Rain Brain

December 2, 2012

Rain, rain and more rain as the storms keep pounding us here on California’s northern coast, and the end is still a couple of days away.
Right now a few minutes from the weak light of a dawn, we’re in what’s considered a light rain stretch, which in the parlay of the moment could mean anything weather-wise.

Near-directly south of where I’m at is Honeydew, near the Humboldt Redwoods State Park, considered the wettest weather station in California with an average of 104.18” annually (actually per rain year of July 1-June 30), and the log there as of Friday was just short of eight inches of rain.

(Illustration found here).

Although there’s been some heavy-ass downpour the last week, according to the weather people, it’s not close to record-breaking and about what one normally sees a few times every normal winter when major storms occur, but the environment at hand sure begs to differ.

Early this morning from Lost Coast Outpost, a Humboldt County daily news blog:

It sounds like a disaster out there — Flooding near Whitmore Grove, tree down at Bull Creek, slide on Redwood Drive near Evergreen Rd.
The CHP site is full of reports, too many and too conflicting to be sorted out completely.
The last words before switching scanner channels comes in a response to a question from Messenger about the conditions of the area near the other man.
The tired transportation worker says quietly, “Road disappearing all over the place.”
Other reports echo his statement.

And what we’re looking at, and waiting for here is the third storm in this ongoing system, or systems — the first cranked in on Wednesday, but the second wave was the kicker, moving slowly and dumping way-more water.
This third installment is suppose to contain just as much rain, but that storm is expected to move a bit quicker through the area.
We’re getting soaked because of what’s called “atmospheric river,” which compiles water, wind and movement via long, fingers from the tropics and jabs that digit into northern California.
Climate Central has a much-better explanation along with illustrated graphs and charts.
At least in the word, ‘tropics,’ the air has been warmer, not at all like those storms surging out of the Arctic we encounter most of the time.

Although we expect between 10 to 20 inches of rain over the weekend around here, in the way-near future this type of weather will just become the ‘new normal.’
Via the UK’s Guardian:

Weather is a complex system.
Long-running trends, natural fluctuations and random patterns are fed into the global weather machine, and it spews out a series of events.
All these events will be influenced to some degree by global temperatures, but it’s impossible to say with certainty that any of them would not have happened in the absence of man-made global warming.

One paper, by Seung-Ki Min and others, shows that rising concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have caused an intensification of heavy rainfall events over some two-thirds of the weather stations on land in the northern hemisphere.
The climate models appear to have underestimated the contribution of global warming on extreme rainfall: it’s worse than we thought it would be.

None of this should be surprising.
As Richard Allan points out, also in Nature, the warmer the atmosphere is, the more water vapour it can carry.
There’s even a formula which quantifies this: 6-7 percent more moisture in the air for every degree of warming near the Earth’s surface.
But both models and observations also show changes in the distribution of rainfall, with moisture concentrating in some parts of the world and fleeing from others: climate change is likely to produce both more floods and more droughts.

My underline above for emphasis in the most-worrisome of climate-change activity — it’s faster and worse than anticipated.
Just last Thursday from Climate Progress: The latest data from across the globe show that the planet is changing faster than expected…“As scientists, we cannot say that if we stay below two degrees of warming everything will be fine,” says Stefan Rahmstorf, a professor of physics of the oceans at the University of Potsdam in Germany.

Not just in big storms, either.
Climate change will hammer everyday life, but the subtly of the increase will hamper the ordinary-guy-on-the-street’s ability to understand this swift-moving alteration in weather.
From The Atlantic a couple of weeks ago:

According to recent research in climate psychology, cognitive deficiencies may be numbing us to the urgency of such intangible, global threats. Complex dynamics like those at play in climate change — worsening gradually and posing consequences mostly in the distant future — are not easily factored in to our present deliberations. As a result, we hold out for the singular maelstrom to sound the alarm, which, in this case, is like waiting for the straw man: Its occurrence wouldn’t wholly reflect the phenomenon we’re looking for, and so its absence shouldn’t be seen as indicative that the models are wrong.

But climate psychologists also find that this simple-mindedness is not entirely our fault. It depends on how the questions are framed — how a reader’s mind is “primed” by certain events or exercises, before approaching the issue. And one way to frame climate change is to model the science. We may find that how climate scientists study the planet today, applying innovative techniques to quantify local risk, is more palpable than the diffuse issues we couldn’t quite grasp.

The way Oppenheimer (Michael Oppenheimer, Princeton professor of geosciences and international affairs) sees it, “the risk is very high already. We’re not very good at dealing with it. And the risk will get higher continuously until we reduce emissions, and slow global warming.
So we better get cracking.”

Or in the words of UN climate change chief Yvo de Boer and the next IPCC report due next year: “That report is going to scare the wits out of everyone.”
Or the wonder of Elizabeth Kolbert, author of ‘Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change,’ and the horror of humanity’s ignorance: “It may seem impossible to imagine that a technologically advanced society could choose, in essence, to destroy itself, but that is what we are now in the process of doing.”

So, let it rain, I guess.

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