Thursday, February 17, 2011

Flood of the Century? Soon we’ll need another name for it

Late last September in the Bella Coola Valley, a little further up the coast from where I live, they had a major flood.  It was in fact referred to as the “flood of the century.”  Perhaps you’ve heard that phrase before and recently, maybe in other contexts, in other places. 

In the Amazon rainforest they are talking about two “drought of the century” events in the same decade.  But that’s droughts.  Let’s just stick to floods here.

Now when the Bella Coola flood happened, I admit I immediately thought of climate change.  It fits the symptoms. 

Warm air holds more moisture, 7% more with a 1o C. rise in temperature—which is a rise close to what the planet is experiencing now.  And more moisture in the air results in more moisture falling out of the air.  So scientists have been predicting that places with lots of rainfall can expect even more.

That’s us in British Columbia, the raincoast.  And more rain fell in September in Bella Coola than had fallen in living memory.

Climate change, I whispered, because I couldn’t really be sure. 

Well, now a scientific study of floods in England, while not confirming that my reasoning about Bella Coola was and is correct—that would require a careful scientific study of its own—does at least show that climate change can be connected to such events.

See a report on the English study here:

Of course, if what is happening in Australia, Europe and the Amazon is any indication, soon we are not going to have to worry about classifying any particular climate event as caused by global warming or not.  We could just count the number of “event of the century” occurrences that happen in a given century, deduct one as representing natural variation, and, relying on odds alone, all the rest we can blame on climate change.

Scientifically, understand, such a method is hogwash.  Mathematically, however, it is still more likely to produce a right answer than a wrong.

Because, as James Hansen of NASA has said, the climate dice are loaded. 

After awhile we will not need the scientists to tell us that something is desperately wrong with the climate.

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