Extreme events of 2011: climate change a major factor in some, but not all

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 1:54 PM GMT on July 11, 2012

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The science of quantifying how climate change changes the odds of extreme weather events like droughts and floods took a major step forward Tuesday with the publication of NOAA's annual summary of the past year's weather. The 2011 State of the Climate report contains a separate peer-reviewed article published in the July issue of the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society titled, Explaining Extreme Events of 2011 From a Climate Perspective. In the paper, a group of scientists led by Peter Stott of the Met Office Centre in the United Kingdom looked at how climate change may have changed the odds of occurrence of some of 2011's notable weather extremes. These kinds of attribution studies require huge amounts of computer time and take many months to do, but the scientists plan to start making this a regular part of the annual NOAA State of the Climate report. Some of their findings for 2011:

- Determining the causes of extreme events remains difficult. While scientists cannot trace specific events to climate change with absolute certainty, new and continued research help scientists understand how the probability of extreme events change in response to global warming.

- La Niña-related heat waves, like that experienced in Texas in 2011, are now 20 times more likely to occur during La Niña years today than La Niña years fifty years ago.

- The UK experienced a very warm November 2011 and a very cold December 2010. In analyzing these two very different events, UK scientists uncovered interesting changes in the odds. Cold Decembers are now half as likely to occur now versus fifty years ago, whereas warm Novembers are now 62 times more likely.

- The devastating 2011 floods in Thailand caused an estimated $45 billion in damage, making it the world's most expensive river flooding disaster in history. The study found, however, that the amount of rain that fell in the catchment area was not very unusual, and that other factors such as human-caused changes to the flood plain and the movement of more people into flood-prone areas were more important in causing the disaster. "Climate change cannot be shown to have played any role in this event," the study concluded, but warned that climate models predict an increase in the probability of extreme precipitation events in the future in the region.

- The deadly drought in East Africa, which killed tens of thousands of people in 2011, was made more likely by warming waters in the Indian Ocean and Western Pacific. While the scientists did not specifically tie the warming of these waters to human-caused global warming, they noted that climate models predict continued warming of these waters in the coming decades, and this will likely "contribute to more frequent East African droughts during the spring and summer."


Figure 1. An SH-60F Sea Hawk helicopter assigned to Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron (HS) 14, flies around the Bangkok area with members of the humanitarian assessment survey team and the Royal Thai Armed Forces to assess the damage caused by the 2011 floods. Image credit: Petty Officer 1st Class Jennifer Villalovos.

Weather on steroids
One interesting aspect of the paper was the scientists' use of the baseball player-steroids analogy to help explain how climate change can increase the odds of extreme weather: "One analogy of the effects of climate change on extreme weather is with a baseball player (or to choose another sport, a cricketer) who starts taking steroids and afterwards hits on average 20% more home runs (or sixes) in a season than he did before (Meehl 2012). For any one of his home runs (sixes) during the years the player was taking steroids, you would not know for sure whether it was caused by steroids or not. But you might be able to attribute his increased number to the steroids. And given that steroids have resulted in a 20% increased chance that any particular swing of the player’s bat results in a home run (or a six), you would be able to make an attribution statement that, all other things being equal, steroid use had increased the probability of that particular occurrence by 20%. The job of the attribution assessment is to distinguish the effects of anthropogenic climate change or some other external factor (steroids in the sporting analogy) from natural variability (e.g., in the baseball analogy, the player’s natural ability to hit home runs or the configuration of a particular stadium)."



Video 1. National Center for Atmospheric Research scientist Dr. Jerry Meehl explains how climate change's impact on extreme weather is like how steroids affect a baseball player.

Jeff Masters

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Quoting Articuno:

Fine, I am 6th... :L


and 6th doesnt matter :O

jk
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Deleted
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Quoting VINNY04:
better lightning photos. sorry for any confusion.


no i know what you meant, i was just saying u might get shot in rwanda..
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228. wxmod
Quoting VINNY04:
The planet WILL NOT be destroyed by global warming. Mark my words.


Why should I trust your word? You don't listen to scientific findings. What is your word made of?
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Quoting VINNY04:
So whats your opinion on this storm DR. Grothar?


there is no storm....

-Dr. Grothars associate, self-appointed
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Quoting OrchidGrower:


Largo, don't be bluffed off point; you're on the right track. If millions -- or billions -- of trees were all planted within a short time, there would indeed be a net uptake of carbon. Even if some of those trees died, the amount of carbon they would surrender would be small, because far more trees would still be growing.

