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Restore the Wetlands. Reinforce the Levees.

Posts Tagged ‘hurricane season’

Wrath of God? : Global Warming and Extreme Weather

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

In response to our recent post about Christian fundamentalists’ unconcern with the present danger of global warming, our good friend David in Berkeley, a former editor at Sierra Club Books, had this to say:

I’ve been wanting to tell the rapturists et al.: Maybe the tornadoes, hurricanes and flooding in places they didn’t use to happen—and the fact that they’re ten times worse than usual—is god’s way of yelling, screaming, and shaking his fists at you that climate change is real. Duh!

P.S. And for you true believers in Oklahoma: Maybe god’s also letting you know what he thinks about your voting for James Inhofe! D’oh!

James Mountain Inhofe (R-OK), of course, is the ranking Republican member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works who has called global warming “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people.”

David also sent along a link to a fine Washington Post op-ed by Bill McKibben (author of The End of Nature), “A Link Between Climate Change and Joplin Tornadoes? Never!

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We agree entirely, and so might many who are freaked out by the terrifying tornadoes that ripped through Joplin, Missouri, and north of Minneapolis on Sunday, and through central Oklahoma on Tuesday, and in Alabama in April. Verily, it is like unto a plague of extreme weather. There have been so many tornadoes and super-tornadoes this year it’s become impossible to remember them all. (Oh, and then there’s the recent/current Mississippi River flooding caused by excessive rainfall in April.) The New York Times reports about Joplin: “More than 116 people were killed in a tornado outbreak on May 22, bringing the year’s total to over 480 and making it the deadliest year since 1953, when 519 people were killed.” (See list of disaster aid organizations below.)

Andrew C. Revkin of the Times reports in “Tornado Outbreak Possible in Kansas and Oklahoma” that the  Storm Prediction Center of the National Weather Service “has issued a blunt warning to Kansas and Oklahoma and adjacent regions to be prepared for the worst on Tuesday.”

Revkin adds that the 2011 hurricane season begins June 1. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is warning that the hurricane season in the Atlantic Ocean should be more intense than normal. Further, NOAA warns, “Sea surface temperatures where storms often develop and move across the Atlantic are up to two degrees Fahrenheit warmer-than-average.”

But back to David’s point about extreme weather events in places where they didn’t used to happen, we recall quite vividly the freakish tornado storm that unleashed micro-bursts of tree-toppling winds of 60 to 80 m.p.h. in Queens and Brooklyn in Sept. 16, 2010. New York City is not anywhere near Tornado Alley (Oklahoma and Kansas). Not normally.

And yet the fervent faithful may still prefer to believe—as Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson have so often warned—that natural disasters are signs of God’s wrath about abortions or the “homosexual agenda” and so on. (“Still a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest . . . la la la . . .” )

The correlation between global warming and extreme weather is almost never simple and clear-cut, but it is demonstrable, and intensifying. It is known, for example, that warmer sea waters fuel more intense hurricanes. Global warming does not necessarily “cause” more hurricanes, but increases the likelihood that those that do arise will be more ferocious. Such was the case with Hurricane Katrina.

For a few accounts of the relationship between climate change and increasing frequency and intensity of hurricanes, heat waves, droughts, floods, and even allergies, check out these sources from the Environmental Defense Fund, the National Wildlife Federation, and these Wikipedia articles on effects of global warming and extreme weather.

For science-based reporting and commentary on climate change we recommend Andrew Revkin, a science and environment writer for the New York Times who blogs at DotEarth (NYT). We also highly recommend Elizabeth Kolbert’s excellent Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change and her excellent reporting on climate and environment for The New Yorker. See for example “Uncomfortable Climate” on what the new Republican majority in the House of Representatives means for the earth’s climate.

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Oil Flood in Hot Water

Wednesday, June 9th, 2010

It’s not like we really needed this extra twist of fortune, but the hurricane season that began June 1 and runs through the end of November (or as long as nature wants) is forecast to be “one of the most turbulent ever.” The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts 14 to 23 named storms this year, of which 8 to 14 will become hurricanes and, of those, 3 to 7 will grow into major hurricanes with winds of up to 111 m.p.h. or more. Yes, that is the same NOAA that has just begun to confirm that the “oil plumes” that scientists have been talking about for several weeks now, and whose existence BP continues to deny, do in fact exist.

