Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Real Science: The Theories Behind Tornadoes and Floods

There is no shortage of reportage on the scientific theories behind Mother Nature's savage and unforgiving spring of 2011: Global Climate change, "La Nina" and unfortunate coincidence. 

But mercifully, so far there are no rampant, bible-waving warnings that the tornadoes and floods devastating America are the latest apocalyptic revelations from heaven.

"So far, the research on tornadoes and climate change is far from conclusive, and observational records don't show any significant trends in tornado strength or frequency," wrote Andrew Freedman on the Australian website, Climate Spectator.

"What is clear, however, is that population growth has put more people in harm's way, and high death tolls can still occur despite accurate and timely warnings, particularly when tornadoes strike densely populated areas, as was so sadly demonstrated in Tuscaloosa and Joplin.," Freedman added.

The New York Times has a hefty question and answer facts column culled from experts. On the role, if any, of climate change on the extreme weather, John Collins Rudolf and Justin Gillis writes," Frustratingly, it is likely to be a year or two before we get good published analyses of the causes for this season’s strange weather — and it may be decades before science can conclusively demonstrate whether or not human-driven warming is affecting tornado frequency.

The Los Angeles Times also offers its own Q &A on tornadoes.

Sea surface temperatures in the Gulf are now 3 degrees Fahrenheit warmer on average than than prior to 1970,  according to Kevin Trenberth, distinguished senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo.
“Two degrees of that can be attributed to natural variability while one degree Fahrenheit is associated with climate change,” Trenberth explains in an interview with Bloomberg news.

Tim Barnett, climate expert at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, Calif., says the deadly tornado that hit Joplin, Mo., and other recent twisters in the Midwest "were probably not due to climate change. Everyone wants to pin it on an events like this. But it is very difficult to do that scientifically for any one event."

"If you look at the past 60 years of data, the number of tornadoes is increasing significantly, but it's agreed upon by the tornado community that it's not a real increase," Grady Dixon, who teaches meteorology and climatology at Mississippi State University, tells Agence France Press. "It's having to do with better (weather tracking) technology, more population, the fact that the population is better educated and more aware. So we're seeing them more often."

Bill McKibben, founder of the global climate campaign and a distinguished scholar at Middlebury College in Vermont, offers a witty, if not sarcastic, mock denial of climate change's role in the  bombastic weather phenomena.

"It's very important to stay calm. If you got upset about any of this, you might forget how important it is not to disrupt the record profits of our fossil fuel companies," McKibben wrote in a piece published on several editorial pages. 

"If worst ever did come to worst, it's reassuring to remember what the U.S. 
Chamber of Commerce told the Environmental Protection Agency in a recent filing: that there's no need to worry because 'populations can acclimatize to warmer climates via a range of behavioral, physiological, and technological adaptations.' I'm pretty sure that's what residents are telling themselves in Joplin today," McKibben chides.

Citing the National Academy of Sciences, Gregg Easterbrook takes on the extreme right wing. "Despite what the talk radio and Tea Party types say, there is strong scientific consensus that human activity has begun to alter Earth’s climate," Easterbrook blogs for Reuters.

The Daily Caller smirks at the talk of climate change, at the expense of America's favorite weatherman.

Apocalypse not now? Jay Michaelson duly notes the lack of doomsday talk from religious conservatives.

"It's just been a bad year," Kent State University geographer Thomas W. Schmidlin tells The Associated Press.

1 comment:

  1. There may be in the very phenomena of our information age adolescence, i.e., watching the destruction and aftermath in progress, an unprecedented digital connection to reality humanity has failed to acclimate to yet, that magnifies the psychological impact. Truly, no shortage of reportage, but a paucity of perspective, perhaps. Our task should not be to play up or down the science, but to continue focusing the lens.