Ellicott City Flood — 1,000 Year Event Looks a Lot Like One of the Rain Bombs of Climate Change

We live in a strange new world, one in which the familiar is all mixed up with the radically altered. Such was the case this weekend when a weather pattern that was pretty normal for summer spawned a single thunderstorm that produced a once-in-a-thousand-years flood event in Ellicott City.

Normal Weekend, Typical Weather Pattern, Abnormal Conditions

On Saturday, my wife and I readied to trek out to Shenandoah National Park for a happily-anticipated summer camping trip. As we headed out the door, the weather pattern looked mostly normal for summer, if a little stormy. A high-pressure system out over the ocean was pulling in moisture off its waters and drawing warm air up from the south. A low over western Pennsylvania and a warm frontal boundary over Maryland created instability in a big zone of convection from Northern Virginia on through to Connecticut. Overall, it was a pretty typical pattern that would probably have produced some moderate-to-strong late-afternoon thunderstorms back in the 20th century. Back then, it was far less likely that a similar pattern would have produced a 1,000 year flood event.

Extreme Ocean Heat 2

(Extremely warm sea surface temperatures on the weekend of July 30-31 helped to fuel the record rainfall event over Elicott City, Maryland. Sea surface temperature anomaly map provided by: Earth Nullschool.)

However, conditions were not normal, not the same as they were back during a time when human fossil-fuel emissions hadn’t forced the world to warm by 1.2 degrees Celsius above 1880s levels. In the new world in 2016, the ocean high-pressure system was circulating over record warm sea surfaces that were 3-5 C hotter than late 20th-century averages. And because of this, the ocean was bleeding off a whole hell of a lot more moisture than it typically would. Any storms that fired in that very wet air mass would, as a result, tend to pump out a lot more rain than is typical.

A Wet Atmosphere Crackling with Unusual Energy

As my wife and I made our way toward the Blue Ridge Mountains and down Interstate 66 and Route 211, large, energetic cumulus clouds sprouted all around us. Wafted in the hot, unstable air, many tops punched up through the troposphere, spreading out into the characteristic anvil shapes of thunderstorms.

Light streamed down between these big, wet beasts. For a while, as we made our way up to the campground, set up our gear, and took a hike along a local rock scramble, we were fortunate — able to enjoy our day despite the loud rumbles and roars of thunder echoing up from the valleys or off the nearby mountainsides in the steamy, moisture-choked air.

Available Rainfall Saturday

(A massive amount of atmospheric moisture fueled powerful thunderstorms on Saturday, July 30 from the Appalachians of northwestern Virginia to the Baltimore City region. One of these storms dumped more than 4.5 inches of rain on Ellicott City, Maryland Saturday in just one hour. Image source: Terp Weather.)

At about 3,000 feet in elevation, these conditions were a bit odd for Shenandoah National Park which typically experiences milder weather. Temperatures were around 80 degrees Fahrenheit (about 5-6 F hotter than average), and the level of atmospheric moisture was amazing. Great, steamy clouds kept rolling up the mountainsides. They made the air heavy and full of shapes dancing with light and shadow, seeming to give it the character of some alive thing sprouting a thousand wet heads and arms.

The big thermals and thunderstorms were supported by hotter temperatures into the 90s (F) down in the valleys. And the storms were taller, bearing more moisture, engorged by a hot atmosphere whose temperatures and water vapor levels are now probably unlike anything seen in at least the past 115,000 years — conditions that would have devastating effect just a couple of hours later and about 100 miles to the east in Ellicott City.

Returning to camp, as we prepared for a hearty dinner of tempeh and veggie pasta, thunder from the southwest grew ever closer and a rolling wave of cloud seemed to spill in through the trees, spreading mist and heavy rain over everything nearby. In just a few minutes, we were scrambling into our vehicle and watching as torrents of rain streamed down, transforming the mountaintop campground into a world of rushing water.

Thunderstorm Dumps More Rain on Ellicott City than Any of the Past Deluges or Hurricanes in its History

At about the same time that my wife and I were scrambling for cover, another massive thunderstorm was bearing down on Ellicott City, Maryland. The storm hit one of the densest pockets of atmospheric moisture in that big bleed off the record-hot Atlantic Ocean and just exploded. Packed with all that unusual and heat-fueled moisture, the storm then began to dump its amazing and unprecedented torrents on this historic town of 65,000 just 20 miles to the west of Baltimore. In only 60 minutes this massive thunderstorm managed to unload 4.5 inches of rainfall. Two-hour rainfall totals approached six inches.

(Restaurant-goers in Ellicott City watch in shock as the street below floods and sends vehicles hurtling past. Video source: Ellicott City Flash Flood.)

Streets were rapidly flooded as the Patapsco River rose to a record 14 feet and leaped over its banks. The main road running through the center of town became a four-to-six-foot-deep torrent that hurtled vehicles along its path or into buildings. First responders scrambled to rescue more than a hundred motorists who were suddenly stranded in the flash flood. Tragically, two people lost their lives.

The force of the flood was so energetic that not only were many of the historic buildings in town damaged, but some had their very foundations torqued off-center, twisted by the great energy of the sudden flood waters churning through town. The Maryland government has declared a state of emergency, but it is uncertain how long it will take to make repairs or how much that is irreplaceable has been lost in the flood.

Two 100+ Year Flood Events For Ellicott City in the Past Five Years

The Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang appropriately notes that Ellicott City is a pretty vulnerable place for floods:

It’s a highly vulnerable spot, an urbanized strip along the bottom of a deep valley through which the Patapsco River flows. This place, historic Ellicott City, Md., has seen plenty of serious floods: 1868, 1923, 1952. More recently, the remnants of Hurricane Agnes (1972) left an extreme high-water mark, measured in many feet. The Great Mid-Atlantic Flood of June 2006, once again drowned parts of the town.

And another big flood back in 2011 pushed the Patapsco River to 11 feet, prompting a local art gallery to build a 20-inch-high flood barrier. But the unforeseen flood that roared into Ellicott this past Saturday was the worst among all of these. As a result, most protections and flood barriers previously erected were quickly overwhelmed.

