Weather Extremes Trending More Extreme
I’ve been tracking weather systems for 45 years, but nothing has prepared me for 2021’s dueling weather disasters. Our weather models have consistently underestimated the intensity of drought, fires and eastern floods.
Why? Climate-warming greenhouse gases have doubled since preindustrial times, and these man-made gases are flavoring all weather now.
Are too many people living in vulnerable areas? Yes. But Wednesday’s 1-in-500 year flooding from Philly to New York City and Texas-size tornadoes in New Jersey are more symptoms of our new reality.
Flashes of Lukewarm. No conga-line of Canadian cold fronts, just a few trickles of cooler air into the third week of September. Temperatures run close to average for the next 2+ weeks, if you believe NOAA’s GFS model (above).
Northeast Pummeled With Colossal Flooding, Destructive Tornadoes. Yale Climate Connections has a good summary of Wednesday’s jaw-dropping storms: “Some of the worst urban flash flooding in U.S. history struck the New York City area on Wednesday night, as the remnants of once-category 4 Hurricane Ida teamed up with a frontal zone, upper-level energy, and an influx of tropical moisture to dump historic rains across the Northeast. Countless homes and businesses were flooded, some severely, and the nation’s largest city was brought to a virtual standstill, with scenes that seemed drawn from an apocalyptic future. As of midday Thursday, at least 18 storm-related fatalities had been reported across the mid-Atlantic and Northeast, following at least five deaths in Louisiana and Alabama. Wednesday’s deaths and injuries and the day’s immense damage will seal Ida’s place in the pantheon of catastrophic U.S. hurricanes, including Camille of 1969 and Ivan of 2004, that made disastrous Gulf Coast landfalls followed by massive flooding or tornado outbreaks east of the Appalachians...”
At Least 45* Dead as Hurricane Ida Remnants Spark Floods in New York, New Jersey. Here’s a clip from a summary at The Washington Post (paywall): “…New York City’s Central Park received 7.13 inches of rain Wednesday, its fifth wettest day on record. Between 9 and 10 p.m., 3.15 inches fell, its greatest amount in a single hour ever observed. Newark had 8.41 inches of rain, its wettest day on record; 3.24 inches fell in a single hour. These rainfall amounts are expected to occur only once over a 200- to 500-year period. At Newark Liberty International Airport, flights were delayed, diverted and canceled, leading to exasperation from passengers, with at least 370 flights canceled as of Thursday morning. “You can sense how annoyed people are, and I’m hearing a lot of sighs and frustrated conversation,” Austin Rutland, whose 11 p.m. flight to Paris was delayed, told The Post early Thursday…”
*45 storm-related fatalities in the northeastern U.S. as of Thursday night.
Death Toll Rises After Ida’s Remnants Hit Northeast. There was plenty of warning, but once again the weather models, as a general rule, underestimated rainfall amounts and impacts. Here’s an excerpt from AP: “The remnants of Hurricane Ida dumped historic rain over New York City, with at least nine deaths linked to flooding in the region, as it swamped subway cars and submerged vehicles and homes. Catastrophic weather came to the largest city in the U.S. after a grim two weeks across the nation that has seen 20 dead in flooding in a small Tennessee town, wildfires threatening Lake Tahoe, Tropical Storm Henri in the Northeast and Ida’s landfall in Louisiana, which left 1 million people without power, maybe for weeks. Late Wednesday evening a state of emergency was declared in New York City and the rest of the state. Ida’s remnants were exiting the country, but not without tornadoes in other parts of the Northeast...”
2021 Summer Heat Records. Climate Central has a good overview of a very hot summer for much of the USA: “Summer 2021 was definitely a “Summer of the Extremes” as floods, fires, drought, intense heat, and powerful storms ripped across the U.S. and the globe. Record or near-record heat baked the U.S. this summer, especially the Pacific Northwest. Climate Central conducted its own analysis on local heat records and found that 38% (538) of 1396 locations had one of their 10 hottest summers this year. Heat wasn’t the only extreme weather event this summer. Across the nation, many regions were hit with persistent drought, heavy flooding, strong storms, or burning wildfires. The more we emit greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, the more extreme weather events we will face in the future…”
September Drought Outlook. Some (slightly) encouraging news from NOAA CPC: they see some improvement in Minnesota’s drought through the end of September.
