Global Savings: Billion-Dollar Weather Events Averted by Global Warming
“For every billion-dollar weather disaster identified as being ‘consistent with’ human-caused global warming, there are probably several other potential billion-dollar weather disasters that human-caused global warming averted.”
Last week, the government’s National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) finalized its list of “Billion Dollar Weather/Climate Disasters” for 2012. They reported 11 such events with the combined loss exceeding $110 billion, making it the second costliest year since their compilation began in 1980.
Since the number of billion dollar weather disasters has been increasing over time, the temptation to point a finger at anthropogenic global warming is too great for many global warming addicts to resist, despite the known problems with the list (for example, the lack of proper accounting for changing population demographics—a factor which explains virtually all of the increase).
It seems folks are extremely creative at coming up with reasons why virtually every weather disaster is “consistent with” human-caused climate change and how things will get worse in the future. However, such creativity evaporates when trying to come up with any positive weather/climate effects that are “consistent with” anthropogenic climate change.
To see this creativity/lack thereof in action, go read a few pages of the latest version of the government’s report from the National Climate Assessment and Development Advisory Committee. Or, to save some time, you can pursue my (and colleagues) comments on the report.
In reality, not a whole lot of creativity is really needed to come up with ways that anthropogenic climate change has made things better. And I am not talking about the well-known improvement to the planet’s plant life (including food crops) from increasing concentrations of carbon dioxide, but rather direct effects on the weather/climate.
Billion-Dollar Aversions: Some Recent Examples
I have begun to compile a list of averted billion-dollar weather events during the past year “consistent with” anthropogenic global warming. A full list is necessarily much greater because there are certainly many more events that we could never know about because they didn’t rise to the extreme to be recorded.
Hurricane Debby, June 2012. Hurricane Debby never formed. Increased vertical wind shear “consistent with” expectations from global warming prevented the development of tropical storm Debby into hurricane Debby. Damage estimates from tropical storm Debby have been estimated at $250 million with 5 direct and 3 indirect fatalities from the storm. Had global warming not helped to inhibit the growth of the storm system, these totals may well have been higher, exceeding a billion dollars. (For more information of the life of Debby, see here.)
Hurricane Florence, August 2012. Hurricane Florence never formed. Increased wind shear and African dust—both conditions which are “consistent with” anthropogenic global warming, combined to inhibit the formation of the Cape Verde tropical cyclone. As many Cape Verde tropical cyclones develop into major hurricanes and make landfall along the U.S. coastline, in the absence of the inhibiting conditions, major Hurricane Florence may have made a direct hit on Miami, or Charleston, or Washington DC causing many billion dollars in damage and taking countless lives. (For more details of the life of Florence, see here.)
Hurricane Leslie, September 2012. Hurricane Leslie was another Cape Verde tropical cyclone that looked to be headed toward the southeastern U.S. coastline. But the influence of an atmospheric “blocking” pattern—the same type of pattern that acted to intensify Hurricane Sandy and steer it into the northeastern U.S. (and which has been called “consistent with” global warming)—acted to halt the westward progression of the storm systems and inhibit its development. Instead of becoming a disastrous landfalling hurricane, Leslie drifted out at sea, eventually delivering a glancing blow to southeastern Newfoundland. A potential multi-billion dollar disaster averted thanks to factors “consistent with” global warming. (For more details of the life of Leslie, see here.)
Hurricane Nadine, September 2012. Hurricane Nadine was Cape Verde tropical cyclone that never really got going. Instead of a potentially damaging major hurricane making a direct hit along the Southeastern U.S. coast, conditions “consistent with” global warming, such as a large Atlantic Warm Pool (above average sea surface temperatures in the tropical north Atlantic), conspired to steer the storm northward, harmlessly into the central Atlantic instead of allowing it to track across warm waters conducive for tropical cyclone intensification and on course for a potentially calamitous U.S. landfall. Another potential billion-dollar-plus disaster averted. (For more information on the life of Nadine, see here.)
