
neighboring Indian state of Kashmir over the weekend, with 500 people
missing. Monsoon flooding and landslides have also killed at least 65
people in Afghanistan in the past two weeks. But no country has
suffered more than Pakistan, where monsoon floods have destroyed huge
portions of the nation’s infrastructure and killed at least 1600
people. The number of people affected or needing assistance has been
estimated to be as high as 13 million people–8% of the nation’s
population. The disaster is the worst natural disaster in Pakistan’s
history, and is rightfully being called “Pakistan’s Katrina.”
Monsoons: a primer
In summer, the sun warms up land areas more strongly than ocean areas.
This occurs because wind and ocean turbulence mix the ocean’s absorbed
heat into a “mixed layer” approximately 50 meters deep, whereas on
land, the sun’s heat penetrates at a slow rate to a limited depth.
Furthermore, due to its molecular properties, water has the ability to
absorb more heat than the solid materials that make up land. As a result
of this summertime differential heating of land and ocean, a low
pressure region featuring rising air develops over land areas.
Moisture-laden ocean winds blow towards the low pressure region and are
drawn upwards once over land. The rising air expands and cools,
condensing its moisture into some of the heaviest rains on Earth–the
monsoon. Monsoons operate via the same principle as the familiar summer
afternoon sea breeze, but on a grand scale. Each summer, monsoons
affect every continent on Earth except Antarctica, and are responsible
for life-giving rains that sustain the lives of billions of people. In
India, home for over 1.1 billion people, the monsoon provides 80% of
the annual rainfall. However, monsoons have their dark side as
well–hundreds of people in India and surrounding nations die in an
average year in floods and landslides triggered by heavy monsoon rains.
The most deadly flooding events usually come from monsoon depressions
(also known as monsoon lows.) A monsoon depression is similar to (but
larger than) a tropical depression. Both are spinning storms hundreds of
kilometers in diameter with sustained winds of 50 – 55 kph (30 – 35
mph), nearly calm winds at their center, and generate very heavy rains.
Each summer, approximately 6 – 7 monsoon depressions form over the Bay
of Bengal and track westwards across India. Four monsoon depressions
originated in the Bay of Bengal in the
El Niño-weakened monsoon season of 2009
. This year’s first monsoon
depression formed on July 24, crossed over India, and reached Pakistan
on July 27. The rains increased in intensity over the next two days,
peaking on July 29 and 30, when a low pressure system that moved across
Pakistan from the west enhanced rainfall from the monsoon depression.
Over the 3-day period July 28 – 30, torrential rains in excess of 8
inches (203 mm) fell in many regions of northwest Pakistan Rainfall amounts at two stations in the catchment
basins of the Jhelum River and Indus River reached 19.49″ (495 mm) for
the month of July, and 7.56″ (192 mm) fell in a single day, July 30, at
Tarbela. A second monsoon depression arrived in Pakistan on August 3,
and has brought additional heavy rains.
Are the this year’s monsoon
floods due to global warming?

No single weather event can be attributed to climate change, but a
warming climate does load the dice in favor of heavier extreme
precipitation events. This occurs because more water vapor can
evaporate into a warmer atmosphere, increasing the chances of record
heavy downpours. In a study published in Science in 2006,
Goswami et al. found that the level of heavy rainfall activity
in the monsoon over India had more than doubled in the 50 years since
the 1950s, leading to an increased disaster potential from heavy
flooding. Moderate and weak rain events decreased over the past 50
years, leaving the total amount of rain deposited by the monsoon
roughly constant. The authors commented, “These findings are in tune
with model projections and some observations that indicate an increase
in heavy rain events and a decrease in weak events under global warming
scenarios.” We should expect to see an increased number of disastrous
monsoon floods in coming decades if the climate continues to warm as
expected. Since the population continues to increase at a rapid rate in
the region, death tolls from monsoon flooding disasters are likely to
climb dramatically in coming decades.

References
Goswami, et al., 2006, ” Increasing Trend of Extreme Rain
Events Over India in a Warming Environment”, Science, 1
December 2006:Vol. 314. no. 5804, pp. 1442 – 1445 DOI:
10.1126/science.1132027

Donations urgently needed
The massive humanitarian crisis in Pakistan requires a huge response by
the international community. Wunderblogger Dr. Ricky Rood, author of
our Climate Change Blog, has a friend working in Pakistan who
underscored the desperate situation there:

This is the worst natural disaster in the history of Pakistan in
terms of number of people and area affected. Although not as many
people have been killed as in the 2005 earthquake, we have already
nearly 900,000 displaced persons thus far just in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Crops are destroyed; shops, hotels, and other business have simply been
swept away in Swat, which had just this year been cleared of Taliban
and was on the way to recovery; and districts closer to Peshawar and
parts of Peshawar district are still, or perhaps again after
yesterday/today, under water. After the immediate emergency response,
it will be years of rebuilding to replace what has been lost and to
start to develop again. I know you have the power to control the
weather, so if you cold give us a week or two without more rain at
least we could keep the helicopters flying and give people a chance to
go to their homes, recover what might still be there, set up tents if
we can get enough to them, and start to clean up.”

She gave the following recommendations for charities that do work in
the flood-ravaged zone, and are effective at getting aid to those who
need it the most:

Doctors
Without Borders

The International Red
Cross

MERLIN medical
relief charity

The mobile giving service mGive allows one to text the word “SWAT” to 50555.
The text will result in a $10 donation to the UN
Refugee Agency (UNHCR)
Pakistan Flood Relief Effort.

She mentioned that it is better to send money to the organizations
doing the relief work than to try to organize shipments of goods.

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