When it rains these days, does it pour? Has the weather become stormier as the climate warms?

Mar 17, 2013

There's little doubt—among scientists at any rate—that the climate has warmed since people began to release massive amounts greenhouse gases to the atmosphere during the Industrial Revolution.

But ask a scientist if the is getting stormier as the climate warms and you're likely to get a careful response that won't make for a good quote.

There's a reason for that.

"Although many people have speculated that the weather will get stormier as the climate warms, nobody has done the needed to show this is indeed happening," says Jonathan Katz, PhD, professor of physics at Washington University in St. Louis.

In the March 17 online version of Nature Climate Change, Katz and Thomas Muschinksi, a senior in physics who came to Katz looking for an undergraduate thesis project, describe the results of their analysis of more than 70 years of hourly precipitation data from 13 U.S. sites looking for quantitative evidence of increased storminess.

They found a significant, steady increase in storminess on the in Washington State, which famously suffers from more or less continuous drizzle, a calm climate that lets storm peaks emerge clearly.

"Other sites have always been stormy," Katz says, "so an increase such as we saw in the Olympic Peninsula data would not have been detectable in their data."

They may also be getting stormier, he says, but so far they're doing it under cover.

The difference between wetter and stormier

"We didn't want to know whether the rainfall had increased or decreased," Katz says, "but rather whether it was concentrated in events."

Studies that look at the largest one-day or few-day precipitation totals recorded in a year, or the number of days in which in which total precipitation is above a threshold, measure whether locations are getting wetter, not whether they're getting stormier, says Katz.

To get the statistical power to pick up brief downpours rather than total preciptation, Muschinski and Katz needed to find a large, fine-grained dataset.

"So we poked around," Katz says, "and we found what we were looking for in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration databases."

NOAA has hourly precipitation data going back to 1940 or even further for many locations in the United States. Muschniski and Katz chose 13 sites that had long runs of data and represented a broad range of climates, from desert to rain forest.

They then tested the hypothesis that storms are becoming more frequent and intense by taking different measurements of the "shape" formed by the data points for each site.

Measuring these "moments" as they're called, is a statistical test commonly used in science, says Katz, but one that hasn't been applied to this problem before.

"We found a significant steady increase in stormy activity on the Olympic Peninsula," Katz says. "We know that is real."

"We found no evidence for an increase in storminess at the other 12 sites," he said, "but because their weather is intrinsically stormier, it would be more difficult to detect a trend like that at the Olympic Peninsula even if it were occurring."

The next step, Katz says, is to look at a much large number of sites that might be regionally averaged to reveal trends too slow to be significant for one site.

"There are larger databases," he says, "but they're also harder to sift through. Any one site might have half a million hourly measurements over the period we're looking at, and to get good results. we have to devise an algorithm tuned to the database to filter out spurious or corrupted data."

You could call that a rainy-day project.

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Maggnus
4 / 5 (12) Mar 17, 2013
One site does not a trend make. However, I note the IPCC has predicted an increase in per storm precipitation in every report since their first report in 1990. Certainly prima facae evidence that this is occurring has been recorded in isolated data plots, and it will be interesting to see how closely the predicted increases match with the studies conducted by these two.
baudrunner
1.9 / 5 (9) Mar 17, 2013
In the interest of relocating to a place on this Earth that one deems to be a most agreeable place to live I am thinking that the relevance of that decision might be a function of a toss-up between the discomforting North Korean situation vs Climate Change. Either somewhere in deep Southwestern Australia or the shores of the Northwestern Pacific Oceans, I would think. I don't think either areas have too many concerns with rising water levels. Water gets thrown southward by the earth's rotation so mid-world latitudes will see the greatest changes so far as the north is concerned. I mean, look at all those ruins under the sea between the gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean. And I figure the entire west coast is pretty well protected by missile interceptors.
verkle
1.7 / 5 (17) Mar 17, 2013
I can think of no reason why data analysis can not detect increased storminess even in place that have storms. This is falsehood and bad mathematics and science. This selective reporting on GW features is reason why so many of us doubt the science behind it.

VendicarE
3.8 / 5 (10) Mar 17, 2013
Verkle needs to graduate from public school so that he can take some grade 10 statistics.

"I can think of no reason why data analysis can not detect increased storminess even in place that have storms." - Verkle

Then he might be able to think of a reason.
axemaster
3.9 / 5 (11) Mar 18, 2013
I can think of no reason why data analysis can not detect increased storminess even in place that have storms. This is falsehood and bad mathematics and science. This selective reporting on GW features is reason why so many of us doubt the science behind it.

I doubt you have any real interest in understanding the science, but in case you do:

http://en.wikiped...Variance
NikFromNYC
1.7 / 5 (17) Mar 18, 2013
"There's little doubt—among scientists at any rate—that the climate has warmed since people began to release massive amounts greenhouse gases to the atmosphere during the Industrial Revolution."

