State of the climate 2011: extreme heat our fault

This year’s State of the Climate report [PDF], covering 2011, was published yesterday, and has made headline news around the world because of its focus on weather extremes. Can we blame some of the extremes of heat and heavy rain on continued warming? The answer — based on a new global effort to look at attribution of six of 2011’s extreme events — is yes. However, Dr Peter Dr Peter Stott, Head of Climate Monitoring and Attribution at the Met Office, and one of the lead authors of the extremes research said:

… we didn’t find evidence that climate change has affected the odds of all the extreme weather events we looked at, [but] we did see that some events were significantly more likely. Overall we’re seeing that human influence is having a marked impact on some types of extreme weather.

The UK Met Office summarised some of the key findings:

  • December 2010 was the second coldest and November 2011 the second warmest in the Central England temperature record dating back to 1659. The extreme warm average temperature in November 2011 is 60 times more likely to have occurred than in the 1960s. The change in odds of the extremely cold December was considerably less, however, being only about half as likely. Even without climate change, unusual circulation patterns can still bring very cold winter months.
  • In 2011, Texas had its hottest and driest summer in records dating back to 1895. While the heat wave was associated with La Nina conditions in the Pacific Ocean, the heat wave was 20 times more likely in such conditions than it would have been only 50 years ago.
  • There were some remarkable temperatures across Western Europe in 2011. Comparisons to the temperatures previously associated with the weather patterns seen in 2011 reveal the year was almost 1.5 deg C warmer than can be attributed to weather patterns alone.

The paper dealing with the attribution exercise, Explaining Extreme Events Of 2011 From A Climate Perspective, by Peterson et al (BAMS, July 2012, pdf here) is well worth a read.

Below the fold: the full abstract of the State Of The Climate 2011 report – an excellent short form overview of the year…

Large-scale climate patterns influenced temperature and weather patterns around the globe in 2011. In particular, a moderate-to-strong La Niña at the beginning of the year dissipated during boreal spring but reemerged during fall. The phenomenon contributed to historical droughts in East Africa, the southern United States, and northern Mexico, as well the wettest two-year period (2010–11) on record for Australia, particularly remarkable as this follows a decade-long dry period. Precipitation patterns in South America were also influenced by La Niña. Heavy rain in Rio de Janeiro in January triggered the country’s worst floods and landslides in Brazil’s history.

The 2011 combined average temperature across global land and ocean surfaces was the coolest since 2008, but was also among the 15 warmest years on record and above the 1981–2010 average. The global sea surface temperature cooled by 0.1°C from 2010 to 2011, associated with cooling influences of La Niña. Global integrals of upper ocean heat content for 2011 were higher than for all prior years, demonstrating the Earth’s dominant role of the oceans in the Earth’s energy budget. In the upper atmosphere, tropical stratospheric temperatures were anomalously warm, while polar temperatures were anomalously cold. This led to large springtime stratospheric ozone reductions in polar latitudes in both hemispheres. Ozone concentrations in the Arctic stratosphere during March were the lowest for that period since satellite records began in 1979. An extensive, deep, and persistent ozone hole over the Antarctic in September indicates that the recovery to pre-1980 conditions is proceeding very slowly.

Atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations increased by 2.10 ppm in 2011, and exceeded 390 ppm for the first time since instrumental records began. Other greenhouse gases also continued to rise in concentration and the combined effect now represents a 30% increase in radiative forcing over a 1990 baseline. Most ozone depleting substances continued to fall. The global net ocean carbon dioxide uptake for the 2010 transition period from El Niño to La Niña, the most recent period for which analyzed data are available, was estimated to be 1.30 Pg C yr-1, almost 12% below the 29-year long-term average.

Relative to the long-term trend, global sea level dropped noticeably in mid-2010 and reached a local minimum in 2011. The drop has been linked to the La Nina conditions that prevailed throughout much of 2010–11. Global sea level increased sharply during the second half of 2011.

Global tropical cyclone activity during 2011 was well- below average, with a total of 74 storms compared with the 1981–2010 average of 89. Similar to 2010, the North Atlantic was the only basin that experienced above- normal activity. For the first year since the widespread introduction of the Dvorak intensity-estimation method in the 1980s, only three tropical cyclones reached Category 5 intensity level—all in the Northwest Pacific basin.