(Click here for a NOAA “Hurricanes and the Oil Spill” fact sheet, and here for NASA Earth Observatory images of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, some of which are trippy. And click here to see “Visualizing the BP Oil Spill Disaster” at IfItWasMyHome.com. Key in your zip code and check the spread.)

It’s hard to know what effect a storm would have on the oil that has been gushing into the Gulf of Mexico for 50 days now (since Earth Day, April 20). A hurricane could blow oil all over hundreds of miles of land and make yet another unprecedented mess. It could help disperse the oil that has already spilled. Winds only churn down to several hundred feet of water, scientists say, so it would not roil the waters a mile deep where the leak is gushing (or are there multiple leaks?). Oil on the water’s surface might sap the storm’s energy to some extent, according to some scientists, though NOAA experts seem to discount that likelihood. Kerry Emanuel, M.I.T. professor of atmospheric science and author of Divine Wind, says that by reducing evaporation, oil could be heating the waters in the Gulf of Mexico—precisely the conditions that intensify hurricanes—but he said it is difficult to determine because the oil sheen on the water surface distorts satellite measurements of water temperatures. Click here for an interview with Kerry Emanuel, recorded shortly after Hurricane Katrina, on how warm water intensifies hurricanes.

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Throw Us Somethin’, Mister President

Monday, June 8th, 2009

President Obama with Homeland Security Council president John O. Brennan  (left), DHS secretary Janet Napolitano, and FEMA administrator Craig Fugate.  FEMA photo by Bill Koplitz.

President Obama with Homeland Security Council president John O. Brennan (left), DHS secretary Janet Napolitano, and FEMA administrator Craig Fugate. FEMA photo by Bill Koplitz.

We’ll Take Some of That “Socialist Overspending”

It was good to see the president on Hurricane Season’s eve being briefed by new FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano, and Homeland Security Council president John Brennan on preparations for the upcoming season. We are relieved that the president has appointed serious professionals in these critical positions, as we are encouraged by his nomination of Jo-Ellen Darcy to oversee the Army Corps of Engineers. But we want more of Mr. Obama’s attention—and more of his “socialist overspending” for New Orleans and the Gulf Coast: for the rebuilding of shattered communities, the reinforcement of the flood control systems, housing and education of citizens displaced by flooding resulting from breaches in federally built levees, and so on.

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Hurricane Season Is Here, Now

Sunday, May 31st, 2009

President Obama will keep the broken promises to rebuild New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. He and Vice President Biden will take steps to ensure that the federal government will never again allow such catastrophic failures in emergency planning and response to occur. Within weeks of his inauguration, he made a renewed commitment to partner with the people of the Gulf Coast to rebuild now, stronger than ever. —WhiteHouse.gov

We’re marking the first day of hurricane season by calling attention to two pieces of legislation in Congress that could, with popular support, become enacted and result in jobs and new infrastructure along the Gulf Coast. We’re also wondering when our busy president is going to turn his attention to New Orleans and other communities along the Gulf Coast stricken by hurricanes and endangered by coastal erosion and weakened flood protection systems. We know he’s had his hands full, but we’ve been waiting.

First the good news: As Bob Herbert mentioned in his New York Times column last week, Connecticut Rep. Rosa DeLauro and others have introduced a bill to establish a national infrastructure development bank that would use public and private capital to finance regional and national projects. This is an idea put forward by Barack Obama in February 2008 [See “Barack, You’re Totally Our Infrastructure Hero” (2/15/08), below.] We’ll be following this story in the weeks and months to come. We hope to see the legislation enacted, though we have some reservations about it.

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A Brief History of Bush Cuts to Flood Control

Monday, June 18th, 2007

From 2001 to 2005, the Bush administration’s budget allocations for New Orleans area hurricane protection averaged one-fifth of the amount requested by Louisiana officials. In the 2005 budget, Louisiana requested about $26 million; even after the hurricane season of 2004—one of the worst in decades—the Bush White House offered only about $4 million, an amount that the U.S. spends about every 20 minutes in Iraq. (Current U.S. expenditures in Iraq now run at approximately $10 million per hour, roughly $12 billion per month.)

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