This ridiculous video story below from ABC news cites über alarmist Richard Somerville of Scripps in San Diego, and is backed up with this print story.
Here’s what the print story headline said:
“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 [sic] said.
“This is no longer something that’s theory or conjecture or something that comes out of computer models,” Sommerville [sic] said. “We’re observing the climate changing — it’s happening, it’s real, it’s a fact.”
Well perfessor, while a warmer atmosphere can hold more water vapor content, I call BS on your statement. The climate has always changed. The same argument is being used to hype increased hurricane threats, and as we’ve seen from Dr. Ryan Maue, the Accumulated Cyclone Energy (ACE) says the linkage just isn’t there.
The headline of course is sensational, they really didn’t put any thought or research into the Brisbane, QLD flooding, they simply drew a conclusion and found somebody to support it with a soundbite. I’ve seen plenty of examples of this style of crappy TV news journalism in my career. Professor Somerville apparently couldn’t be bothered to do a little historical research before claiming the floods in Queensland were connected to “global warming”, neither could ABC News.
What did ABC news and professor miss? This graph from the Australian Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) on Brisbane flooding history. When you add the 2010 flood levels to the graph (as Dr. Roger Pielke Jr. bothered to do, shown in red below) all of the sudden, the historical context for the flood being driven by global warming disappears:
And this is backed up from the BoM web page narrative.
Explain then perfesser, how the 1974 flood, which was worse, links to “global warming”. Or how about the biggest flood, in 1893? How does that figure with “global warming”, especially when it was cooler in 1974 and in 1893 there was no appreciable rise in CO2 globally?
Some people will say, “well that’s just Queensland”, so here is the Australian continent. The same questions apply:
The historical narrative for 1893 from BoM:
|3/2/1893||Lower part of Brisbane submerged, and water still on the rise; the “Elamang” and the gunboat “Paluma’ were carried by the flood into the Botanical Gardens, and the “Natone” on to the Eagle Farm flats.|
|4/2/1893||Disastrous floods in the Brisbane River; 8 feet of water in Edward Street at the Courier building. Numbers of houses at Ipswich and Brisbane washed down the rivers. Seven men drowned through the flooding of the Eclipse Colliery at North Ipswich. Telegraphic and railway communication in the north and west interrupted.|
|5/2/1893||The lndooroopilly railway bridge washed away by the flood. Heaviest floods known in Brisbane and suburbs.|
|6/2/1893||The lower part of South Brisbane completely submerged. The flood rose 23’9″ above the mean spring tides and 10 feet above flood mark of 1890; north end of the Victoria Bridge destroyed.|
|7/2/1893||Flood waters subsiding. Sydney mail train flood bound at Goodna, unable to either proceed or return.|
|13/2/1893||Second flood for the year in the Brisbane River.|
|16/2/1893||More rain in the south east districts; another rise in the Brisbane; further floods predicted.|
|17/2/1893||A third flood occurred in the Brisbane River for the year.|
|18/2/1893||The ‘Elamang” floated off from the Botanical Gardens. Business at a standstill in Brisbane. Ipswich and other towns. Several deaths by drowning reported.|
|19/2/1893||The gunboat “Paluma” safely floated off the Gardens, and the “Natone” off Eagle Farm flats. Another span of the lndooroopilly railway bridge carried away. The third flood reached its maximum height at 12 noon, viz. 10 inches below the first flood.|
In my opinion, professor Somerville is spouting nonsense about Australia.
As for Brazil, they don’t have as easily accessible climatology, but I did find this newspaper front page from the 1967 Brazil flood, on the website of my friend and fellow skeptic, Alexandre Aguilar in Brazil who works for the weather forecasting firm METSUL. This event which mainly hit Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, with floods and landslides/mudslides, was the worst ever then. The headline cites 400 dead.
METSUL writes on their blog: (more photos there)
The disaster in the mountainous region of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil is the largest since the disaster Caraguatatuba in 1967 (photos). On March 18 of that year, a flood came down the hills like a tsunami of water, mud and rocks, causing a landslide. Hundreds of homes were submerged and rivers have won strong currents, trailing not only houses, but trees, bridges and other structures. The exact number of dead is unknown until today, having been speculation over 500, but officially are considered 300 fatalities. The rain gauge installed at São Sebastão in March 1967 indicated a [monthly?] precipitation of 851.0 mm, with 115.0 mm and on day 17 and 420 mm the next day. The accumulated [rainfall total] may have been higher due to saturation of the rain gauge.
