Three river systems filled up, and powerful waters damaged the city of Brisbane.
It's not the first time. In 1974, Cyclone Wanda flooded Brisbane. But in the last 12 months, flash floods hit all over the world, from Brazil through Pakistan, to Sri Lanka. It is hardly normal weather, but is it climate change?
From Australia, I'm pleased to have Professor Matthew England on the line. He's from the Climate Change Research Centre, at The University of New South Wales, in Sydney.
We learn that the increase in water in the atmosphere, as a result of global warming, is just one factor encouraging bigger storms to come more often, dumping unheard of amounts of rain in short periods.
The other big factor is warming oceans. The heat from warmer seas, even in a "cooler" water period like El Nino, adds force to tropical cyclones, typhoons, storms. Scientists have been measuring ocean temperatures not only around Australia, but around the world.
Most of the excess heat from the greenhouse effect is going into the oceans. As you know, water takes much longer than air to heat, but then water holds that heat longer. Dr. England expresses the worry that humans have not yet felt the real impact of the heat created by the greenhouse gases - that will continue to warm the oceans, with unpredictable results. And these oceans, once warmed, may determine the climate for centuries to come.
We cover briefly the research showing people are more likely to believe in global warming at the end of the summer, than after a winter storm. Newscasters in the media play on that, and it's pathetic - the kind of logical mistake I would expect my dog to make, but not millions of viewers. My own theory is that people put up all those "where is global warming now?" posts on the Net, after a winter storm, to re-enforce our general hope that we can keep on driving and flying around, that the threat of a high-carbon atmosphere isn't real after all. I hope I haven't insulted any dogs. Maybe they would be smart enough to recognize that the species are changing, the seasons aren't what they used to be, things aren't right....
For whatever reason, the floods and deaths in Australia touched me deeply. Maybe they seem so much like us here in North America. That is could happen to us here.
But the death toll from incredibly fast and heavy rains in Brazil is much higher. I've been to a "Favella" (slum) of Rio. I've seen those homes perched on hills, with no building codes, must people building whatever shelter they can. There is no government support, not even police and fire, for those people. It's no wonder so many died, when the flash floods took down hillsides of mud. I'm worried about the poorest people in the world.
A BIG STORM FOR CALIFORNIA COMING...
Even Californians should be worried. Look up "ARkStorm". That stands for "atmospheric river 1000." Yes, a river of water in the atmosphere, hitting the U.S. West Coast.
The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) is warning a big storm could flood California any time soon. The results would be more devastating that "The Big One" - the expected big earthquake there.
The USGS just issued a report on the flooding that could happen. The Central Valley, which is the heart of the State, and produces not only massive amounts of food, but also the main economic products of California, would become one giant 300 mile long lake. San Francisco and Los Angeles would suffer hundreds of billions of dollars in damages.
Just imagination? Hardly. A storm of that size hit California in the winter of 1851/2. Scientists can still find the high water marks from that one. Now with warming oceans, and a disturbed Jet Stream, there is a much greater chance a super storm could hit California. The new report calls for local, regional and state planning on the same scale as for the earthquake. Disaster drills for every city to be affected. There is even a warning video from USGS on You tube.
You can also download the full 200 page USGS report as a free .pdf file.