Weather Extremes

 

(This 1006th Buffalo Sunday News column was first published on July 4, 2010.)

 

Apocalypse now?

 

Last winter we in western New York were fortunate. We had one of our mildest winters in recent years: three-quarters of our normal winter snowfall and the shortest season of measurable snowfall - December 1 to February 28 - in Buffalo weather history. And this spring has been exceptionally warm, our last sub-freezing temperature on March 31, a full month early.

 

Does that information support the meteorologists' warnings about global climate change? Absolutely not.

 

We were lucky. You may recall that the East Coast all the way up to Albany and even parts of the South were blasted with two severe snowstorms last winter while we in Buffalo for once sat back and watched.

 

Did those snowstorms support arguments against that same climate change? Equally not, despite the publicity given to that point of view by many climate-change nay-sayers.

 

There is, however, a connection with global climate change associated with recent weather anomalies like those severe storms. My understanding of the gloomy predictions is that we are having and will continue to have a steady increase in temperature but that this increase will be accompanied by many wide swings in weather patterns.

 

(I insert here a reminder that weather is today and tomorrow and regional, climate is longer term and world encompassing.)

 

Yes, we are experiencing world-wide warming: the data supports that. Whether that warming is caused by our human activities or is merely an extended weather cycle, I will not address here. I will, however, speak to that prediction of increased weather anomalies.

 

Item. While our attention was deflected by the Gulf oil spill, this spring Nashville suffered an historic flood. Rainfall there in two days accumulated more than 13 inches, doubling their previous record of less than 7 inches after Hurricane Frederic in 1979.  Tom Niziol, our senior local weatherman, tells me that the chance of the Nashville event happening in any year was one in 1000. He doesn't like the more common expression of that chance, but it was indeed a millennial flood. That's a real anomaly.

 

Item. But so too was the Perrysburg-Gowanda flood last year. The chance of it happening was less than once in 500 years. That's five centuries. We would expect it to happen once since the Pilgrims landed.

 

Item. In 2009 Georgia broke out of a record-setting drought with a flood that also broke historic records.

 

Item. The Red River has flooded Fargo for nine years in a row.

 

Here are extracts from the British Royal Society's summary of predictions for the years ahead:

 

"We expect some of the most significant impacts of climate change to occur when natural variability is exacerbated by long-term global warming, so that even small changes in global temperatures can produce damaging local and regional effects. This includes:

in the UK, heavier daily rainfall leading to local flooding such as in the summer of 2007; increased risk of summer heat waves such as the summers of 2003 across the UK and Europe; and around the world, increasing incidence of extreme weather events with unprecedented levels of damage to society and infrastructure; sea level rises leading to dangerous exposure of populations in, for example, Bangladesh, the Maldives and other island states; persistent droughts, leading to pressures on water and food resources, and the increasing incidence of forest fires in regions where future projections indicate long term reductions in rainfall, such as South West Australia and the Mediterranean."

 

Meanwhile, the 2008 report, "Weather and Climate Extremes in a Changing Climate," (published under a conservative administration) describes as "very likely": heat waves, drought and heavy downpours, and "likely": more intense hurricanes.

 

Already this year we have had for only the second time in history a South American cyclone; while elsewhere around the globe: hurricane-force winds and widespread flooding as storm Xynthia raced across western Europe; 20-foot waves crashing into Alexandria, Egypt and 36 killed by tropical storm Hubert drove into Madagascar; sandstorms sweeping across China; a category four cyclone forcing thousands to evacuate Fiji and a monster storm ripping through Melbourne, Australia. Only Antarctica seems to be having good weather, but that is further accelerating ice shelf melting.

 

Apocalypse now? Perhaps. For the first time in my life I worry about the weather.-- Gerry Rising