UN: Weather Disasters Soar in Numbers, but Deaths Fall. We can thank much improved technology (weather models, Doppler, etc) and better communications for the drop in deaths, in spite of a sharp uptick in weather-related disasters. Associated Press has the post: “Weather disasters are striking the world four to five times more often and causing seven times more damage than in the 1970s, the United Nations weather agency reports. But these disasters are killing far fewer people. In the 1970s and 1980s, they killed an average of about 170 people a day worldwide. In the 2010s, that dropped to about 40 per day, the World Meteorological Organization said in a report Wednesday that looks at more than 11,000 weather disasters in the past half-century...”
Ida Turns New York City Into a Front Line of Extreme Weather Supercharged by Climate Change. Here’s an excerpt from a CNN.com analysis: “…Across continental US, specifically, the heaviest downpours have been observed to be increasing in all regions, with the northeast showing the largest increase, according to the US National Climate Assessment. “Warmer air can contain more water vapor than cooler air. Global analyses show that the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere has in fact increased over both land and oceans,” the report says. In terms of hurricanes, climate change is making them more dangerous. They are producing more rainfall, moving slower once they make landfall and generating larger storm surges along the coast. Hurricane Ida was a prime example of those changes, and scientists say storms like this will become more common as the planet warms…”
New York City’s Historic Floods From Ida Send Climate Change Message. Andrew Freedman reports for Axios; here’s an excerpt: “...The historic deluge clearly demonstrates that climate change is winning the battle between a rapidly shifting climate and outdated infrastructure. This event may now become the prime example for U.S. efforts to better adapt to climate change. Studies have shown that warming air and ocean temperatures are increasing the odds and severity of heavy precipitation events, and leading to changes in hurricanes that are making them more powerful and damaging. For every 1°C (1.8°F) increase in temperatures, the atmosphere can hold 7% more moisture, which helps fuel storms like Hurricane Ida…”
Fleeing Disaster is Hard. Climate Change is Making It Harder. Some perspective on our new normal at WIRED.com (paywall): “…These supercharged wildfires have grown so big and intense that they’re behaving in ways that are confounding even seasoned firefighters. In fact, some fires are now burning so hot that they’re actually creating thunderclouds, which roll across the landscape sparking new fires. Plus, now fires are scorching over the landscape more rapidly. All of this is making it that much more complicated for agencies like Calfire to make evacuation plans. Typically, they estimate a fire’s potential route and arrival time using information about temperature, humidity, and prevailing winds. But, says Thomas Cova, who studies wildfire evacuations at the University of Utah, “it’s very hard to predict what’s going to happen in an era that’s unprecedented. The time available is what’s changing. That’s what I think, is that the fires are moving quicker. It’s easy to find firefighters who say that we’ve never seen fire move at that rate…”
Hurricane Ida Offers a Glimpse of the Dystopia That’s Coming for All of Us. The New York Times (paywall) gives a better sense of what it’s like to live in Louisiana during an age of super-sized storms and rising seas: “…The truth is that it’s hard to live in Louisiana. The truth is also that it’s hard to live in many places these days, and Louisiana has the benefit of being comparatively easy to love. In fact, it seems everybody loves New Orleans enough to want to come for a long weekend, because seemingly every block now has an Airbnb — or two or three — driving up housing costs, especially in neighborhoods on higher ground. Evidently fewer people love New Orleans enough to insist, once they get back home, that their congressional representatives vote for the climate, infrastructure or social welfare legislation that might give this city a few extra decades, or expand the number of people who can make a viable life here, or anywhere else in the United States…”
Your Guide to Life on a Warming Planet. Check out some of the posts at The Atlantic for a better sense of what’s happening, worldwide – and what comes next.
80% of the Gulf’s Oil and Gas Production is Still Offline After Hurricane Ida. Axios has details: “Power and oil-and-gas production are starting to revive after Hurricane Ida, but there’s a long way to go for Louisiana’s sweltering residents and industrial damage assessments are ongoing. Driving the news: The Interior Department reports that roughly 80% of Gulf of Mexico crude oil production and 83% of gas production was shut-in as of yesterday. Right before the storm, almost all Gulf output was offline as companies shut down facilities and evacuated workers. On the power front, roughly 902,000 homes and businesses are without power in Louisiana, per PowerOutage.us...”
