"Our greatest responsibility is to be good ancestors."

-Jonas Salk

Monday, May 25, 2015

Blame it on the Boogie

(Image is 45th and Speedway in the Hyde Park neighborhood, Austin, from the Statesman )

(Amazing image is at 10th and Lamar, downtown Austin, from @jake_briz Twitter feed)

Well some weird stuff is going down in Texas. Wind and water. I think the aftermath of the double-barreled flooding events of this weekend aren't going away soon.

Texas is not unfamiliar with torrential rains and severe storms. What's unusual is the extent of this event, impacting Austin, Houston and Dallas areas. I am not sure what we will wake up to. So far our power is miraculously holding out, but a whole swath of central Austin is significantly underwater as I write, and it seems an even more serious event is unfolding in the Houston area at this moment.

1235 am CDT Tue may 26 2015

... Flash flood emergency for portions of Harris and Fort Bend 

The National Weather Service in League City  has issued a

* Flash Flood Warning for... 
  central Harris County in southeastern Texas... 
  northern Fort Bend County in southeastern Texas... 

* until 230 am CDT

* at 1235 am CDT... rain gauges have measured betwen 6 and 10 inches 
  in this area. Additional heavy rain and significant flash flooding 
  are occurring. 

  This is a flash flood emergency for portions of Harris and Fort 
  Bend counties. 

* Some locations that will experience flooding include... 
  Sugar Land... northwestern Missouri City... eastern Rosenberg... 
  Stafford... Bellaire... West University Place... Richmond... Jersey
  Village... Hunters Creek Village... Bunker Hill Village... Piney Point
  Village... Spring Valley... Fourth Ward... town west... Pecan Grove... 
  First Colony... Spring Branch west... neartown / Montrose... eastern
  Addicks park ten and greater heights.

Meteorologists are shaking their heads in amazement about this setup, and while local records are being broken left and right, it's not clear how to evaluate the wettest days ever across a whole state.

(Actually, since we get the occasional hurricane and tropical storm, this might not be the wettest ever. But it wouldn't be surprising if it's the wettest day not in hurricane season.)


And simultaneously a surprisingly deep winter low off New Zealand, a heat wave in India, absurd warmth in Alaska and Yukon, (almost) unremitting drought in California... And this sort of thing keeps coming, doesn't it? It's hard to prove that it's already hitting the fan from climate change, but it sure is starting to look like normal weather is a thing of the past, isn't it? Teasing "weirdness" out of statistics is hard. But weird is weird, and too much weird is even weirder.

But one of the weirdest things happening is the very odd emerging El Nino pattern in the Pacific. You know, it's called El Nino as a reference to the Christ child, because it normally shows up abruptly around Christmas, not gradually over many months with a clear signal emerging in (boreal) spring!

And while there's still talk of a very strong El Nino, it hasn't arrived with full force.

But what has arrived in full force is The El Nino Excuse. Never mind that the El Nino is shaping up just as weird as everything else has of late. It is a Thing. And it's an established excuse. So be prepared for everything that happens in the next couple of years, no matter how bizarre, to be blamed on El Nino.

Just had my first spotting of this inevitable denialist framing in the wild in the context of the Austin flood - this appeared in the Facebook stream of a local meteorologist:

Be ready for this one, mark my words. Blame it on El Nino.

Other excuses are available, of course, if that one starts wearing thin.

UPDATE: By a wide margin, John Nielsen-Gammon reports, it IS the wettest month in recorded Texas history and there are four more days to go.


Tom said...

I have seen it written that what we are witnessing is a return to normal after two generations of unusually placid weather. I have no idea if that is true--but keep it in mind.

Michael Tobis said...

I've seen lots of things written, including that I'm a communist (see above).

To be fair, if it's hard to prove that things are weird, it will be even harder to prove that things weren't weirder in the relatively recent past.

On the other hand, the right way to look at things is that in the context of the last 2 million years, the last eight thousand have been extremely calm. So you could argue that the right question is not why things are changing now, but why we have been blessed that things were relatively calm of late, and what we ought to do to avoid getting out of that state.

That is, there is every reason to believe that things are going to get weirder and weirder. There is some reason to believe that it has already started. But regardless, it's fair to say you ain't seen nothin' yet.

see http://planet3.org/2012/04/09/disequilibrium-is-not-your-friend/

Michael Tobis said...

More specifiucally, this via Kathy Hayhoe's Twitter feed seems relevant.

Susan Anderson said...

Sorry I haven't been coming here first, since you're addressing most of my current preoccupations in one way or another. I've been flailing around about Roberts/Geden, the world according to Earth Observatory (they do it with pretty pictures; Andrew Freedman at Mashable mostly gets it all down too), and feeling that Philippe Squarzoni is the real deal, and we ain't seen nothing yet.

With Tenney in Fort Worth and you in San Antonio, good luck. Great pix too.

And having returned to hold the fort at DotEarth, very annoying that Revkin claims John N-G doesn't think this is about change, but just some extraordinary run of the mill floods. But I asked for it.

Michael Tobis said...

But, but https://www.texastribune.org/2015/05/27/climate-change-factor-floods-largely-ignored/

"Climate change is taking a toll on Texas, and the devastating floods that have killed at least 15 people and left 12 others missing across the state are some of the best evidence yet of that phenomenon, state climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon said in an interview Wednesday.

"We have observed an increase of heavy rain events, at least in the South-Central United States, including Texas," said Nielsen-Gammon, who was appointed by former Gov. George W. Bush in 2000. "And it's consistent with what we would expect from climate change."

Susan Anderson said...

Thanks, yes, I had picked up on and used that, and other material. The main paper had a reasonable article that didn't have the usual partially hidden undertow, with no comment section.

In fact, though they continue to miss, the NYT is doing much better overall these days. All about business, I suppose (see below).

Actually, I rather enjoyed doing my usual vaporish thing (pun intended). Earth Observatory has lots of good material as well; Baked Alaska is particularly troubling, as is the India heatwave. Odd I'm so lousy at physics when I'm good at visual representations of the planetary engine; I suspect I'm not alone, hence the popularity of Francis and Vavrus, Masters, etc.

Meanwhile, Fergus is now the UK sales manager for Leitwind, which is doing great work in Europe on wind and a variety of other cutting edge initiatives etc. The market gives me more hope than anything else these days. And for a halfassed ex hippie radical, that's saying something!