Twentieth Century Reanalysis Project Provides Tool to Assess Extreme Weather - Part II

Twentieth Century Reanalysis Project Provides Tool to Assess Extreme Weather - Part II

February 16, 2011 10:52
by J. Wylie Donald

We wrote yesterday concerning the Twentieth Century Reanalysis Project and of the controversy engendered by, and the threat to credibility surrounding, misquotes in the climate change sphere. We should have added "and misquotes also take away from the main story line."  The point of the posting was the potential lack of correlation between extreme weather and climate change.  We obscured that by focusing on the misquote.

So let's return to extremes. A view proffered by Dr. Roger Pielke Jr. is that "there's no data-driven answer yet to the question of how human activity has affected extreme weather disasters."   Dr. Pielke has offered research showing that a disaster's increase in loss is more due to the increase in population and infrastructure in areas than due to climate change.  See, e.g., Ryan P. Crompton et al., Influence of Location, Population, and Climate on Building Damage and Fatalities due to Australian Bushfire: 1925–2009, 2 Weather, Climate, and Society 300 (2010).

Others differ. In a story in the New York Times this past weekend, Elizabeth Rosenthal offers up how insurers and civil engineers are viewing the weather. Peter Hoeppe, a meteorologist and head of Munich Re’s Corporate Climate Center, has this to say: “Your own perception that there are more storms and more flooding causing damage — that is extremely well documented.”  “There is definitely a plausible link to climate change.”  And D. Wayne Klotz, president of the American Society of Civil Engineers, comments: “As we get more extreme events, that absolutely changes how we design.”  Mr. Klotz pointed to the specifics of his trade, where drainage systems today are designed to carry more water than 20 years ago.  Mr. Klotz concluded:  “We could stick our heads in the ground and say nothing is changing. But it is.”

In other words, people with a lot of skin in the game are applying their resources and skills and concluding that they or their clients are at increased risk from extreme weather. This suggests that the Reanalysis Project's data need to be further analyzed, which is consistent with Dr. Pielke's statement and with that of the Reanalysis Project authors, who noted aspirationally in their summary that "the 138-year span of the ... dataset should make it even more useful for ... assessments of ... extreme event variations."   All of which is consistent with's fundamental position:  climate change is occurring and businesses need to act to understand the risks and opportunities that such change is bringing.  If the 100-year flood plain is expanding due to changes in weather patterns, lenders and insurers need to know that. If a half-meter sea level rise by 2050 means a hurricane storm surge will overwhelm the sea wall, emergency response planners and local businesses need to know that. And if hotter weather means more air conditioning needs, then utility regulators need to know that. The extreme view would be that these risks can be ignored, and that there are no opportunities to prosper as climate change unfolds.

Climate Change Effects | Weather

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