By John Lawrence / San Diego Free Press / Sept. 15, 2012
Even those global warming deniers can’t escape the fact that the weather events causing a billion dollars or more of damage and destruction are piling up at an increasing rate. The National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) is the Nation’s Scorekeeper in terms of addressing severe weather/climate events. The NCDC tracks and evaluates climate events in the U.S. and globally that have great economic and societal impacts.
The U.S. has sustained 133 weather/climate disasters since 1980 where overall damages/costs reached or exceeded $1 billion – assuming Consumer Price Index (CPI) adjustment to 2012. 46 of these events occurred between 1980 and 1995 and 87 occurred between 1996 and 2011.
So in the latest 15 year period there were almost twice as many billion dollar plus extreme weather events as in the 15 year period preceding it. Global warming or not, extreme weather is becoming more and more common all over the world. Losses from these events pushed the cost of weather disasters in 2011 to an estimated $150 billion worldwide. In the US last year there were a record 14 events that caused a billion dollars in damage or more. That’s more than one a month!
Just a few days ago severe monsoon rains ravaged Sindh, Pakistan leaving 58 dead. On the same day tropical storm Leslie hammered New Foundland. There were recent widespread power outages in St. John’s and communities along the southeastern coast of the Avalon Peninsula. On September 8 violent thunderstorms left 4 dead on a sweep through Oklahoma.
And the beat goes on all over the world – every day, every week, every month – somewhere in the world extreme violent weather is happening, most of which doesn’t make the nightly news because it is so common any more. Tens of thousands were still in the dark in Lousiana and Mississippi days after Hurricane Isaac hit on the seventh anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Residents were stunned that a Category 1 hurricane could wreak so much havoc and have an estimated cost of $2 billion according to Bloomberg.com. It seems that even relatively small hurricanes can result in billions of dollars of damage.
Here is just a small sampling of weather events in June 2012:
• Wildfires blazed across 1.36 million acres of the U.S. during June, fed by antecedent drought conditions and unparalleled heat. Areas experiencing moderate to exceptional drought expanded from 37.4 percent in May to 56.0 percent in June to form the largest drought footprint of the decade, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Meanwhile, soaring temperatures produced the warmest 12-month period since the country’s record-keeping began in 1895.
• In Colorado, two significant wildfires claimed three lives. The Waldo Canyon Fire became the most destructive wildfire in that state’s history after consuming 346 homes, and resulted in two fatalities. The wildfire which charred over 18,200 acres and forced the evacuation of more than 32,000 residents, was estimated at $8.8 million U.S. dollars to contain. Media reported the preliminary property damages were in excess of $110 million U.S. dollars. Earlier in the month, one death amid loss of 259 homes was attributed to the High Park Fire which burned 87,284 acres and exceeded $39 million U.S. dollars in resources to bring under control.
• Torrential rains falling throughout much of June exacerbated existing conditions, and led to evacuations of nearly five million people in China. A flood assistance appeal from ACT Alliance, a humanitarian organization serving in China, attributed the devastation costs suffered from early May through mid-June at $2 billion U.S. dollars and as many as 67 deaths in addition to significant property losses.
• In Minnesota, an estimated $100 million U.S. dollars in damages to utilities, roads, bridges, parks and trails as flash floods ravaged the city of Duluth with 7.25 inches of precipitation falling over June 19th–20th, breaking the two-day record of nearly 6.7 inches set in 1909.
• Hail, wind, and flood damages were estimated at $2 billion U.S. dollars in the wake of two intense thunderstorms sweeping through Dallas, Texas, on June 13th.
• As a harbinger of the massive flooding to be brought by the tropical storm in the coming weeks, U.S. Gulf regions were saturated over June 9th–10th by near record-breaking rainfalls, resulting in damages in excess of $20 million U.S. dollars. Parts of southeastern Alabama and Florida’s panhandle were left under 5 feet of water after receiving rainfalls nearing 22 inches. The twenty-hour rainfall of 13.11 inches at Pensacola reached close to the city’s all-time record of 15.29 inches set in 1934. Tornadoes touched down in a couple of locations. Residents were evacuated to Red Cross shelters, roads were closed, power outages were widespread, and one person was killed in a riptide, according to media reports.
• A destructive thunderstorm complex (known as a derecho) moved from Illinois to Virginia on June 29th, leaving close to three million homes and businesses without power, and killing at least 18 people. Water restrictions were imposed in Maryland due to damages at water filtration facilities.
• Much of the continental U.S. sweltered under an extreme heat wave throughout June. According to NOAA’s NCDC Extremes archive, a total of 645 records were set for all-time hottest June temperatures. Also, 444 new daily maximum temperature records were either set or tied on the single day of June 29th, while 3,282 daily records were broken over the entire month. Unusually high temperatures persisted across the Central Plains near the end of the month. On June 28th, the daily temperature of 118°F at Norton Dam, Kansas, was the highest in the nation. This extreme broke the location’s all-time June record of 113°F, set just days before on June 25th, and exceeded its previous record of that date (104°F on June 28, 1963) by a 14-degree F increase).
And this is just a cursory sampling of weather events for the month of June 2012 which includes two $2 billion events and a couple of $100 million events! When you start adding it all up, pretty soon we’re talking about real money! Insured losses from weather disasters in 2011 totaled $36 billion.
According to Bill McKibben of 350.org, who also wrote the New York Times bestseller, Eaarth, the effects of global warming are not going to be delayed to some distant far off future. They are already here! Flooding occurs because the oceans and atmosphere are warmer, and so more water evaporates into the atmosphere. It’s logical then that more water – actual deluges – cause floods when it rains. As moisture in the atmosphere has increased, rainfall has intensified. And this is all because we’re pouring massive amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere on a daily basis.
A group of computer guys from MIT developed a sophisticated program that could tell you what the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere would be 100 years down the road based on amounts being injected into the atmosphere now. McKibben writes (p. 20): “Here’s what they found: if you took every government pledge made during the [2009 Copenhagen conference to limit CO2 emissions] and added it all together, the world in 2100 would have more than 725 parts per million carbon dioxide, or slightly double what scientists now believe is the maximum safe level of 350. Even if you took all the possible ‘conditional proposals, legislation under debate and unofficial government statements,’ – in other words, even if you erred on the side of insane optimism – the world in 2100 would have 600 parts per million carbon dioxide.” That means global, temperatures would go up by about seven degrees Fahrenheit. McKibben continues: ” That is, we’d live if not in hell, then in some place with a very similar temperature.”
In 2011 Dallas residents suffered through 71 days when temperatures were 100 degrees or higher. An exceptional heat wave in Europe in 2003 took at least 35,000 lives. Some form of drought was affecting 53.7 percent of the entire country as of Sept. 11, 2012, which is a new high. Climate change is pushing subtropical areas further north. Driven by a warmer-than-average June, the hottest ever July, and a warmer-than-average August, the summer of 2012 will go down in the history books as the third-warmest summer on record for the lower 48 states, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced recently. The nation’s second-warmest summer occurred just last year, and the only other summer that was warmer than the past two occurred during the Dust Bowl era of 1936. This summer was just two tenths of a degree cooler than the summer of 1936.
McKibben’s point is that THE EFFECTS OF GLOBAL WARMING ARE HERE RIGHT NOW.