Moreover, trees help combat warming in other ways, for example by shielding dark surfaces from insolation (incoming solar radiation) and thus preventing more radiation from being converted into surplus heat. And they produce water vapor, which cools the air.

Before everyone screams "quote, please!", this was from an article I wouldn't know how to find right away, but I remember reading about how the Southeast U.S. had bucked the national trend of rising temps over the last few decades because so many farmers had switched from planting small annuals (corn, soybeans, etc.) to tree farming. The addition of millions and millions of acres of pine forests -- while they are monocultures and thus not perfect from a strict environmentalist's standpoint -- had absorbed a great deal of sunlight and prevented it from warming nearby surfaces. The trees added more cooling water vapor to the air than the row crops used to.

Don't get discouraged from your "gospel," Largo; I'm with you on that one! I felt firsthand the effects of deforestation after Hurricane Frederic wiped out 300 trees on my family's 5 acres, when I was a kid. Since then, I've become a believer! Trees make a difference, but if everyone would plant a whole lot more of them, they could make a Real difference.


..thank you, its good to see someone also see's what I see, tree's are lifesaving in more ways that one for our atmosphere
Member Since: August 6, 2011 Posts: 4 Comments: 33389
Quoting GeorgiaStormz:


umm, i think you meant better shot...
or is it worse shot...
better lightning photos. sorry for any confusion.
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Quoting GeorgiaStormz:


no, you didnt make the list see comment 109 and who is 2nd best:
Link

Fine, I am 6th... :L
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Quoting Grothar:
So whats your opinion on this storm DR. Grothar?
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Just woke up... in a bad mood, lol.
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Member Since: August 6, 2011 Posts: 4 Comments: 33389
Quoting LargoFl:
..lol and another one absorbs it, round and round we go..nature is laughing at us


Largo, don't be bluffed off point; you're on the right track. If millions -- or billions -- of trees were all planted within a short time, there would indeed be a net uptake of carbon. Even if some of those trees died, the amount of carbon they would surrender would be small, because far more trees would still be growing.

Moreover, trees help combat warming in other ways, for example by shielding dark surfaces from insolation (incoming solar radiation) and thus preventing more radiation from being converted into surplus heat. And they produce water vapor, which cools the air.

Before everyone screams "quote, please!", this was from an article I wouldn't know how to find right away, but I remember reading about how the Southeast U.S. had bucked the national trend of rising temps over the last few decades because so many farmers had switched from planting small annuals (corn, soybeans, etc.) to tree farming. The addition of millions and millions of acres of pine forests -- while they are monocultures and thus not perfect from a strict environmentalist's standpoint -- had absorbed a great deal of sunlight and prevented it from warming nearby surfaces. The trees added more cooling water vapor to the air than the row crops used to.

Don't get discouraged from your "gospel," Largo; I'm with you on that one! I felt firsthand the effects of deforestation after Hurricane Frederic wiped out 300 trees on my family's 5 acres, when I was a kid. Since then, I've become a believer! Trees make a difference, but if everyone would plant a whole lot more of them, they could make a Real difference.


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Quoting VINNY04:
Interesting.... I didnt know that. Maybe i should move there to get better shots.... no i dont think so.


umm, i think you meant better shot...
or is it worse shot...
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You really want to solve climate change then we need to stop over poulation before nature figures a way to do it. It won't take much for the ma nature to figure out a way to reduce the population by one or two billion, though disease or some other natural disaster. To much money and greed for man to fix the problem.
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Quoting wxmod:


Guess what. There won't be a government if we don't stop warming the planet. How could there be? There won't be any money cause there won't be any food, except maybe soilent green.
The planet WILL NOT be destroyed by global warming. Mark my words.
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Deleted
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Quoting VINNY04:
exactly, this is all part of natures cycle to get rid of this stuff. people shouldnt worry about global warming but instead they shoud spend that money and time on more important things like fixing our goverment.


So you're into "Party Hearty" as we watch ourselves get wiped out?

OK, got it....
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214. ARiot
Great blog today Dr. Masters.

I especially enjoy the comments from those who can't or won't accept science -- they provide good laughs over lunch.

Keep up the excellent work! We live in interesting times and we need good communicators to share AGW findings.
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Quoting cynyc2:


Most of what you said, and a few things that you didn't.

