by Judith Curry
Seth Borenstein at AP published an article entitled “Nature’s extremes worse than usual in US this year.” I have a quote in the article:
Judith Curry of Georgia Tech disagreed, saying that while humans are changing the climate, these extremes have happened before, pointing to the 1950s. “Sometimes it seems as if we have weather amnesia,’’ she said.
Here is a more complete context for that quote.
Here’s is the complete text that I sent to Seth Borenstein:
This past year has seen a number of severe weather events, including extensive winter snowfall in the U.S., Europe and China; extensive springtime flooding in the central U.S., the tornado outbreak in April, continued drought and extreme summer heat in Texas, and an active Atlantic hurricane season. None of these events are unique in the historical record, neither does this collection of events in a single year seem unusual when you take a longer perspective. But is this clustering of extreme events unusual? Sometimes it seems as if we have weather amnesia. Active hurricane seasons, heavy snowfalls and floods, and severe drought in Texas are all reminiscent of the 1950’s. Natural variability is a plausible explanation for variations in extreme event frequency and also clustering of events. At the same times, humans are also influencing the climate. There is no simple way to attribute any individual extreme events or cluster of events to global warming. And since these events have not been exceptional and their clustering is reminiscent of the 1950’s, there doesn’t seem to be anything exceptional going on that cannot be explained by natural variability of chaotic weather systems.
It has been hypothesized that the AMO and PDO have a major influence on U.S. weather patterns and extreme events. From what I’ve looked at, this hypothesis has a lot of support, but of course the data record isn’t as long as one would like. The current regime is warm AMO (since 1995) and cool PDO (flickering since 1999 but decisively cool since 2007).
The previous period with warm AMO and cool PDO was 1946-1964.
Focusing specifically on the 1950’s, in the U.S. we had:
- Texas drought recall’s long punishing dry spell of the 1950’s
- Peak in U.S. hurricane landfalls in the 1950’s [link]
- Flooding from tropical storms in Vermont [link] (actually this is very common, no particular peak in the 1950’s)
- Plenty of floods in the 1950’s and esp in the early 1960’s [link], see esp The Great Flood of 1951 along the Kansas River claims 28 lives and causes extensive damage in Kansas and Missouri.
- Tornadoes: in 1953, there were two killer tornado outbreaks [link]
- Heat waves: not much going on in the 1950’s.
- In terms of heat waves, the 1930’s swamps anything we seen in the past few years [link]
- The 1930’s were quite active for North Atlantic hurricanes, but they were overall less intense and fewer landfalls than in the 1950’s
- The dust bowl drought [link]