Phoenix Macroburst 2

(Dramatic microburst over Phoenix, Arizona on July 21, 2016. Each degree Celsius of warming increases the atmosphere’s water vapor content by about seven percent. This increase, along with other factors such as intensified convection and rising cloud tops, escalates the frequency of extreme rainfall events like the July 30, 2016 Ellicott City flood. Image source: GGferg.)

Two-inch-per-hour rainfall amounts are usually enough to completely overwhelm most drainage infrastructure, overtop banks, and turn streets into rivers. Ellicott City saw nearly six inches of rainfall in two hours and 4.56 inches of rainfall in just one. Such events are typically seen as quite rare (100-year events or more) and building codes do not often account for them. Managing so much water is a major engineering challenge and requires a great deal of investment. Spending so much money on flood defense systems for a storm that might happen in 100 years or 1,000 years can sometimes seem like a waste at the time.

However, in a world warmed by climate change, such floods are happening with greater frequency. A 100 to 1,000 year flood may happen every five years or so in some locations (as has been the case with Ellicott for 2011 and 2016). The atmosphere is loaded more and more with both heat and moisture. The troposphere is taller due to the heat. The oceans are warmer and bleed more moisture. All these factors combine to make even pop-up storms more intense and to generate the 100 and 1,000 year events with a higher frequency in the present day. And as the world continues to warm, such severe storms will become ever more common.

Links:

Ellicott City Gets Rainfall Expected Only Once in a Millenium

Two Dead, 100 Rescued as Ellicott City Flood Causes Tremendous Devastation

Ellicott City Flash Flood

Earth Nullschool

How an Off-the-Charts Flood Ravaged Ellicott City

NASA GISS

Terp Weather

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Hat tip to DT Lange

Hat tip to Greg

Hat tip to Griffin

Leave a comment

125 Comments

  1. wili

     /  August 1, 2016

    Thanks for covering this. It is indeed quite stunning. Harbinger of things to come.

    Reply
    • So the thing that concerns me most about these rain bombs is how difficult they are to predict. It’s not like a big weather system is steadily moving in. It’s just that you get this combination of ingredients that causes these powerful pop-up storms. You’ve basically seeded the atmosphere with the potential for this kind of storm and it takes a certain kind of convective system to take advantage of it. It’s kind of like a tornado in that you can probably read the underlying conditions, but it’s tough to forecast more than minutes or maybe an hour or so in advance.

      It’s not that flash floods have never happened before. But they’ve tended to be relegated to region or season. Now their intensity is increasing even as their temporal and spatial range is spreading out. So they’re becoming less predictable if you’re using past weather patterns as a marker for prediction even as they are resulting in more damage.

      Reply
  2. Colorado Bob

     /  August 1, 2016

    Been watching South America closely not much to report until today.
    Here’s hoping this is Ag burning.

    SNPP/VIIRS
    2016/213
    07/31/2016
    17:15 UTC

    Fires in South America

    Link

    Reply
    • We’ve had extensive hotspots south of the Amazon since at least mid June. Most appear to be near or within human-cleared areas. But about 10-15 percent appear in the deep forest. Looking at the ghg concentration maps, it appears that the entire southern half of the Amazon rainforest has shifted from carbon sink to source — at least for the past 2 month time period. This region is both producing CO2 and methane — generating local atmospheric spikes.

      Reply
    • There are fires going on in the State park of Serra do Tabuleiro in Santa Catarina (a lot of those red dots in the bottom of the image), and those seen to be criminal, though not exactly agricultural (people against the demarcation of natural parks trying to destroy them on purpose).

      Imazon has detected a surge of deforestation in the Amazon in June, that was possibly a bit more gradual but obfuscated by clouds. These are agricultural fires (though illegal in most cases). I´ve looked in their site, but it seems that the June report hasn´t been translated to english yet. A link to the portuguese version: http://imazon.org.br/publicacoes/boletim-do-desmatamento-da-amazonia-legal-junho-de-2016-sad/ .

      The drought has made it easier to use fire to deforest, and economic conditions are improving somewhat in Brasil, so, big agro has money. Also, since government in Brasil is almost bankrupt, there have been cuts in financing on almost everything… including deforestation-fighting. IBAMA and ICMbio (our rangers) had huge budget cuts, and, in the case of IBAMA specially, are struggling with directors changes.

      Reply
      • (spliting the comment because of the double link)
        In the case of the Federal Police, where I work, there have been not only budget cuts but all hands are on deck for the coming Olympics, with a lot of people temporaly transfered to Rio. Since live in the northernmost states in Brasil is rough, people who work in the Amazon are normally the first ones to volunteer to go in any mission outside their bases, and Rio is a specially desirable place to be. A special force has also been sent to Rio Grande do Norte, where criminal riots have began fires (urban ones) and killed people after the local presidio was eqquiped with cell phone blockers (local mafia is revolting against it). The Amazon Federal Police bases are not empty, but they´re quite unmanned right now, because of that. And that sort of info circulates quickly amongst criminals. My colleagues in the north did their homework before coming south to the Olympics, though. Operation Rios Voadores (Flying Rivers), in June 30th arrested 24 of the worst deforesters of Pará ( http://politica.estadao.com.br/blogs/fausto-macedo/pf-deflagra-rios-voadores-contra-desmatamento-e-grilagem-de-terras-publicas/ ).

        Reply
      • Thanks so much for the on-the-ground assessment here, Umbrios. Very much appreciated.

        Reply
        • Thank you for all the hard work and research you put in this blog, Robert!

        • Colorado Bob

           /  August 1, 2016

          umbrios27 –
          Hell of a report , stay safe, but stay strong.

      • – This sure says a lot: “The drought has made it easier to use fire to deforest…”
        Thx

        Reply
        • Everything on the south side looks pretty bad in the satellite. Lots of intrusion by development and the forest appears to be greatly recessed and cut up by roads/farms.

