What do you get when you combine global warming, erratic weather and add it to a war on science and on the federal government?
Can you spell D-I-S-A-S-T-E-R?
The horrible storms sweeping across much of the United States in past days have escaped nobody’s notice. We have seen the deadliest rash of tornadoes in decades, 312 of them sweeping through nine U.S. states in a period of just 24 hours and killing over 300 people. We have seen the Mississippi flood with disastrous results, while to the West Texas suffers from a drought. There have been heavy rains in Tennessee (along the Ohio River) and elsewhere, including this writers own neighborhood.
Minnesota Public Radio reports that
NOAA’s preliminary estimate is that there were 362 tornadoes during the entire outbreak from 8:00 a.m. EDT April 25 to 8:00 a.m. April 28, 2011.
There were at least 350 people were killed during the entire outbreak during that same period. Overall this year we’ve already seen more than 1200 tornadoes kill nearly 500 people, making this the deadliest year since 1953.
According to global warming models, increased erratic weather is to be expected as temperatures rise.
Rosie O’Donnell created a buzz by asserting that global warming is causing the increased number of tornadoes:
It’s hard to find a reason that is not environmentally centered, that [doesn’t have] something to do with global warming or what the planet is going through. The amount of tornadoes…it’s like three times the highest amount ever before, right? Something weird is happening with all of these natural catastrophes.
This brought the expected scoffs from Fox Nation, proof positive that global warming is not the culprit, they imply:
Living in an era when pop culture celebrities can assert “expert” opinions on any subject, why wait for science to catch up with pesky facts?
If Rosie O’Donnell says global warming caused Joplin’s destruction, then it must be true, right? As Hollywood knows best, there’s no need for lab research, instant proclamations are good enough.
The conservative blogosphere is positively whacko over Rosie’s remarks. Google it and see.
The problem, however, is not Hollywood and science. Hollywood does science far better than conservatives, who have waged open war on science since President Bush’s first days in office. For FOX News to pretend to defend science is more than a little disingenuous – it’s downright hypocritical.
FOX Nation is also wrong, at least according to NASA. Back in 2007 – four years ago, mind you, NASA scientists developed a new climate model that predicted more violent severe storms and tornadoes would accompany Earth’s warming temperatures.
That would suggest at least the possibility that Rosie O’Donnell right, and FOX Nation wrong. It would seem at the very least that further investigation is in order.
More evidence in Rosie’s favor comes from a 2003 report by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), which reported that record extremes in weather occurring worldwide in that year, including a record month for tornadoes in the United States (562 May tornadoes beating the previous record of 399 for one month) were to be linked to climate change.
FOX News, on the other hand, is quick to point to Greg Carbin, the warning coordination meteorologist at NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma, who, they say,
[R]ejected claims by environmental activists that the outbreak of tornadoes ravaging the American South is related to climate change brought on by global warming.
Garbin says that “warming trends do create more of the fuel that tornadoes require, such as moisture, but that they also deprive tornadoes of another essential ingredient: wind shear.”
However, the 2007 model developed at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies disagrees, saying,
In the warmer climate simulation there is a small class of the most extreme storms with both strong updrafts and strong horizontal winds at higher levels that occur more often, and thus the model suggests that the most violent severe storms and tornadoes may become more common with warming.
Now obviously FOX News is happy to be able to quote a scientist arguing against global warming being an active agent in these storms, but two things come to mind: 1) Garbin treats Global Warming fact, not unlikely hypothesis; and 2) FOX News previously reported (2007) the NASA study discussed above but failed to mention anything about it in their discussion of the NOAA.
Former NASA scientist Roy Spencer, a critic of anthropogenic global warming (and a proponent of “intelligent design”), unsurprisingly argues against that NASA study, writing on his blog,
[T]here has been a downward trend in strong (F3) to violent (F5) tornadoes in the U.S. since statistics began in the 1950s… Obviously, the conclusion should be that warming causes fewer strong tornadoes, not more.
He quips that “maybe a lack of tornadoes causes global warming!” I would suggest a more likely answer is the collective lack of brain cells among conservatives. After all, it’s not liberals laying the blame at some deities’ feet.
Spencer goes on to offer the following quiz:
QUESTION: Out of the 25 deadliest tornadoes in U.S history, how many would you guess have occurred in the last 50 years (since 1960)?
…wait for it….
ANSWER: Up until a month ago, NONE of them.
Is that true? FOX News reports that,
For many, the high casualties of 2011 recalled the so-called “Super Outbreak” of April 1974, which killed more than 300 people. “You have to go back to 1974 to even see a tornado outbreak that approaches what we saw yesterday,” W. Craig Fugate, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), told Fox News.
So we must ask Mr. Spencer, what happened to 1974 tornadoes? How is it FEMA is aware of it and he is not? It is true that NOAA does not report this 1974 outbreak in their list of the 25 Deadliest U.S. Tornadoes (it should appear at #3 on their list).
Even more puzzling, http://www.publicaffairs.noaa.gov/storms/ reports of this 1974 outbreak,
It was the worst tornado outbreak in U.S. history with 148 twisters touching down in 13 states. Before it was over 16 hours later, 330 people were dead and 5,484 were injured in a damage path covering more than 2,500 miles.
“The worst tornado outbreak in U.S. history” they say! How does this get ignored elsewhere and in particular when making arguments that in the last 50 years the number of strong to violent tornadoes has declined?
We’re left with the fact of a warming planet.
The WMO also reports that 2000 to 2010 was the warmest decade on record. NASA says (and NOAA agrees) that 2005 and 2010 are tied for the hottest year. This might not prove anything beyond a warming planet, but the planet is warming, not cooling, and we have just had our worst outbreak of tornadoes since 1974. The Telegraph reports that James Hansen, the director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) says that the Earth’s temperature “has been above average for 34 consecutive years,” a period dating to just after 1974. Worse, “nine of the 10 warmest years since records began in the 19th century have all occurred since 2000.”
Yes, it’s possible Rosie O’Donnell is wrong. It’s possible NASA and the WMO are wrong. It’s possible the increased severe and erratic weather is not caused by global warming. It’s also possible they are. Given the severity of these storms does it make any sense for Republicans in Congress to cut funding to the NOAA (something FOX News neglects to mention in their report) and to abolish FEMA? Who is going to protect the citizens of the United States not only in the wake of storms (FEMA’s role) but warn us when storms are immanent (NOAA’s role)?
Republicans can attempt to legislate global warming out of existence but pretending it doesn’t exist won’t make it go away. Meanwhile, the American people will suffer, Republicans and Democrats alike, along with assorted Tea Partiers, libertarians and others. Not politics, skin color, or religion will save you when a tornado or other severe weather comes a’callin’. The laws of nature apply to us all equally, and we will all suffer alike.
Laughing at Rosie O’Donnell might be a fun pastime for conservatives but this is just more of the same: ad hominem attacks – that is directed not at the argument but at the person making it. It is hardly a constructive solution to the problems we face; laughing at Rosie O’Donnell will not avert deadly, erratic weather. If there is a possibility that global warming is responsible should we be laughing about it? It makes more sense to study climate change and our increasingly erratic weather so that we can understand it and adapt. And it makes sense to continue to spend money on federal agencies that protect us from severe weather, whatever its cause.
Photo Credit: NOAA
Climate Change and Health Diagram from World Health Organization