Is Australia the face of climate change to come? Extreme weather Down Under may foreshadow events on a global scale0 comments Posted by Jim at Saturday, May 25, 2013
By Matt Siegel
24 May 2013
(National Geographic News) – In early 2012 once-in-a-century floods submerged swaths of Great Britain and Ireland, causing some $1.52 billion in damages. Then in June record-high temperatures in Russia sparked wildfires that consumed 74 million acres of pristine Siberian taiga. Months after that, Hurricane Sandy pummeled seven countries, killing hundreds and running up an estimated $75 billion in damages. Just this week, a tornado of virtually unheard of size and ferocity tore through a small city in Oklahoma, leaving 24 people dead.
Each of these one-off traumas was bad enough, wreaking havoc, but in Australia such events seem to be becoming commonplace.
The Lucky Country has experienced a major spike in extreme weather in the past few years, with a string of devastating incidents just since January.
That has people wondering if the island continent is somehow a perfect bellwether for the Earth's changing climate. So scientists are bearing down on the problem with intensity, investigating Australia's increasingly violent weather patterns and trying to figure out what they might portend for the rest of the world as our climate changes.
The rough-hewn sandstone buildings perched atop Observatory Hill have been keeping an eye on Sydney Harbor since 1858. They've pretty much seen it all—from the installation of the city's first gaslights to the construction of the now iconic Sydney Opera House and Harbor Bridge.
But at 2:55 p.m. on 18 January 2013, meteorological equipment in the observatory registered something new: a read-out marking the hottest day in the city's history: 45.8°C (114.4°F).
Much of the continent was languishing in the grip of a heat wave that would break 123 heat and flood-related records in 90 days—among them, the hottest summer on record and the hottest seven consecutive days ever recorded.
At the time these statistical dramas, and their possible significance, paled against the imperative of not self-combusting on your walk from office to car.
At the Pink Roadhouse in the outback town of Oodnadatta—whose locals are legendary for the stoicism with which they have long dealt with living in Australia's hottest town—temperatures pushed so high that gasoline vaporized before it even made it into the fuel tank.
"The ground, the building, everything is so hot, you walk outside and you feel it's going to burn you," Lynnie Plate, the exhausted owner of the establishment, told a reporter at the time.
The national record of 50.7°C (123.2°F) set in Oodnadatta in January 1960 stayed intact, just barely.
Australians love their summer heat. They take particular joy in mocking British tourists for the magenta hue they often acquire after even a mild day at the beach.
Because winter and summer temperature variations aren't all that great in much of Australia, Aussies, unlike the Brits, are habitually accustomed to heat that might melt lesser mortals.
But when 8 of the 21 days in the last 102 years on which Australia averaged a high of more than 39°C (102°F) happened to occur in 2013, people weren't charmed.
The anomaly stood out. Numbers like those break through what climate scientists like David Jones, manager of climate monitoring prediction at the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, call the "signal to noise" ratio.
"One of the first places on the planet where the global warming signal is easy to discern is actually Australia, because of this low temperature variability," Jones said. "And that's exactly what we're seeing. The Australian warming trend is very clearly apparent in our records. It pops out quite quickly from the background noise of weather patterns."
But just what does that breaking through the noise tell us? Apparently, it says not to expect things to calm down any time soon. [more]
GENEVA, 13 MAY 2013 (IDMC) – In 2012, the Philippines had its highest level of disaster-induced displacement in five years. Some 3.9 million people were displaced. The Philippines is highly prone to frequent disasters and has recently had high levels of new displacement of at least one million people per annum.
These high levels of displacement were made up of multiple events. Peak periods for new displacement over the past four years include around September 2009 when Typhoon Pepeng and another large flood event together displaced over 1.2 million people. Displacement peaked in June and December 2012 due to massive floods and the Typhoon Bopha disaster.
Between June and September, severe and widespread flooding, strong winds, landslides, storm surges and flash floods displaced over 1.5 million people out of an affect- ed population of more than 4.4 million people (900,000 families). The impact of torrential and prolonged rain brought by the south-west monsoon was exacerbated by multiple typhoons – Saola (locally designated as Gener), Haikui, Kai-Tak, Tembin, and Bolaven – which added to repeated flooding and hampered recovery efforts.62 The government declared a state of calamity across regions of Luzon and in some parts of Mindanao and the Visayas.
