The drought-flood cycle taking over the Mississippi and Missouri rivers is an example of a phenomenon known as “weather whiplash.” According to a report from the climate science communication organization, Climate Nexus, and backed by other climate researchers, the cause of the weather extremes is climate change.
From the report: “In some parts of the world, including the 1,200,000 square miles comprising the Mississippi River Basin, climate change can manifest as alternating periods of ‘feast or famine’—wide swings of extremes such as flooding and drought.”
Jeff Masters, meteorologist at Weather Underground cites “ . . . a remarkable example in mid-April, when a 200-mile stretch of the Mississippi River north of St Louis reached damaging major flood levels less than four months after near-record low water levels restricted barge traffic, forcing the Army Corps to blast out rocks from the river bottom to enable navigation.”
In 2007, Georgia experienced a 1-in-100 year drought. In 2009, a 1-in-500 year flood ripped through Atlanta, killing 10 and doing $500,000,000 in damage.
A 2011 study by a Duke University-led team of climate scientists noted that the frequency of abnormally wet or dry summer weather in the southeastern US had more than doubled in recent decades, due to an intensification of the Bermuda High. The High is centered several hundred miles to the east of the Southeast US but has been steadily moving westward over the past 30 years.
Because climate change is global, the whiplash isn’t happening only in North America, explains climate researcher Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research. “In the US, of course, it is going from floods in 2011 (Missouri through Ohio River Valley to New England, flooding Mississippi and Missouri) to widespread drought in 2012 and back to floods in 2013.
“But it’s much worse in Australia: a nine-year drought (followed by) floods mid-2010 to mid-2011 and then back to drought and record heat in January of this year.”
Weather whiplash is the new normal, according to the Climate Nexus report. “Society and its infrastructure were designed for the climate of the past, not for the rapidly changing climate of the present or the future.
“Climate change, once considered an issue for a distant future, has moved firmly into the present. Impacts related to climate change are already evident in some sectors and are expected to become increasingly challenging across the nation throughout this century and beyond.”
The pessimism seems justified when considering the cause of the Chicago sinkhole that recently swallowed 3 cars. A water main built in another time, for another weather regime, couldn’t contain flooding caused by current meteorological conditions, aka climate change.
Source: Discovery News, May 2, 2013 NPR Living on Earth, May 25, 2013 Climate Denial Crock of the Week, May 9, 2013