The Arctic continued to warm at about twice the rate compared with lower latitudes. Below-normal summer snowfall, a decreasing trend in surface albedo, and above-average surface and upper air temperatures resulted in a continued pattern of extreme surface melting, and net snow and ice loss on the Greenland ice sheet. Warmer-than-normal temperatures over the Eurasian Arctic in spring resulted in a new record-low June snow cover extent and spring snow cover duration in this region. In the Canadian Arctic, the mass loss from glaciers and ice caps was the greatest since GRACE measurements began in 2002, continuing a negative trend that began in 1987. New record high temperatures occurred at 20 m below the land surface at all permafrost observatories on the North Slope of Alaska, where measurements began in the late 1970s. Arctic sea ice extent in September 2011 was the second-lowest on record, while the extent of old ice (four and five years) reached a new record minimum that was just 19% of normal.

On the opposite pole, austral winter and spring temperatures were more than 3°C above normal over much of the Antarctic continent. However, winter temperatures were below normal in the northern Antarctic Peninsula, which continued the downward trend there during the last 15 years. In summer, an all-time record high temperature of -12.3°C was set at the South Pole station on 25 December, exceeding the previous record by more than a full degree. Antarctic sea ice extent anomalies increased steadily through much of the year, from briefly setting a record low in April, to well above average in December. The latter trend reflects the dispersive effects of low pressure on sea ice and the generally cool conditions around the Antarctic perimeter.

Download the full report here.

50 thoughts on “State of the climate 2011: extreme heat our fault”

  1. Northern Mexico now reckoned to be in permanent drought:

    Chihuahua, the size of Belgium and Mexico’s largest state, is covered by vast pine forests and extensive, scrubby savannah, which has been used to rear livestock since the conquering Spaniards first arrived in the mid-16th Century.

    Traditionally, it did rain here. Not much, but enough to produce meat as well as corn, beans and even wheat for the rest of Mexico. But not any more. In the seven decades to 2010, average annual precipitation was 39cm in Chihuahua. In 2011, it rained only 26cm and so far this year, it has not rained at all. “Parts of northern Mexico are now in permanent drought. In other words, the climate has already changed,” says Carlos Gay, an atmospheric physicist and head of the climate change programme at Latin America’s largest university, Mexico City’s UNAM.

    “There is no doubt that this drought is the result of climate change. When you look at a single event, you cannot say so, but when you look at the bigger pattern it becomes very clear.”

  2. Over at the Guardian Myles Allen wonders if this explicit linking of events allows for a new legal approach:

    ,So rather than haggling over emission caps and carbon taxes, why not start with a simple statement of principle: standard product liability applies to anyone who sells or uses fossil fuels, including liability for any third-party side-effects.

    Intriguing. The US has an ‘Endangerment finding” as to CO2, and now this further link in the evidential chain of causation. So maybe fossil fuels can be called in under our Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act for a fresh classification? Or take a public nuisance action against Marsden Point refinery?

    1. So rather than haggling over emission caps and carbon taxes, why not start with a simple statement of principle: standard product liability applies to anyone who sells or uses fossil fuels, including liability for any third-party side-effects

      Uses fossil fuels? So this would include most of the human race then

  3. I confidently predict that the Big Fossils and Big Stupid (the enabling Right-wing Think Tanks / PR Agencies) will eventually get to spend as much time in court as Big Tobacco has…

    Bring on the Class Actions!

    1. I agree. This is only a matter of when, not if.

      Reportedly the sale figures of knife sharpeners to the top environmental law firms in the US has been rising faster than the mercury across the US lately… 😉

      1. Presumably we’ll also be able to sue users of fossil fuels too then?
        e.g car drivers, taxi drivers, truck drivers who deliver goods to supermarkets, anyone who manufactures or uses iron and steel products that use coal during the smelting process, (e.g wind turbines, bicycles, nuts and bolts, etc)

        You get my drift.

        1. Dear andy, did anyone sue the corner store that sold them the tobacco, or did they sue the Tobacco companies themselves?

          Oh, yes, well, that was easy, wasn’t it? And took about 0.5 seconds of thought.