Local authorities reported around 70 per cent of Metro Manila affected by flooding, with floodwaters in some areas as deep as three metres, worsened by a high tide and the release of dam waters in surrounding provinces. Low-lying areas were flooded after the La Mesa reservoir was breached. Homes in shanty towns, including in Quezon City, were hit by landslides. The vast majority of IDPs took refuge with relatives and friends. In addition, hundreds of thousands of people were evacuated to emergency shelters. Local authorities expected prolonged displacement of people from areas where floodwaters are historically known to recede slowly. At the end of August, 1.2 million people were taking refuge with families or friends and 431 centres were still providing shelter to 135,000 people.
Floods could overwhelm London as sea levels rise, unless Thames Barrier is upgraded – 1 in 20 chance that existing defences unable to cope with extreme storm surge0 comments Posted by Jim at Saturday, May 25, 2013
By Steve Connor, Science Editor
14 May 2013
(The Independent) – There is significant risk of London being hit by a devastating storm surge in the Thames estuary by 2100 that could breach existing flood defences and cause immense damage to the capital, a study of global sea-level rise has found.
Melting of polar ice sheets and mountain glaciers could increase sea levels significantly over the coming decades leading to a 1 in 20 risk that the existing Thames Barrier would be unable to cope with an extreme storm surge, the study concluded.
Extreme storm surges that can breach the barrier would in the past have occurred with a frequency of about 1 in 1,000 years, but in a warmer world they could occur as frequently as 1 in every 10 years, scientists said.
The increased threat posed by rising sea levels is one of the reasons why flood defences around the Thames estuary and the barrier itself will be strengthened.
An international panel of glaciologists and climate scientists said there is still huge uncertainty about how sea levels will change in the coming century as a result of climate change and its effect on polar ice sheets and mountain glaciers.
Their best estimate is that the melting ice on its own will contribute between 3.5cm and 36.8cm to mean sea levels, which would come on top of the rise in sea level due to other factors such as the thermal expansion of the warmer oceans.
However, there is a 1 in 20 risk of this being a wild underestimate and that melting polar ice and mountain glaciers alone would contribute more than 84cm to global sea level, which would lead to rises of about a metre around Britain if other factors are taken into account, they said.
"The Thames Barrier was built to provide London with a level of protection that would only be exceeded in about 1 in every 1,000 years. So in any one year the likelihood of exceeding this is about 0.1 per cent," said Professor David Vaughan of the British Antarctic Survey.
"With 50cm of sea level rise we would expect that level of protection to go down from 1 in 1,000 years to about 1 in 100 years, so under that scenario in every year there would be a 1 per cent chance of flooding. If you have a metre rise you go down from 1 in 1,000 years to 1 in 10 years," Professor Vaughan said.
These estimates are based on existing "business as usual" emissions of carbon dioxide, leading to about a 3.5C rise in mean global temperature by 2100. Greater emissions would lead to higher temperatures and faster melting, the scientists said. […]
The scientists carried out "expert elicitation" among themselves to take into account the unknowns that their computer models were unable to include, Professor Vaughan said.
"That has come up with this number: there is less than a 1 in 20 risk of ice sheets and glaciers contributing more than 84cms to sea level rise by 2100. That is trying to capture those climate processes that we suspect are important yet are not fully included in existing models," he said. [more]
Record rainfall causes severe flooding in San Antonio, Texas – ‘We ask San Antonians to please stay off the roads and stay at home’0 comments Posted by Jim at Saturday, May 25, 2013
25 May 2013 (CNN) – Flooding has left one person dead and another missing in San Antonio, Texas, authorities said Saturday.
The fatality occurred when a woman was swept from her vehicle, fire department spokesman Christian Bove told CNN. Her body was found along a creek, he said.
Bove said the department has been involved in at least 100 rescues since the flooding started.
"Our phone hasn't stopped ringing from early this morning," he added.
Torrential rains overnight continued into the morning, triggering flash flood warnings across South Texas.
On Saturday afternoon, San Antonio and Austin were under flash flood warnings and flood watches and warnings, CNN meteorologists said.
San Antonio International Airport received 9.57 inches of rain during Saturday morning alone, the meteorologists said.
Flood levels on the San Antonio River reached a new record Saturday at Loop 410 when water rose to 34.2 feet at 10 a.m. (11 a.m. ET) Saturday, said the National Weather Service in Austin/San Antonio. The previous record was 32.57 feet on October 17, 1998, the service said. [more]
25 May 2013 (My San Antonio) – Heavy rain is expected to continue Saturday with reports of flash flooding and road closures throughout Bexar County. The National Weather Service has extended the flash flood warning for Bexar and surrounding counties until 3:30 p.m. […]
Mayor Julian Castro is urging San Antonians to stay home as more rain is still possible.