          It’s a near equatorial region. The forest has protected it for thousands of years from desertification or transformation into something like Africa’s Sahel. With the forest sliding into an apparent decline due to deforestation and climate change, it’s going to be very tough preserving what’s left going forward.

        • Mulga Mumblebrain

           /  August 3, 2016

          Same thing in Tasmania last summer dt. Drought plus lightning strikes, and the cool temperate rain-forests and heathlands burned for the first time in a thousand years. Then a few weeks later, record rainfall and widespread flooding. And there were plenty of rumours that anti-Green red-necks had set some of the fires, because that rabble have been stirred up for years by the Right, over forests being ‘locked up’ in World Heritage Reserves. And our red-necks (‘bogans’ in local parlance) all have a vote, just like yours.

  3. Colorado Bob

     /  August 1, 2016

    CryoSat sets new standard for measuring sea levels

    Using satellite altimeters in coastal zones is notoriously difficult. Norway boasts the world’s second longest coastline of some 100 000 km, comprising many islands, steep mountains and deep, narrow fjords. The rugged coastline means that other altimeters produce confused readings close to the coast, showing differences of 10 cm or more.

    By contrast, CryoSat’s results compare favourably with the Stavanger tide gauge in southwestern Norway, provided by the Norwegian Mapping Authority.

    http://www.spacedaily.com/reports/CryoSat_sets_new_standard_for_measuring_sea_levels_999.html

    Reply
  4. Colorado Bob

     /  August 1, 2016

    ‘Ecosystem engineers’ responsible for first mass extinction

    Some 540 million years ago, the first animals disappeared. It’s an event known as the end-Ediacaran extinction. New research suggests another group of early animals, known as Metazoans, were responsible……………….. “There is a powerful analogy between the Earth’s first mass extinction and what is happening today,” Darroch said. “The end-Ediacaran extinction shows that the evolution of new behaviors can fundamentally change the entire planet, and today we humans are the most powerful ‘ecosystems engineers’ ever known.”

    Link

    Reply
    • Colorado Bob

       /  August 1, 2016

      “Ecosystem engineers” responsible for first mass extinction
      Researchers say the findings (…) can serve as cautionary tale for modern times.
      “There is a powerful analogy between the Earth’s first mass extinction and what is happening today,” Darroch said. “The end-Ediacaran extinction shows that the evolution of new behaviors can fundamentally change the entire planet, and today we humans are the most powerful “ecosystems engineers” ever known.”

      Last night I was reminded of the death of “Martha” who died on Sept. 1, 1901 at the Cincinnati Zoo. At the beginning of the 19th century there were an estimated 3.5 Billion of her kind in North America. This is the 1st, and only time we have when an exact date for a species to go extinct.

      Reply
    • So I guess we’ll get to see if human beings can be wiser than yeast and algae — working to preserve and enhance environmental integrity rather than breaking it down into a dead zone. It really is about taking care of one another. People see this as some kind of science experiment. But it’s more along the lines of morality. Of accepting that taking care of one’s environment, of our shared planet, of the various creatures that live here, and of our children is the very hallmark of an intelligent, just, and compassionate civilization.

      Reply
      • Cate

         /  August 2, 2016

        I agree, Robert, we are facing the ultimate moral challenge. This crisis will test humankind to the very limits of our capabilities—not in technological or logistical abilities, but in sheer humanity.

        So—-are we intelligent, just, and compassionate enough to measure up?

        We had better be.

        Reply
        • Cate

           /  August 2, 2016

          And I’m also very glad you and Cat missed the worst of that terrible storm. Thank goodness you are both safe.🙂

  5. climatehawk1

     /  August 1, 2016

    Tweet scheduled.

    Reply
  6. Colorado Bob

     /  August 1, 2016

    (CNN) By any conventional standard, Donald Trump just blundered through the worst three days of any presidential candidate in living memory.

    Reply
    • Thank goodness. And, what happened? I’ve basically been either in the woods or tracking down rain bomb info😉

      Reply
      • He, we heard of it even here in Brasil. Trump offended the family of a war hero who died for the US, and tried to compare his “sacrifices” in life with the pain of the griefing parents.

        Reply
        • Wow. Took a look yesterday evening. I find it heartening that some republicans have the integrity to speak out against Trump’s anti-Muslim fear-mongering (would that they exercised the same moral courage with regards to climate change).

          The Khan family is the pride of our country — an example of what we all should strive for. Of the kinds of people we want to come here. Of the people we want to welcome with open arms. Honoring them and the diversity of thought and spirituality they bring to us is to honor the ideals of America — equality, freedom of religion, service to the nation and to one another.

          History has taught us time and again that it is not the spiritual ideal that is the cause of harm — but those who would twist such ideals in an attempt to form a power base by justifying the victimization and exploitation of others. Those who believe they are special, chosen, and justified in any terrible action because they claim to serve god. But such purported belief is often just a thin facade for the power-hungry. In this way we can see that Trump is very much like any other person who seeks to profit from hate and fear. A path, be it political or religious, that all too often leads to violence and atrocity.

      • Colorado Bob

         /  August 1, 2016

        John Oliver rips into ‘sociopathic narcissist’ Donald Trump over Khan

        https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2016/aug/01/john-oliver-rips-narcissist-donald-trump-khizr-khan

        Reply
    • Mulga Mumblebrain

       /  August 3, 2016

      CB, I get the impression he’s trying to lose, myself. And still the ‘losers’ from forty years of neo-liberalism support him. It would be disastrous if Trump and that insane ‘platform’ won by accident.

      Reply
  7. LAST MESSAGES got the Ellicott City flash floods as the headline event for his lastest installment of 2016 IS STRANGE YouTube video series (Part 23) which I’m reblogging on my 2016 Is Strange! (twentysixteenisstrange at blogspot dot com) blog.

    Reply
  8. Loni

     /  August 1, 2016

    Relieved to read that you and your wife were witnesses and not victims in that downpour, Robert.

