Extreme weather study hammers another nail into the coffin of climate-change skepticism

Wed, 2006-11-08 13:52Bill Miller
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Extreme weather study hammers another nail into the coffin of climate-change skepticism

Severe weather is increasing in frequency and intensity, and that spells trouble with storm drains, roads and hillside developments designed without giving due consideration to climate change, says a report cited in the Vancouver Sun today.

The report is based on research – dubbed “controversial” by the Sun – contained in a 2001 University of British Columbia master’s thesis published last summer in the Journal of the American Water Resources Association. The thesis says there are going to be even more massive mudslides and floods of the kind seen across southern B.C.“If we are experiencing climate change,” said Robert Millar, UBC civil engineering professor, “then engineers are using old data to design for future conditions that may not be valid.” The UBC study jolted skeptics at the Greater Vancouver Regional District into a mad scramble of damage control. Not surprisingly, the GVRD’s findings were “at odds” with those at UBC. With the back of its hand, the GVRD dismissed the UBC research as merely “short-term changes.” The records used for UBC’s analysis, moreover “are simply too short to be meaningful.” It also warned that “A long-term rise in the magnitude of high intensity rainfall events could … necessitate the replacement of the storm water and sewerage drainage, which would be associated with very high costs.”

But Millar said because municipalities replace pipe and drains regularly, it would be cheap and easy to increase capacity gradually. Also, the UBC projections have been re-run using several mathematical techniques and come out the same. “We stand by these results.” Miller said the severe weather trend is easy to miss using standard analysis, which assumes that past conditions are a good indicator of future conditions. Total annual rainfall figures from Vancouver International Airport show a 15- to 20-per-cent increase over the past 40 years. But five-minute bursts of rainfall have doubled in intensity to a rate of over 60 millimetres an hour in 2001, up from about 25 millimetres an hour in the mid-60s. “In North Vancouver, over the past 30 years, we observe an increase in intensity of 40 per cent in two-hour high intensity rain bursts,” he said.

“That's a huge difference for someone designing infrastructure.” Storm sewers are designed to last about 50 years, “so we argue that it would be prudent to begin to accommodate these increases,” Millar said. (City of Surrey engineers estimate the cost of replacing one block of storm sewers at about $200,000.) Most municipal sewers installed over the past 30 years would be designed for flows that would overwhelm the system about once in 10 years and cause “nuisance flooding.

“Millar and his associates, Catherine Denault and Barbara Lence, believe those one-in-10-year events could soon be happening every year. Short periods of intense rain tend to destabilize hillsides and result in mudslides of the type that have plagued the area around Hope and that caused the death of a woman in North Vancouver last year.

On Monday, Highway 3 was buried by 50 metres of mud three metres deep. “We know that landslides tend to be triggered by high intensity short duration rainfall and if the frequency and intensity of rainfall is increasing, then we are likely to see more landslides,” Millar explained. The projections cited in the UBC article were first completed in 2001 for Denault's master's thesis, but the trio reworked the data last year to account for the most recent weather trends and their conclusions remain the same.

Elsewhere, insightful Sun columnist Stephen Hume muses at the way climate-change skeptics dismiss recent weather as “anomalies,” saying “There's nothing you can do about it, so just get on with adapting to changing circumstances.” Scientists, on the other hand, see a predicted pattern in which normal extremes in the weather cycle will be exacerbated by rising temperatures accelerated by the greenhouse effect. “And extrapolating outward from what they see now, some are saying things can get much nastier.” Hume notes that even publications like The (ultra-conservative) Economist are now embracing the notion that human activities, particularly the burning of fossil fuels, are contributing to global warming and helping to accelerate the pace of change.

“And the global insurance business, which has a vested interest in getting this right if any industry does, is warning that human activities are altering global climate.” Hume wrote. “Weather-related disasters in 2005 caused the largest losses ever recorded and insurers now warn that homes and businesses located in areas at risk from weather extremes may be considered uninsurable. “Perhaps this helps explain why two-thirds of Canadians say they believe the scientists who say humans are accelerating global warming while only a third believe it is all just business as usual.”


