A multi-day siege of severe thunderstorms morphed into a major flash flood event in parts of Texas, Kansas, and other states late Thursday into Friday, and more severe weather is expected into Friday night. — Weather Underground.
It was a stifling hot and humid day that set the scene for the Exxon shareholder meeting this week. There, in Dallas, Texas on Wednesday, oil company CEO Rex Tillerson found himself besieged by environmentalists enraged over his company’s decades-long campaign to misinform the public on climate change and by shareholders concerned about the company’s future prospects. But what the climate change denying oil company CEO, and even NOAA weather forecasters, didn’t know was that an extreme rainfall event worsened by the very smoke and fumes emitted by Exxon was starting to gather over Southeast Texas — not far from where the shareholder proceedings were taking place.
(Protesters urge stockholders to dump Exxon in a push for accountability over Exxon’s deceptive language and media campaigns related to emissions-based climate change. Image source: Exxon Facing Heat Over Climate Change.)
At the meeting, Rex Tillerson, set to retire in 2017, spewed out his usual pro-fossil-fuel rhetoric — defending the myth that oil represents the inevitable mainstay of global energy and concocting various straw-man arguments imagining oil protesters filling up cars with gasoline or flying jet airplanes to join in an array of embittered protests surrounding this week’s shareholder meeting. Rallying the board of directors, Tillerson managed to deflect numerous shareholder attempts to positively modify Exxon’s behavior with regards to fossil fuel emissions and responses to climate change. Outside the meeting, protestors called for keeping oil reserves in the ground, urged Exxon to transition to a non-fossil fuel based energy company and acknowledge and prepare for climate change, or urged Exxon investors to dump stock holdings in response to the company’s decades-long-effort to stifle effective climate action.
Outside the meeting, a 13 foot long ice statue spelling out the words — #ExxonKnew — rapidly melted in the sweltering heat of an atmosphere roiled by the powerful climate-altering forces fossil fuel entities like Exxon had already unleashed upon the airs of our world.
‘Siege of Storms’ Batters Texas
By Thursday, the day after Exxon’s shareholder meeting, an expansive trough had extended down from Canada and over Texas. Exploiting this hole in an increasingly weakened Jet Stream cool, Arctic airs plunged south. Crossing the Great Plains into Texas, this unstable atmospheric mass came directly into confrontation with a super-heated, moist flow rising off the Gulf of Mexico and Pacific Ocean.
(Very heavy storms firing off over Southeastern Texas have dumped record amounts of rainfall over portions of the state and set off a flash flood emergency. Image source: NOAA.)
Both the big Jet Stream dip and the extreme moisture content in the airs over Texas were not normal. Both were new features enabled by a human-forced (Exxon-forced) warming of the world. For with global temperatures early this year spiking to 1.4 C above 1880s values, the planetary atmosphere is now enabled to contain about a ten percent higher moisture load than during the late 19th Century. It’s a weird new atmosphere that is now capable of producing storms with previously unimaginable heights of 70,000 feet over temperate Latitudes. And as the current El Nino fades and a temporary 0.2 to 0.4 C dip in global temperatures takes place in the cyclical transition to La Nina, some of that added, unprecedented excess of atmospheric moisture is bound to fall out in the form of never-before-seen rainfall events.
The storms resulting from what can best be described as a climate mangled by fossil fuel emissions produced rainfall of an extreme, record-shattering intensity in a region between Houston, Waco, and Austin over Thursday and on into Friday. In Brenham, 65 miles to the northwest of Houston, the 24 hour record for rainfall was shattered as 17 inches inundated local roads and communities. According to Weather Underground reports, one weather observer recorded 19.14 inches of rain after having to empty an overflowing gauge. In Bastrop County, emergency crews were overwhelmed by calls for water rescues as vehicles were rapidly submerged in the heavy flood. Now, at least one person is presumed dead and five people are missing in yet one more tragic storm and flood event sparking off in a record warm world.
(National Weather Service Radar shows severe storms and extreme rainfall sweeping into the Houston region at 4:30 PM EST. Widespread reports of severe flooding have prompted emergency officials to urge residents to stay home and avoid life-threatening severe weather conditions. Image source: National Weather Service Doppler Radar.)
Both satellite and weather radar show massive storms continuing to fire over this region. And GFS model forecasts indicate a strong likelihood for continued severe thunderstorm formation over Texas on into both Saturday and Sunday even as heavy rainfall propagates eastward over the Mississippi River Valley and Southeastern US. So this extreme event — a ‘multi-day siege of storms’ enabled by climate change — isn’t over by a long shot. A heavy punch of incessant flooding that is already prompting warnings of rivers over-topping banks all throughout and downstream of the affected region.
Unpredictable Severe Storms — Another Black Irony of Climate Change Denial
This most recent extreme rainfall event’s occurrence immediately following Exxon’s shareholder meeting is yet one more odd and ironic coincidence of human-caused climate change. A black irony similar to that of the Fort McMurray fires.
But perhaps even more disturbing than its coinciding with the Exxon shareholder meeting was the storm’s unpredictable nature. As noted above, a basic understanding of atmospheric physics in a warming world points toward an increasing risk of extreme rainfall events as El Nino transitions to La Nina. This risk is particularly severe in the new elongated trough patterns that have tended to form due to polar amplification and sea ice loss in the Arctic. However, current weather forecasting appears to be completely unaware of or unwilling to report on this new risk.
(The NOAA precipitation forecast issued on May 25 just before Thursday and Friday’s extreme rainfall event failed to capture any indication that a 17-19 + inch rainfall event was on the way. An indicator that warming related extreme rainfall potentials may not be fully plugged in to current forecast models. Image source: NOAA.)
To this point — NOAA weather forecasts earlier this week had identified some risk of severe rainfall over this region. But the forecasts had only predicted around 3 inches of rainfall in the most heavily affected areas. The forecast therefore undershot Thursday rainfall intensity by 14-16 inches. And this makes it look like the current weather models are having some serious difficultly keeping up with the human-forced atmospheric changes that are now fully in swing. Combine this with current weather media’s near complete blindness (there are noted exceptions — Weather Underground included) to factors related to human-caused climate change and we have what could best be described as a hazardous degree of under-reporting on climate related risk factors. And the result is a great underutilization of a vast array of weather sensors and scientific talent that would be capable of providing helpful and life-saving information if only they were enabled to. But media-wide, we’re still living and acting as if climate change doesn’t affect the weather.
As a result, pretty much everyone — drivers, emergency responders, government officials, weather forecasters — were caught off-guard by this particular storm system’s severity and the numerous flash floods that resulted. So it’s pretty clear that the language of denial that started in places like the board-rooms at Exxon has become pretty much all-pervasive. A situation that will need to change if we’re going to effectively respond to the ever-more-severe events that are surely coming down the pipe.
Scientific Hat tip to Dr. Jeff Masters at Weather Underground
Hat tip to Cate
Hat tip to Ryan in New England
Hat tip to Greg
Hat tip to DT Lange