“Despite a break in the rain, many roads throughout the city continue to be impassable and dangerous,” Castro said. “We ask San Antonians to please stay off the roads and stay at home, if at all possible. Just because it's not raining at the moment, does not mean that the threat has passed. If you must drive, observe all low-water crossings and use common sense.” [more]
22 May 2013 (Takepart.com) – Ignorance may be bliss, but bliss also leads to ignorance—at least when it comes to climate change.
New research found that when people have positive feelings toward climate change, such as hopefulness or excitement, they are more likely to avoid seeking information about it. Those who felt concerned, anxious or depressed about the topic, on the other hand, were more likely to seek information about it, new research shows.
The study, published recently in the journal Science Communication, surveyed 736 undergraduate students. After asking them how they felt about the topic, the study then looked to see how likely they were to seek and gather more knowledge about it, said study author Janet Yang, a researcher at the State University of New York at Buffalo.
While 63 percent of Americans believe that global warming is happening, 16 percent say they don't think that it is, according to the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication. The rest are undecided.
Most people—51 percent—also say they don't think global warming is caused by people, or don't know, according to a Pew Research Center Survey. In other words, they do not know that manmade carbon dioxide is increasing worldwide temperatures, the conclusion reached by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
The most surprising result to Yang was that she uncovered a social "norm" to engage in information avoidance—if a person thought their peers were more likely to avoid information on the topic, then they were more likely to avoid information on it as well. Typically, as is the case with other environmental issues, social norms—what you believe other people want you to do—lead people to seek more information, not less, Yang said.
"If you believe people think you should know more, you are more likely to seek out information," she said.
In this case, if a person spends time with others who avoid information about climate change, then they are more likely to do the same, she said.
The research suggests that when trying to inform people or get them to care about and do something regarding global warming, it may be useful to stir up some kind of emotional response.
"Stirring up emotion and using more visual story-telling—based on the study I think that'd be effective at getting people to seek more information," she said. "We need to deliver a sense of urgency that can effectively stimulate emotional responses to this issue among the audience," the authors continued in the paper. [more]
Contact the UNISDR press office:
Denis McClean: +41-79-444-5262 (mobile)
Maria Hasan: +1-917-367-72070 or +1-917-856-2014 (mobile)
Andrew McElroy: +41-79-217-3023 (mobile)
NEW YORK, 15 May 2013 – The United Nations today issued a stark warning to the world's business community that economic losses linked to disasters are "out of control" and will continue to escalate unless disaster risk management becomes a core part of business investment strategies.
UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, said: "We have carried out a thorough review of disaster losses at national level and it is clear that direct losses from floods, earthquakes and drought have been under-estimated by at least 50%. So far this century, direct losses from disasters are in the range of $2.5 trillion.
"Economic losses from disasters are out of control and can only be reduced in partnership with the private sector which is responsible for 70% to 85% of all investment worldwide in new buildings, industry and small to medium sized enterprises. The principles of disaster risk reduction must be taught at business schools and become part of the investor's mind-set."
The UN Secretary-General was speaking today at the launch of a ground-breaking new report from the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) which is built on important new data sets including reviews of national disaster loss data bases in 40 countries, survey responses from 1,300 SMEs in disaster-prone locations in the Americas, and a review of risk management in 14 major corporations including ABB, ARUP, BG Group, Citigroup, General Electric, HCC Group, HIRCO Group, Hitachi Group, InterContinental Hotels Group, Nestlé, NTT East Corporation, Roche, Shapoorhi Pallonji & Co. Ltd., and Walmart.
The UNISDR 2013 Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction (GAR13): Creating Shared Value: the Business Case for Disaster Risk Reduction [pdf] highlights how the transformation of the global economy over the last 40 years has led to rapid increases in disaster risk in low, medium and high income countries.
A new global risk model developed by UNISDR and partners, demonstrates that annual average losses from just earthquakes and cyclonic winds can be expected to be in the range of $180 billion this century. The report makes a strong case that globalization, the search for lower costs, higher productivity, and just-in-time delivery are driving business into hazard-prone locations with little or no consideration of the consequences on global supply chains.
UNISDR Chief, Margareta Wahlström, speaking also at today's launch said: "In a world of on-going population growth, rapid urbanization, climate change and an approach to investment that continually discounts disaster risk, this increased potential for future losses is of major concern.
