Sunday, 24 June 2012

On the difference between knowing and knowing.

I don't just read about the Arctic. On this blog I've touched upon Hansen's findings about temperature extremes and the connection with drought. Elsewhere I've written posts about the intensification of the hydrological cycle. Yes, I've read quite a few papers by scientists like Dai, Syed and Wild on the issue. But this knowledge has remained intellectual, I've known it, but I haven't really known it.


I've previously blogged on Dr Jennifer Francis's research showing that warming in the Arctic is slowing the jetstream leading to weather patterns becoming 'stuck'. I've noticed the similarity between that finding and flooding events here in the UK, where flooding has occurred due to low pressures moving slowly or just sitting over the UK and streams of heavy precipitation dumping rain over limited areas for 24 hours or more. I've wondered whether that's connected to Dr Francis's findings. 
Living in a basement flat by a river I've dreaded the day when such a configuration straddles my part of the country.

Yes, given all I knew, the benefits of a nice flat out of the town centre with a good landlord and quiet neighbours over-rode all my intellectual concerns about flood risks.

On Friday the forecast had been for a stream of cloud running across the North West of England to dump a month's worth of rain in a day, exactly the sort of configuration that's made me think of Francis's work. So I got up early and before getting the bus went to check the river near my flat, it was very, shall we say; energetic.  As a precaution I got the afternoon off work due to the flood warnings where I lived, I went home, packed a 'grab bag', and waited to see what happened. At 22:00 the drains started backing up, this was the result of a lower street being flooded. Luckily the whole flooding happened in slow motion, I had time to pack up almost all my possessions, just the furniture was left by the time I'd packed my belongings into my folk's camper van. By which stage the flat was knee deep in drain water.

I'm not strongly asserting that this individual weather event was due to climate change, an old chap I spoke to occasionally who's lived on that road for 40 years assured me the river had never flooded, but it remains impossible to say it wouldn't have happened without climate change. We need more time to allow any trends to emerge strongly from the background of natural variability. Here in the UK natural variability is great, so it may take some time for changes to emerge beyond argument. I do think that we're seeing the start of the greater variability (swings from drought to flood) and intensity (record rainfall events) that the models project.  I agree with Jane Lubchenco Administrator of the NOAA who said
"At the same time, (what) we are seeing, with more and more of these extreme events, is completely consistent with what we would expect to see under a climate-changed world,"
So I won't stridently claim my flooding was a climate change event, but I do think it's typical of what we can expect more of. There are two lessons I take from this event.
  1. As has been noted elsewhere, people fail to take account of risks they haven't had personal experience of, which bodes ill for action on climate change. 
  2. I'm not renting or buying a property by a river ever again.
If I was a victim of anything I was a victim of my own stupidity, not climate change. ;)


Steve Bloom said...

Wow, Chris, that's unfortunate, although I'm glad you were able to get some of your possessions out.

By coincidence, at about the same time something similar (article) was happening in Duluth, Minnesota and environs (western tip of Lake Superior). My impression is that it was extreme enough to give pause to the local denialists, a good sign.

Chris Reynolds said...

Thanks Steve,

Here in the North West of England I know that around the city of Preston they've been building quite an impressive network of tunnels, it's caused long term diversions in parts of the city. The system comprises of massive chambers which are now being capped, linked by tunnels, designed to accept overflow from the drains and buffer (or integrate) pulses of heavy rain, such as the event that got me.

I see the denialists as increasingly irrelevant. They may persuade the gullible, but that's the nature of the gullible, who are also prone to change opinion rapidly and quietly. The serious money (and the works in Preston involve SERIOUS money) is on the serious science now, not the cranks.

As things are going, by the mid 2020s the denialist camp will be an object of popular ridicule.

Steve Bloom said...

I hope you're right about that, although I'll have to reserve judgement until we see some real progress on mitigation. The nightmare scenario is one where people are so desperate to adapt that there is little left over for mitigation. For now, unfortunately, there's still plenty of serious money going into fossil fuels.

Further to my mention of the Duluth event, things are very different not far away.

Re your area, is the thinking that the new facilities will make it possible for everyone to rebuild in place rather than abandon vulnerable locations?

Chris Reynolds said...

It seems to be to protect existing and long standing areas (e.g. around the Docks and other low lying areas).

I suspect that the simple matter of insurance may harm projects of building in risky areas - I understand that insurers in the UK are now simply refusing to insure against flooding in flood risk areas. Who wants to risk putting millions into a new housing development where there's a risk of possible buyers finding out that they can't get flood insurance? At the very least it immediately devalues the house.

Anyway, we'll either act proactively or learn the hard way and get our asses kicked - like I did. ;)

Neven said...

Hey Chris, sorry to read about the flooding. :-(

It seems to be happening more often in the region where I live as well. This is something I really try to take into account when looking for a house or plot of land to buy. But droughts will be problematic here as well. Last winter it didn't rain for five whole months. Just when the mayor had started to assure everyone that everything was fine in the local news paper etc (which usually is a sign that trouble is not far off) we had a couple of good rains. And in some parts too good.

Chris Reynolds said...

Thanks Neven,

I've been very lucky, in the last 24hrs across the North East of England there's been widespread flooding power cuts and transport disruption, with some people losing everything on the ground floor due to the speed of the floods.

We're having a very wet June at present after large parts of the South and East of the UK have been in drought with 'hosepipe bans' due to a succession of dry winters. This follows the warmest March since 1957, and the third warmest since 1910.

But all of this is against notorious variability in UK climate/weather. I do think we're seeing the start of the sort of swings the climate community has been warning about - but I also think that here in the UK we'll need to wait years before anything statistically strong can be asserted.

Chris Reynolds said...

Temporary change to comments policy.

As I wait for the installation of a new phone line and internet connection I will be off the 'net for around 2 weeks, so I'm putting comments into moderation. This effectively means no comments will be published for the next two weeks after which normal service will be resumed.

Sorry for the incovenience.

Chris Reynolds said...

Comments are now back to normal.