From the ABC 7 Weather team

Climate change is pushing more extreme weather: IPCC report

November 3, 2011 - 05:00 AM
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Longer-lasting droughts and super-heavy rainfalls could define the weird weather of the future, says an international climate-change group.

World residents should brace for heavier rainfalls and more devastating droughts because of global warming, according to a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Here, Thai residents wade through a flooded street in Bangkok on Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2011. (Sakchai Lalit) (Photo: Associated Press)

Tremendous weather years like 2011, which has been dubbed the Year of the Billion-Dollar Disasters (count 'em: Hurricane Irene, Southern drought, Midwest flooding, April's tornadogeddon) – could become increasingly frequent as a result of global warming. That is the conclusion of the world's leading climate experts, who in a new report warn humanity to brace for insane swings in the weather sooner rather than later.

The Associated Press has obtained a draft of the report, a complete version of which will be released in a few weeks by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Its contents are about as soothing as a listening to a howler monkey having a seizure. The effects of climate change will be so drastic that certain places on earth will become “increasingly marginal as places to live,” according to the IPCC report. Where? The draft doesn't specify, but suddenly litigious Micronesia is one candidate. Moreover, the scientists say there is a 66 percent chance that the world is already experiencing punishing climate extremes directly caused by greenhouse-gas emissions.

Bob Ryan, ABC7's senior meteorologist, says that scientists have been studying links between a changing climate and more extreme weather since the early 1990s. It's not possible to attribute every devastating storm to global warming, he says. But the air in a hotter climate can hold more moisture and pump energy to storms, making their precipitation payloads heavier and their movements harder to forecast.

"If we get 1 inch of rain during a storm in Washington now, perhaps in the future it will be 1.2 inches," Ryan says.

A changing climate may also help spur the development of cutoff lows, slow systems that can spin aimlessly for more than a week while raining heavily on one side and intensifying droughts on the other side. A giant cutoff low dominated the weather in the Midwest in late September; have a look at the killjoy storm that just wouldn't go away here.

So what does the IPCC mean by weather "extremes"?

The report focuses on two types of weather that may get a potent shot in the arm from greenhouse gases, rainstorms and droughts. Psycho versions of these run-of-the-mill weather events have grabbed headlines recently. Super-heavy monsoon rains are bringing Thailand its worst flooding in half a century. And a fierce drought that gripped the American South last year has yet to release its hold. Economists estimate it has horsewhipped the cotton, cattle and other Texas industries by more than $5 billion so far.

Then there's this nugget from the AP story:

And global warming isn’t the sole villain in future climate disasters, the climate report says. An even bigger problem will be the number of people – especially the poor – who live in harm’s way. [HOWEVER...]

University of Victoria climate scientist Andrew Weaver, who wasn’t among the authors, said the report was written to be “so bland” that it may not matter to world leaders.

That sounds about right.

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