The heavy rains and flooding in Louisiana have been devastating. Can we attribute the severity of it to climate change? How you measure that depends on the questions you ask.
With Chapala’s destructive landfall in Yemen just a couple of days in the past, a second tropical cyclone, Megh, has just formed in the Arabian Sea. This one is not forecast to become anywhere near as intense as Chapala did—though we know intensity forecasts can be wrong, as they were at early stages for both Chapala and Patricia.
What will Hurricane Joaquin do? The science of predicting that is getting better, but still uncertain. The debate today is over whether there will be a U.S. landfall now in five or more days’ time or not; 30 years ago there would have been no point in even having that discussion.
New York, New Orleans, Charlottetown and Everywhere Else
The disaster in New Orleans was almost uniquely awful in modern American history. But even if Katrina isn’t likely to happen everywhere, something can happen almost anywhere—including, we now know, New York. And further to the north and east.
The climate over the tropical Pacific is in an extreme state at the moment. That explains some of the extreme anomalies affecting the United States right now. It also gives us a window through which we can glimpse how even more dramatic and long-term climates of the distant past might have worked.
In my early years I didn’t talk about the politics of global warming much. I didn’t bring it up with friends or family, let alone engage in any public way. It seemed to me unseemly for a scientist to be vocal on a political issue related, even indirectly, to his own research. Wouldn’t that be an indication of bias, of a lack of scientific impartiality? But I have changed my mind.
Sandy instantly brought a new kind of national media attention to the influence of global warming on weather disasters. After several years of near-silence on climate from our political leaders and the mainstream media, the renewed attention is profoundly welcome.