Tag Archives: tornadoes

flooding

Stormy Weather in the Southern Plains

The recent wave of severe storms, tornadoes and flooding plaguing the southern plains, essentially Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Arkansas have cost a over 30 lives, countless injuries and billions in property damage. And it isn’t over yet. Some of the rain and flooding from these storms are breaking all records. One Texas official described the recent rain as “of biblical proportions”

One of the effects of global warming is more severe storms of all kinds – tornadoes, floods, heat waves, hurricanes, etc. Over the following decades we will see these increase in both frequency and severity. As we continue to pump ever increasing amounts of Carbon Dioxide into the atmosphere, more heat will be trapped, and more heat in the atmosphere is a principle cause of severe weather.

There are a couple of factors involved. A warmer atmosphere means warmer seas, which means more evaporation. Additionally the amount of water vapor that the atmosphere will hold is a function of temperature, the warmer it is, the greater the greater the amount of moisture in the atmosphere. Conditions such as wild fires will also increase, due to “dry thunderstorms.” Lightning and high winds accompany these events where the rain evaporates before it gets to the ground.

And it’s not just the current storms in the southern plains nor the blizzards on the east coast last winter, it is global. Although the Atlantic was rather calm during the traditional hurricane season last year, there was an unprecedented number of severe storms in the eastern Pacific and Indian Ocean nations. Again billions upon billions of dollars of damages and hundreds of lives lost.

An important point to make is that all this accelerated activity correlates with a warmer atmosphere. Can any one storm (or it’s intensity) be blamed on global warming? No, of course not. No more than any one home run by Mark McGwire could be attributed to steroid use.

The type of societal damage from severe storms varies. Flooding causes the most economic injury. Damage to infrastructure, homes and vehicles dominate the costs. Most human deaths in the US are caused by heat waves. Tornadoes cause the most human injuries.

So what can be done? In the long term the solution is obvious – quit burning stuff for energy production. Burning coal, oil and natural gas returns Carbon Dioxide to the atmosphere over a few decades that took many millions years to remove from the atmosphere. The problem is one of recognizing the true costs of energy sources. What we see on our electric bill or at the gas pump only includes the direct costs. The costs of externalities due to severe weather is not included.

How about a weather tax assessed to energy sources driven by fossil fuels? The money from this assessment could be used to rebuild and strengthen infrastructure, subsidize construction of more storm resistant residences, improve drainage, and expand reservoir capacity in drought prone areas just to mention a few. Basically we should use the funds to provide for the general welfare as is called for in our constitution.

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Severe Weather and Global Warming

Yet again Moore, Oklahoma has been hit with a monstrous tornado. In 1999 Moore suffered a EF-5 tornado, the most intense in the rating system. The 2013 storm followed essentially the same path, and is quite likely to be another record breaker in terms of intensity and damage.

It’s no coincidence that the National Weather Service Storm Prediction Center is in Norman, OK as this region is known as tornado alley. The area is where collisions of cold fronts from the plains are most likely to collide with warm moist air from the Gulf, the conditions which generate storms and tornadoes. Generally the warmer and more moist the air, the stronger the tornado.May_20,_2013_Moore,_Oklahoma_tornado

So the big question is why this storm now? Is it just a random occurrence or is there a connection with global warming? There is no question that global warming is occurring and is driven by human activities such as burning fossil fuels and worldwide deforestation. 2012 was the hottest year in recorded history in the United States. Last year’s drought in the midwest was the most severe since the 1950’s. Globally, eleven of the hottest years on record since 1880 have occurred in the last twelve years.

The United Nation’s weather agency has confirmed that 2012 was the 27th consecutive year that global land and ocean temperatures were above average. Last year exceeded the global average temperature of 58 degrees Fahrenheit despite the cooling influence of a La Nina weather pattern, according to the World Meteorological Organization’s annual climate report.

As human activities continue to flood the atmosphere with heat trapping gases, the temperature of the atmosphere rises. A warmer atmosphere over time means climate change. Attendant with climate change are variations in weather patterns. Warmer air is wetter air. Precipitation events can become more intense, meaning flooding is more likely. Severe storms which spawn tornadoes are the result of warm moist air colliding with cooler air- the warmer and more moist the air, the more severe the storms. Paradoxically droughts in mid-continental regions are predicted due to changes in weather patterns. Examples abound.

At the expense of repeating myself, no one weather event can be blamed on global warming, but the pattern of events we are seeing are consistent with what one would expect as a result of global warming and climate change.

Are EF-5 tornadoes to be the new normal? Only time will tell, but if these conditions persist in future years not only will the environment be impacted but also the economy. And that is dangerous.

Denial of the risk of global warming persists but is waning. Something like sixty per cent of Americans now believe global warming is happening, and is due to human activities. The denial is somewhat understandable because to accept the reality of global warming is to accept culpability. We individually and collectively don’t want to recognize that when it comes to global warming we are the major actor. Each and every one of us is to blame to some degree.