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Roger Pielke Sr: This US Summer Is What Drought Looks Like

AP’s science journalist Seth Borenstein is not objectively reporting on the current heat wave in the US. The current heat and drought are not unprecedented. Here is a reporter with an agenda who selects scientists to interview whose views (with just one exception) support his biases on the climate issue.

Comment On Seth Borenstein AP News Article “This US Summer Is ‘What Global Warming Looks Like’”

Image of drought in July 1936 from NOAA NCDC

There are at least two  excellent (as usual) posts [that I have seen so far] on Seth Borenstein AP news article

This US summer is ‘what global warming looks like’

in Judy Curry’s post

What global warming looks like (?)

and Anthony Watt’s post

The Kevin Trenberth / Seth Borenstein aided fact free folly on the USA heat wave

I have posted on the current extreme weather (and placed it in context) in my posts

Perspective On The Hot and Dry Continental USA For 2012 Based On The Research Of Judy Curry and Of McCabe Et Al 2004

The Great Fire Of 1910 Places The Current 2012 Fire Season In Perspective

Guest Post On “Fire Suppression Policy, Weather And Western Wildland Fire Trends: An Empirical Analysis” By Johnston and Klick 2012

The news report contains the same type of quotes from the same individuals that are usually interviewed when we have extreme weather. Seth should know better by now, and I can only assume he really does want to present a biased news article.

Judy Curry, who was interviewed by Seth (but was ignored in the article) posted her answers to his questions, and I have reproduced below. I am completely in agreement with her responses.

JC comments
I received an email from Borenstein yesterday, asking me 6 questions, to which I responded.  My responses were not included in the article.  Here are the questions and my responses:
SB: Can you characterize what’s going in the US in terms of a future/present under climate change? Is it fair to say this is what other scientists been talking about?
JC: As global average temperature increases, you can expect periodically there to be somewhere on the globe where weather patterns conspire to produce heat waves that are unusual relative to previous heat waves. However, there have been very few events say in the past 20 years or so that have been unprecedented say since 1900.
SB: Is this what scientists behind the SREX meant? Why?
JC: In the SREX report, they did not find any unambiguous observational evidence to attribute any extreme events to greenhouse warming, but then went on to speculate (based upon model simulations) what future warming would look like. These speculations are fairly general, and have little regional specificity since the models are currently incapable of simulating regional climate variability.
SB: This seems to be only US? Is it fair to make a big deal, since this is small scale and variability and is only US? However in past years, especially in late 1990s and early 2000s, the US seemed to be less affected? So what should we make of it?
JC: Right now, this is only the U.S. Recall, 2010 saw the big heat wave in Russia (whereas in the U.S. we had a relatively moderate summer, except for Texas). Note, the southern hemisphere (notably Australia and New Zealand) is having an unusually cold winter.
SB: IS there any extreme that’s a function of climate change that we’re missing this summer? If so, what?
JC: Not that I know of.


SB: So might call this an I told you so moment? What do you think?

JC: Extreme events definitely focus people’s attention on climate change, and a local heat wave can certainly do this. By the same token, the cold snow winter of 2010/2011 made people question greenhouse warming. Also, think Hurricane Katrina, which was another focusing event in the US for global warming

SB: What about natural variability? Are other scientists just making too much of what is normal weather variability?

JC: We saw these kinds of heat waves in the 1930′s, and those were definitely not caused by greenhouse gases. Weather variability changes on multidecadal time scales, associated with the large ocean oscillations. I don’t think that what we are seeing this summer is outside the range of natural variability for the past century. In terms of heat waves, particularly in cities, urbanization can also contribute to the warming (the so-called urban heat island effect).

To add to Judy’s insightful answer, I have posted below an extract from Wikipedia on the 1936 heat wave over the USA [highlight added]

The heat wave started in late June, when temperatures across the US exceeded 100 °F (38 °C). The Midwest experienced some of the highest June temperatures on record. Drought conditions worsened. In the Northeast, temperatures climbed to the mid 90s °F (around 35 °C). The South and West started to heat up also, and also experienced drought. The heat wave began to extend into Canada. Moderate to extreme drought covered the entire continentThe dry and exposed soil contributed directly to the heat as happens normally in desert areas as the extreme heat entered the air by radiation and direct contact. Reports at the time and explored in the definitive works on the Dust Bowl told of soil temperatures reaching in excess of 200 °F (93 °C) at the four inch/10 cm level in regions of the Dust Bowl; such soil temperatures were sufficient to sterilize the soil by killing nitrogen-fixing bacteria and other microbes, delivering the final blow in the declining fertility of that soil which had not already blown away.[dubious – discuss]

July was the peak month, in which temperatures reached all-time record levels—many of which still stand as of 2010. In Steele, North Dakota, temperatures reached 121 °F (49 °C), which remains North Dakota’s record. In Ohio, temperatures reached 110 °F (43 °C), which nearly tied the previous record set in 1934. The states of Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Arkansas, Minnesota, Michigan, North Dakota, South Dakota, Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Nebraska, Wisconsin, West Virginia, and New Jersey also experienced record high temperatures. The provinces of Ontario and Manitoba set still-standing record highs above 110 °F (43 °C). Chicago Midway airport recorded 100 °F (38 °C) or higher temperatures on 12 consecutive days from July 6–17, 1936. Later that summer in downstate Illinois, at Mount Vernon the temperature surpassed 100 °F (38 °C) for 18 days running from August 12–29, 1936.[1]

Some stations in the American Midwest reported minimum temperatures at or above 90 °F (32 °C) such as 91 °F (33 °C) at Lincoln, Nebraska on July 25, 1936; the next and most recent time this is known to have happened is a handful of 90 °F (32 °C) minimums during a similar heat wave in late June 1988 but far less intense than that of 1936.

August was the warmest month on record for five states. Many experienced long stretches of daily maximum temperatures 100 °F (38 °C) or warmer. Drought conditions worsened in some locations. Some states were only slightly above average.

The heat wave and drought largely ended in September, though many states were still drier and warmer than average. Many farmers’ summer harvests were destroyed. Grounds and lawns remained parched. Annual temperatures returned to normal in the fall.

Seth Borenstein, by not including the diversity of perspectives on the current extreme weather, is not objectively reporting on this newsworthy weather event.The current heat and drought are not unprecedented. Moreover, the message should be that we need to prepare for such droughts, regardless of the role humans have in possibly altering their intensity and extent. If we look at the recent paleo-record; e.g. see

New Paper “A Long-Term Perspective On A Modern Drought In The American Southeast” By Pederson Et Al 2012

The Value Of Paleoclimate Records In Assessing Vulnerability to Drought: A New Paper Meko et al 2008

we see much more serious and longer lasting droughts than even occurred in the 1930s.  See also

Pielke, R.A. Sr., 2004: Discussion Forum: A broader perspective on climate change is needed. IGBP Newsletter, 59, 16-19.

Seth Borenstein’s article should have been written with the title “This US Summer Is ‘What Drought Looks Like’ and than reported on ways to reduce societal and environmental vulnerability to these events. Instead, he is further recognized as a reporter with an agenda who selects scientists to interview whose views (with just one exception) support his biases on the climate issue.