As Florence Still Drenches, Learning the Lessons

September 16, 2018


Photo by Andrew Carter

AP climate reporter Seth Borenstein is tallying the lessons of Florence – and doing a pretty great job of brushing off denial trolls on his twitter feed.

Seth Borenstein for Associated Press:

For years, when asked about climate change and specific weather events, scientists would refrain from drawing clear connections. But over the past few years, the new field of attribution studies has allowed researchers to use statistics and computer models to try to calculate how events would be different in a world without human-caused climate change.

A couple of months after Hurricane Harvey, studies found that global warming significantly increased the odds for Harvey’s record heavy rains.

“It’s a bit like a plot line out of ‘Back to the Future,’ where you travel back in time to some alternate reality” that is plausible but without humans changing the climate, said University of Exeter climate scientist Peter Stott, one of the pioneers of the field.

A National Academy of Sciences report finds these studies generally credible. One team of scientists tried to do a similar analysis for Florence, but outside experts were wary because it was based on forecasts, not observations, and did not use enough computer simulations.

As the world warms and science advances, scientists get more specific, even without attribution studies. They cite basic physics, the most recent research about storms and past studies and put them together for something like Florence.

“I think we can say that the storm is stronger, wetter and more impactful from a coastal flooding standpoint than it would have been BECAUSE of human-caused warming,” Pennsylvania State University climate scientist Michael Mann wrote in an email. “And we don’t need an attribution study to tell us that in my view. We just need the laws of thermodynamics.”

Georgia Tech climate scientist Kim Cobb looks not just at basic physics but all the peer-reviewed studies that especially link climate change to wetter storms.

“We have solid data across decades of rainfall records to nail the attribution — climate change is increasing the frequency of extreme rainfall events,” Cobb said.

Several factors make scientists more confident in pointing the climate-change finger at Florence.

For every degree the air warms, it can hold nearly 4 percent more water (7 percent per degree Celsius) and offer measurably more energy to goose the storm, scientists said.

Washington Post:

Despite its weakened status as a tropical storm, Florence has deluged parts of the North Carolina coastline with torrential and historic amounts of rain. Many areas in southeastern North Carolina have endured 15 to 30 inches of rain, and up to 10 to 15 more could fall in southern and western North Carolina.

The rain is resulting in catastrophic flooding in southeastern North Carolina that is spreading into the state’s interior, even into the population centers of Raleigh and Charlotte. Already, the event has broken the state’s record for most rain ever observed during a tropical storm or hurricane, with a preliminary report of more than 30 inches.

The floodwaters are expected to push many rivers to all-time highs and, toward the mountains of western North Carolina and southwestern Virginia, could spur life-threatening landslides.

Once again, Kerry Emanuel of MIT and others.

7 Responses to “As Florence Still Drenches, Learning the Lessons”

  1. Joe DeFors Says:

    Hi Kathy, since we are traveling, I don’t have the list of the donors that came to you through Northport Energy. I’m hoping they are included in this email?

    Prior to our Viking cruise on the Rhône, we are now staying in the small coastal town of Cassis at the far west end of the French Riviera. It’s simply beautiful, with big rocky mountains surrounding us. We have a small apartment overlooking the marina which is a combination of fishing and pleasure boats. And surrounding the marina are a collection of restaurants and shops. It just couldn’t be nicer.

    Joe and Jan

    Sent from my iPad. Please excuse the brevity of this communication.


  2. J4Zonian Says:

    I guess this is how language evolves, by people pronouncing things wrong, and in this case, by using the phrase “begs the question” wrong. It appears to mean “calls the question to mind” now, rather than it’s former? real? official? meaning of “petitio principii” a type of logical fallacy in which the proposition to be proved is assumed implicitly or explicitly in the premise. That’s an important thing to be able to describe when arguing with climate denying delayalists and other dishonest, manipulative or unconscious opponents.

    So now we need something else to literally mean “literally” (which has come to mean “really” or “very”) and something else to mean “to assume from the start the point being argued toward”.

    • dumboldguy Says:

      ZZZZZzzzzzz…..(snort, fart, roll over)…..zzzzzz!!

    • smithpd1 Says:

      I think your post is both pedantic and wrong. Yes, the language does evolve, but common usage often supersedes the original usage. No new words are needed.

      As for “begs the question”, the common usage (in Merriam Webster) is “to elicit a question logically as a reaction or response.”

      As for “literally”, the most commonly definition is, “in a literal manner or sense; exactly”. There is also an informal, ironic meaning that is the opposite: “virtually.”

      When thousands of people use a word or phrase the “wrong” way, and almost nobody is using it the “right” way, it’s a clear sign that the meaning is changing.

      Sorry if I am being pedantic.

      • dumboldguy Says:

        “Wrong and pedantic”? You have captured the essence of Jeffy4Z’s place in the world perfectly with those words!

  3. Bryson Brown Says:

    My guess is that someone out there with an audience guessed at the meaning of ‘begs the question’ (reading it, perhaps, as ‘begs for..’ or ‘begs (us to ask)..’ ) and went with it– some in the audience picked up that usage, liked it and it began to spread. The phrase was perfectly safe so long as it was only being used by academics and scholars, but once it was released into the wild, ordinary language users took over, and here we are… Of course it still means what it always meant in my classroom and among my colleagues (I’m a philosophy prof…). But that’s a tiny audience compared to the journalists and pundits now deploying the re-purposed version on TV, radio and internet.

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