Monday, December 23, 2013

Latest, Very Weird Storm Raises More Concerns About Global Climate Change

I'll get the caveat out of the way first. One storm on one small area of the planet -- in this case the eastern half of the United States--doesn't prove or disprove climate change.
Think the ice was bad in Vermont? Here's what Toronto lAdd caption

Yet, so many aspects of this storm fall into the the scenarios many scientists predict in a warming world that it makes you wonder.  This essay is unscientific, in that I have no empirical evidence this storm was influenced by climate change. I'll leave that to the real scientists.

As of early Monday morning, the storm had departed but was still causing real trouble in Vermont.

About 11,000 people, mostly in the northwestern third of Vermont, still had no power. Some flooding was continuing. I noticed North Williston Road at the Essex Williston town line was closed by Winooski River flooding early this morning.

Ice remains on the trees, threatening more damage and power failures this week.

The storm that iced over much of Vermont and caused weirdness and havoc throughout the eastern half of the nation and southeastern Quebec makes me uneasy.

Let's count the ways:


Obviously, the most direct connection to global warming and weather events is heat. And some of the warmth along the United States East Coast was incredible.

Augusta, Georgia reached 83 degrees, a record high for the entire month of December. Savannah, Georgia and Norfolk, Virginia tied their December records.  Usually, during the rare events when a December temperature record is broken, it's near the beginning of the month. But this occurred toward the end of the month.

Equally impressive as the fact that some East Coast cities broke their record highs before dawn on Sunday. Almost always record highs are broken during the peak heat of the day, like mid-afternoon.

True, it's cold in the Northern Plains, near 20 below in fact. But that's not unusual for late December, really. Near 80 degree heat in Virginia is.


An amazingly huge stretch of the United States, from the Deep South to New England, experienced flooding. Some of the precipitation totals were incredible for December. We're talking nine inches in a day or two in places in and near Kentucky.
Flooding in Ohio from this weekend's storm.  

At least five flood deaths were reported in Kentucky. 

Such rainfall totals sometimes happen in the summer, when heat can allow huge amounts of moisture to accumulate in the atmosphere.

But in wintry December, such huge rainfall totals are almost unheard of. And heavy rain fell in such a wide area, making this more impressive.

According to many climate scientists, the generally warmer world would allow storms to hold, and drop more moisture, leading to increased chances of extreme rainfall and severe flooding.


Destructive ice storms have always happened ane always will. But the odd thing is how widespread this ice storm was. It went from Texas, all the way up through the Central Plains, into the upper Great Lakes, much of southeastern Canada and northern New England.

You wouldn't think something like a lot of ice might be a sign of global warming. And this storm, of course, may or may not be. But, global warming does not mean winter would be canceled. It'll still get colder in the winter no matter how the climate changes.

But the massive amounts of moisture and warmth running up and over the top of winter cold air masses, like what happened in this storm, causes ice.

You think Vermont was bad in this storm? Go to Toronto, Canada.  Close to half a million people in southeastern Canada had their power cut by the ice.

Some neighborhoods have so much tree damage you'd think a very strong tornado rolled through.


Speaking of tornadoes, some formed in the Deep South with this storm system. One twister killed a person in Arkansas. While December tornadoes aren't unheard of, they're rare.  And the clash of winter's cold and more warmth than normal has seemed to cause an uptick in tornado outbreaks in the late fall and early winter in the United States.

Could climate change be causing a secondary tornado season during the end of some years? The jury is still out on that one, but it's possible.

New storms

With the increased clash of warm and cold air, possibly caused by climate change, overall storm systems might be getting stronger. The storm that battered the United States and southeastern Canada is forecast to reorganize and regenerate in the North Atlantic, and lash Great Britain and northwestern Europe with strong, damaging winds on Christmas.

Meanwhile, a new storm formed along the original storm's trailing cold front in the southeastern United States. That new storm is causing renewed flooding on parts of the Southeast, and will cause another ice storm in parts of New Hampshire and Maine.


Again, all this isn't proof of climate change. Big storms form and are influenced by immense number of factors, most having nothing to do with climate change. But did the phenomena that caused this storm get nudged somehow by climate change?

It's worth looking into, just to understand whether we should worry about such things or not.

No comments:

Post a Comment