Guest post by Willis Eschenbach
There’s a new study out from NOAA called “Probable maximum precipitation (PMP) and climate change”, paywalled of course, which claims that global warming will lead to a 20%-30% increase in “probable maximum precipitation”. The abstract says:
Probable Maximum Precipitation (PMP) is the greatest accumulation of precipitation for a given duration meteorologically possible for an area. Climate change effects on PMP are analyzed, in particular, maximization of moisture and persistent upward motion, using both climate model simulations and conceptual models of relevant meteorological systems. Climate model simulations indicate a substantial future increase in mean and maximum water vapor concentrations. For the RCP8.5 scenario, the changes in maximum values for the continental United States are approximately 20–30% by 2071–2100. The magnitudes of the maximum water vapor changes follow temperature changes with an approximate Clausius-Clapeyron relationship. Model-simulated changes in maximum vertical and horizontal winds are too small to offset water vapor changes. Thus, our conclusion is that the most scientifically sound projection is that PMP values will increase in the future due to higher levels of atmospheric moisture content and consequent higher levels of moisture transport into storms.
When I heard that number, a 20%-30% increase in maximum rainfalls, my urban legend detector starting ringing like crazy.
So … why did my urban legend detector go off from this claim? It has to do with energy.
The press release quotes the authors as saying:
“We have high confidence that the most extreme rainfalls will become even more intense, as it is virtually certain that the atmosphere will provide more water to fuel these events,” said Kenneth Kunkel, Ph.D., senior research professor at CICS-NC and lead author of the paper.
Now, the increase in maximum rainfall is said by the authors to be due to the increase in water vapor in the air. It’s unclear if the 30% increase in maximum rainfall will be matched by a corresponding overall increase in rainfall. However, it is highly unlikely that an increase in water vapor will only increase maximum rainfall events. The authors themselves say that their projections show “a substantial future increase in mean and maximum water vapor concentrations”.
So to be conservative, let’s cut the 30% increase in maximum water vapor down to a 20% increase in mean water vapor, and see what that looks like.
I want to determine how much energy we’re talking about here. Suppose the rainfall were to go up (on average) by about 20% globally. Right now, the globally averaged rainfall is on the order of a metre of rain over the entire surface per year, a bit more or less depending on who is measuring. Twenty percent of that is 200 mm. So we need to evaporate an additional 200 mm over every square metre of surface to produce the stated increase in rain.
It takes 2260 joules of energy to evaporate a gram of water. For each square metre we need to evaporate 200 mm, or 200 kg of water. To evaporate that much water takes 4.52e+8 (452,000,000) joules of energy.
Now, a joule is a watt-second. We need 4.52e+8 joules of energy every year to evaporate the additional water, which is 4.52e+8 watt-seconds per year. Dividing that by the number of seconds in a year (3.16e+7) gives us the change in constant 24/7 watts needed to evaporate that much water. Remember, this is an increase in the constant watts of energy striking every square metre of the planet.
And that number, dear friends, the amount of additional energy needed to increase global evaporation and thus rainfall) by 20%, turns out to be 14.3 W/m2. That’s about the amount of energy increase from three doublings of CO2. Yes, CO2 would have to go from the current ~400 ppmv to about 3,200 ppmv to provide that much extra forcing …
So my urban legend detector is still working fine. There’s nowhere near enough energy available to power that claimed jump in rainfall.
Now, I could leave it there, since the energy necessary to make their claims possible doesn’t exist. But in order to confirm that finding, my plan of further inquiry was to see whether either the intensity of rainfall events or the mean rainfall has changed over the last century. People are always claiming that we don’t have any controls for our experiments when we study nature. But nature provides its own experiments. To start with, we have the warming since 1900. On land, according the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature data, the temperature has gone up about a degree over that time … but did the rainfall go up as well?
Figure 2. Global precipitation over the land, in mm/day. Data Source 1901-2009: CRU TS 3.10.01 (land)
OK … no increase at all in global rainfall, neither in the monthly means nor in the maximums. So no support for their claims there.
So how about local maximum rainfall events? Are those going up?
For this, we can turn to the temperature and precipitation records of England. For the Central England region, we have daily temperatures and daily precipitation records since 1931. Since 1931, the average Central England Temperature (CET) record has gone up by just under one full degree. So we should see any thermal effect on the maximum rainfall. With that 1°C temperature rise as the backdrop, here’s the maximum central England daily rainfalls, month by month, for the last eighty years.
Here, we find the same thing. There is no evidence of any increase in maximum rainfall events, despite a 1° temperature rise.
The part I really don’t like in all of this is that once again, all of their claims are built on computer models. But what I don’t find is any serious testing of their whiz-bang models against things like the global or the CET temperature and rainfall records. In fact, I don’t see any indication in any venue that any computer models are worth a bucket of warm spit when it comes to rainfall. Computer models are known to perform horribly at hindcasting rainfall, they do no better than chance.
So once again, we’re back in the land of Models All The Way Down. I gotta confess, this kind of thing is getting old. NOAA and NASA appear to be falling further and further behind reality, still churning out useless studies based on useless models.
Just one more waste of taxpayers money.