"In the wake of the global financial crisis, disaster risk stands as a new multi-trillion dollar class of toxic assets of unrealized liabilities. The catastrophic economic losses from the Japan earthquake/ tsunami, floods in Thailand and the destructive Super Storm Sandy show clearly the extent of what is at stake."
GAR2013 analyses three key global investment sectors -- urban development, agribusiness, and coastal tourism -- and reveals that prevailing business models in each sector continue to drive disaster risk.
The UNISDR teamed with PwC to conduct some of the research and analysis for the report.
Mr. Oz Ozturk, PwC partner and the firm's global leader for the UNISDR initiative, said: "Working with some of the world's leading businesses, we have been able to identify critical elements for good practice in reducing risks posed by natural disasters. It is clear from our discussions that senior executives are increasingly aware of the vulnerability of their businesses to disasters and are beginning to prioritize the strengthening of their risk management. For the private sector, the business case for stronger disaster risk management is clear: it reduces uncertainty and builds confidence, cuts costs and creates value."
The report also identifies encouraging signs of change. Public-private partnerships in risk management have proven their worth during several disasters, including the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes in Christchurch, New Zealand.
GAR2013 surveys 1,300 small and medium-sized businesses in six disaster-prone cities in the Americas and finds that three-quarters have suffered business disruptions related to damaged or destroyed power, telecommunications and water utilities demonstrating the inter-dependence between the private and public sectors when it comes to disaster risk management. Yet only a minority of the companies surveyed -- 14.2 percent in the case of companies with fewer than 100 employees -- had even a basic approach to crisis management in the form of business continuity planning.
Ms. Wahlström said: "The beginnings of changing attitudes in the private sector now need to transform into a more systematic approach to disaster risk management in partnership with the public sector to make the world a safer place.
"As we approach 2015 international efforts are intensifying to formulate a new framework for disaster risk reduction to replace the current Hyogo agreement. Ensuring that the business case for disaster risk reduction is explicitly included in that framework will provide a critical incentive for the constructive engagement by business on which future resilience, competitiveness and sustainability depend."
Florida manatees dying in record numbers – 11 percent of total population died in January-May 2013 period0 comments Posted by Jim at Friday, May 24, 2013
By Jennifer Mishler
23 May 2013
(Sea Shepherd Jacksonville) – Manatees are beloved here in Florida, and we saw just how much at this year’s Manatee Festival in Crystal River raising awareness about the endangered animals. Aside from their lovable nature, manatees are important to the marine ecosystem as grazers of seagrass and other vegetation. However, the manatees that call Floridian waters home are facing serious and imminent threats.
Due to their declining numbers, protections have been established for them. The Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act of 1978, the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 and the Endangered Species Act of 1973 protect manatees under both state and federal law. Under these protections, it is illegal to harass, hunt capture or kill them in the United States, but they continue to face other threats including boat collisions, loss of habitat, pollution, fishing lines/nets and an annual toxic algae bloom known as red tide named after the color change it creates underwater.
Although many algal blooms are not harmful and actually provide a large amount of food for oceanic life, some algae grow excessively depleting oxygen in the water and produce toxins harmful to marine life, ecosystems, as well as humans. Red tide produces brevetoxin, a nerve poison which marine mammals consume when they eat plants such as seagrass, other marine life that have ingested the toxin, or when they ingest the algae itself. Brevetoxins can also be harmful to humans through the consumption of shellfish or if the toxin becomes airborne.
Prior to 2013, red tide was responsible for the mortality of a record 151 manatees in 1996, but this year combined causes of death have taken a much larger toll on the manatee population. According to a report from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission [pdf], 585 manatees have died as of 2 May 2013 [607 as of 17 May 2013] – that’s approximately 11 percent of their total population! Some ill manatees have been found and are being rehabilitated at various facilities.
While red tide is killing manatees on Florida’s southwest coast, their population is also being threatened by unexplained deaths on the eastern coast of the state, which some experts believe is due to the manatees consuming algae in place of their usual seagrass that has been dying off.
The struggling manatees recently caught a break when Florida passed HB999, an amendment to a bill to create environmental regulation such as enforce local fertilizer ordinances and wetlands regulation (as one possible cause of algal blooms is runoff from agricultural and industrial operations). With summer quickly approaching, the manatees face yet another threat in an increased number of boaters.
On top of everything else, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is considering changing the status of manatees, one of the first species listed as endangered after the passing of the Endangered Species Act, from endangered to threatened. As manatees are still facing severe threats and 2013 has been a record-breaking year for manatee deaths, we are urging that they continue to be protected on federal, state and local levels.
