2010’s world gone wild: Quakes, floods, blizzards: The Associated Press has published one of the most interesting pieces of environmental science journalism in a long time, and that’s quite a feat in itself. Indeed, there are some serious factual issues as the authors intersperse anecdotes with specific scientists’ quotations while playing fast and loose with the facts.
This article deserves a thorough fact-checking and deconstruction. Hold onto your seats on this roller coaster…
This is an absolute masterpiece: quotations are in the boxes, comments are mine.
This was the year that the Earth struck back. Earthquakes, heat waves, floods, volcanoes, super typhoons, blizzards, landslides and droughts killed at least a quarter million people in 2010 – the deadliest year in more than a generation. More people were killed worldwide by natural disasters this year than have been killed in terrorism attacks in the past 40 years combined.
What purpose does this statement serve? Is there a moral equivalence between suicide bombers and the heartbreaking suffering associated with Haiti’s earthquake, the resulting mysteriously-caused cholera epidemic, or the devastation associated with the Pakistani floods? Apparently there is, as the authors make that case that it is either human-caused or exacerbated.
And we have ourselves to blame most of the time, scientists and disaster experts say.
That didn’t take long.
Even though many catastrophes have the ring of random chance, the hand of man made this a particularly deadly, costly, extreme and weird year for everything from wild weather to earthquakes.
There is no doubt that the impoverished around the world suffer disproportionately from natural disasters: their ability to mitigate is very limited with poorly constructed buildings and standards of living that could further unravel by nature’s tragic pulling on the threads of survival. Earthquakes occur without regard to the dwellers above the ground. Tropical cyclones occur without regard to the topography in their path. Weather and seismic activity cannot be controlled; it can only be adapted to with the best possible disaster prevention. This fact is not ground breaking or in any way controversial, yet it is seemingly brought up, acknowledged, and summarily dismissed while Borenstein and Bell get to work on blaming humanity for the ills of the Earth.
Climate scientists say Earth’s climate also is changing thanks to man-made global warming, bringing extreme weather, such as heat waves and flooding.
Some climate scientists perhaps, but there is current NO peer reviewed literature that DIRECTLY connects the floods in Pakistan or the heat wave in Russia definitively to anthropogenic global warming. Indeed, there are scant scientifically diligent explanations available for the weather/climate events of 2010, but here’s one from the NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory Climate Attribution or CSI outfit on the Russian heat wave. Note, this is also a draft document, and not peer reviewed (yet), but with the extent of the data analysis from inside, it has a helluva lot more weight than the word of scientists who have not demonstrated or presented similar data analysis on the Russian heat waves or the floods. Instead, as Borenstein and Bell helpfully intersperse in the article, scientists are giving expert testimony on the events without tangible evidence, but perhaps intuition, feelings, or political motivations, which are superfluous anyways to the situation at hand.
Here is NOAA’s explanation by Dr. Martin Hoerling, which has received almost no media mention anywhere, and definitely not a press-release from NOAA.
Despite this strong evidence for a warming planet, greenhouse gas forcing fails to explain the 2010 heat wave over western Russia. The natural process of atmospheric blocking, and the climate impacts induced by such blocking, are the principal cause for this heat wave. It is not known whether, or to what exent, greenhouse gas emissions may affect the frequency or intensity of blocking during summer.
In the summer, one weather system caused oppressive heat in Russia, while farther south it caused flooding in Pakistan that inundated 62,000 square miles, about the size of Wisconsin. That single heat-and-storm system killed almost 17,000 people, more people than all the worldwide airplane crashes in the past 15 years combined.
What in tarnation does the number of casualties associated with plane crashes have to do with anything? Simply making an academic comparison here for the readers? WUWT!
Expert Quote #1
“It’s a form of suicide, isn’t it?” Professor Roger Bilham, geological sciences University of Colorado.
“I think it is the end of the world,” she said. “Our planet warns us against what would happen if we don’t care about nature.” Mask wearing Vera Savinova, a 52-year-old administrator in a dental clinic who in August took refuge from Moscow’s record heat, smog and wildfires.
Expert Quote #2
“These (weather) events would not have happened without global warming,” said Kevin Trenberth, chief of climate analysis for the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo.
