For Colombia, The Rain Bombs of Climate Change Fell in the Dark of Night

As the lower atmosphere becomes warmer, evaporation rates will increase, resulting in an increase in the amount of moisture circulating throughout the troposphere (lower atmosphere). An observed consequence of higher water vapor concentrations is the increased frequency of intense precipitation events… — NASA’s Earth Observatory

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Just off the coasts of Colombia, Ecuador and Peru, the Pacific Ocean has been abnormally warm of-late. For the past month, sea surface temperatures have ranged between 3 and 5 degrees Celsius above average. This excess heating of the ocean surface, facilitated by human-forced climate change, has pumped a prodigious volume of moisture into the atmosphere of this coastal region. Southerly winds running along the western edge of South America have drawn this moisture north and eastward — feeding into the prevailing storms that originate on the Atlantic side of South America and track eastwards.

(Sea surface temperature anomaly map from Earth Nullschool shows 4 degree Celsius above average ocean surfaces just off-shore of Ecuadore and Colombia. These extremely warm waters have helped to fuel very severe storms over Peru and Colombia during recent weeks. Such warm ocean waters are not normal and their highest peak temperatures are being increased by a human-forced warming of the Earth, primarily through fossil fuel burning. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

Lately, these systems have blown up to enormous size as they’ve run across the Andes or collided with pop-up storms along the coast. And the amount of rainfall coming out of the resulting monster thunderstorms has been devastating. In Peru, hundreds of thousands of people have been rendered homeless by these deluges which have caused the tragic loss of 100 souls, destroyed thousands of buildings, 200 bridges, and 2,000 miles of highway. For the state, the estimated damage toll from this ongoing climate disaster is now 6 billion dollars.

Friday night, a member of this new breed of monster thunderstorms, pumped to greater intensity by the moisture bleed off the record warm ocean waters, unloaded a total of a half-month’s worth of rainfall in just a few hours upon the small Colombian city of Mocoa. More than five inches fell in 1-2 hours on a region where three rivers run out of the mountains toward this community of 40,000. The deluge arrived in the darkness. Its ferocious intensity unleashed a massive flood of boulders, mud, and water as the combined rivers leapt their banks and invaded the town. A nearby hillside, unable to retain integrity beneath this merciless assault of the elements, gave way — burying a large section of Macoa in rubble.

(Extremely high atmospheric moisture loading in the thunderstorm system approaching the Macoa region on Friday, March 31 is indicative of global warming’s impact on the Earth’s hydrological cycle. As oceans and lands warm, the rate of evaporation and precipitation increases. This change generates more extreme versions of storms and droughts by increasing the highest peak intensity for such events. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

Residents caught unawares were forced to immediately flee homes with little more than the clothes on their backs — carrying infants or dragging children in tow as the flood waters swirled around them and as a wall of moving earth, uprooted trees and large rocks tore through town. Many escaped, but an estimated 254 residents were not so lucky and are now counted among those lost to the raging torrent and landslides.

President Juan Manuel Santos declared the city a disaster zone Saturday even as relief workers searched for survivors in the rubble and as make-shift shelters and hospitals were set up to aid the injured and displaced. According to CBC:

Santos blamed climate change for triggering the avalanche, saying that the accumulated rainfall in one night was almost half the amount Mocoa normally receives in the entire month of March. With the rainy season in much of Colombia just beginning, he said local and national authorities need to redouble their efforts to prevent a similar tragedy (emphasis added).

(UPDATED)

Links:

More Than 200 Killed in Colombia Flood — Swept Away as They Slept

Desperation Sets in as Flood Death Toll Tops 200

Damages Mount in Peru Floods

Earth Nullschool

NASA’s Earth Observatory

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Hat tip to Zeebra Designs

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26 Comments

  1. Spike

     /  April 3, 2017

    Good article – important to remind the public of the linked mechanisms with Peru, which had disappeared from the news. These disasters are coming so thick and fast, and of course our media shows very little interest when developing countries are impacted.

    Reply
    • Last night, an EF 2 tornado ripped through my hometown of Virginia Beach. The tornado was 350 yards wide and damaged over 200 homes.

      Never in my life have I heard of such a thing happening in VB. We would tend to freak out if we got an EF 0 before.

      I know the jury is still out RE climate change and tornadoes. But man is this stuff getting odd.

      Reply
      • Cate

         /  April 3, 2017

        We are sitting in the midst of white-out. It’s the second major nor-easter in less than a week–these are gigantic spinners that sit out in the Atlantic and stall, spewing us with multiple feet of snow and winds of 100kmh+, driving the pack ice solidly inshore—which promises a long cold spring. Hey ho. NE lows are common enough this time of year, although the duration (two days each) and intensity of these two back-to-back storms are noteworthy.

        PS The humpback whale that was so horrifically trapped by sea-ice in a little Newfoundland community has died. Thank goodness. Its suffering over three days was dreadful and there was nothing to be done.

        Reply
        • So sad about the whale 😦

          The warming North Atlantic increasingly generates a stronger dipole temperature anomaly vis-a-vis Greenland. This is a powerful mechanism for storm generation in your region. With climate change, the North Atlantic, in general, is likely to see storms of far greater intensity. We’ve already seen some of this. But the real trouble probably doesn’t happen until glacial melt starts ramping up.

        • Cate

           /  April 3, 2017

          So Dr Hansen’s super-storms are not quite here yet, but we can see them coming….?

        • The worst of it isn’t here yet. But what’s we’re seeing now is definitely a foretaste.

  2. Cate

     /  April 3, 2017

    Excellent piece, Robert. Thank you for explaining it so clearly and for continuing to inspire and to call to action.

