Well, it’s been raining a lot in the UK recently. Even more than usual.
Lots of footage of overflowing rivers, flooded homes, people being rescued from their abandoned cars. Lots of interviews with flooded home owners, officials from the Environment Agency, and excited weather forecasters.
But one surprising omission in the coverage I’ve seen:
No mention of global warming.
No breathless activists blaming the floods on global warming, with or without any evidence for attribution. No contrarians or scientists saying ‘nothing to do with global warming’, or talking about ‘possibly some loaded dice but we can’t really tell yet and can’t attribute this particular event to GW’.
Just a few small undercurrents: on the BBC news last night there was footage of past floods from the 1950s and 60s implying that the recent floods are nothing exceptional, within the historical context. This may well be the case, but the ‘calm down, dear’ tone of the coverage seemed to be anticipating or answering those breathless activists making unsubstantiated claims about AGW. Given that those breathless activists hadn’t been given any airtime, though, the report seemed a little odd and/or superfluous.
I completely get that attributing these particular floods to global warming will be nigh-on impossible. I even get that the ‘loaded dice’ argument may not work, if there has not been any quantifiable increase in flood frequency in the observed record in the last fifty years or so (on a very quick look, the evidence here seems to be conflicting- but haven’t yet found any reviews more recent than the 2002 paper linked below). So we are left with models, like UKCP09, projecting forwards the likely impacts of AGW.
Essentially, they predict “warmer and wetter”. The regional modelling gets quite complex, but don’t worry— it’s all rooted in basic physics. In Noddy language: more CO2 means more ‘heat trapping’ in the atmosphere and higher global temperatures, as seen in the observed temperature record in recent years. More heat means more capacity for the atmosphere to hold water vapour. More water vapour equates to Potential Rain.
So, on the basis of modelling and Basic Physics (TM) more rain and floods are not unexpected with climate change. [There are some interesting caveats and complexities, though— when it comes to extreme weather it's the temperature change that's important— delta T rather than T— see blog discussion linked below].
We could well see a lot more of what we’re seeing now in future years. Yes it’s true: we can’t say these particular floods are related to climate change, or even that the observed record yet allows us to make any definite fractional attribution of these floods to climate change. But what we can say is that so far, the weather seems to be following the climate change script. This could be a taste of what’s to come.
OK, this lacks ‘the we’re all gonna die’ headline-grabbing punch of previous unsubstantiated extreme weather-induced climate assertions, but I’m a little surprised that nobody is making even this basic point— at least on the TV news/debate that I’ve seen in the last few days.