CALL TO ACTION!
The manatees desperately need our support on a national level, here’s what you can do to help the manatees of Florida:
1. Contact the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service using the contact information below and ask that the manatee continue to be a protected species listed as endangered on the federal Endangered Species List, and to protect manatee habitats.
Chief, Division of Conservation and Classification: Gina Shultz - 703-358-2171
Chief, Office of Communication and Candidate Conservation: Jim Serfis - 703-358-2171
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Endangered Species Program
4401 N. Fairfax Drive, Room 420
Arlington, VA 22203
2. Get familiar with the boating guidelines for manatee protection and always USE CAUTION. Above all, keep out of areas designated as “NO ENTRY - MANATEE REFUGE.”
If you happen to accidentally run into a manatee with your boat (please don’t flee) or find an injured, ill or dead manatee, please report the sighting immediately! Use the contact information here:
Wildlife Alert number: 1-888-404-FWCC (3922)
Cellular phone *FWC or #FWC
VHF Channel 16 on your marine radio if you see a manatee being harassed or an injured, dead, tagged, or orphaned manatee,
Please be respectful of manatees - DO NOT TOUCH, FEED, FOLLOW, OR HARASS MANATEES IF YOU SEE THEM!
3. Spread the word, awareness can create change. Please share this with friends and family concerned about the wellbeing of our nation’s animals, especially those residing in Florida.
4. Participate in a beach cleanup, organize your own, or connect with Sea Shepherd Jacksonville on Facebook for upcoming beach cleanup events.
Florida’s Manatees are Dying in Record Numbers
Delaware’s Sussex county declines to vote on proposed sea-level rise responses – Republican council member says climate scientists ‘Have no facts … no science. It’s almost B.S., to be honest with you.’0 comments Posted by Jim at Friday, May 24, 2013
By Jeff Montgomery
24 May 2013
(The News Journal) – In a symbolic blow to state climate change adaption efforts, the Delaware county with most at stake in future sea-level rise forecasts abruptly declined to take any stand on the issue Thursday as a state panel approved dozens of recommendations for dealing with the threat.
Jeff Shockley, Sussex County delegate to the state’s Sea Level Rise Advisory Committee, said local officials instructed him to abstain from voting on any of the roughly 60 options developed by the group over a 2½-year period. That move followed a skeptical response to the state effort by some County Council members during a briefing in Georgetown this month.
Despite the county abstentions, committee members completed recommendations that will go to Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control Secretary Collin P. O’Mara after a final report-signing meeting in August.
The options range from broad directions to improve coordination among federal, state, county and local agencies and include sea-level rise in growth plans to a call for expanded public education and better collection of data on climate change indicators and sea-level changes.
Hours later, Delaware’s congressional delegation announced $20 million in National Science Foundation grants for science education and research at four Delaware higher education centers, emphasizing the effect of sea-level rise and soil contamination consequences.
“This is another good step in understanding how the changing climate and human impacts on the land affect our environment now and for many years to come,” Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., said in a statement.
Renewable energy technologies, such as offshore wind, and workforce development also will be targeted in the research, along with the development of new sensors for environmental monitoring. The grants will support collaborations involving the University of Delaware, Delaware State University, Wesley College and Delaware Technical Community College.
O’Mara commissioned a study in 2010 of the state’s vulnerability to climate change and adaptation options. The initiative followed a court ruling that DNREC lacked authority to consider sea-level rise in the denial of a wastewater permit in a flood-prone area near Leipsic and the Delaware Bay.
The vulnerability report, released last year, was based on a projected 3- to 5-foot rise in sea levels if pollution-driven climate change continues, a prospect that would permanently flood 11 percent of the state’s land area by 2100, from Wilmington to Fenwick Island.
Some 20,000 dwellings, nearly all of the state’s tidal wetlands, whole bayside communities as well as roads, important public resources and some industrial areas could face permanent inundation, according to predictions based on national and international studies. Sussex County, with its heavy ocean and bayside development, would be hit hardest.
Chip Guy, spokesman for Sussex County, said afterward the county government was nevertheless unprepared to vote on the options Thursday and could not provide an estimate for when it would be prepared to vote.
“While there may be individual concerns among some members of council, the body as a whole has not taken a position,” Guy said. “Because of the scope and number of recommendations being made, the county needs more time to thoroughly review those options being discussed and voted on.”