Again, how did this massive flood happen without the help of CO2 back then?
The Australian rains are being driven by La Nina says NASA in this press release
“Although exacerbated by precipitation from a tropical cyclone, rainfalls of historic proportion in eastern Queensland, Australia have led to levels of flooding usually only seen once in a century,” said David Adamec, Oceanographer at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. “The copious rainfall is a direct result of La Niña’s effect on the Pacific trade winds and has made tropical Australia particularly rainy this year.”
UPDATE: Here’s yet another expert with a similar opinion, from CNN, where they quote a Columbia (where NASA GISS is located) lead forecaster:
The catastrophic weather events taking place across the globe – from Brazil’s and Australia’s flooding to the Eastern United States’ heavy snowfall – have two likely explanations.
Tony Barnston, lead forecaster at Columbia University’s International Research Institute for Climate and Society, said two phenomena – La Niña and the North Atlantic Oscillation – are likely responsible for the patterns we’re seeing.
UPDATE2: T Gough in comments points out this discussion on the Met Office website:
For the Australian state of Queensland, there is strong evidence to suggest that La Niña is the main reason for the ongoing widespread flooding. The current floods are also the worst since 1974 – which coincided with the strongest La Niña on record.
They offer this chart:
And this Q&A discussion which is a transcript of a video interview (PDF)
La Nina and severe weather around the world
Adam Scaife – Senior Climate Scientist
What is La Nina?
La Nina is part of a natural climate oscillation in the tropical Pacific. It oscillates between the warm El Nino phase, El Nino is Spanish for ‘the boy’, and the cold La Nina phase. So La Nina is like the cold little sister phase of this oscillation and it’s a purely natural event, occurs every few years as part of this natural oscillation.
Is the flooding in Australia linked to La Nina?
So during La Nina the rainfall that normally falls out over the Pacific shifts west over Indonesia and indeed northern and eastern parts of Australia. So the fact that there’s been lots of flooding in Queensland recently is very consistent with the occurrence of near record La Nina this year.
Is the flooding in Sri Lanka and Brazil linked to La Nina?
So La Nina affects weather patterns throughout the globe but of course the further away you are from the La Nina the more difficult it is to pinpoint the affects, it’s a bit like waving a long stick, the uncertainty grows the further away you are from the source. And so when we look at remoter regions, like Brazil or Sri Lanka, it’s more difficult to attribute the recent flooding events to La Nina. If we take the Brazil case, then when we look in historical records and in our climate models, then southern parts of Brazil are actually dry during La Nina so it would be difficult to attribute the recent flooding near Rio to the La Nina that is going on at the moment. If you go to Sri Lanka that is a little bit more complicated, a little bit less clear because it’s right on the edge of the wet influence from La Nina, but again historically it looks like La Nina tends to drive drier conditions in Sri Lanka so the previous biggest event, or the biggest on record in fact in 1974, Sri Lanka was actually dry.
Is La Nina linked to climate change?
La Nina, El Nino cycles have been going on for a very long time, they’re natural cycles, they’re part of a natural oscillation in the Pacific and indeed when we run our climate models into the future with increasing levels of greenhouse gases then there are no consistent changes in the El Nino, La Nina cycle.
Here’s the video:
While the Met Office may have trouble forecasting winter, they are right about this basic understandign of La Nina. It seem’s there’s a consensus forming that contradicts Somerville’s view of the world.
UPDATE3: My Oz friend Dr. Jennifer Marohasy has this discussion of Eastern Australian rainfall from 2008 and offers this graph, not the 1974 peak. When this graph is updated with the latest rainfall data, it may show a spike similar to 1974.
UPDATE4: Crosspatch also points out that BoM now has the most recent rainfall totals online, here is the rainfall for QLD:
UPDATE5: See this report about Brazil -
I think Dr. Richard Somerville needs a swift kick in the butt style reality-check, or perhaps he needs a course in weather history, or both.