          You forget that to rather more sophisticated intellects making distinctions and identifying ultimate causes comes relatively easily…

          1. You forget that to rather more sophisticated intellects making distinctions and identifying ultimate causes comes relatively easily…

            More sophisticated intellects?
            Fossil fuels have built our entire industrial civilisation, and you have yet to provide a credible alternative.

            When you are burning tallow candles in your yurt, you might want to think about that

            1. By the way, i was responding to the quote from Myles Allen that “users” of fossil fuels should be liable.

              If it is only the Oil companies liable, then would this include the contractors and service personnel? Would it include the shareholders?

            2. Dear andy, you’re being obtuse again.

              We Tax the users of hazardous products, and, if necessary, we Sue the manufacturers of such products. Particularly if they’ve spent years bullshitting us about how safe their product is.

              It’s really not hard.

            3. Shareholders – unless they are directors – are never liable beyond losing the value of their shares in case the company goes bust due to litigation or damage claims.

              Liability for implications of products lies with the manufacturers. Culpability comes into play where against better and explicit knowledge companies and their directors act in a manner that is inconsistent with their obligation to minimize public or private harm or where they engage in activities to pervert the course of justice such as obfuscating facts, hiding evidence or engaging in manipulations that prevent the mitigation of the damages their products create in a timely manner and prevent the avoidance of further damages. Profit motives are not a permissible defense there!

              But Andy is correct, we all will pay the price through higher fuel prices juts as smokers pay the price for their habit through high tobacco prices. This mechanism (price) is certainly a valid one to move society towards enacting solutions instead of greenwashing the problems. It is also a very acceptable one to a capitalist system I would think.

              There is nothing wrong with making damaging products scarce and drive the price up and then let the ingenuity of the people invent solutions that replace and avoid these products. There is also nothing wrong with the public investing into such solutions just as there is nothing wrong with private venture capital investing in promising technology.

  4. Yet another.

    Report of selective cherrypicking and propaganda. Ignoring much historic climate data. Showing worse extremes in climate than in recent years.

    So Humanity gives up all CO2 emissions to save Gaia. That means at least around 95% of those same emissions are coming from Gaia herself. So not much evidence of human induced extreme climate change then afterall.

    I suppose it’ll be back to ancient human sacrifices to bring rain and stop droughts, etc. A common practice in ancient civilization.

    Much of these extremes are in the natural variable catergory anfd any scientist who satys differently is over falsifying and outright lying!

  5. I agree with Gareth on DNFTT. Cameron Slater, AKA whaleoil is a denial a loon in this regard. There was an article in today’s NZ Herald that shows that the planet is naturally sequestering carbon, it’ll be interesting to see how that plays out, nonetheless according to him and all the self supporting loons, AGW is at an end. if it were only that easy! eh!

  6. Interesting that the Met Office, of which Stott is an employee, has been consistently telling the public that

    Heatwaves and torrential rain resulting in floods are likely to become more common. On average, summers will be drier and winters wetter.

    However, the colder snowy winters and cool, wet summers that the UK has been getting, at complete odds with the Met Office’s prediction, are also evidence of man-made climate change, of course. This is because whatever happens, it is evidence of man-made climate change, even if exactly the same wet summer occurs 50 years ago, when it was just a natural climatic phenomenon.

    1. Andy, before availing us us of your preconceived views on this subject, why not take the time to read the report and article referenced in the post, and then give us the benefit of your informed opinion?

  7. Extreme events. We’ve heard it all before. The extreme events were more extreme historically at lower CO2 levels below 350ppm. There’s very little evidence of CO2 or GHGs induced extreme weather.

    From a meteorology point of view colder climatic conditions actually produce more extreme unstable climatic weather events than warmer periods.

    As for the claims on the Texas drought and the US Heatwaves. It’s very clear those individual who wrote this report. Cherrypicked their claims on the severity of the events.

    1. Sorry Gareth but…………

      MarianP – insofar as heatwaves and record-breaking heat it’s actually very simple to understand. As the climate gets warmer the mean (average) temperature increases thereby raising the odds of weather fluctuations breaking heat records.

      In contrast, and counter to common intuition, in a stationary climate i.e. one that is neither undergoing long-term warming or cooling, the probability of record-breaking decreases with time.