O’Mara issued a statement Thursday night in response to the county’s decision.
“The science is extremely compelling and we have many vulnerabilities that need to be addressed in the years ahead,” he said. “We look forward to continuing to work with Sussex County to help improve community resiliency to extreme storms and sea-level rise to prevent millions of dollars in future damage to infrastructure, private property and businesses.”
Until Thursday, Shockley had been an active participant, attending public comment sessions held in each county as the group’s recommendations began to take shape. Guy said Thursday the council received a presentation on the recommendations earlier this month and “simply wants more time to digest and review the vast number of recommendations made by the committee.”
In a recording of that council briefing earlier this month, some members were plainly skeptical of the risk and questioned DNREC’s success in bringing landowners into the process. Council member Sam Wilson, R-Georgetown, said those predicting sea-level rise “have no facts … no science. It’s almost B.S., to be honest with you.” [more]
Colorado state climatologist says the High Park Fire gave him the courage to talk about climate change – ‘I have feared persecution at times in the past. I don’t fear it now.’0 comments Posted by Jim at Friday, May 24, 2013
By Bobby Magill
23 May 2013
(The Coloradoan) – Nolan Doesken used to have a hard time talking about climate change.
The topic has become so politically combustible that some scientists and researchers find it difficult to speak of or write about.
But, after the High Park Fire swept the foothills in 2012, Doesken decided to talk more openly about the reasons behind Colorado’s changing weather when talking to the agriculture community.
Doesken, Colorado’s state climatologist based at Colorado State University, said Tuesday that he never really feared talking about climate change, but it gave him pause.
Part of Doesken’s job is to deliver the news to Colorado’s worried farmers, ranchers and water managers — among the biggest skeptics of climate change — about how the weather conditions they’re experiencing today fit in with history and what that means for water planning and crop planting now and in the future.
“We love Nolan — he’s one of the best people out there in terms of making weather understandable to the average person,” said Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District spokesman Brian Werner. “He’s the guy I generally trust.”
Before the 2012 drought, Doesken rarely included many of his thoughts on human-caused climate change in his drought and water reports to Colorado’s agriculture and water communities.
“Some folks in my position have experienced certain amounts of persecution for speaking out boldly one way or the other,” Doesken said. “I have feared that at times in the past. I don’t fear it now.”
The future, Doesken often says, is full of uncertainty — variability in the weather will trend to the more extremes, with drier dry years and wetter wet years, sometimes back-to-back.
“What has come out of my mouth has never been driven by a fear of what somebody was going to say or do as a result,” he said. “It’s mostly been me thinking my way through a challenging subject, which is a polarizing topic that I want to communicate as clearly and understandably as possible without an agenda.”
The High Park Fire began to change how he talks about climate change, a story he told to a national audience for last weekend’s “This American Life” episode, which aired on radio stations across the country.
The High Park Fire happened during a summer that was so dry, combustible and out of sorts with the last 125 years of recordkeeping in Fort Collins that it made all the evidence about anthropogenic — human-caused — climate change snap into clear focus.
Last summer, Doesken faced the challenge of explaining to the public what was behind an extraordinarily dry year that immediately followed an extraordinarily wet year.
“We didn’t have a good precedent going from so water rich to so water poor,” Doesken said Tuesday. “2012 gave us an example that we lived and experienced and, to varying degrees, suffered through — a year that could well be a common kind of year several decades from now.”
Climatologists’ computer models suggested that, statistically, humans’ carbon emissions fueling climate change would eventually bring about an extreme drought year like 2012, Doesken said.
When 2012 and its withered crops and unprecedented wildfires arrived, it made those climate models all the more real, all the more tangible, he said.
The High Park Fire burned hundreds of homes and contributed to the death of a local teen working on an irrigation ditch that was being used because the Poudre River was too full of ash to use to water crops.
The human toll of the fire and its aftermath hit Doesken — and all of Larimer County — hard.
“Last year was the time I felt like what I could say (about climate change) might be understood,” he said.
This is what Doesken tells farmers today:
If climate models showing humans’ carbon emissions are warming the planet are even close to correct, the 2012 drought was a perfect local example of the kinds of weather extremes that are likely to become commonplace just a few decades from now, he said.
2012, he said, will be a typical year in the future, and farmers will have to deal with wide variability in conditions — an extremely wet year followed by an extremely dry year or two, for example.
“The life of a farmer is made most difficult by extreme variability,” he said. “Climate is so variable, it’s hard to see change. That’s also the face of climate change.” [more]