It's climate that changes, but weather that kills you

Mon, 2008-05-12 12:18Richard Littlemore
Richard Littlemore's picture

It's climate that changes, but weather that kills you

There is no proof whatever that the devastating strength of cyclone Nargis is related to climate change. There is no concrete evidence that the deadliest tornado season in a decade can be linked to global warming.

There is a smoking gun, and it has human fingerprints all over it. The case against the fossil-fuel-burning culprits has certainly been proved beyond reasonable doubt, but because the worst offenders are rich and influential, there is still no one up on charges.

This is, of course, an invitation to those who want to argue about whether it is appropriate to “scream climate change” every time there is a critical weather event. And I admit that when these people get excited about a chilly winter or the odd cold day in May, we're the first to ridicule their inability to distinguish between climate and weather.

But these storms - these deadly storms - are precisely what climate modellers have told us we can expect in a warming planet. People are dying in horrifying numbers. (And it's interesting in Myanmar, as in the U.S. after Katrina, that government neglect and ineptitude may prove to be the deadliest component of all.)

The quibblers at the Heartland Institute, and at dozens of other think tank clones, would have us cling to doubt and do nothing. But then, Heartland President Joseph Bast doesn't actually live in the heartland. He doesn't have to deal with the risks of Tornado Alley and he surely doesn't have to trouble himself with the fate of sea-level communities fronting on the Bay of Bengal.

Flitting between Chicago, New York and Washington, D.C., Joe Bast can continue to profit from defending tobacco and oil companies without ever worrying personally that his casual risk analysis is exposing huge portions of the world's population - and all the generations to come - to an environmental catastrophe that arrived with a huge and explicit warning sign.

So, look - if you can - at the photos of dead bodies floating down the Irriwaddy River. Cling - if you can - to the idea that his event had nothing whatever to do with the world's changing climate - with decisions that we have all made and actions that we all might have changed.

Seriously, 90+ per cent is not proof. So, pour yourself another sherry and light another cigar. We'll call you when we know, for sure, that the party is over.

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I have watched through the years how much more frequent and how much closer the tornado line has come to me (I was frightened by The Wizard of Oz as a small child). We’ve even had tornado warnings in Ottawa, and a few years ago one touched down in my village (latitude 45o 7’ 53” north). They DO call Chicago The Windy City – maybe not all of it comes from the Heartland Institute. If things keep going as they are, perhaps Tornado Alley will shift far enough north to catch Bast’s attention.

Fern Mackenzie

I think the evidence connecting tornadoes to global warming is extremely weak, at best, at this time. If that case is going to be made, then the below average number of tornadoes in each year from 2005-2007 needs to be addressed.

Death tolls are a combination of a meteorological event with demographics. A large demographic change in the last few decades has been the increase in mobile homes. Thirty years ago, when the National Weather Service started collecting mobile home death information, approximately 1/4 of US tornado deaths were in mobile homes. Now, it’s greater than than 1/2. The fraction of mobile homes in the US housing stock has approximately doubled in the thirty years, and it’s been even greater in the southeastern US.

The physical explanation is also pretty weak. Thermodynamics should become more favorable, but vertical wind shear is likely to become less favorable for tornadoes. There’s much stronger evidence to support increases in extremely large (>=2 inches) hail and a better physical explanation. The thermodynamic increase is likely to dominate for hail, but the greater importance of shear in the tornado question makes it much more difficult to support an increase in tornadoes.

Whether or not the number and intensity of tornadoes has been affected by AGW (and I tend to think there is a link), the fact remains that in my area, ie,regionally, there have been more frequent tornado warnings & touch-downs over the years. This suggests to me that the zone in which the necessary conditions are present for tornadoes to form is creeping north. That is very definitely linked to AGW.

Fern Mackenzie

Fern, I think you are spot on with your observations and conclusions. There does not appear to be much of an increase in the US. Tamino has just put up a post on the incidence of tornadoes in the US and any increase found there may be due to a change in data measurement.

However, if you look at the number of Canadian tornadoes it does appear that there is a very significant increase over the past 60 or so years.

A listing of Canadian tornadoes is given at:

Here is a breakdown of tornado numbers by decade:

40’s - 3
50’s - 9
60’s - 4
70’s - 8
80’2 - 19
90’s - 23
00’s - 28 (00-07)
00’s - 35 (extrapolated to a full decade)

So it is very likely that the range of tornadoes is migrating north. No doubt we will hear from the deniers who will insist that the higher numbers are due to better reporting. No doubt some of the increase will be due to that but the increase is so large that that cannot be the only factor.

Ian Forrester

That is interesting living in Manitoba, I have seen much larger tornadoes as well, or at least more damaging ones in recent years. Be interested to know if there was a study done and any suggestions as for the increase in number, you know of any?

The increase in the number of observed tornadoes might be due population growth into previsiously uninhabited areas, better weather and telecommunication systems and satellites.

What was the population in 1940? In 1960 it was 16 million.
More people, more obbserved tornadoes.

but there have been people living in North Gower since the mid-19th century, and nobody ever saw a tornado touch down here until a few years ago.

Fern Mackenzie

From the Environment Canada website (see, there were 25 confirmed or probable tornado touchdowns within 50 km of North Gower between 1918 and 2003, so even if one wasn’t seen in North Gower, there was an average of one every 3 years or so fairly close.