    Reply
    • It wasn’t as bad in the mountains. We might have gotten an inch per hour over the course of two. By the time the line that socked us hit Ellicott a hundred miles further east, it had hit some of those denser pockets of moisture and blown into something far worse.

      Reply
      • Mark Oliver

         /  August 2, 2016

        Yes I heard about the flood and thought it was somewhere probably close to you – I’m not over familiar with US geography. Glad to hear you escaped unharmed.

        Reply
        • Thanks for the kind thoughts, Mark. These rain bombs have tended to be rather isolated, if quite intense. Looking at the maps, it appears that a 10×10 mile area got the 5+ inches amount in two hours from this particular storm. Other strong storms were widespread. But this one hit well above the typical weight class as all the elements, including added atmospheric fuel from climate change, came together.

          It’s been difficult writing about the rain bombs as they’re isolated, but quite powerful and often locally very destructive. They can come singly, or in clusters. The clusters are easier to cover as part of a larger event. But the big local events of this kind create a kind of dissonance. They’re really not the gully-washers of yore. 5-6 inches of rain in two hours is a hurricane or monsoon or very severe flood class event.

  9. Loni

     /  August 1, 2016

    Very interesting to see the amount of damage that took place under the sidewalks, in that video.

    Reply
  10. – It would be wise to have a new mindset for those who choose to build, or live, in a flood plain or gully. A lackadaisical approach as seems to happen, is to avoided. Prevention and avoidance is paramount.
    Weather driven events unfold much more rapidly these days — whether it be rainfall or wildfire.

    – Glad you are safe, Robert. Glad you two got to react where you were.
    You can’t beat a footrace with real-time weather for excitement. I’ve done it on the ocean while sailing — and on land getting the last load of hay into the barn as the first raindrops fell.🙂

    Reply
    • At the time, it was a pretty exhilarating summer storm. Loud and powerful and certainly enough to drench the camping gear. But nothing like what turned Ellicott into a river. We were away from media for about 36 hours. So I didn’t know about Ellicott until late last night.

      As for building in flood plains — good point. But most places will tend to flood regardless of location if they get hit with 4.5 inch per hour rainfall events.

      Reply
  11. China – Nida

    Reply
    • – “first-ever red alert for storms”

      – 9news.com.au/wild-weather/2016/08/02/02/42/hong-kong-flight

      Hong Kong flights cancelled as typhoon Nida approaches

      Hong Kong hunkered down on Monday as Typhoon Nida swirled towards it, with more than 100 flights cancelled and schools closed, and Guangzhou in neighbouring mainland China issued its top storm alert.

      Hong Kong was expected to raise a “T8” storm signal — the third-highest — overnight as the storm edged closer to the city, packing winds of 120 kilometres per hour.

      Guangzhou, the capital of neighbouring Guangdong province where Nida was expected to make landfall on Tuesday, issued its first-ever red alert for storms, with schools and outdoor work suspended.

      Reply
    • Reply
    • Hong Kong Stream ‏@hkstream 2m2 minutes ago

      #HKFP HKFP_Live: https://www.hongkongfp.com/2016/08/01/live-typhoon-nida-thrashes-hong-kong/ … Limited MTR service as most ferries, buses remain suspended #Nida mtrupd…

      Reply
      • Looks like we may have a storm headed for the Gulf soon. System in Caribbean has 80 percent chance of becoming a tropical storm over the next day or two.

        Reply
        • Greg

           /  August 2, 2016

          Robert, forecasters expect the tropical system to strengthen in the coming days and become Tropical Storm Earl before moving toward Central America later this week. Already at least 6 dead in the Dominican Republic from the storm bringing down a powerline on a bus:

        • Yeah, people further west are watching too

          DoctorAdvice4u.com ‏@DoctorAdvice4u 3m3 minutes ago

          #Caribbean: Tropical Storm #EARL #97L #Invest97L

        • Saw this in the GFS model last night. At that time it looked like it would track across the Yucatan and into the southwestern Gulf. Now it looks like a big rain event for Central America and Mexico.

  12. Syd Bridges

     /  August 2, 2016

    Thanks for another great post, Robert. I am glad that you and your wife are fine. I wonder just how many of us will soon be eye-witnesses, or near to, such weather events. “For the times they are a-changing.”

    We’ve just passed the 40th anniversary of the Big Thompson disaster here in Colorado-which CB witnessed, IIRC-and Wunderblog was commenting on how much better we can predict such an event now. But these storms seem much harder to predict. Coupled with very unwise land use changes, I expect we will see many more such tragedies.

    Back in the UK, Mrs. Thatcher’s “man who brings me solutions” Lord Young-surprise! surprise! a property developer-barred the water authorities from objecting to new housing developments in flood plains. It interfered with business, don’t you know? It was bad and had to be stopped! Now I expect many in the UK will find that Lord Young’s bombs are exploding over them as rain bombs. Just imagine living in that lovely new house on quaintly named “Longbottom Lane” by the cheerful babbling brook. Not only that, but no house has ever stood on your plot. You are part of the exclusive-and very expensive-Meadowbrook Estate. Just what could go wrong?

    Reply
    • Cheers, Syd. Looks like Cat and I missed the bullet this time — being under the same weather pattern but thankfully not camping out 100 miles to the east in Ellicott. But it’s the type of place Cat and I like to visit. Nice little historical town with locally owned shops and a great deal of character.

      With that very hot Barents, it looks like the UK is in for another ‘interesting’ winter. It doesn’t take long after floods these days for developers to come back to building in flood plains. At some point, the lesson may be learned. But the early warnings aren’t being heeded.

      Speaking of early warnings, you just have to wonder how high these hourly rainfall totals can go in the mid latitudes. Seems just yesterday we were exclaiming about 2 inch per hour rain events. 4.5 is pretty ludicrous.

      Reply
      • Syd Bridges

         /  August 2, 2016

        With more saturated,warmer air, I expect cloud tops will go higher. Stronger updraughts from the extra latent heat involved may keep more water suspended too. When the storm breaks both the higher water content per unit volume and the taller clouds will allow for greater precipitation rates. So my guess is that we will see greater rainfall rates in the future unless Trump and a Republican Congress can order changes in the laws of physics or reality itself.

