Negation of the Negative

August 27, 2011

As Hurricane Irene slammed into Cape Lookout, North Carolina, early this morning, the storm had weakened, but wow the size and water content.

Flooding not necessarily from seawater is a major threat: “Water is the No. 1 killer,” retired National Hurricane Center Director Max Mayfield said Friday afternoon. “That’s going to cause the greatest loss of life.” Many deaths can be avoided if people leave the coast and don’t drive into flooded areas, he said.

And compounded with a new moon tide, which adds about a foot to an already high storm surge of six to 11 feet, the eastern seaboard will most indeed get some heavy flooding this weekend.

(Illustration found here).

In front of Irene is 65 million US peoples — 2.5 million under evacuation orders, 300,000 in New York City alone with a report of two deaths already in North Carolina (one guy crushed by a tree limb, the other washed away by flood waters).

Just past noon Saturday as Irene churned northward at 13 mph, four deaths have been reported now — three in North Carolina, one in Virginia — and already 670,000 electrical customers were without power.
And to even more maximize Irene, the NOAA has issued a tornado watch for Delaware, eastern Maryland, portions of Virginia and along coastal waters — a tornado was reported in eastern Virginia.

And now just after 4 p.m. Pacific time, way-slowly moved her way northward — 13 mph don’t carry far — and is about to strike Virginia Beach, about 350 miles south-southwest of New York City, which has emptied its streets and subways and waited with an eerie quiet.
Blackouts are coming, too, as now nearly a million homes and businesses are without electrical power.
One thing it appears, people are being told by everybody from local cops to New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg to President Obama to brace up, get your shit together and be prepared.

One wonders why all these Top Cats can’t expend the same due diligence toward what is making Irene so fluffy and dangerous — climate change.

Warm air holds more moisture — pretty much eighth-grade science.

As the globe warms, more water in the air.
From Nature last February:

Given that atmospheric water-holding capacity is expected to increase roughly exponentially with temperature—and that atmospheric water content is increasing in accord with this theoretical expectation, it has been suggested that human-influenced global warming may be partly responsible for increases in heavy precipitation.

Here we show that human-induced increases in greenhouse gases have contributed to the observed intensification of heavy precipitation events found over approximately two-thirds of data-covered parts of Northern Hemisphere land areas.
These results are based on a comparison of observed and multi-model simulated changes in extreme precipitation over the latter half of the twentieth century analysed with an optimal fingerprinting technique.

And like a lot of other climate-change phenomenon, there’s an even worse side:

Changes in extreme precipitation projected by models, and thus the impacts of future changes in extreme precipitation, may be underestimated because models seem to underestimate the observed increase in heavy precipitation with warming.

And as far as the actual mark between climate science and global warming — climate change doesn’t necessarily make shit happen, it just makes shit even worse.
Science and environment writer Michael Lemonick says it’s all in the wording.
From a post yesterday at Climate Central:

The question: is this weather disaster caused by climate change?
Wrong question.
Here’s the right question: is climate change making this storm worse than it would have been otherwise?
Answer: Absolutely
For one thing, sea-surface temperatures in the Atlantic Ocean are higher now than they used to be, thanks to global warming, and ocean heat is what gives hurricanes their power.
All other things being equal, a warmer ocean means a more powerful storm.
It’s hard to say that all other things are exactly equal here, but it’s certainly plausible that Irene would have been a little weaker if precisely the same storm had come through, say, 50 years ago.
What we know for sure, however is that thanks largely to climate change, sea level is about 13 inches higher in the New York area than it was a century ago.
The greatest damage from hurricanes comes not from high winds and torrential rains — although those do cause a lot of damage.
It’s from the storm surge, the tsunami-like wall of water a hurricane pushes ahead of it to crash onto the land.
It was Hurricane Katrina’s storm surge, not the wind or rain, that destroyed New Orleans back in 2005.
With an extra foot of sea level to start with, in other words, Irene’s storm surge is going to have a head start.
And climate change is a big part of the reason why.

Lemonick also cites a study in Science, which reports less number of hurricanes in the near future, but those that do form will be wallbangers: The model projects nearly a doubling of the frequency of category 4 and 5 storms by the end of the 21st century, despite a decrease in the overall frequency of tropical cyclones, when the downscaling is based on the ensemble mean of 18 global climate-change projections.

From a paper also at Nature:

Rising concentrations of anthropogenic greenhouse gases in the atmosphere may already be influencing the intensity of rainfall and increasing the risk of substantial damage from the associated flooding.

Hurricanes are just mega-humongous rain storms.

The problem with all this, however, people just don’t seem to understand the situation.
And apparently the deniers have the bigger mouths.
In a Gallup poll released Friday: Fifty-five percent of Americans who are aware of climate change view it as a serious personal threat, down from 64% in 2007 and 2008. They are also now less likely to attribute global warming to human causes, but half (50%) still at least partly blame humans.
And bullshit continues unabated, in the words of Rick Perry for all the nit-twit GOP presidential contenders: “I don’t think from my perspective I want America to be engaged in spending that much money on still a scientific theory that has not been proven, and from my perspective is more and more being put into question.”

Meanwhile, Irene keeps on a churning.

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