This headline represents gross misdirection by suggesting to lay readers that mere warming itself supports highly amplified greenhouse theory.

The vast majority of the world's oldest real thermometer records do indeed cast very serious doubt on the idea that recent warming is anything but a boring continuation of a *natural* warming trend, shown in a single glance, here:

http://s21.postim...mage.jpg

-=NikFromNYC=-, Ph.D. in carbon chemistry (Columbia/Harvard)
triplehelix
2 / 5 (12) Mar 18, 2013
The IPCC have had to admit recently that there has been no warming trend for 17 years now. 1997-1998 was a hot peak tip and since then global measurements have shown a teeny tiny decrease.

I understand climate is about long frames of time, but hey, if it can be shoved down our throats when they're using selective 17 years plots on a graph showing increases then right back at ya ;).

It would be genuinely quite difficult to quantify storms...It is difficult to quantify anything in climate, hence why in the past 30 years we have had dozens of models get chucked into the bin.
triplehelix
1.7 / 5 (12) Mar 18, 2013
Any reason for the 1/5??

It is genuinely true the IPCC admitted for 17 years their has been NO warming, yet from 1980, to 1997-1998 (SAME time frame) we had AGW shoved down our throats non stop.

Same time frames, completely different reactions.

Ridiculous
runrig
3.9 / 5 (7) Mar 18, 2013
It is genuinely true the IPCC admitted for 17 years their has been NO warming, yet from 1980, to 1997-1998 (SAME time frame) we had AGW shoved down our throats non stop.

Same time frames, completely different reactions.

Ridiculous


You may or may not have seen this. However it is worthwhile repeatedly posting to show how global temperature - as you would appreciate if at all scientifically literate - does not behave in a linear fashion. No complex system does. BTW: Climate models predict this also. There are other components to consider not least the heat absorbed by oceans ( and hidden by halocline in the Pacific ).

http://www.skepti...tsv3.gif
djr
4.2 / 5 (5) Mar 19, 2013
triple : "It is genuinely true the IPCC admitted for 17 years their has been NO warming, yet from 1980, to 1997-1998 (SAME time frame) we had AGW shoved down our throats non stop."

Could you give us a reference to show that "the IPCC admitted for 17 years there has been NO warming?"

You might be interested in reading this discussion of the current situation. http://thinkprogr...te-lies/

Maggnus
3 / 5 (6) Mar 19, 2013
"It is genuinely true the IPCC admitted for 17 years their has been NO warming, yet from 1980, to 1997-1998 (SAME time frame) we had AGW shoved down our throats non stop."


This is the third thread where you've posted this same misrepresentation. I'm with djr; time to put up or shut up. Show where the IPCC has said anything of the kind.
deepsand
2.3 / 5 (12) Mar 20, 2013
"There's little doubt—among scientists at any rate—that the climate has warmed since people began to release massive amounts greenhouse gases to the atmosphere during the Industrial Revolution."

This headline represents gross misdirection by suggesting to lay readers that mere warming itself supports highly amplified greenhouse theory.

The vast majority of the world's oldest real thermometer records do indeed cast very serious doubt on the idea that recent warming is anything but a boring continuation of a *natural* warming trend, shown in a single glance, here:

http://s21.postim...mage.jpg

-=NikFromNYC=-, Ph.D. in carbon chemistry (Columbia/Harvard)

Argumentum ad verecundiam; ipse dixit.
wlasley1
4.2 / 5 (5) Apr 07, 2013
It's actually too late to continue wasting time on deniers, they're either too ignorant or psychologically incapable of accepting the science. The CO2 levels are already too high to rely solely upon reducing emissions. We need technologies to cost effectively remove this gas from the atmosphere within the next 50 years. There is a solution, we can change ourselves by improving education enough that every high school graduate understands the basic science. This will prepare students for the information age work, increase science support while decreasing the cost of science research and engineering, and insure that the deniers become an ineffective political minority. Or we can keep on doing what we have been doing like signing petitions, having demonstrations, giving the politicians and environmental organizations money and hope they solve the problems. But it seems that's a lot like doing the same thing we have been doing for the last 50 years and expecting different results; ie crazy.
axemaster
5 / 5 (2) Apr 07, 2013
We need technologies to cost effectively remove this gas from the atmosphere within the next 50 years.

I would agree with you, but unfortunately the active removal of CO2 from the air is incredibly energy intensive. And we generate our energy from CO2 producing sources. So the only viable option is to switch to renewable energies.

Switching to renewables quickly enough would require a New Deal scale economic effort - this is something the United States is no longer capable of doing, primarily because of deep, systematic corruption in the legislature by the energy companies, who want to maintain the status quo. The only way to break their hold is to completely ban election donations - force all candidates to run on public funds.

So that's my take on it. If we want to start having a rational response to climate change, first our government needs to be fixed. Then lawmakers will be able to work without fear of offending their corporate jailers.

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