        Reply
        • Mulga Mumblebrain

           /  August 2, 2016

          Where, oh where, is the ‘Invisible Hand’ when we need it?

        • It’s in the collective rear end of the masses, and doing unmentionalbe things . >:^(

        • Syd Bridges

           /  August 2, 2016

          MM I think it’s up Drumpf’s rear end, pulling the strings.

        • Happening now. These storms are hitting above the typical weight class more and more often. We’re getting some storms topping out at 75,000 feet these days. That’s a hell of a lot of convection to fuel extreme rain, hail, winds, possible tornadoes etc.

      • I actually camped there in October 1999, my partner and I both. Where? Patapsco River State Park, off Route 40 just west of Ellicott City. The autumn foliage was gorgeous!

        Reply
  13. wili

     /  August 2, 2016

    http://www.skepticalscience.com/news.php?n=3461

    “Sizzling Midwest Previews a Hotter Future Climate”

    “Extreme heat waves like the current string of scorching days in the Midwest have become more frequent worldwide in the last 60 years, and climate scientists expect that human-caused global warming will exacerbate the dangerous trend in coming decades. It comes with potentially life-threatening consequences for millions of people.

    Research has shown that overall mortality increases by 4 percent during heat waves compared to normal days in the U.S. A study in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives in 2011 suggested that rising summer temperatures could kill up to 2,200 more people per year in Chicago alone during the last two decades of the 21st century.

    “The climate is changing faster than we’ve ever seen during the history of human civilization on this planet, and climate change is putting heat waves on steroids,” Katharine Hayhoe, director of the Climate Science Center at Texas Tech University, said during a news conference on Thursday. “Heat waves are getting more frequent and stronger.”

    Temperatures this week soared into the 90s from Minnesota to Iowa, combining with high humidity to send heat indices well above the 100-degree Fahrenheit mark, considered a threshold for conditions dangerous to human health.

    Current temperatures in large parts of the Midwest have been rising steadily for more than 100 years, with accelerated warming in the past few decades. According to the 2014 National Climate Assessment, the average temperature in the region increased by more than 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit between 1900 and 2010. Between 1950 and 2010, the rate of increase doubled, and since 1980, the pace of warming is three times faster than between 1900 and 2010…

    …The Midwest … is unprepared for the dangerous impacts of a stretch this hot. The lack of preparedness was a big reason a heat wave in Europe in 2003 was so deadly, killing more than 70,000 people…”

    Reply
    • Andy_in_SD

       /  August 2, 2016

      That is a staggering acceleration of temps. Yikes!

      Reply
    • It’s just a matter of time, really. All it takes is one warm, dry winter to help set it up. As Hansen notes, the climate dice are loaded. With each passing year, it’s more and more the case. That recent spike in warming should raise eyebrows. The western summer heat will march eastward sooner or later.

      Reply
  14. Griffin

     /  August 2, 2016

    I have read a lot of articles about what happened in Ellicot City this weekend. I have to say that you told the story better than all the others combined Robert. There was so much more going on here that the others just either missed or wouldn’t say. I am glad you gave it the attention that it deserved. On Saturday my wife and I happened to catch a few minutes outside in a storm that dumped at what I am sure was just a fraction of the rainfall rates of MD. It was disturbing in a way that I can only compare with the feeling that an easterner gets in the first earthquake that they feel. It was unnerving to see just how hard it could rain and how fast the water piled up. My dear wife has to endure too many of my climate rants these days but when she saw the instant flooding and felt that helpless feeling, she just got quiet. The things that we discuss here had arrived. It sucks.
    It is the unpredictable behavior that you touched on (not the first time either) that is bothering me so much. A chance of thunderstorms is a staple of summer east of the Rockies. As our planet warms those chances now carry the risk of rain that can become rapidly life-threatening. We seriously have to become accustomed to knowing our risk factor wherever we are when a thunderstorm hits. Things like, as Greg mentioned, knowing if we are in a flood zone if we are visiting a place. That is a crazy shift in thinking for many of us. Cars were deemed safe in thunderstorms since we were kids. Now, they are very much at risk of becoming floating traps if caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. That threat has always been there of course, but the risk factor is going up quickly. Shockingly quickly.
    We are creating weather that does not take a large named storm to wreak havoc and change our lives. That in itself is a huge shift in our climate. As has been mentioned many times on this blog, the consequences of our heat-trapping pollution-fest are not some far away problem for the next generation. They are here now and unfortunately, going to get worse before they get better.
    I am honored for the hat tip.

    Reply
    • 🙂 I really appreciate your comments and contributions here, Griff.

      I think these are good thoughts. Back before the current advances in engineering and water control, thunderstorms and gully-washers were more of a threat. We managed the water and, except for during big events, were able to live happily unaware of nature’s weather hazards except during the most extreme instances.

      Now infrastructure is being overwhelmed by larger storms such that when it happens conditions are even more dangerous. You get this switch flipped between safe and outrageous conditions that are difficult to survive.

      Vehicles, in many cases, provide protection from the elements. But in a flash flood, they can quickly turn into death traps. They float enough for the water to carry them to deeper, faster-moving water. They’re difficult to escape if submerged. And escaping into fast-moving, debris-filled waters is a big risk to life in itself. Early on, the vehicle provides a false sense of security. A person on foot, for example, would tend to scramble to higher ground once the rain really starts falling. The vehicle provides safety and shelter for a time until extreme conditions are reached, and then it doesn’t.

      Reply
  15. One of the best descriptions, for the lay person to easily understand for the coming weather events, heard on the PBS News Hour. Think of weather patterns as a giant jigsaw puzzle on the face of the planet. Now take the pieces of the puzzle, mix them up, and put them back together in a different version than before. That’s what’s happening to the climate these days. All the normal patterns are being rearranged in ways never seen before with ever increasing severity. And sadly this will only increase as global warming continues until the leaders really do something to reign in the burning of fossil fuels. Thanks for the great reports, Robert.