Water Extremes. This is streamflow data from USGS: black dots denote extremely high volumes of water; red dots show extremely low stream flows.
When Climate Change Comes To Your Doorstep. An essay at The New York Times (paywall) got my attention; here’s a clip: “…We are now at the dawn of America’s Great Climate Migration Era. For now, it is piecemeal, and moves are often temporary. Brutalized by hurricanes, flooding and a winter storm, Lake Charles, La., residents have been living with relatives for months. In early August, the Dixie fire — the largest single fire in recorded California history — claimed at least one entire town, and locals took to living in tents. Apartment dwellers in Lynn Haven, Fla., were forced from their homes to slosh through streets flooded by Tropical Storm Fred. The evacuee tally has continued to rise, from New Englanders in the path of Hurricane Henri to flood survivors in North Carolina and Tennessee to people escaping fire in Montana and Minnesota. But permanent relocations, by individuals and eventually whole communities, are increasingly becoming unavoidable…”
FEMA Knows a Lot About Climate-Driven Flooding. But It’s Not Pushing Homeowners Hard Enough to Buy Insurance. Inside Climate News has the story: “The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has been collecting a lot of information about flood risks across America, including the increased risk of flooding linked to climate change. But the agency has not effectively used that new knowledge to persuade more Americans to buy flood insurance, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office. As a result, homeowners are at increasing risk of costly damage from floods, and the government is facing rising costs for disaster relief assistance, the report found. The report called on Congress to consider requiring FEMA to evaluate how the agency can use the “comprehensive and up-to-date flood risk information” it has been collecting to determine which properties should be required to have flood insurance under the National Flood Insurance Program...”
Extreme Sea Levels to Become Much More Common Worldwide as Earth Warms. PNNL has the post; here’s a clip: “…A new study, appearing in the journal Nature Climate Change August 30, looks specifically at extreme sea levels—the occurrence of exceptionally high seas due to the combination of tide, waves and storm surge. The study predicts that because of rising temperatures, extreme sea levels along coastlines the world over will become 100 times more frequent by the end of the century in about half of the 7,283 locations studied. That means, because of rising temperatures, an extreme sea level event that would have been expected to occur once every 100 years currently is expected to occur, on average, every year by the end of this century. While the researchers say there is uncertainty—as always—about future climate, the most likely path is that these increased instances of sea level rise will occur even with a global temperature increase of 1.5 or 2 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial temperatures…”
How Easily the Climate Crisis Can Become Global Chaos. We got a glimpse this summer, according to Dr. Jeff Masters who writes for TheHill: “…This worst-case scenario year — though unlikely to occur exactly this way — illustrates one of the greatest threats of climate change: extreme droughts and floods hitting multiple major grain-producing “breadbaskets” simultaneously. The scenario is similar to one outlined by insurance giant Lloyds of London in a ”Food System Shock” report issued in 2015. Lloyds gave uncomfortably high odds of such an event occurring — well over 0.5 percent per year, or more than an 18 percent chance over a 40-year period…If business-as-usual is allowed to continue, a civilization-threatening climate catastrophe will occur. Mother Nature’s primal fury of 2021 is just a preview of what is coming...”
PR Executives’ Plea to Stop Doing Business with Fossil Fuel Companies. Here’s the intro of an open letter at Clean Creatives: “You had a future, and so should we. We are tomorrow’s leaders of advertising, PR, and the rest of the marketing industry. We are creators, strategists, dreamers, and doers. We are current students, recent grads, interns, junior creatives, and rising stars. The biggest threat to our future is climate change. The world’s twenty biggest polluters are fossil fuel companies, with the entire energy sector responsible for creating 75% of carbon emissions. They are blocking necessary and urgently needed climate action. And our industry is helping them do it. We’re angry. We’re afraid. And we refuse to sit back and watch it happen. We, tomorrow’s leaders, call on all agencies, from the holding companies to the independent shops, to stop working with fossil fuel clients. This means oil giants as well as the alphabet soup of trade associations and front groups...”