Thursday, June 16, 2011

393. Scientists Predict More Deadly Weather Due to Global Warming

In the U.S., tornados and flood have caused
$32 billions in damages this year
By John Broder, The New York Times, June 15, 2011

WASHINGTON — The United States experienced some of the most extreme weather events in its history this spring, including deadly outbreaks of tornadoes, near-record flooding, drought and wildfires.

Damages from these disasters have already passed $32 billion, and the hurricane season, which is just beginning, is projected to be above average, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Government scientists said Wednesday that the frequency of extreme weather has increased over the past two decades, in part as a result of global warming caused by the accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
But they were careful not to blame humans for this year’s rash of deadly events, saying that in some ways weather patterns were returning to those seen at the beginning of the last century.
“Looking at long-term patterns since 1980, indeed, extreme climatological and meteorological events have increased,” said Thomas R. Karl, director of NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center. “But in the early part of the 20th century, there was also a tendency for more extreme events followed by a quiet couple of decades.”
Presenting a new NOAA report on 2011 extreme weather, Dr. Karl said that extremes of precipitation have increased as the planet warms and more water evaporates from the oceans. He also said models suggest that as carbon dioxide builds up in the atmosphere and heats the planet, droughts will increase in frequency and intensity.
“But it is difficult and unlikely to discern a human fingerprint, if there is one, on the drought record of the United States,” he said.
Some other climate scientists were more categorical about the human contribution to extreme climate events.
Kevin Trenberth, distinguished senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, a university-sponsored institute in Boulder, Colo., said that when the greenhouse effect caused by burning fossil fuels is added to the natural variability of climate, weather disasters can be expected to occur more frequently.
“Global warming is contributing to an increased incidence of extreme weather because the environment in which all storms form has changed from human activities,” Dr. Trenberth said in a telephone interview Wednesday. “Records are not just broken, they are smashed. It is as clear a warning as we are going to get about prospects for the future.”
April was a particularly devastating month for tornadoes and rainfall, with 875 tornadoes reported during the month and heavy rain and snowmelt contributing to Mississippi River flooding later in the spring that surpassed the historic floods of 1927 and 1937, NOAA reported.
So far this year, there have been nearly 1,400 preliminary tornado reports nationwide; those reports will most likely be whittled down to about 900 confirmed tornadoes, the second-highest annual total recorded in modern times. The record is 1,011 confirmed tornadoes in 2008.
The year also is on track to be one of the deadliest, with 536 fatalities so far from tornadoes, placing 2011 in sixth place in United States history and the deadliest since 1936, NOAA reported.

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