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California Megastorm sign of Catastrophic Climate Chaos Cliff?

November 30th, 2012 · No Comments

Several days ago, my email burned with a weather notice from a Republican that I do pay serious attention to: Republican meteorologist Paul Douglas. This email was a weather alert:

Midday Update. The major storm we’ve been tracking for northern California and Oregon is still on track, several waves of very heavy rain (and mountain snow) impacting the west coast from tonight into the middle of next week. Significant flooding is still expected in the San Francisco Bay area and Sacramento, …

72 Hour Precipitation Forecast. Keep in mind this is in inches of rain. For the Sierra Nevada range just east of Chicago, 16-20” of liquid translates into 150-200” of snow, over a 3-4 day period, meaning impassable roads and a severe avalanche threat. For the valleys on either side of I-5 north of Sacramento it means a very significant risk of flash flooding and river flooding. I’m most concerned about facilities in far northern California and Oregon, especially near Medford.

Again, the San Francisco Bay area and Sacramento may see serious flooding from this storm, but the worst conditions will be just north, Marin County – Santa Rosa to Redding and Chico, where flooding may close roads and strand some smaller towns in the area.

My reaction to Paul:

Sort of, ‘Oh sh–!!!!!’

Do you know anything about climate change impacts on this storm?

Minor item, “Sierra Nevada range just east of Chicago”? Not sure that is what you mean (you aren’t referring to Port Chicago …) Am I missing something?

Okay, “Oh, sh–!!!!” reigns as I have concern — yet again — for serious weather impacts on fellow Americans and hope that the damage will not be too serious.

I had a LOL as the reaction, “Ugh. Chico. Chicago. Hey, I was within 1,500 miles!”

And, well, the response on climate change impacts came not from Paul but Scientific American which rushed into public access Megastorms Could Drown Massive Portions of California

Huge flows of vapor in the atmosphere, dubbed “atmospheric rivers,” have unleashed massive floods every 200 years, and climate change could bring more of them

This article laid out a massive 1861-62 flood event in California that, in my historical studies, was overshadowed by a minor little series of events associated with Fort Sumter, Bull Run, and …

intense rainstorms sweeping in from the Pacific Ocean began to pound central California on Christmas Eve in 1861 and continued virtually unabated for 43 days. The deluges quickly transformed rivers running down from the Sierra Nevada mountains along the state’s eastern border into raging torrents that swept away entire communities and mining settlements.

This storm killed 1000s of people and 100,000s of cattle. The article lays out that such a storm, nowadays, could put millions of lives at risk and $10s of billions of infrastructure.

Was the 1861–62 flood a freak event? It appears not. New studies of sediment deposits in widespread locations indicate that cataclysmic floods of this magnitude have inundated California every two centuries or so for at least the past two millennia. The 1861–62 storms also pummeled the coastline from northern Mexico and southern California up to British Columbia, creating the worst floods in recorded history. Climate scientists now hypothesize that these floods, and others like them in several regions of the world, were caused by atmospheric rivers, a phenomenon you may have never heard of. And they think California, at least, is overdue for another one.

The article discusses the sort of meteorological event that is hitting California right now — a Pineapple Express. It is a long (well-written) and informative article, that I recommend. There is nothing in the weather reporting suggesting 43 days and 43 nights of rain, e.g. a 2012-2013 revisiting of the 1861 event. [And, to be clear, Pineapple Express events are part of California weather patterns -- even though that 20 inches of rain/200 inches of snow are stunning numbers to see.] We know that global warming is putting more water into the atmosphere, leading to a higher (and higher) percentage of precipitation to occur in severe weather events — such as the Pineapple Express drenching much of northern California.  As Greg Laden

The reason I mention this at all (those of you who live there, I’m sure, are totally up on this) is the following: This sort of excess rain is exactly what we expect to see more often because of global warming. This is the effect that global warming has on the hydrological cycle. It fills the Atmospheric Rivers with more moisture than would otherwise develop in them.

This is one of the ways where our pumping of steroids (carbon pollution and otherwise) into the atmospheric system is leading to pumped up weather events.

Again, not for the first time in 2012, my thoughts and concerns turn to my fellow citizens as a climate change enhanced storm puts their homes and lives at risks. We need to work to reduce these risks into the future even as we work to protect ourselves from them and help our fellow Americans when they suffer from them.

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