Houston,We have a..voooshhhh

April 18, 2016


Record flooding in a city that has seen it’s share of hurricanes. Think about that.

Eric Holthaus in Slate:

Houston is in the midst of an unbelievable deluge, with already more rainfall in a single day than any hurricane to ever hit the hurricane-prone city. The National Weather Service has called Monday’s flooding “historic.”

More than 21,000 square miles of southeast Texas is now in a flash flood warning, but the worst flooding seems to be occurring in western parts of the Houston metro area. More than 17 inches of rainfall has fallen in just the past 24 hours in some neighborhoods, with about 1 foot of rain coming just since midnight—already making Monday the rainiest day ever in Houston before noon. At Houston’s George Bush International Airport, 11.16 inches fell by 10 a.m., breaking the all-time daily record of 10.34 inches set on June 26, 1989. And it’s still falling. More rain is in the forecast for the next 36 hours or so.

Officials in Harris County, where Houston is located, have declared a disaster area and estimate at least 1,000 homes have already been flooded. More than half the watersheds in Harris County are experiencing significant flooding, with at least one cresting above its estimated 500-year flood mark, a new all-time record. Bayous and creeks have overtopped levees in some parts of Houston, and the water continues to rise, with downtown Houston also in the direct path of some of the worst floodwaters.


Man-made climate change is worsening some extreme weather events, according to a report made public Friday by a top science group in Washington.

The report from  the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine found the clearest links between climate change and heat waves, droughts and heavy rain and snowstorms. Scientists found less evidence for climate change impact on other weather events, such as tornadoes, hurricanes and wildfires.

This is “the first definitive ranking of what events can be attributed to climate change,” said Marshall Shepherd, a University of Georgia meteorologist and report contributor. The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) “brings a gold standard to the assessment of the science,” he said.

The NAS has advised the federal government on science since the 1860s.


Marshall Shepherd in Forbes:

But Dr. Shepherd my _________(fill in the blank with: uncle, favorite blog, news network, favorite twitterologist) says it is a hoax, unproven and so-on. Once you filter through the noise, the signal is clear. The majority of peer review literature notes that there is a anthropogenic “steroid” on top of the naturally-varying climate. For example, home run frequency and length varied naturally in Major League Baseball, but after the Steroid era the influence was seen in the home run statistics. But was a certain baseball players 300th homerun caused by steroids? That’s an ill-posed question. The  National Academy of Sciences released a report, Attribution of Extreme Events in the Context of Climate Change. Within its key findings, we find an expert plea to make the “Was it Caused By Climate Change” question extinct. Some key findings from the report are summarized, but the full 144-page report can be downloaded here. I was honored to be one of the experts that authored the report.

Asking the right questions. “Was that event caused by climate change?” just cannot be answered because natural variability almost always plays some role. When a team plays basketball, there is a natural variability in the outcome of each game, but as team practices and attains better players, there is a bit more “signal” on the potential outcome of the game. More appropriate questions are:

Are events of this severity becoming more or less likely because of climate change?

To what extent was the storm more or less intense because of climate change?



The green lines are storm wind and flood events. The red line is geophysical events.

Climate deniers hate those pesky intrusions of reality.  For Insurance giants like Munich Re, Swiss Re, and Lloyds of London, climate change is a reality that is showing up where it hurts most, on the ledgers. The long piece excerpted below is quite an extraordinary investigation for a mainstream publication, and deserves a look.

Globe and Mail:

In the aftermath of the German and Canadian floods, the victims, the insurers, the media, the politicians and the scientists were all asking the same questions: What caused them? Was it the relentless buildup of atmospheric carbon dioxide? Could “extreme” weather events become the new normal or were they once-a-millennium acts of god?

In Munich Re’s offices, there wasn’t much debate as the claims cheques flew out the door: The higher frequency of extreme weather events is influenced by climate change; and recent climate change is largely due to burning hydrocarbons. “I’m quite convinced that most climate change is caused by human activity,” says Peter Höppe, head of geo-risks research at Munich Re.