      The Earth is already locked into decades of further warming because of its continued energy imbalance, so the probability of more severe and frequent heat records/heatwaves will rise too.

      And lastly work by NASA scientists Hansen, Sato and Ruedy shows that spectacular increases in extreme heat records is a historical fact. In other words the warming to date has already sparked an increase in record-breaking heat.

      As ever, I write this not for your benefit, but for the reader who may actually be interested in the facts.

  8. “As for the claims on the Texas drought and the US Heatwaves. It’s very clear those individual who wrote this report. Cherrypicked their claims on the severity of the events.”

    Should read cherrypicked their claims on the severity of the events on a historic scale.

    As for the US droughts. They’ve actually got overall historically less severity at higher CO2 levels. That FACT inconveniently gets in the way of AGW/CC.

    1. Marian, please do not make counterfactual assertions such as those above without providing references to support your argument. As I said, read the comment policy.

  9. According to one of my work colleagues AGW theory is just a scam. Interestingly he is a high ranking scientist, has studied physics, and who trumpets the new skeptic bible “The Inconvenient Skeptic” by John Kehr a chemical engineer. The age old skeptic myths are perpetuated, but google fails to show up any critical review of the book by any reputable climate scientist or organisation. All you find are links that go back to the author’s web site and a myriad of glowing appraisals along the way, none of which are from any specialists in climate science.

    It seems to me that the climate skeptics are never short of volunteers to rehash the myths that even my esteemed colleague who should know better, is willing to believe. Dare I say Kehr may be getting a small kickback from the Koch brothers for his efforts and peristently perpetuating nonsense in web blogs.

    I wonder if the lack of a critical review is due to the possibility of so much misinformation that the experts can no longer be bothered debunking yet another book reiterating the same nonsense all over again. Meantime Rome still burns.

    1. Debunking stuff like that can turn into a full time effort easily, given the quantity of the debunkable material out there and the persistence with which it crops up. I think the matter is similar to the Creation Science or Intelligent design crowds and their publications. No matter how many people point the facts out to them its not going to change minds. Once people put the defense of their preconceived notions before any honest attempt to evaluate new evidence they are lost for the world of reason and science.

      For some people the only way to look afresh to the facts is evidence that they see and feel with their own senses and even catastrophic events on another continent will not suffice. Only when the fires of Rome start lapping at their front door, they may concede that we have a problem.

      In the meanwhile its perhaps best to point people to those websites that have assembled a consistent and easily accessible collection of all the main arguments such as and leave those people to their own world until they are ready actually read material that is not in agreement with their preconceived views.

  10. Hopefully there will be some let up soon, but mid to long-term drought is likely to be a persistent problem in the United States, as warming drives expansion of the sub-tropical dry zones. And the lack of moisture will drive greater and more extreme heatwaves, because evaporation of water from soils acts as a cooling agent.

    There can only be one winner in the war against reality, and that won’t be the contrarians.

  11. Dapplewater.

    You fail.

    The Fact is there is little evidence of heatwaves becoming more severe. And certainly NOT caused by increased CO2.

    I see the US NCDC figures for June are on . Despite heatwaves June 2012 was only the 15th ranking.

    Historicaly heatwaves were worse at Lower CO2 levels. So despite increased CO2..There appears to be little evidence of them getting severe. And that goes by many of these other weather events.

    1. Sorry Bill……….

      MarianP – Weather fluctuations which create these extreme heat records are tied to the mean (average) temperature (i.e climate). As the climate warms weather fluctuations rise up with, and along with, the climate and this spectactularly raises the odds of record-breaking heat. The following portion is from an upcoming SkS post I’ve written:

      “One analogy I’ve used before is to imagine a boat tied to a jetty. The top of the mast represents our temperature series, the incoming tide is the slowly warming climate, and the chaotic waves are weather fluctuations. Now using the jetty as a reference point, at regular intervals we measure the highest point the top of the mast reaches and this is our record-breaking heat extreme.

      Clearly the record extreme has two components – the wave strength/height fluctuation and the slowly rising tide. In this scenario the waves may have been largely responsible for record breaking heat extremes early on in our time series, but as the tide continues to rise, the mast height gets higher, the average height recording increases, and so does the probability that the rising tide is responsible for the increased record-breaking.”