I could continue on this list of potential damaging hurricanes, but you get the idea—every one that didn’t grow to a major hurricane and make landfall along the U.S. coastline was potentially influenced by factors “consistent with” anthropogenic global warming.
There are many times more tropical cyclones that didn’t cause a billion-dollar weather disaster than did. In fact, we are currently in the midst of the longest period since 1900 that the U.S. has gone without a major hurricane making landfall—and this despite human-caused climate change.
Perhaps we should be finger pointing at that good news!
California Freeze, January 11-16th, 2013. A 6-day major freeze event occurred across California’s agricultural regions, threatening a variety of crops including the state’s 2 billion/year citrus harvest. However, the region narrowly escaped widespread damage. Since an increased greenhouse effect from human carbon dioxide emissions preferentially warms the nighttime winter air, it is entirely “consistent with” expectations from global warming to hypothesize that absent global warming, a multi-billion dollar weather-related disaster would have occurred—much like the ones that have occurred there in the past.
Florida Freeze, February 16-18th, 2013. A cold, arctic airmass dropped into the deep South and threatened Florida’s citrus crop with multiple nights of below freezing temperatures. However, widespread damage was averted as the nighttime temperatures did not fall low enough for long enough. Had anthropogenic global warming not been in operation, a billion dollar crop loss may have occurred, as it has in the past.
East Coast Snowstorm, March 2013. A major late-season snowstorm was forecast to dump large amounts of heavy snow across the major metropolitan areas of the Mid-Atlantic, from Washington DC to New York City. The forecast was so ominous for the Washington DC area—a possibility of more than a foot of heavy, wet snow, high winds—that area schools and the federal government closed down in expectation. But the storm was a bust in DC as the temperatures near the ground were just a little too warm for the snow to accumulate. Instead of multi-day widespread power outages, snarled traffic, and lost business, a potential billion dollar disaster (like the blizzard of 2011), was averted by factors “consistent with” global warming.
Tornado Outbreaks, May 2012-April 2013. The 12-month period from May 2012-April 2013 was notable for its lack of tornado activity. In fact, this 12-month period was marked by the fewest tornadoes since good records began in the early 1950s and the fewest number of deaths since 1875. In recent years, the number of billion-dollar weather events which included a tornado outbreak has been growing—not from an increasing number of tornadoes, but rather from an increasing amount of people and their stuff in harm’s way. Using the past few years as an example, perhaps several different tornado-spawned billion dollar weather disasters would have been expected to have occurred from May 2012-April 2013. The lack of the necessary ingredients coming together to produce major tornado outbreaks—which includes cold, dry air—may well be “consistent with” the impacts of anthropogenic global warming.
Plains/East/Northeast Severe Weather, June 12-13, 2013. An event similar to the June 29-July 2, 2012 severe weather event across the same part of the country was being predicted by the National Weather Service, including a possibility of a damaging derecho event similar to the one which swept from Chicago to Washington DC last year causing more than a billion dollars in damage, killing 13 people, and leaving more than 4 million without power. This year, no derecho materialized (or a very weak one), and while there were isolated severe thunderstorms, tornadoes, and hail, the total damages were far less than last year’s event. Should global warming get the credit for averting a disaster this year? Well, the meteorological situation was very complicated, as it always is, but perhaps anthropogenic climate change acted to reduce the magnitude of the cold air pool that acted to fuel the storm system, and thereby prohibited the systems from reaching its full destructive intensity.
Like I mentioned, this list is necessarily incomplete. My guess is that for every billion-dollar weather disaster identified as being “consistent with” human-caused global warming, there are probably several potential billion-dollar weather disasters that human-caused global warming averted.
Isn’t it about time we start hearing about these?! If it is good enough for the goose to link global warming to weather disasters, it should be good enough for the gander to link global warming to weather disasters averted.
You are invited to add your own examples to the list in the comment section.