May 11, 2011

April Floods & Drought & Wildfires

NOAA's National Climatic Data Center:  "April was a month of historic climate extremes across much of the United States, including: record breaking precipitation that resulted in historic flooding; recurrent violent weather systems that broke records for tornado and severe weather outbreaks; and wildfire activity that scorched more than twice the area of any April this century."
Multiple scientific studies find that our weather has become more extreme, and that it is extremely likely that humans are a contributing cause.
Equally important, human-caused climate change is exacerbating the extreme events we would normally experience — by making deluges more intense (because of the extra water vapor in the atmosphere) and by making droughts hotter.
"All extreme weather events are now subject to human influence," said Dr. Peter Gleick, a climate & water scientist and president of the Pacific Institute, at a Capitol Hill briefing on Monday organized by the American Meteorological Society. "We are loading the dice and painting higher numbers on them."
As the reinsurer Munich Re put in in September, "The only plausible explanation for the rise in weather-related catastrophes is climate change"
The staggering reality of the Mississippi flooding has consumed most of the extreme weather news, otherwise the news stories would be all about how a "record breaking 1.79 million acres burned across the country during the month":
Now meteorologist Dr. Jeff Masters reports today at Weather Underground that the "Great Texas drought of 2011 intensifies":

April 2011 was the 5th driest and 5th hottest April in Texas history, going back 117 years. Exceptionally dry conditions have parched the soil and vegetation in Texas, which recorded precipitation of just 1.68 inches (43 mm,) on average, since February 1st. This is easily its driest February-April period on record for the state, nearly an inch less than the previous record (2.56 inches or 65 mm, Feb – Apr 1996.) The six-month period November 2010 – April 2011 was the 2nd driest such period on record. Based on the U.S. Drought Monitor, 94 percent of Texas is in severe to exceptional drought.
As a result of the great drought, an all-time April record of 1.79 million acres of land burned last month in the U.S., mostly in Texas. Much of the fuel for the fires came from dried underbrush and grasses which experienced ideal growing conditions during the summer of 2010, when there was abundant rain across the region. Nation-wide, the year-to-date period, January – April, has the greatest acreage burned in history, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.
At the same time, Capitol Climate reports Record Heat in Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma; Earliest 100° at Wichita, "The high of 100° at Wichita not only smashed the 116-year-old record for the date by 5°, but it was the earliest 100° ever recorded there."
As for tornadoes, April smashed a number of all-time records.  Masters notes, "The largest tornado outbreak and greatest one-day total for tornadoes in history occurred during the historic April 25 – 28, 2011 tornado outbreak."  NOAA released all the details yesterday here.
The UK Guardian notes in its piece, "Memphis on flood alert as Mississippi waters hit record peak, " that the heavy snows plus "an extremely wet April – with 600% more rain than normal in some southern states – have turned 2011 into a season of floods along the Mississippi's 2,320-mile route."
Of course, some of the problems along the Mississippi can be attributed to bad planning.  The Guardian quotes climate and water  expert Gleick:

Since 1993, we have seen huge numbers of new homes and business built on the flood plain despite recommendations never to do that again," said Gleick. "I think what we are seeing along the Mississippi is all of those things: climate change, bad planning, bad development and inappropriate levees."
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