"Our greatest responsibility is to be good ancestors."

-Jonas Salk

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Texas Flood

First of all, it's still raining and it looks to be getting worse soon.

The New York Times had an article recently about Ron Paul remarked on the strange confluence of far left and far right opinion. This has coastal folks baffled. It makes perfect sense in the south, though. People who dismiss "flyover country" and come up with stupid theories about what makes rural people tick drive me mad. They should drop their theories and try to get acquainted with the average Kinky Freidman or Ron Paul voter.

I'm on an interesting Texas-based mailing list. I won't identify the list; I'm not sure whether that would be a violation of trust, but I will say that it's interesting how kind and decent their hearts are and how confused their information is. There's some interesting dancing around religion on the list; people are going out of their way not to offend each other and I will stand by that. (While I won't point you to them I have pointed them to here.) This mutual respect is wonderful and remarkable.

The list pretty much begins with a substantive agreement that Something Is Wrong and We Must Do Something About It. While there are substantial and impressive competencies represented I have to say that broad education and scientific insight is distressingly weak. It's hard to imagine how this genuinely decent and courageous demographic can actually work together without making big mistakes.

There is blame aplenty on both sides for the nearly complete failure of the reds and the blues to communicate. I wish the courage and decency of this group could be combined with coastal sophistication. (Instead we have a government that combines coastal cynicism with heartland confusion. Great. Democracy at work.) Anyway I'll try to bring a little blue perspective to the list without being overbearing. It's hard to bite my tongue as much as I ought to.

So back to the point. Those on the list who are willing to treat climate science as authoritative seemed basically relieved when I told them that nothing uphill from San Antonio would be below the sea, ever. This strikes me as very strange; all the coastal counties, along with the enormous petrochemical infrastructure perched upon them, are at risk. The Katrina migration has affected everyone; refugees are scatterred hither and yon through Texas, and yet there is little concern what effect hundreds of times that amount of migration and homelessness might have on our beautiful hill country.

Meanwhile, August approaches. The high pressure cell that is supposed to be established over Texas by mid-June is nowhere to be seen. Rather, there's a persistent low. Rain occurs daily, downpours most days, and huge localized flood events pop up here and there in the hills. The normal high for the time of year is 97 F (36 C). Yesterday we barely hit 80 (27 C). An actual tropical depression approaches and we (and especially neighbors to our south around San Antonio and points south and east of there) may be in for some real trouble.

Statistically, one weird summer can't be called climate change, but the headscratching seen around here is very similar to what you saw in the shirtsleeve-weather Christmases in Chicago that have been popping up lately (including last year's one). Some people are sticking to their "climate change is natural" guns, but nobody except the statisticians suspects for a minute that what we are seeing is a part of normalcy.

I see the statisticians' point but there's a point they are missing. I don't think you can treat the various northern hemisphere anomalies happening this summer as independent events. I go along with the folk wisdom on this one. I don't suspect for a minute that nothing unusual is happening.

Update: The tropical depression fizzled. We are still fine.

Update: Hank Roberts points to a site with an alarming estimate of global flooding trends.


Dano said...

The issue tied into this one is that we have no societal mechanisms in place to adapt and mitigate at such scales. Look to the Dust Bowl, look to Katrina. We don't even have a good societal process in place to debate how to adapt and mitigate; sure, we have information streaming around, but how many trust the way the media convey information?



Anonymous said...

I thought this letter to the London Financial Times might amuse:

"From Mr Ake Nilson.

Sir, In your editorial "It's time to plan for the next deluge" (July 25) you say that "it is now scientifically incontrovertible that global warming is making heavy rain fall more frequently across the world's temperate latitudes". But less than a year ago, on August 10 2006, you reported: "This year's hot, dry summer will be repeated many times in the future and will become normal in the next 40 to 50 years if climate scientists are correct."

Please could you make up your mind as to the effect of global warming?

Ake Nilson"

Anonymous said...

This would be you?


Michael Tobis said...

David, there is a long complicated answer but I will go with the simple one:

Just because I disagree with you on many things does not make me responsible for the opinions of everyone else who disagrees with you.

Michael Tobis said...

Hank, sure, but is there a trend? And if so, is that trend in flooding or in flood coverage?

Anonymous said...

It was only a joke, Michael. Lighten up, as I believe you say over there!

Anonymous said...

Michael, the folks maintaining that Dartmouth site do seem to be saying there is a trend.

As an aside, I just saw a mention of an airliner diverted because of a 'thousand mile wide thunderstorm' that was sitting over DFW recently (the 'airline passenger bill of rights' story)

Anonymous said...

Hank, thanks for the link to Dartmouth College's global flood information. (The animated gifs of global and European floods 1985-2006 are intriguing, giving a rough indication of flood events.)

There are all sorts of issues that come to mind in terms of measuring floods: I'd like to see rainfall figures on the table, and a map showing the difference between areas that deal with annual monsoon floods, versus irregular heavy rain incidents, burst river banks, and so on … but it is interesting to see what has already been mapped and tabulated.

I wonder if there is a map somewhere that shows desert areas expanding?

Anonymous said...

P.S. I just found a set of maps that answer my question about locations of extreme floods caused by different events, and posted them here, along with the Tyndall Centre working paper they appeared in. (Tyndall used info from Dartmouth too.)