    Reply
  16. Having grown up in Howard County, Old Town Ellicott has been both a childhood memory and regular haunt to me. Despite living in MoCo today, I regularly drive long distances to visit the Phoenix Emporium in Ellicott for drinks and karaoke on Sundays.

    The restaurant has the misfortune of being situated practically at the bottom of the river valley. Even so, it just blows my mind how quickly something so familiar and cherished was all torn up. Hopefully the all-clear will soon be given for volunteers to pitch in on relief efforts.

    Reply
    • Dan Helfrich

       /  August 2, 2016

      Ellicott City is the seat of government for Howard County, where I have lived for nearly 30 years, and where I raised my family. I’ve shopped countless times along Route 40 just outside of town, and of course, recreated many times in Ellicott City’s nationally-recognized quaint old tourist district straddling Frederick Road. For three or four Christmas holidays when my daughter was in high school and a member of the Madrigals music group, she strolled the main street, singing carols a capella when the little town opens it’s arms for Midnight Madness and other lovely festivities. The vivid scenes of survival and destruction that I found on social media were riveting and heartbreaking and I barely slept last Saturday night.

      The terrible rain bomb that devastated so much of the main street of Ellicott City–not just at the lower end like in most previous flooding events–was greatly empowered by the amount of impervious surfaces that have developed upstream from the town over the last 75 years or so. Modern stormwater management was not practiced when many businesses along the Route 40 corridor began operations outside of town, where the upland topography levels off somewhat to favor larger parking lots for the ubiquitous cars in this very suburbanized region. I can easily imagine that the stormwater designs for some of the most recent developments were just not up to the task facing them with this fatal deluge. That said, I believe that the state of Maryland and the county of Howard both have relatively strong regulatory regimes and this deadly event is sending shockwaves through both.

      I hope to see that more will come out in the governmental followup about just how the county’s stormwater structures failed, either gracefully as they are designed to do, or otherwise. Despite their opposition to recently enacted stormwater management fees, dubbed the “Rain Tax” by local conservatives, the Republican county executive and governor are both moderates who will want to see what went wrong and what can be done going forward so as to reclaim the economic contributions of the town. The county’s planners and engineers will have their hands full because part of the charm of the centuries-old buildings that line the main street is that some are built right into the steep hillsides, while others are built directly over the top of the Tiber River that normally streams captivatingly down to the Patapsco at the foot of town. For dozens of unfortunate folks, and two now-lost souls, it was different, darker form of captivation that the river’s raging waters brought on last weekend.

      Restoring the quaint vibrance of Ellicott City’s main street, without squashing it’s distinct character, will take decades, not just years, during a time when both weather and economics are not going to be kind to us. So sad, so sad.

      Reply
  17. Andy_in_SD

     /  August 2, 2016

    So many towns like that in the region, nestled in gully’s with creeks / rivers. It is a shame to see such a place get blasted like that. The youtube video was unbelievable, and only 5 minutes long.

    Those driving up the street (river), and later bobbing back down are such typical humans…

    Reply
    • It’s tough to avoid, really. Maryland is state full of rivers and streams — with almost no natural lakes to speak of. The mountains to the west fall swiftly down to the Bay and Potomac River. It’s this topography that, I fear, will make Maryland pretty vulnerable to floods from these new rain bombs.

      Reply
  18. Andy_in_SD

     /  August 2, 2016

    Sometimes one just looks at people, their behavior and oblivious nature. Such times I think of Breakfast Of Champions (Kurt Vunnegut) and the eternal Kilgore Trout.

    “Kilgore Trout once wrote a short story which was a dialogue between two pieces of yeast. They were discussing the possible purposes of life as they ate sugar and suffocated in their own excrement. Because of their limited intelligence, they never came close to guessing that they were making champagne.”

    Reply
  19. -NYT 0801

    Looking, Quickly, for the Fingerprints of Climate Change

    When days of heavy rain in late May caused deadly river flooding in France and Germany, Geert Jan van Oldenborgh got to work.

    Dr. van Oldenborgh is not an emergency responder or a disaster manager, but a climate researcher with the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute. With several colleagues around the world, he took on the task of answering a question about the floods, one that arises these days whenever extreme weather occurs: Is climate change to blame?

    For years, most meteorologists and climate scientists would answer that question with a disclaimer, one that was repeated so often it became like a mantra: It is not possible to attribute individual weather events like storms, heat waves or droughts to climate change.

    Attribution studies, as they are called, can take many months, in large part because of the time needed to run computer models. Now scientists like Dr. van Oldenborgh, who is part of a group called World Weather Attribution, are trying to do such studies much more quickly, as close to the event as possible.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/02/science/looking-quickly-for-the-fingerprints-of-climate-change.html?_r=0

    Reply
    • Mulga Mumblebrain

       /  August 2, 2016

      ‘Attribution’ is the cop-out that polluters and poisoners use to obfuscate the situation in complex situations like cancer aetiology. It’s all really a question of probabilities, and the demand for 100% certainty is bunk. Particularly when lives, billions of lives, are at stake.

      Reply
    • So I think there are a few things going on here.

      The first is that we are mystified by our new ability to model physical reality. So much so that we have sacrificed, to a point, first-hand observation. We see something that may be an indicator, but we wait for the models to ‘prove’ it.

      The other point is that if the model gets the physical science wrong — if something is left out for example — then you’re left kind of holding the bag.

      In my view, it’s worth talking about observations and discussing how this may fit into the larger context of climate change. Such observational analysis will not result in 100 percent accuracy. But it is a good compliment and check to the model analysis.

      In this instance, we can clearly see that winds off a record warm ocean pulled more moisture into these storm systems than was typical. To ignore that climate change related factor in this instance, in my view, is doing the necessary reporting on climate change a bit of a disservice.

      Attribution studies are worthwhile. But we shouldn’t wait to talk about climate change factors involved in extreme weather until we get this or that attribution study completed. We can note the physical elements in the environment that appear to be changing and contributing to extreme conditions as they happen. And we can then wait on the expert scientific analysis for confirmation of initial observations.