    We count our blessings, you and I, and all of us reading this, I daresay. And so we are obligated to act up and speak up for those who cannot.

    Reply
    • Absolutely, and thanks so much for your kind words and dedication.

      Worth noting that republicans in the U.S. Congress are trying to advance fallacious arguments by the few fossil-fuel funded scientists who still deny climate change (Christy/Spencer etc) under the guise of ‘red-teaming’ to improve climate change arguments. It’s just another way to try and legitimize false claims… Amazing how the forays to promote fossil fuel industry funded bs just happens to be endless.

      We are at 1.2 C hotter than 1880s and are starting to cross some serious tipping points and yet these guys just want to debate the issue until the doomsday clock hits midnight.

      Reply
    • In other words, red teaming climate change is like red teaming the fact that cigarettes increase your risk of lung cancer. Same bad premise, same bad result, same waste of public time and money.

      Reply
  3. unnaturalfx

     /  April 3, 2017

    In case anyone missed this from the last thread : http://climatestate.com/2017/04/02/noam-chomsky-racing-to-the-precipice-global-climate-political-climate/
    Thank you Cate for posting. Really saddens me about the whale . Will phone my relatives in Nova Scotia tonight..be safe.

    Reply
    • Cate

       /  April 3, 2017

      Thanks, fx. All hatches battened down out here. If there’s one thing we Newfoundlanders know, it’s how to ride out an April blizzard. 😀

      Reply
  4. coloradobob

     /  April 3, 2017

    There’s another story to tell about climate change. And it starts with water
    Judith D Schwartz
    In this time of reckless US action, it’s crucial to shift the narrative beyond despair over fossil fuels and look at water as a primary tool of climate control

    https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/apr/03/climate-change-water-fossil-fuel

    Reply
  5. wili

     /  April 3, 2017

    Meanwhile, elsewhere in South America:

    “A Message From the End of the World”

    “Here in Chile, in the far south of the Southern Hemisphere, it has been the summer of our discontent. Never have so many natural catastrophes in a row hit this country at the end of the world. For once, it is not the earthquakes that have assailed us since time immemorial or the tsunamis that often follow, devastating land and coast, mountainscapes and ocean. This time, our unprecedented woes have all been man-made.

    First were the forest wildfires, mostly to the south of Santiago, the worst in recorded history. Countless acres have been burned to cinders, killing people and livestock, leveling a whole town, destroying centenarian trees as well as newer woodlands meant for export. The conflagration was not controlled until supertanker planes that could carry tons of water were flown in from abroad….

    ….A deluge descended, not in the zones where the fires continued to flare up now and then, but deep in the Andes and its glaciers, and with such fury that rivers overflowed and avalanches of mud and debris descended on villages and valleys, roads and bridges.

    As such a downpour had never come to pass before in the summer, the water-processing plants were entirely unprepared. This left millions of Chileans without water in our homes, unable to drink, cook, clean, bathe. It is as if we had been cursed with a plague: stray dogs expiring of thirst on the streets and plants withering and lines of people with buckets, wash basins, bottles, standing endlessly in front of emergency distribution centers…

    …Can President Trump be beset with such suicidal stupidity as to deny climate change and install an enemy of the earth as his environmental czar? Can he be so beholden to the blind greed of the mineral extraction industry, so ignorant of science, so monumentally arrogant, not to realize that he is inviting apocalypse? Can it be, they ask.

    The answer, alas, is yes.”

    Reply
  6. wili

     /  April 3, 2017

    better management of water, green space and wetlands as a means of ameliorating Climate change: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/apr/03/climate-change-water-fossil-fuel

    Reply
    • wili

       /  April 3, 2017

      Oops, I see that COBob just linked this above…great minds…

      Reply
  7. climatehawk1

     /  April 3, 2017

    Tweeted.

    Reply
  8. Mariano X. Rodriguez

     /  April 3, 2017

    Melting ice in n and s pole is like ocean spreading freon currents to a malfunctioning fridge. Calorimeter effect is reaching exothermic stage.

    Reply
  9. Syd Bridges

     /  April 4, 2017

    Thank you for this post, and all your other recent ones, Robert. I was watching pictures of this disaster on the BBC news last night. The size of some of the boulders left little doubt that people caught by the landslide would stand very little chance of survival.

    The news from much of South America is of unexpected disasters (well, not so unexpected for those of us who have bothered to look at what’s going on in the world and the atmosphere.) I think that the US will soon be facing similar tragedies. If Trump has not been impeached by then, I think he will have to face devastated and angry survivors when a prosperous city in the US suffers a similar such fate. These systems can now build up almost anywhere with little warning, as Ellicott City showed last year.

    Reply
    • Thanks Syd. I agree. In fact, the U.S. is already facing some unprecedented events in the form of droughts, floods, wildfires, sea level rise and odd tornado outbreaks. We have built in a decent amount of resiliency through building codes (beneficial regulation), flood mitigation, fire mitigation, water security planning, drought mitigation, and resource sharing. But the bar keeps getting raised and there’s a point where you just can’t keep up. And it’s worth noting that our infrastructure is now faltering and probably no-where near as resilient as that in parts of Europe, for example.

      To your impeachment point, five cities have now put together a lawsuit for impeaching Trump.

      Reply
  1. For Colombia, The Rain Bombs of Climate Change Fell in the Dark of Night | GarryRogers Nature Conservation
  2. 2017’s Warming Climate Produces Unprecedented Floods Across the Globe | robertscribbler
  3. 2017’s Warming Climate Produces Unprecedented Floods Across the Globe | RClimate

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