My question, why do you care what we do?
because global warming theories are so easy to shoot down. Just like evolution theories.
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Quoting Articuno:

I am 2nd best. :P


no, you didnt make the list see comment 109 and who is 2nd best:
Link
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look like the low fell apart-228 hours

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210. wxmod
Quoting VINNY04:
exactly, this is all part of natures cycle to get rid of this stuff. people shouldnt worry about global warming but instead they shoud spend that money and time on more important things like fixing our goverment.


Guess what. There won't be a government if we don't stop warming the planet. How could there be? There won't be any money cause there won't be any food, except maybe soilent green.
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..................be careful Stormtracker...another bad batch is headed your way
Member Since: August 6, 2011 Posts: 4 Comments: 33389
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Quoting wxwonder1:


Actually Rwanda Africa averages more than double the lightning strikes we have here in Florida. Florida is the lightning capital of the United States.
Interesting.... I didnt know that. Maybe i should move there to get better shots.... no i dont think so.
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Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:

Grothar.

I am 2nd best. :P
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Quoting wxmod:


All the tree growing ground already has trees on it and is presently growing and dying and regrowing. Are you suggesting that somehow people can extend the natural range of forests? All of the world's deserts are GROWING and inundating the tree growing ground.
By the way, Santa Clause is going to die soon. Do something! Cut down your carbon emissions! Talk is cheap.
actually I myself have planted 6 trees, I drive a hybrid car which uses less gasoline etc..what have YOU done?..yes talk IS cheap and until everyone accepts what is going on..and changes..yes your right..talk IS cheap, and down we go, but maybe..there is NOTHING we can do and whatever comes we cannot stop..that...is a very real possibility..but enough...for me its back to weather ok..take care
Member Since: August 6, 2011 Posts: 4 Comments: 33389
Quoting wxmod:


Planting a tree is a net zero for carbon. Burning a tree is also a net zero for carbon.


That's true, but carbon in a tree is carbon not in the atmosphere.

The more carbon we lock up in trees, the better it is for our heating up problem. Even if it is only temporary.

If we had the space and water to plant enough long-lived trees we could stop our warming problem even though there would still be the same amount of carbon above ground.

--

Leave the carbon underground. Do not awake the sleeping carbon monster.
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Quoting stormygace:
Just curious - for the anthropogenic global warming crowd - ......


Most of what you said, and a few things that you didn't.

My question, why do you care what we do?
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Quoting VINNY04:
Im sorry Stormtracker2k but we ARE the lightning capital of the world.


Actually Rwanda Africa averages more than double the lightning strikes we have here in Florida. Florida is the lightning capital of the United States.
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Quoting BobWallace:


It's one of the "geo-engineering" approaches that has been discussed.

The problem is, that hydrogen sulfide we shoot up into the air comes back down. Acid rain.

We ran the experiment for some years following World War II. Killed a lot of forests. Messed up a lot of lakes.

It's something we might have to do if things get really bad. But working to keep things from getting that bad is a much better idea, IMHO.


the only problem i see is that many of the chemicals are colorless, odorless, and highly poisonous to humans, but well get to that when we get there, maybe bond them to another chemical to reduce their effect.
Acid rain would be a problem


on the solar front:

This came on the back of 12 'M' flares in just six days, with a M6.1 flare knocking out radio signals across the planet on Thursday - hinting at the destruction the sun could reign on our technology if Earth takes a full blast across its blow.




I must have missed it
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180 Hours in
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Quoting wxmod:


All the tree growing ground already has trees on it and is presently growing and dying and regrowing. Are you suggesting that somehow people can extend the natural range of forests? All of the world's deserts are GROWING and inundating the tree growing ground.
By the way, Santa Clause is going to die soon. Do something! Cut down your carbon emissions! Talk is cheap.
just use the current trees for lumber. that will make room for more.
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Quoting wxmod:


All the tree growing ground already has trees on it and is presently growing and dying and regrowing. Are you suggesting that somehow people can extend the natural range of forests? All of the world's deserts are GROWING and inundating the tree growing ground.
By the way, Santa Clause is going to die soon. Do something! Cut down your carbon emissions! Talk is cheap.
..so you now see...doomsday is approaching
Member Since: August 6, 2011 Posts: 4 Comments: 33389
Quoting FLWeatherFreak91:
Looks like another day of strong thunderstorms across Florida...