      Reply
      • A good, quick statement would be, “If it weren’t for man-made global warming, this event might still have occurred, but it would have been less severe.”

        Reply
        • Mulga Mumblebrain

           /  August 3, 2016

          Probabilities Ed-it’s all a question of probabilities, and the great unwashed really understand probabilistic explanations of events, don’t they. Particularly the Mad Hatters Tea Party and Bible Belt folks. Forgive my disdain-it’s born of despair.

        • I hear ya. But they do understand the meaning of “might”. Problem is, they REFUSE to acknowledge that global warming is even happening, let alone that Nature has caught us inflagrante delicto causing it!

      • Definitely, Robert:
        “We can note the physical elements in the environment that appear to be changing and contributing to extreme conditions as they happen. And we can then wait on the expert scientific analysis for confirmation of initial observations.”
        We’ve got to monitor and describe both the ‘micro’ and the ‘macro’. (Does that sound right?)

        Reply
  20. Bill h

     /  August 2, 2016

    Robert, thanks for your vivid eye-witness account.

    Did you,by any chance, notice if the rain drops seemed unusually large? With the enormous hailstones that have been falling in Texas, Wyoming and elsewhere, as well as “raindrops the size of quartrers” in Houston there would appear to be a tendency towards increasing drop size in precipitation events.

    Reply
  21. Reblogged this on philastore.

    Reply
  22. Medium big fire near Boise Idaho:

    http://go.nasa.gov/2awpf77

    Reply
  23. Africa CO2 image, with CO2 emissions from (hopefully) mostly agricultural fires lit up like a candle:
    https://earth.nullschool.net/#current/chem/surface/level/overlay=co2sc/orthographic=14.24,-1.19,1024/loc=77.658,25.291

    Reply
  24. Siberian boreal forest sucking up CO2, with a couple of wildfires spewing CO2:

    https://earth.nullschool.net/#current/chem/surface/level/overlay=co2sc/orthographic=95.21,44.04,1024/loc=100.906,60.509

    Lots of CO2 absorption in western China? Is this agricultural?

    Reply
  25. Was in the area visiting relatives – very impressive storm. But the terrain also was a factor in the wildness of the flooding. Unfortunately, the terrain is much the same where I live in western PA – C, D and F slopes. Thankfully, there weren’t any landslides.

    Reply
  26. labmonkey2

     /  August 2, 2016

    Spotted this over at Climate State RE: 2016 La Nina. Not looking good… which then begs the question – What will happen in 2017 to the [if any] El Nino? Will it bounce back with a vengeance? The heat isn’t going anywhere – just being redistributed.

    All climate models indicate more cooling of the tropical Pacific Ocean is likely, but only two of eight models exceed La Niña thresholds for an extended period. A La Niña WATCH (indicating a 50% chance of La Niña in 2016) remains, but if La Niña does develop it would most likely be weak.

    http://www.bom.gov.au/climate/enso/

    Reply
    • Good analysis.

      NOAA is showing a 55-60 percent chance of La Nina in its report. CFSv2, though, doesn’t quite get to La Nina in the model. So far, it looks like this event will be weak if it emerges at all. Nino 3.4 has been in the range of -0.5 C (or just barely at the La Nina threshold) for the past few weeks. It needs to maintain or exceed this low measure for three months running to achieve La Nina. The negative anomaly Kelvin Wave looks relatively weak, if persistent. Worth noting that CFSv2 shows warming to near neutral by March, April and May of 2017.

      For atmospheric temps, this means that measures will tend to stay closer to new record highs. Likely in the +0.85 to +1.15 C above 1880s range during the La Nina period. That’s pretty close to 2014 levels and well above 1998. With 2016 likely coming in near 1.2 C above 1880s overall, we may back off to around 1 C during 2017 or perhaps 1.05 C if this La Nina fizzles and we get warming above neutral by early summer.

      Reply
  27. June

     /  August 2, 2016

    Climate Change Is Hell on Alaska’s Formerly Frozen Highways

    “There are so few roads, and there is no redundancy, so every road is critical,” Currey said. “A detour is possible, but the detour might be 700 miles”.

    http://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2016-08-02/the-alaskan-highway-is-literally-melting

    Reply
  28. Reply
    • ‘What took Earl so long?
      During its time as 97L, Earl puzzled tropical weather watchers and forecasters with its dramatic appearance on satellite coupled with its inability to qualify as a tropical depression or tropical storm. In part, this is because Earl has been more organized aloft than at the surface. During the classic nocturnal peaks of convection (shower and thunderstorm activity) on both Sunday and Monday night, 97L developed a large mass of convection near its center, with fairly symmetric upper-level outflow evident in all directions on satellite imagery. Because 97L’s rapid westward motion of 25-30 mph was roughly in line with upper-level winds, there was little vertical wind shear affecting the system…’

      – BH

      Reply
    • Philippe Papin ‏@pppapin 6m6 minutes ago New York, USA

      Wow. Second NOAA-P3 leg into #Earl suggests strengthening! Exap. pressure down to 994.6mb w/ highest non-rain-contam. #SFMR at 66kts!

      Reply
  29. Reply
    • Joint Cyclone Center ‏@JointCyclone 5h5 hours ago

      Be prepared with the next Storm Lawrence is set to hit Scotland with 80mph on Sunday

      Reply
  30. Steep.

    Reply
  31. – For illustration, this POV this shows rising cloud tops:

    Stu Ostro Verified account ‏@StuOstro Jul 31

    Twin towering Cu poking above a relatively flat #cloud layer #azwx

    Reply
  32. Reply
    • About 1.1-1.2 degrees C above 1950 temp, 1.3 degrees above 1880s temps (not shown)

      Reply
  33. From HufPo 0729 — may have been linked to already:

    Reply
  34. Reply
  35. Reply
  36. Cate

     /  August 2, 2016

    CBC report on the BAMS 2015 State of the Climate report, out today.