There are 40 year weather cycles, 700 year cycles, and 25,000 year cycles. Past cycles appear to be highly predictive of current climate trends. If the cycles remain consistent, we will experience another ice-age (of sorts) in the not-too-distant future. As scientists in the 1970s advocated measures to prevent Global Cooling, it would be wise to consider measures to take the edge off of the coming freeze (i.e., increase CO2 production as much as possible. Although, since water vapor has been shown to be the likely source - not CO2 - of current warming trends, increasing CO2 levels would have only a marginal effect. Increased C02 levels could also increase crop production in arid climates where it is difficult for local populations to grow enough food to be self sufficient. This could be a great boon to huminitarian efforts to feed these populations.).

Can you please tell me where I can find more information on long term weather cycles; in particular 700 yr and 25,000yr; and any others that are thought to exist. Is it also true that the earth rotates polarity from time to time? Thank you. JC.

John Corcoran - these cycles which effect Earths climate may help you;

22 year magnetic sunspot cycle
88 year Gleissberg cycle
206 year cycle of solar variability

26,000 year cycle of the 'wobble' with precession of the equinoxes
40,000 year cycle of the +/- 1.5° change in the Earth's axial tilt
100,000 year cycle in the eccentricity of Earth's elliptical orbit
225,000,000 year cycle (and smaller sub-cycles) due to rotation of the Solar System about the galactic centre which takes the Earth up and down through the galactic plane, interstellar dust and cosmic ray fluxes change as a result slowing of the Earth's rotation

Volcanic activity, o
Tectonic plate activity
Nearby Supernovae
Asteroidal and Cometary impact

Once again, the almost comical reference to people "predicting" an ice age in the 1970s. This was a very small number of people, not the scientific majority. Then the "natural cycle" argument. Yes, the Earth goes through natural cycles. However, the effect of what humans are currently doing far outweighs any gentle natural long term cycles. Try coming up with something original, something not already debunked, something intelligent.

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Bill Miller, you are right that if we warm more rainfull can be expected. However this localised increase in high rain falls could be down to anything, it is quite wrong and premeture to assume it's man-made global warming (we've only changed a half a degree since 1940).

As a journalist you have a responsibility to purvey the truth and not assumptions.

Secondly hurricane activity is being aligned with the level of salination (salt) in the Atlantic Ocean by leading experts, not global warming.

If global warming has had any impact at all on hurricane activity, it's lessened - not increased - the frequency of major hurricanes.

From 1901 until 1950 - when the U.S. economy was a fraction of its current size and fossil fuel consumption was next to zero - there were 34 hurricanes rated at Catagory 3, 4 or 5 in size on the Saffir Simpson scale.

In the latter half of the twentieth century - when U.S. manufacturing exploded, automobile use skyrocketed and rampant consumerism was the order of the day, hurricane activity actually decreased by nearly 20 percent, declining to 28 Catagory 3-5 hurricanes from 1951 to 2000.

That's almost as low as the last five decades of the 19th century - when the overwhelming majority of Americans lived on farms. From 1851 to 1900 there were 27 major hurricanes in the U.S.

So regarding your report stating “And the global insurance business... is warning that human activities are altering global climate.” Hume wrote. “Weather-related disasters in 2005 caused the largest losses ever recorded and insurers now warn that homes and businesses located in areas at risk from weather extremes may be considered uninsurable."

The fact is insurance costs are rising because more people are locating and living on the coast than ever before. Insurance costs are not rising because of increases in extreme weather, but because more people (and property) are on coastal areas in hurricane paths (like Florida).

These demonstrates why journalists shouldn't have 'pre-desposed ideas' jump to erroneous conclusions and bark up the wrong tree - and badly mislead the public as your article does. Hope you wise up to your responsibility one day!