In other news, for all of you guys living in NW Hillsborough or Northern Pinellas counties, I have just installed a new weather station which is completely up to par with all NWS guidelines. So if you need a reliable observation near your house check out station ID KFLODESS9 :)
..great page there..ty
Member Since: August 6, 2011 Posts: 4 Comments: 33389
Im sorry Stormtracker2k but we ARE the lightning capital of the world.
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194. wxmod
Quoting LargoFl:
..lol and another one absorbs it, round and round we go..nature is laughing at us


All the tree growing ground already has trees on it and is presently growing and dying and regrowing. Are you suggesting that somehow people can extend the natural range of forests? All of the world's deserts are GROWING and inundating the tree growing ground.
By the way, Santa Clause is going to die soon. Do something! Cut down your carbon emissions! Talk is cheap.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting BobWallace:


This is what climate scientists have been predicting.

Longer droughts. Larger rainfalls when it does happen.

The folks who think we just adapt need to get their adapting big boy pants on.

It's harder to grow crops and raise cattle when you go from searching for water to watching your lands flood.

All of us will pay more at the grocery store.
..yes im afraid your right there
Member Since: August 6, 2011 Posts: 4 Comments: 33389
Quoting wxchaser97:
UW - CIMSS
ADVANCED DVORAK TECHNIQUE
ADT-Version 8.1.3
Tropical Cyclone Intensity Algorithm

----- Current Analysis -----
Date : 11 JUL 2012 Time : 150000 UTC
Lat : 14:33:00 N Lon : 117:14:54 W


CI# /Pressure/ Vmax
6.1 / 947.0mb/117.4kt


Final T# Adj T# Raw T#
6.0 6.2 6.2

Estimated radius of max. wind based on IR :N/A km

Center Temp : -19.2C Cloud Region Temp : -72.3C

Scene Type : EYE

Positioning Method : RING/SPIRAL COMBINATION

Ocean Basin : EAST PACIFIC
Dvorak CI > MSLP Conversion Used : PACIFIC

Tno/CI Rules : Constraint Limits : NO LIMIT
Weakening Flag : ON
Rapid Dissipation Flag : OFF

C/K/Z MSLP Estimate Inputs :
- Average 34 knot radii : 80km
- Environmental MSLP : 1010mb

Satellite Viewing Angle : 26.6 degrees

She has definitely strengthened in the past few hours.



Emilia is trying to get Better...
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Just an observation..not sure if its too low coming off Africa..around the 162 hour mark on the GFS
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Quoting LargoFl:
..simply amazing, going from drought to now possible flooding, hope all your lakes etc are filling up, i know alot were going dry a month or so ago


This is what climate scientists have been predicting.

Longer droughts. Larger rainfalls when it does happen.

The folks who think we just adapt need to get their adapting big boy pants on.

It's harder to grow crops and raise cattle when you go from searching for water to watching your lands flood.

All of us will pay more at the grocery store.
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Quoting StormTracker2K:


We just love these summer thunderstorms in FL. You know they call us the lightning capital of the US for a reason and some could argue we are the lightning capital of the world. These thunderstorms here produce such a show daily 6 months out of the year that many find it fascinating to watch.


Or as I like to call them...thunderboomers. They have been plentiful as of late. LOTS of lightning. Brief power outages (less than 5 minutes) but thankfully nothing has been damaged.
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Quoting LargoFl:
..gee you got that right
or the economy....... forgot to mention that.
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Looks like another day of strong thunderstorms across Florida...

In other news, for all of you guys living in NW Hillsborough or Northern Pinellas counties, I have just installed a new weather station which is completely up to par with all NWS guidelines. So if you need a reliable observation near your house check out station ID KFLODESS9 :)
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Quoting VINNY04:
exactly, this is all part of natures cycle to get rid of this stuff. people shouldnt worry about global warming but instead they shoud spend that money and time on more important things like fixing our goverment.
..gee you got that right
Member Since: August 6, 2011 Posts: 4 Comments: 33389
Quoting LargoFl:
people laugh when i say, plant a tree......well here is the answer to the problem,how much carbon does one tree absorb...........................................A bout 1000 kg (2204.62262 lb) is absorbed by one average tree per year. Read More »
Source: http://wiki.answers.com/Q/How_much_co2_absorbed_by _trees


I don't laugh. Planting trees would help, but it's not the "cure".

There just isn't enough land and water available to offset our carbon burning.

Planting trees at high latitudes actually makes things worse. Trees have lower albedo than grassland. Less heat gets reflected back into space.
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Member Since: August 6, 2011 Posts: 4 Comments: 33389

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About JeffMasters

Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.