    Horrendous reading, and to think that 2016 is already showing signs of topping 2015.

    http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/state-of-the-climate-2015-1.3704267

    Reply
  37. Cate

     /  August 2, 2016

    BAMS 2015 State of the Climate, direct link:

    https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/bams/2015

    Reply
  38. Griffin

     /  August 2, 2016

    I have been incredibly frustrated by the lack of new information on this event but this is perhaps the most comprehensive article that I have found so far.

    GALVESTON – A mass die-off of coral and other sea animals discovered this week on a reef in the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary stunned and saddened scientists who have viewed it as one of the healthiest coral reefs in the world.

    “I was sobbing,” said Emma Hickerson, one of the first scientists to see the destruction below the surface of the Gulf of Mexico.

    http://www.houstonchronicle.com/neighborhood/bayarea/news/article/Die-off-at-marine-sanctuary-in-Gulf-worries-8769470.php

    Reply
    • Mulga Mumblebrain

       /  August 3, 2016

      Griffin, the reef bleaching here in Australia included Ningaloo, off the West Australian coast, that has been immune to previous bleachings because of cold water up-welling. Not this time, however.

      Reply
  39. – Interesting?

    Reply
  40. – The DNC email plot quickens:

    Reply
  41. – Politics as practiced in American is often a convoluted dirty business and often played out like a whirlwind (Now we have Trump as an accelerant.) — so many emails, servers, hackers, and manipulators. Until I see a reliable flow chart for the DNC email hack I am keeping my mind open.

    Reply
  42. Iran’s Lake Urmia a stark set of photos — in case this was missed:

    Reply
  43. I had a chance to experience my first cloud burst 3 weeks ago. Living in a place that already gets a tremendous amount of rain(20 feet or so a year) one would think it wasn’t unusual to see torrents of water unleashed from the sky. But this was unlike anything I had ever seen. We were driving home at the time and I literally could not see where I was going. it was like driving in a waterfall. I kept going forward though, I had drivers behind and steep rock slopes above, and luckily I know my country road like the back of my hand because I was driving mostly on motor memory. The water was pooling on the tops of the hills. It was falling so hard that it couldn’t run down the narrow roads fast enough and there was at least a foot of water on the crest of one hills on the road. I was worried my car might stall from water in the engine as the flat areas of the road became rivers threatening to wash me away. But with the danger of mudslides washing us into the lake or being rear ended by another blind driver I kept going. And then like jumping out of the shower it went from blinding wet darkness to bright beautiful sun in a distance half that of a city block. It was intense, exciting and completely terrifying. That weekend we had 3 days of such random deluge events spotted around our community. It was the talk of the town, yet so many here still don’t put any stock in climate change and think it to be BS…… If events like these that no one has seen in living memory don’t seem to have any effect on those in denial will anything?

    Anyway more anecdotal reporting from the north coast of bc. We are all in for interesting times….

    Reply
    • Griffin

       /  August 3, 2016

      Glad you are OK!

      Reply
    • Mulga Mumblebrain

       /  August 5, 2016

      shochin, here in Australia the denial of climate change is a religion on the Right and the adherents are only growing more fundamentalist as the climate changes rapidly, in full view. The Great Barrier Reef bleaches and a quarter dies, and the Right, led by the Murdoch cancer, just say, ‘No it hasn’t’. Scientists are derided as ‘experts’ and science is just ‘opinion’, isn’t it, and my opinion is as good as any effing Green, Commo ‘climate scientist’. It’s a descent into pre-Enlightenment superstition, driven by a Right that has gone barking mad. I just watched our latest Senator, a hard-core denier, declaring that the scientific evidence of record hot years was not ’empiric evidence’ (of course it is) revealing that he is either a cretin or utterly deranged and evil. It was hotter in the 1930s, 40s and 1880s, you see.
      The TV interviewer neglected to treat this raving idiocy as such, and tried fruitlessly to ‘reason’ with it. And this is now part of the ruling apparatus of state, his Party holding the balance of power. We all know, don’t we, that we will never save ourselves by trying to reason with radical idiocy and malevolence, but the necessary steps will have to be taken one day, and the later we leave it or are forced to leave it, the more desperate it will become, with less chance of success, and all that is hanging in the balance is the fate of humanity and billions of lives. That’s all.

      Reply
  44. Scary stuff… and, sadly, most people don’t seem to care.

    Reply
    • This is a fourfold thing in my mind.

      The first is that this is not an easy subject to understand because none of the underlying processes are readily observable to anyone without access to the relevant equipment. Some people will then automatically write it off without bothering to try and look at or understand the data and why it is interpreted the way it is. So fantastic does it seem that simply pumping a lot of gas could cause unimaginable change that it is dismissed outright, sometimes in abject denial (“it’s always been like this”), other times denying man’s role within it (“it’s always changed, we have nothing to do with it”).

      The second is that those who do understand and accept it can feel powerless to do anything meaningful to impact it. This is partially true, since the bulk of ability to do that relies on those with the greatest ability to influence technology and policy. (What this does mean is that they might be best persuaded to support such people with their votes and purchases.)

      The third is that all the dire warnings over the decades have added up to the public looking at this as a cry-wolf situation (a narrative gleefully adopted and embellished upon by the right) instead of what it really is, something that will quite literally uproot and toss civilization about within a couple of centuries.

      The fourth, and most important, is not unlike what some Christians I’ve seen claim about those who don’t adopt their religion: The reason for their skepticism isn’t skepticism, but the unwillingness to make sacrifices. Skepticism and reluctance are, of course, two separate things – but one certainly makes the other easier.

      The recommendations – Less to no meat, less driving and flying, fewer or no children, higher taxes, regulations, and potentially harder times all around – are enough to ask of anyone, but ask others to take them in the name of solving a problem difficult to see and understand? No one should be surprised when they get the reaction that they do.

      Reply
  1. Hot Gulf of Mexico Hurls Rain Bombs at Florida and the U.S. Gulf Coast | robertscribbler

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