For the province as a whole, by decade,

1920s 43
1930s 56
1940s 54
1950s 48
1960s 82
1970s 107
1980s 131
1990s 75
2000-2003 41

This suggests that the Wikipedia reference cited earlier is not a complete record.

There are two main areas for tornadoes in Canada, the south central prairies and southern Ontario.

The rural population on the prairies has been declining over the past, not increasing as you would like to suggest to support you denier position. They are not occurring in “uninhabited areas”.

Go and do some reading before inflicting your “scientific” nonsense on us.

Ian Forrester

Note that this comment refers to Harold Pierce, not Harold Brooks.

Ian Forrester

Hello Ian!

I forget to mention that Doppler RADAR probably picks up many tornadoes that land obsrvers might not see. There is so much commercial aviation these days that airport RADAR’S are contantly scanning the skys, and controllers use this info to warn pilots about dangerous weather conditions.

Many personal RADAR says that is there is somthing not quite legit about you folks who attack me with such vicious and nasty language. I never ever do this. You guys are uneducated louts and thugs who have no manners and don’t know how to carry on a polite conversation.

If you don’t watch your mouth and start minding your manners, Fern and I are going to track you down, capture you, and wash your foul mouth with a double scrubbing of Grandma’s Lye Soap!

Fern, would you Mom ever permit such bad behaviour in her household when friends and family folks were visting?

Harold, if I though you were just an uneducated idiot like Paul S/G, Troll, ZOG and Rob, I would probably just chuckle at how stupid you are.

However, you persist in telling people that you are a scientist, an organic chemist no less.

Well, in my book anyone who has done any studying in the physical sciences, especially chemistry, should know better about the science behind AGW.

The fact that you deliberately lie about the science and expected effects of AGW make you a traitor to your science and an anathema to rational and thinking people. I’m just thankful that according to what you have written, here and on other blogs, students do not appear to have been exposed to your lies and distortions of scientific facts while you were employed at a university.

You may think what you are doing to be a joke and “just a lark”. However, I can assure you that you are completely mistaken if that is what you think.

Ian Forrester

Why don’t you stick Grandma’s Lye Soap up your nether region.

don’t co-opt me into this discussion. I might not always agree with how Ian expresses himself, but he & I are on the same wavelength.

Fern Mackenzie

Has Al Gore commented as yet on the connection of global warming to the devastating earthquake in Sichuan?

“any individual storm can’t be linked singularly to global warming – we’ve always had hurricanes.”

More making shit up by the trolls, as usual.

Harold, could you comment on the apparent northern movement, and while you’re at it on statements I’ve heard elsewhere that the season may have shifted earlier? Thanks.

The databases are really of insufficient quality to determine any changes like that. The Canadian changes are almost certainly entirely due to reporting changes. Prior to the 1980s, there were many people within what is now the Met Service of Canada who did not think there were tornadoes in Canada except in the Windsor area. (Some even doubted that the Regina tornado of 1912 was actually a tornado.)

Mike Newark began the first semi-systematic data collection in the early 1980s, although responsibility was still heavily at the regional level. In the aftermath of the Edmonton tornado in 1987, a greater emphasis was placed on collecting reports. As part of changes in the organization in the mid-to-late 1990s, enhanced severe storms forecasting activities began in Winnipeg and Toronto and, when that happens anywhere in the world, better reporting results. Significant storm chasing in the Prairies and in southwestern Ontario also began about that time and there have been field observation projects as well. I don’t think it’s possible to put an upper bound on how many tornadoes are reported now that wouldn’t have been reported 50 years ago.

As far as the seasonal change is concerned, I certainly can’t see it in any of the analyses I’ve done. Using the best long-term datasets for significant(at least F2) tornadoes, interannual variability in the southeastern US (the primary wintertime location for tornadoes) is very large (see Using all tornadoes is more problematic because, again, of the large changes in reporting. Increased reporting of weak tornadoes is particularly the case in the southeast. As a result, our high quality record there is ~20 years old. Given that most of the wintertime events occur there, it makes it impossible to determine changes in the seasonality.

……….as a “forced-choice”.

Endless economic growth is the shibboleth of the rich and powerful in our time. But the days of reckless domination of the Earth and its environs may be numbered, it would appear, because the idolatry, the magical thinking, the wishes and the selfish intentions that have driven endlessly expanding large-scale corporate activity and insatiable wealth accumulation could be about to run their course. The plans of the economic powerbrokers and their bought-and-paid-for politicians for ‘manufacturing’ “bubbles” and big-business boom times could lead the family of humanity to be threatened by the inadvertent loss of life as we know it and the unintentional destruction of the Earth as a fit place for human habitation by our children and coming generations.

Steven Earl Salmony
AWAREness Campaign on The Human Population,
established 2001

I sense a disturbance in the Force …

Fern Mackenzie


Problems caused by climate change are likely already dangerous and global warming may be irreversible, according to a draft science report by a United Nations committee.

The Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change (IPCC) report, leaked earlier this week to a number of major media organizations, said continued greenhouse gas emissions caused primarily by burning oil, coal and natural gas will probably increase the likelihood of  “severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems.”

The New York Times...

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