Sunday, August 8, 2010

Russia's Portentous Summer

Jeff Masters says, "one of the most remarkable weather events of my lifetime is unfolding this summer in Russia" where the current heat wave is pretty much entirely off the historical charts. For comparison, the 2003 heat wave across Western Europe killed more than 40,000 people - and the present heat wave in Russia is far more extreme than that:

Says Masters:
The past 25 days in a row have exceeded 30°C (86°F) in Moscow, and there is no relief in sight--the latest forecast for Moscow calls for high temperatures near 100°F (37.8°C) for the majority of the coming week. As I reported in yesterday's post, the number of deaths in Moscow in July 2010 was about 5,000 more than in July 2009, suggesting that the heat wave has been responsible for thousands of deaths in Moscow alone. I would expect that by the time the Great Russian Heat Wave of 2010 is over, the number of premature deaths caused by the heat wave will approach or exceed the 40,000 who died in the 2003 European Heat Wave. As seen in Figure 2, the Russian heat wave of this year is more intense and affects a wider region than the great 2003 heat wave, though the population affected by the two heat waves is probably similar.
Another commentator writes:
To put this in rough perspective -- and note this is not absolutely precise, it's purely ballpark to give you some feel for what the Russian people are enduring -- if this heat wave was hitting North America, it would be near 100°F in Fairbanks, Alaska. Most of Canada would be baking at 100° or higher, the northeast, from Maine to the Great Lakes region would be hitting upwards of 105° everyday, even the nightly low in the massive urban heat islands of New York and Chicago would be over 90°! The midwest grain belt and parts of the Pacific Northwest would not see a drop of rain for two months and pushing as high as 110° in places. The desert southwest, even some of the higher elevations of Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, and West Texas, would be as uninhabitable as Death Valley or the Sahara.

It would mean nation-wide massive power brownouts, unprecedented crop failures, water rationing like you have never seen, record wildfires raging in dozens of states, thousands of deaths [Correction: Dr. Jeff Masters at WeatherUnderground informs me it would probably more like tens of thousands of deaths] and life threatening heat related illness, roads and highways clogged with broken-down, over-heated cars, and emergency services stretched beyond the breaking point across the US and Canada. The conditions could be so severe in places, especially if the wave persisted for a couple of years, that it could produce mass migration, i.e., refugees, the likes of which haven't been seen since the Great Depression.
Tens of thousands of deaths from the sort of weather event that will become more common as global warming continues apace. The usual caveat applies about the fallacy of attributing individual weather events to long-term climate trends, but needless to say, a warming planet will experience more severe heat waves. As Masters notes:
Looking back at the past decade, which was the hottest decade in the historical record, Seventy-five countries set extreme hottest temperature records (33% of all countries.) For comparison, fifteen countries set extreme coldest temperature records over the past ten years (6% of all countries).
Weather events like these heat waves have proven their capacity to have death tolls in the five figures. But perhaps the most ominous portent of the Russian heat wave has been the government's move to ban grain exports - a response to the decimation of wheat crops due to the wildfires and drought that have attended the heat wave. Natural calamity leading to resource nationalism, causing food prices to spike across the globe: this story will be written again in the decades to come.


Richard said...

The global warming denyers seem to have shut up.

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Please tie in the isolated event of a heat wave to global warming(at least your version of it).

Everything that has ever happened on this earth results in the conditions of today. The question is whether man made global warming of late "caused" this heat wave, added 1 degree to it (it would have occured anyway) or had any impact at all. It's still pure speculation at this point.

Precursors are often sought out by the advocates of irresponsible management.

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This one point I never understand about the warming-denyers:

Who cares if it's man-made or not? Unless you're saying carbon dioxide isn't a greenhouse gas or greenhouse gases don't cause warming or other such nonsense, the increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is a major problem that we'll have to contend with. Sitting on your bum and twiddling your thumbs will do nothing to keep Florida from being submerged underwater.

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