Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – Our burning of gasoline, coal and natural gas on a massive global scale, putting tens of billions of tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere annually, is turning the earth into . . . well, a greenhouse. Greenhouses are closed up, keeping in heat and moisture. In a greenhouse, the moisture might form rivulets down the internal windows. On earth, the skies open to dump lakes worth of water down on people.
Teo Blašković at Watchers notes that beginning mid-week, Germany was stalked by this Frankenweather:
- “Numerous rivers across the region are still above flood stage or at exceptionally high levels and several dams are at the brink of collapse. The government has called in helicopters to help rescue people stranded on the top of buildings. Extreme rainfall and floods have also affected neighboring countries, including Luxembourg, Switzerland, Belgium, the Netherlands, and France.
Exceptionally heavy rains hit western Germany on Wednesday, July 14, causing massive damage, leaving hundreds of thousands of homes without power and prompting mass evacuations.
Internet and telephone communications are down, as well as power, gas, and drinking water for millions of residents.
Parts of the region registered more than two months’ worth of rain in just 24 or 48 hours.”
The deluge continued on Thursday and Friday.
As of late Friday, some 150 people are dead and hundreds are missing.
Many of them had climbed up on their roofs to escape the flooding of their homes, but then the torrents surged above their homes, sweeping them away.
River traffic on the Rhine has been halted.
The city of Hagen (pop. 188,000) declared a state of emergency when the Volme river crashed out over its banks. Railroads and road traffic were paralyzed. Hospitals had to be evacuated because the floodwaters caused elevators to cease working.
Der Spiegel reports that a dam failed in Heinsberg district, and in western Germany at the height of the crisis 200,000 people were without power, though it has been restored to about half of them.
Jonathan Watts at The Guardian does some really important science reporting on these German floods, unprecedented in their ferocity in living memory.
He points to all the records broken, as at Cologne, where 6 inches of rain fell in 24 hours, a third more than the previous record. He quotes Dieter Gerten, professor of global change climatology and hydrology at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research on three surprises of this weather system:
1. The records being set for the intensity of rainfall are well above the previous records.
2. This sudden spurt of records was unexpected.
3. The area affected is much wider than ever before.
These massive floods in Germany and the unprecedented heat dome in the Pacific Northwest, as well as in Siberia (!) are raising the question for climate scientists, Watts says, of whether we’ve put so much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere that change has become non-linear.
Linear change is serial. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. First the average high was only 69F in Seattle in June. Then over time it would be 73F. Then a decade later maybe you get to 75F. After 50 years of linear change, maybe it would be 80F.
You don’t expect the temperature to jump up to 108F., which it did on June 28 this year.
Likewise, if a city in western Germany typically gets 2 inches of rain in July, you don’t expect it abruptly to get 6 inches in only 24 hours.
The climate scientists who are cautiously suggesting that climate change is becoming nonlinear are saying we just went through the looking glass, like Alice, and now we have to believe six impossible things each day before breakfast. They are saying that we don’t know what the rules of this game are anymore. We’re getting a sequence like 1, 4, 17, 99.
If this hypothesis were to be proven true, it would be scary for human civilization. We’d be in uncharted territory. You build houses to withstand floods in places that are prone to flooding. But now we won’t know which places are prone to flooding. You build houses with internal open courtyards in places prone to be hot, as in Morocco. But now you don’t know. Maybe Seattle, which had always been cool, is now prone to be hot, at least sometimes when the jet stream gets tied in a pretzel. The reliable patterns that are the basis of normal life are disrupted. And even where you see the same weather phenomena as before, they become monstrously intensified or their scope widens beyond belief. Puerto Rico has always faced hurricanes. It hasn’t always faced category 6 hurricanes that come with fair frequency. Does Puerto Rico remain habitable under these conditions?
I am disturbed.