Errant Climate May Be Sign of Breakdown, Scientists Say
Heat waves, fires, and floods fit their predictions
NEW YORK — Floods, fires, melting ice, and feverish heat — from
smoke-choked Moscow to water-soaked Iowa and the High Arctic, the planet
seems to be having a midsummer breakdown. It is not just a portent of
things to come, scientists say, but a sign of troubling climate change
already under way.
The weather-related cataclysms of July and August fit patterns
predicted by climate scientists, the Geneva-based World Meteorological
Organization says, although those scientists always shy from tying
individual disasters directly to global warming.
The specialists see an urgent need for better ways to forecast
extreme events like Russia’s heat wave and wildfires and the record
deluge devastating Pakistan. They will discuss such tools in meetings
this month and next in Europe and America, under UN, US, and British
“There is no time to waste,’’ because societies must be equipped to
deal with global warming, says British government climatologist Peter
He said modelers of climate systems are eager to develop
supercomputer modeling that would enable more detailed linking of cause
and effect as a warming world shifts jet streams and other atmospheric
currents. Those changes can wreak havoc on the weather.
The UN’s network of climate scientists, the Intergovernmental Panel
on Climate Change, has long predicted that rising global temperatures
would produce more frequent and intense heat waves and more intense
In its latest assessment, in 2007, the Nobel Prize-winning panel went
beyond that. It said these trends “have already been observed,’’ in an
increase in heat waves since 1950, for example.
Still, climatologists generally refrain from blaming warming for this
drought or that flood, since so many other factors also affect the
Stott and NASA’s Gavin Schmidt, at the Goddard Institute of Space
Studies in New York, said it is better to think in terms of odds:
Warming might double the chances for heat waves, for example. “That is
exactly what’s happening,’’ Schmidt said, “a lot more warm extremes and
less cold extremes.’’
The World Meteorological Organization pointed out that this summer’s
events fit the international scientists’ projections of “more frequent
and more intense extreme weather events due to global warming.’’
In fact, in key cases they’re a perfect fit.
It has been the hottest
summer ever recorded in Russia, with Moscow temperatures topping 100
degrees Fahrenheit for the first time. Russia’s drought has sparked
hundreds of wildfires in forests and dried peat bogs, blanketing Moscow
with a toxic smog that lifted yesterday after six days. The Russian
capital’s death rate doubled to 700 people a day at one point. The
drought reduced the wheat harvest by more than one-third.
The 2007 Intergovernmental Panel report predicted a doubling of
disastrous droughts in Russia this century and cited studies foreseeing
catastrophic fires in dry years. It also said that Russia would suffer
large crop losses.
The heaviest monsoon rains
on record, 12 inches in one 36-hour period, have sent rivers rampaging
over huge swaths of countryside, flooding thousands of villages. It has
left 14 million Pakistanis homeless or otherwise affected and killed
The government calls it the worst natural disaster in the nation’s history.
A warmer atmosphere can hold and discharge more water. The 2007
report said rains have grown heavier for 40 years over north Pakistan
and predicted greater flooding this century in south Asia’s monsoon
China is witnessing its worst
floods in decades, the World Meteorological Organization says,
particularly in the northwest province of Gansu. There, floods and
landslides last weekend killed at least 1,100 people and left more than
600 missing, feared swept away, or buried beneath mud and debris.
The Intergovernmental Panel reported in 2007 that rains had increased
in northwest China by up to 33 percent since 1961 and that floods
nationwide had increased sevenfold since the 1950s. It predicted still
more frequent flooding this century.
In Iowa, soaked by its
wettest 36-month period in 127 years of recordkeeping, floods from
three nights of rain this week forced hundreds from their homes and
killed a 16-year-old girl.
The international climate panel projected increased US precipitation
this century, except for the Southwest, and more extreme rain events