      To claim that the rising tide (warming climate) has no effect on record-breaking is clearly absurd. At some point in that scenario most of the record-breaking is attributable to the rising tide, but waves (weather) always play a part. Similarly on Earth the warming climate eventually reaches a point where it is responsible for the majority of record-breaking heat, but natural variability (weather fluctuations) always play a part too.

      That’s the simplified theoretical basis, but a huge increase in extreme events is readily observed in the historical temperature data. That’s the paper I referred you to earlier. The following is from that paper:

      Again, this is for the benefit of rational readers, not for ideologues like yourself.

  12. Thanks, DW, I’ll add that slide to my collection for “brainwashing” children.

    At least andyS has a vestigial sense of humour, unlike this demented harridan MarianP…

    1. So you call me a demented Harridan.

      There’s no one more demented than some one whose on a crusade to save the world on a fantasy issues.

      The vast amjority of historic USA heat temperature records still stand despite all the beatup and the claims the Heat is our fault.

      There’s no more demented than someione on a crusade to saave the world.

      You seem to nhave avery typical doyubles standard about name calling on this blog. Usual Watermelon Hypocrisy.

  13. That’s a fairly compelling graph Gareth.

    Now MarianP why don’t you talk us through it. You must surely have plenty from your denialist arsenal to choose from. Is it fabricated data, nothing to do with GHG emissions, or simply nothing to worry about? Take your pick. Oh and don’t forget to support your conclusions with relevant references just to keep my colleagues happy.

    1. Maybe you could provide the underlying data that formed these pie charts before you expect anyone to critique the political position you have created from your Powerpoint slide deck?

          1. Hey andy, maybe you’re right! I know… let’s look here.

            In the case of ‘MarianP’ the P must stand for ‘Poe’, surely? Personally, I think you’re laying on the sub-literate parody too thick…

  14. I can only assume from the reactions that the driver was not aboard this ‘dozer, thankfully, but there are spectacular things happening in Greenland, as seen in the Hot Tweets.

    Here’s a quote from the local media –

    3.5 million liters of water pressed through the narrow river every second. It’s almost a doubling of previous records. It’s no wonder that a 20 ton wheel loader was torn away from the bridge in Kangerlussuaq like a toy.

    There’s further discussion on Neven’s blog about whether it’s actually unprecedented, particularly given the record melt in 2010 (and more video), but… wow!

  15. And here’s a video that will do the rounds.

    As Joe Romm points out, the media is starting to shift focus and increasingly frame the issue, not as ‘the two sides weigh in’ rhetorical battle, but as ‘here’s the science, here’s the evidence of the world around us, and over there’s the industry-funded margins’.

    I.e. the reality of the situation.

    It’s been pleasing to see properly respectful treatment of Mike Mann of late, too. And you’d really have to be a fanatic to manage to see him as a fanatic here.

    As things stand, Denial is melting faster than Greenland, no matter what their own magical thinkers keep telling themselves. In all seriousness, people, if we don’t know who you are already this would be a very good time to discreetly bail-out… and even if we do, ‘dead but won’t lie down’ is not admirable, it’s merely pig-headed!

  16. Bring on the International Climate Crimes Tribunal and hang ’em high, I say!

    Of course, most of these doddering old fools will escape justice, but Morano is young enough to make an example of – he should spend the rest of his life piling sandbags onto levees…

    1. Rhetoric aside, Morano’s deeply unpleasant habit of publishing scientists emails while simultaneously whipping up hysteria against them makes him a deserving target of the deepest censure, and many indeed must look forward to his attaining something resembling his just deserts…

  17. …Meanwhile just like a P addict gleaming at the prospect of the next hit the USA are looking to the “changes in the Arctic” in pretty much a one sided manner: The opening of new grounds for economic plunder, for a the next big (temporary) fix, for another shot into the vanes of the wilting body…

    Look to the Arctic. That’s where much of our common future is about to play out. (CNN)

    Climate change the big enabler of … well… accelerated climate change of the future. The vanishing ice has other “positive” climate feedback mechanisms than just the albedo effect…. and one should perhaps do a back of the envelope calculation to the effect of adding all the Arctic’s drillable oil and gas resources’ CO2 to the atmosphere…

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