Sunday, October 3, 2010

Climate change in Minnesota

Minnesotans are rightly ambivalent about any change that promises long-term warming.  Winter comes early and stays.  And it can get bitterly cold--I have seen -35°F (-37°C) temperatures and the record for the state is -60°F (-51°C).  That folks, is COLD!

Since I got out of college in the 1970s, winters have gotten a lot milder and shorter by about five weeks.  That is a change that makes cars last longer, lowers heating bills significantly, and lessens the need for warm clothes.  Hard not to like such developments.  Except for two critical things; 1) We are seeing new insects--most are harmless additions to the food supply for the birds but if we ever get warm enough so that termites can survive our winters, our nearly all-wooden housing stock is doomed, and 2) We already had very violent storms and climate change is making them much worse.

Ten days ago, we were hit by a rainstorm that offers a glimpse of how bad these new storms will be.
Heavy Rainfall - September 22-23, 2010
The largest flood event to hit southern Minnesota since the flood of August 18-20, 2007 began along a sluggish warm front draped across southern Minnesota. Wave after wave of heavy thunderstorms marched to the east along this front across the southern three tiers of Minnesota counties.
Radar images of the rainstorm
The most intense rains began in the early afternoon of September 22 and tapered off during the evening of September 23. Over four inches of rain fell in nearly all southern Minnesota communities. Six or more inches of rain fell in numerous locales. The highest two-day rainfall total reported to the MNGage volunteer network was 11.06 inches near Winnebago in Faribault County. The official National Weather Service observer at Amboy in Blue Earth County reported 10.68 inches for the event (including 9.48 inches for the 24-hour period ending 3:00 PM, September 23). Other higher amounts include 10.20 inches at Truman in Martin County, 9.26 inches at Windom in Cottonwood County, and 8.57 inches at Theilman in Wabasha County. more
Minnesota River: All time flood record...In September!
Posted at 8:20 AM on September 28, 2010 by Paul Huttner
They don't teach this stuff in meteorology school.
Record floods are supposed to happen in April in Minnesota.
The Minnesota River surpassed the all time flood of record today at Henderson, southwest of the Twin Cities. The river level reached 739.83 feet today. That's above the previous flood of record of 739.65 feet set back on April 11th 1965. more
So we just had a flood caused by a heavy rain one night in September that broke a record for a spring run-off from one of the snowiest winters ever.  I have been out taking pictures of this monster flood (October 1-2).  Here is the Minnesota River from the air--it is about 10 times wider than normal.  The normal channel is 2/3 the way up the picture from the bottom.

Only the top half of this stairway in Chaska is still above water
Interstate 169 is flooded under the bridge
The road into Le Seuer MN
The Minnesota River at Chaska--quite impressive for a small river, huh?
This kind of weather event is probably the new "normal."  And the floods in Pakistan this summer are a reminder that these sorts of events can do significant damage even though they are tiny as meteorological events go.  Pakistan lost around 400 bridges, 6 million people became homeless, and 40 years of economic development were undone--all from a single very large rainfall.