His statement is not remarkable, even though the big American insurers don’t like to put the words “climate change” and “anthropogenic” in the same sentence. What is remarkable is that Munich Re first warned about global warming way back in 1973, when it noticed that flood damage was increasing. It was the first big company to do so—two decades before the Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit triggered a planetary anxiety attack by publicizing the concepts of “global warming” and “climate change.”

From a powerpoint by Munich Re's Peter Hoeppe.  Munich Re publication from 1973 warning of impacts of extreme events due to climate change.

Munich Re, Swiss Re and the other reinsurers, along with the Lloyd’s of London insurance market (unrelated to the bank of the same name), stand out from the rest of the business world by being on the same page as scientists on climate change. What’s more, while most of the planet has its head in the sand about the reality and requirements of global warming, the reinsurance industry has already moved on to mastering the math on other catastrophes.

Höppe is compact, intense and enthusiastic. A bit rumpled, like a scientist from Central Casting, he loves to back up his statements with official sources, jumping up every few minutes during an interview to retrieve documents. The 1973 document he prints out for me is a source of pride within the company, which bills itself as “the first alerter to global warming.” The warning notes “the rising temperature of the Earth’s atmosphere [as a result of which glaciers and the polar caps recede, surfaces of lakes are reduced and ocean temperatures rise].” It points to the “rise of the CO2 content of the air, causing a change in the absorption of solar energy.”

The warning ends with a pledge: “We wish to enlarge on this complex of problems in greater detail, especially as—as far as we know—its conceivable impact on the long-range risk trend has hardly been examined to date.”

The pledge was fulfilled. Munich Re has been examining climate change since then, compiling the world’s most extensive database on natural disasters, covering some 33,000 events and drawing on research by its own staff and more than 200 other sources. “There hasn’t been any industry or company that has addressed climate change this early,” Höppe says.

How did Munich Re and the other reinsurers get it right so early? The answer, in a word, is fear—fear of losses that could destroy their business. No industry has more incentive to know the effects of climate change than the reinsurance and insurance industries.


15 Responses to “Houston,We have a..voooshhhh”

  1. dumboldguy Says:

    Excellent, excellent post—-lots of good info. I have just finished watching the NBC Nightly News, and it was back down to a flat “16 inches” rather than the “more than 17 inches” in this post or the “as much as 20 inches” I heard on the radio two hours ago while driving (ABC News).

    NO-NADA-ZILCH mention of extreme weather like this being a likely result of climate change—-just “they’ve had floods in Texas”—-not even an “AGAIN”.

    Something is wrong with the mass media in this country. (PS A much air time was devoted to a collision between a drone and an airplane in the UK than to the TX floods).

  2. Lionel Smith Says:

    Oh come on it ain’t happening, and if it is it ain’t anything to do with we paltry humans who don’t have the power to alter the weather – ask John Coleman (misnamed from Coalman).

  3. Gingerbaker Says:

    ” But was a certain baseball players 300th home run caused by steroids? “

    Yes, it was. Because if not for steroids, it would not be the 300th home run, it would be a lower number.

    “Was that event caused by climate change?” just cannot be answered because natural variability almost always plays some role. “

    No, that’s incorrect. It has nothing to do with natural variability. It is because climate is not about any one specific event. The question itself is incoherent.

    The right answer is: “Yes that event is caused by climate change because all events are influenced by climate and the climate has changed.” A perfectly lovely 72F April Saturday in 2016 is NOT the same as a perfectly lovely 72F April Saturday in 1816, because when we talk about climate, we necessarily talk about an event (that lovely day) in its proper context.

    The atmospheric conditions in 2016 are very different than in 1816 – there is significantly more heat and water vapor present now. The conditions that, in 1816, caused a lovely 72F day would not cause a 72F day in 2016 because the atmospheric baseline condition have changed over the past 200 years. Which makes the context of a 72F day in 1816 and a 72F day in 2016 very different indeed.

