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Monday, October 31, 2011

New charts needed for Russia and Texas heat waves

A few posts ago, I likened our planetary situation today to that of medieval mariners, sailing off the maps of the known world and into uncharted waters.  That simile is underlined by findings showing that that heat waves in Texas (2011) and Russia (2010) were literally off the charts.

For Russia, the money graph is in this Climate Progress article on the heat wave, showing July temperature anomalies in Moscow since 1950. Take a moment to look at it and grasp the way in which the information is displayed--I was shocked when I realized what it showed.  There's a pretty normal bell-shaped distribution around the average, although it clearly leans a bit toward the warm side, with several years there not having equivalents on the cool side.  But then comes 2010, standing by itself about 4 degrees F hotter than any other year.  As the article details, a recent paper from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) by Rahmstorf and Coumou concluded, based on statistical analysis, that there is an 80 percent chance that planetary warming contributed to this remarkable meteorological event, which may well have claimed more than 50,000 lives.

For the Texas heat wave, again Climate Progress has a good summary, including two graphs from Texas State Climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon that show the unprecedented nature of the summer of 2011 in the Lone Star State.  See the charts labeled "Texas Summers" (2011 all by itself, a la Moscow 2010, in a graphic of average temperatures and precipitation of past summers) and "Histogram of Texas August Temperatures."  They are from a blog article by Nielsen-Gammon entitled "Can You Spot the Outlier?," in which he comments: "The year 2011 continues the recent trend of being much warmer than the historical precipitation-temperature relationship would indicate, although with no previous points so dry it’s hard to say exactly what history would say about a summer such as this one.  Except that this summer is way beyond the previous envelope of summer temperature and precipitation." (emphasis mine)

Climate change skeptics and deniers are always arguing that climate scientists don't know everything about the planetary climate system, and of course, they're right. But the series of weather catastrophes that has occurred around the world over the last decade, and the unprecedented nature of those occurring more recently, should remind us: climate change skeptics and deniers know little if anything about the size of the risks that their what-me-worry approach to climate science entails. They are too busy "straining at gnats and swallowing camels"--poking minuscule holes in climate science while ignoring the enormity of the real-time weather events occurring all around us.

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