More frequent so-called 100-year floods
U.S. weather extremes show ‘new normal’ climate
A child’s doll sits among the ruins of homes badly damaged in April 27’s deadly tornados in Tuscaloosa, Alabama May 2, 2011. REUTERS/Lee Celano
* “Global weirding” seen in violent storms
* More frequent so-called 100-year floods
* Global cost of natural disasters escalating
WASHINGTON, May 18 (Reuters) – Heavy rains, deep snowfalls,
monster floods and killing droughts are signs of a “new normal”
of extreme U.S. weather events fueled by climate change,
scientists and government planners said on Wednesday.
“It’s a new normal and I really do think that global
weirding is the best way to describe what we’re seeing,”
climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe of Texas Tech University
“We are used to certain conditions and there’s a lot going
on these days that is not what we’re used to, that is outside
our current frame of reference,” Hayhoe said on a conference
call with other experts, organized by the non-profit Union of
An upsurge in heavy rainstorms in the United States has
coincided with prolonged drought, sometimes in the same
location, she said, noting that west Texas has seen a
record-length dry period over the last five years, even as
there have been two 100-year rain events.
Hayhoe, other scientists, civic planners and a manager at
the giant Swiss Re reinsurance firm all cited human-caused
climate change as an factor pushing this shift toward more
While none would blame climate change for any specific
weather event, Hayhoe said a background of climate change had
an impact on every rainstorm, heat wave or cold snap.
“What we’re seeing is the new normal is constantly
evolving,” said Nikhil da Victoria Lobo of Swiss Re’s Global
Partnerships team. “Globally what we’re seeing is more
volatility … there’s certainly a lot more integrated risk
In addition to more extreme local weather events, he said,
changes in demographics and how materials are supplied make
them more vulnerable.
“In a more integrated economic system, a single shock to an
isolated area can actually end up having broad-based and
material implications,” da Victoria Lobo said. For example, if
a local storm knocks out transport and communications systems,
“someone 1,000 miles (1,600 km) away is not receiving their
iPad or their car.”
Aaron Durnbaugh, deputy commissioner for natural resources
and water quality for Chicago, said adapting to climate change
is a daunting task.
Citing the down-to-earth example of Chicago’s 4,400 miles
(7,080 km) of sewer mains, which were installed over the last
150 years and will take decades to replace, Durnbaugh said
accurate forecasting of future storms and floods is essential.
The city of Chicago’s cost of dealing with extreme weather
events through the end of this century has been conservatively
estimated in a range from $690 million to $2.5 billion,
Durnbaugh said, with the cost to homeowners and local
businesses expected to be far higher.
Globally, da Victoria Lobo said the annual average economic
losses from natural disasters have escalated from $25 billion
in the 1980s to $130 billion in the first decade of the 21st