Friday, June 17, 2011

Global weirding

Updated Every time it snows, you can be sure some right-wing wacko is going to be snickering "So where's your global warming now?" along with some head-scratchingly irrelevant snark about Al Gore.

Of course, as any climatologist will tell you (and as I have said any number of times), one cold winter no more disproves global warming than one hot summer proves it. It's the overall trend that's at issue, and no individual event or short-term condition can by itself tell you much of anything.

However (and you knew that was coming), one of the baseline predictions of global warming (or climate change, if you prefer; the terms refer to the same ongoing process and are used interchangeably) is an increase in severe weather. For one example, an area may get the same total amount of snow over the course of a winter but because of global warming, get it in a few major, disruptive and even dangerous blizzards rather than a large number of easily-handled light snows.

Another baseline prediction, and more directly related here, is of a greater number of anomalous weather events. The US has experienced a considerable number of such events of late, and while it remains true that no individual weather event can be chalked up to global warming, some folks are starting to ask how many anomalies it takes to make a pattern.
Heavy rains, deep snowfalls, monster floods and killing droughts are signs of a "new normal" of extreme U.S. weather events fueled by climate change, scientists and government planners said on Wednesday.

"It's a new normal and I really do think that global weirding is the best way to describe what we're seeing," climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe of Texas Tech University told reporters.

"We are used to certain conditions and there's a lot going on these days that is not what we're used to, that is outside our current frame of reference," Hayhoe said on a conference call with other experts, organized by the non-profit Union of Concerned Scientists.
One example she cited was west Texes, where a record five-year drought has been marked by two 100-year rain events, i.e., a rainstorm so major you expect to see one like it once in a century.
"What we're seeing is the new normal is constantly evolving," said Nikhil da Victoria Lobo of Swiss Re's Global Partnerships team. "Globally what we're seeing is more volatility ... there's certainly a lot more integrated risk exposure." ...

Globally, da Victoria Lobo said the annual average economic losses from natural disasters have escalated from $25 billion in the 1980s to $130 billion in the first decade of the 21st century.
Meanwhile, the major nations of the world, for the most part, spend their time making excuses or offering grandiose plans of how they will at some point in the future reduce carbon emissions by some fraction of what's actually necessary. Our children will not speak kindly of us.

Updated with a Footnote: Someone else talking about global weirding is environmental author Chip Ward, who writes here about how climate change is burning the American west.

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