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Weather Events, Climate, and Climate Change

Tom Fletcher is wrong about climate change part FOUR

written by me, twitter-->@edwiebe, 2016-07-05

Another personal, emotional expression of climate change denial from Victoria-based writer Tom Fletcher has graced the free paper that comes uninvited to the front door. Today's topic is, "Heavy weather events aren't new".

My main Tom Fletcher is wrong about climate change index page.

My main Tom Fletcher is wrong about climate change page.

Fletcher's story this time is somewhat more heavy on anecdote than it is on anything else, so there really isn't that much to say about it. The basis of the piece, the particular straw that irritated his back, is an announcement from Premier Clark about the relative severity of storm-caused flooding near Dawson Creek, in the somewhat north but very eastern part of British Columbia.

Fletcher: "Floods happen," Clark told CTV News. "But not floods like this."

The CTV report, filed from Vancouver with dramatic video to show the worst in Dawson Creek, agreed with the premier's line: "The Peace region last rebuilt from significant flooding in 2011, but the damage was much worse in this latest case."

Wrong.

My comments this time are brief. Fletcher is right to point to the premier as someone who seems to be seeking political advantage from a particular weather event. Is this something new? I doubt it. Has politics ever been different? Discuss!

Next, Fletcher, charmingly, writes down a short list of personal anecdotes about travelling through storm damaged areas in 2011. Since, he appears to suggest, he saw damage in 2011 and previously on televison in 1983 this particular 2016 storm could not have been that bad. From the point of view of gauging the real size and impact of a storm, personal stories, when aggregated from a number of observers throughout the storm affected region, certainly have their place. They can help scientists with scattered instruments better understand what really happened. That's not what is being done by Fletcher, though. He has an entirely different point to make. We discover it at the very end of the story.

Fletcher: Heavy weather wasn’t a political issue in those days.

"Climate change" hadn’t been invented, so there was no motivation for politicians to rush to the scene and pronounce each disaster the worst one ever.

The quotes around climate change are Fletcher's. Why, we wonder does he feel the need to mark those words out like that. The implication is that climate change is not a real thing. Rather, it's presumably a made up term of art used by some kind of global cadre of scientists in collusion with politicians from 195 governments who all agree that this imaginary problem is going to win them even more power over their confused citizenry. Or something. It's truly as ludicrous as that so far as I can tell. I mean, can you imagine 195 governments agreeing on something? It must be fake.

Unfortunately for Fletcher we know that with the climate change we are already observing comes a change in the pattern of extreme events. What we know is that the distribution of likely weather events is shifting. Changes vary regionally but in general there is more moisture available in our warmer climate, and there will be more still in future climates. This means that storms, when they happen, are likely to be wetter and more damaging. So, Fletcher's headline, that "heavy weather events aren't new" is true. What he is neglecting to let his readers know is that future extreme weather is likely to be even more dramatic than what we are familier with now.

A simplified view for illustrative purposes of the way the distribution of temperature events is changing under anthropogenic climate change.

The IPCC AR5 Working Group One report has this to say:

Averaged over the mid-latitude land areas of the Northern Hemisphere, precipitation has likely increased since 1901 (medium confidence before and high confidence after 1951).

Link to Chapter 2.

On the subject of future projections of North American precipitation the picture is cloudy. Projections (IPCC AR5) suggest that summer precipitation in northern parts of the continent may be drier (consistent with a picture that shows the bell curve of observed precipitation events broadening but not necessarily moving to the right or the left). Winter is forecast to be wetter and summer drier. Where does this leave a storm like that observed early this past June? The heavy rain was caused by an interaction of a wet, warm air mass from the Gulf of Mexico with a slowly moving low pressure system over the affected part of the province. Where and when specifically this type of interaction actually takes place is a classic weather event. It may be that while these types of interactions occur at the same frequency over the same places they seem likely to involve larger amounts of water. Or, their frequency of occurence may change. Or the locations likely affected may move north with warming local climate. The key point is that extreme weather is changing for the worse in general. Weather events ride on top of the changing climate at all scales in the global system.

Some other tidbits that may be of interest

Local news reported flooding in Dawson Creek on 15 June, 2016 and specifically included a reference to the past flood of 2011.

Readers may be interested in this commentary from PCIC about the Alberta Flood of 2013. Similarities to the storm that flooded BC's northeast in 2011 are specifically mentiond.

In recent years there have been a number of large spring floods in the Rocky Mountains. In late June and early July, 2011 a storm similar to the one that affected Alberta impacted the more sparsely populated northeast of British Columbia.

...

We highlight this event, directed toward PCIC’s audience of British Columbians, because events like this have happened here recently and will happen here again. The dynamics of this storm were almost identical to that which led to flooding and infrastructure damage in June and July of 2011 in the Pine Pass/Chetwynd region of northeast BC. In that case, a similar slow-moving low pressure system brought moisture from the Gulf of Mexico against the front ranges of the northern Rocky Mountains leading to record breaking precipitation totals and flooding.

News from the CBC on the 2011 storm.

Climate Normals from Dawson Creek for the 1981-2010 climate period.

Weather Whiplash--Dry summer concerns farmers.

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