So are we getting serious about climate change in USA?  Are you kidding me?  A guy over at Dailykos found some recent political statement about this grave problem and matched them against the scientific statements.  I'll give a brief taste but his whole essay can be found here.
On climate change, it's the Republicans versus reality 
by Laurence Lewis
Sun Sep 26, 2010 at 06:00:53 PM CDT
The Wonk Room at Think Progress has been taking a look at Republican Senate candidates on the issue of climate change, and it should come as no surprise that when it comes to Republicans and science, never the twain shall meet.
A comprehensive Wonk Room survey of the Republican candidates for the U.S. Senate finds that nearly all dispute the scientific consensus that the United States must act to fight global warming pollution. In May, 2010, the National Academies of Science reported to Congress that "the U.S. should act now to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and develop a national strategy to adapt to the inevitable impacts of climate change" because global warming is "caused largely by human activities, and poses significant risks for — and in many cases is already affecting — a broad range of human and natural systems."
This finding is shared by scientific bodies around the world. However, in the alternate reality of the fossil-fueled right wing, climate science is confused or a conspiracy, and policies to limit pollution would destroy the economy.
Remarkably, of the dozens of Republicans vying for the 37 Senate seats in the 2010 election, only one — Rep. Mike Castle of Delaware — supports climate action. Even former climate advocates Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and Rep. Mark Kirk (R-IL) now toe the science-doubting party line. If Castle loses his primary on Tuesday to Tea Party candidate Christine O’Donnell, the GOP slate will be unanimous in opposition to a green economy.
Castle, of course, was teabagged out his race, leaving the Republicans in unanimous opposition to reality. The Wonk Room's Brad Johnson has compiled the statements of GOP Senate nominees, so for those that care about the actual science of scientific issues, let's compare some of those statements with those of actual scientists.
Sharron Angle, Republican Senate nominee from Nevada:
I don't, however, buy into the whole ... man-caused global warming, man-caused climate change mantra of the left. I believe that there's not sound science to back that up.
The National Academy of Sciences:
As part of its most comprehensive study of climate change to date, the National Research Council today issued three reports emphasizing why the U.S. should act now to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and develop a national strategy to adapt to the inevitable impacts of climate change. The reports by the Research Council, the operating arm of the National Academy of Sciences and National Academy of Engineering, are part of a congressionally requested suite of five studies known as America's Climate Choices....
The compelling case that climate change is occurring and is caused in large part by human activities is based on a strong, credible body of evidence, says Advancing the Science of Climate Change, one of the new reports. While noting that there is always more to learn and that the scientific process is never "closed," the report emphasizes that multiple lines of evidence support scientific understanding of climate change. The core phenomenon, scientific questions, and hypotheses have been examined thoroughly and have stood firm in the face of serious debate and careful evaluation of alternative explanations.
"Climate change is occurring, is caused largely by human activities, and poses significant risks for — and in many cases is already affecting — a broad range of human and natural systems," the report concludes. It calls for a new era of climate change science where an emphasis is placed on "fundamental, use-inspired" research, which not only improves understanding of the causes and consequences of climate change but also is useful to decision makers at the local, regional, national, and international levels acting to limit and adapt to climate change. Seven cross-cutting research themes are identified to support this more comprehensive and integrative scientific enterprise.
Ken Buck, Republican Senate nominee from Colorado:
I’ll tell you, I have looked at global warming, now climate change, from both sides. While I think the earth is warming, I don’t think that man-made causes are the primary factor. I am one of those people that Al Gore refers to as a skeptic.
The American Geophysical Union:
The Earth's climate is now clearly out of balance and is warming. Many components of the climate system-including the temperatures of the atmosphere, land and ocean, the extent of sea ice and mountain glaciers, the sea level, the distribution of precipitation, and the length of seasons-are now changing at rates and in patterns that are not natural and are best explained by the increased atmospheric abundances of greenhouse gases and aerosols generated by human activity during the 20th century. Global average surface temperatures increased on average by about 0.6¡C over the period 1956-2006. As of 2006, eleven of the previous twelve years were warmer than any others since 1850. The observed rapid retreat of Arctic sea ice is expected to continue and lead to the disappearance of summertime ice within this century. Evidence from most oceans and all continents except Antarctica shows warming attributable to human activities.
Linda McMahon, Republican Senate nominee from Connecticut:
I think there's evidence to the positive and to the contrary about global warming.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration:
The 2009 State of the Climate report released today draws on data for 10 key climate indicators that all point to the same finding: the scientific evidence that our world is warming is unmistakable. More than 300 scientists from 160 research groups in 48 countries contributed to the report, which confirms that the past decade was the warmest on record and that the Earth has been growing warmer over the last 50 years. more
Anyway, I have been worried about this subject since 1988 when Jim Hansen of NASA first testified before congress.  I wrote about it on this very blog on JUN 15, 2010.  So while global warming is making it easier to heat the house in January, I believe it is the greatest threat to the human race since the A-bomb.

It is also the biggest chance to redesign the global economy in our lifetimes so like a Minnesotan looking at a lower January heating bill, climate change could be a blessing in disguise IF we seize the opportunity it offers to redesign the way we live on this earth.

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