The article lists a series of weather events which seemingly are examples of events contemporaneously associated with the “season”, aka winter or summer aka cold/snowy, hot/dry, and some comments in parentheses. Here’s the rundown of extreme events: blizzards over the eastern-US, Russia, and China ( always happened, still happening, and will happen again & again ) | record heat in Los Angeles on one day (Urban Heat Island effects?) | freezes in Florida (yup, happened in January 2010 and December 2010) | tropical floods in tropical Australia, and desert droughts in desert Australia | Amazon drought (though flooding in nearby Venezuela must have been missed).
Anecdote #2 (How costly?)
Ghulam Ali’s three-bedroom, one-story house in northwestern Pakistan collapsed during the floods. To rebuild, he had to borrow 50,000 rupees ($583) from friends and family.
An attempt at scientific knowledge:
Even the extremes were extreme. This year started with a good sized El Nino weather oscillation that causes all sorts of extremes worldwide. Then later in the year, the world got the mirror image weather system with a strong La Nina, which causes a different set of extremes. Having a year with both a strong El Nino and La Nina is unusual.
Almost, but not quite. Okay, it’s just untrue. La Nina is NOT the mirror image weather system of El Nino. El Nino is one mode of the El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO), which is a 2-7 year period coupled atmosphere-ocean phenomena — it modulates the world’s weather — it is NOT weather. It is the number one mode of variability in the tropics. Someone please get these folks at the AP Wikipedia or Google or perhaps one of the experts can help them understand this. It’s like the fact checking / preparation that Larry King is known for! Here, Jerry Seinfeld talks to King who seriously thought Seinfeld’s show was canceled. Anyways, look at the graphic from that pesky government-run NOAA website again: when the red switches to blue, that’s when El Nino goes to La Nina, happens a lot — and if we had more than a hundred years of data, we’d see it goes back and forth, without any concern for the “human hand”.
Another attempt at scientific knowledge:
The excessive amount of extreme weather that dominated 2010 is a classic sign of man-made global warming that climate scientists have long warned about. They calculate that the killer Russian heat wave – setting a national record of 111 degrees – would happen once every 100,000 years without global warming.
The climate scientists he is referring to is ONE blogger at Jeff Master’s Weather Underground (no, not Bill Ayers’), Rob Carver. You’ll see from my comment #13 (RyanFSU), which is not responded to, that his interpretation of the “normalized anomaly” is woefully inadequate and should be removed as it is, uh, statistical rubbish. But, Carver is cited as “climate scientists” — the AP and the drive-by media is known for these mystery quotations of plural groups: “some people say“.
Expert Quote #3
“The extremes are changed in an extreme fashion,” said Greg Holland, director of the Earth System Laboratory at the National Center for Atmospheric Research.
Please, someone publish a peer-reviewed transliteration of that statement, using the evidence contained in this article.
Expert Quote #4
“The science is clear that we can expect more and more of these kinds of damaging events unless and until society’s emissions of heat-trapping gases and particles are sharply reduced.” Ecoscience author, and Science Czar John Holdren.
And, almost a the end, the AP writers manage to throw in the BP oil spill, and declare the Chilean mining crew’s 69-day ordeal as the “feel good story of the year.” WUWT!
Here’s a clue AP: if you really want to understand the world’s weather and climate, don’t look to global warming. It is an absolute pittance compared to the global reorganziation of the world’s weather due to El Nino, and it will be for the foreseeable future. So, if you want the easiest, best, and most correct expert explanation for what happened in 2010 here it is:
The transition from a strong El Nino to a strong La Nina (ENSO), hardly unprecedented, dramatically changes the tropical Pacific ocean temperatures. The atmosphere and ocean, acting together in a coupled fashion, teleconnect these tropical changes to the rest of the globe — both hemispheres. Storm tracks including tropical and extratropical cyclones, large-scale weather regimes such as blocks and Rossby-wave breaking cut-off lows, and shorter-time scale oscillations such as the PNA, NAO, and AO are all NON-LINEARLY associated with ENSO.
Academically, we have only begun to scratch the surface in understanding atmospheric/climate variability — and no matter what the experts on 2010 quoted in this article purport to understand about this year’s weather, it is only hand-wavy testimony that is actually at odds with some researchers at their own government labs!