    • dumboldguy Says:

      A wonderfully coherent incoherent argument from GB. Omno would be proud. (Where IS that chubby-cheeked little moron, anyway? Has he given up on educating us Crockers?).

      A perfectly lovely 72F April Saturday in 2016 IS most definitely the same as a perfectly lovely 72F April Saturday in 1816. Such judgments are subjective, and the “context” is very local observation of very local weather on ONE single day—-it’s likely that someone transported from 1816 could look at the weather around him today and say “perfectly lovely”, just as we could if the reverse were true.

      Weather being local and transitory, it matters not that the global “baseline conditions” have changed over the past 200 years. You are falling into the “climate versus weather” trap that catches so many of the deniers.

      • Gingerbaker Says:

        Dog, that is Hideously and Abominably Ridiculous.

        The weather influences that made that 72F day in 1816 – if duplicated exactly in 2016 – would NOT produce a 72F day. Because there is more energy and water vapor in our system now. The 72F might be the same, but the conditions of a thousand different variables are different between the two centuries.

        That is what a change in climate means, you know. It effects the dynamics of weather every single day.

        The article author said “natural variability almost always plays some role. “”

        But, guess what? The natural variability of weather in 1816 and the natural variability of weather in 2016 are NOT the same. Everything in 2016 is “shifted to the right”. More heat, more water, less Polar differential, warmer seas, looser Jet Stream, etc, etc.

        So, the initial question posed – “Was that event caused by climate change?” is incoherent, because it always has the same answer – “yes!” All our weather must be viewed through the lens of 2016, not 1816.

        • dumboldguy Says:

          Hideously and Abominably Ridiculous? HAR? And if I said it three tines it would be HAR, HAR, HAR?

          You are suffering from “target fixation”, GB, and have just flown into the blades of that windmill you’re always tilting with.


          If you survive the crash, reread my comment (and wait until the Vermont Maple Syrup vodka wears off, too)—-I can’t say it any more clearly. You are still being “coherently incoherent” here.

          “The weather influences that made that 72F day in 1816 – if duplicated exactly in 2016 – would NOT produce a 72F day”? No? What WOULD it produce?

          “The 72F might be the same”? MIGHT be the same? Temperature is a measure of heat energy, and 72 degrees is 72 “degrees” worth of heat, even if it’s 22.222 C or 295.372 K.

          “….but the conditions of a thousand different variables are different between the two centuries”? A THOUSAND variables? Hyperbole much? Temperature depends on ONE variable—-the heat content of the thing that’s having its temperature taken.

          The question to you is “What part of the two graphs following these questions don’t you understand”?

          “Are events of this severity becoming more or less likely because of climate change?”

          “To what extent was the storm more or less intense because of climate change?”

  4. A timely post. I’ve been watching cyclone Fantala, now the strongest ever recorded in the Indian Ocean. It looks pretty scary over on the zoomable Earth wind map:

    More inflammation here:

  5. Di Thompson Says:

    Maybe Senator Cruz can come back his home state to ensure folks that this flood is just part of a liberal political agenda. And he can show them some satellite data, he misinterprets to make them feel at ease.

    • astrostevo Says:

      Maybe he can post an fb poll that backfires on him just like his Obamacare one :

      (Facebook Poll Hilariously Backfires On Senator by The Young Turks youtube channel.)

  6. Climate or not, the Houston floods were anthropogenic one way or another. The heaviest hit areas just happen to be one the fastest growing parts of the metropolitan area. Scores of square miles of land that was rain-absorbing wetlands just a few years ago are now rooftops, streets and parking lots of new housing developments that turn rainfall into runoff as fast as it comes down. Nobody used to care when the pasture land flooded, but now it’s valuable buildings as far as the eye can see from the overpasses on the new Grand Parkway.

    Long term residents will remember that the Houston area still holds the US record for rainfall from a single storm — 43 inches in the suburb of Alvin from tropical storm Claudette on July 26, 1979. This week’s floods would have happened anyway. Any more rain due to climate change is just adding insult to injury.

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