Reporters got a slight reprieve this week from weariness while writing yet another global warming story on records set and on ecosystems and economies stricken by climate-related natural disaster. The reason is that both of the latest examples are such extreme events that even the most jaded reporter on the climate beat has to be hitting the keyboard with vigor – imaginations going overtime trying to find fresh ways to express the superlative. The first instance of news is that the temperature average in 2012 for the 48 contiguous US states not only set a record as has been expected it demolished the old one by a margin that few would have imagined likely – a full effing (ie Fahrenheit) degree. Even though global temps last year were about on par for the new-normal but scorching last ten years, the US experience is a standout and not in a good way. The second is that in Australia temperatures have gone so high, and keep in mind it is still early in the Southern summer, that gov't weather watchers had to find a whole new color or two for their maps. Some say it's going to get even worse down under for the next week or more. Wildfires are nearly everywhere. Eucalyptus forests are nearly exploding as the flames reach them. Nobody except thousands of sheep and cattle have died yet, but many houses are gone. Several reporters folded mention of both into single stories.
For the US statistical jawdropper, a few headlines and selected passages:
- AP – Seth Borenstein: US seared during hottest year on record by far ; Lede: "America set an off-the-charts hear record in 2012." And that's no metaphor, Seth tells the tracker. Gov't climatologists had to redraft the template to fit the new number on their standard graph.
- Time Magazine – Bryan Walsh: 2012 Was the Hottest Year in U.S. History. And Yes – It's Climate Change ; "….That's a landslide, by meteorological standards. That's Alabama beating Notre Dame to a bloody Irish pulp … It was really, really hot last year." One of the more vivid pieces, including cogent summary of the drought that came with the heat (and that's not yet over), and all in a tidy nine grafs.
- USA Today – Doyle Rice: 2012 was warmest year in US history ; "smashed the record" and a source who says "What was truly astronishing was the ratio of heat records vs. cold records that were established over the course of the year" with 362 all-time highs but only – um, zero actually – all-time lows.
- Washington Post – Juliet Eilperin: 2012 hotttest year on record in contiguous U.S., NOAA says ; Telling quote from a law school professor (!) "A hundred years now, they're not going to be talking about health care or the fiscal cliff. But they will ask, "What did you do when we knew we were going to have serious climate change." One wonders why Eilperin did not challenge, in her story, two unworried sources to stick to the subject. John Christy, reliable pooh-pooher at the U. of Alabama, replies that some of his colleagues exaggerate the threat but illustrates his point by saying poor people like the energy they get from fossil fuels that they need to rise from their current condition. OK, a truism, but…???!!! And Judith A. Curry of Georgia Tech, who needles climate scientists who say anything not totally rigorously defensible, says it is premature to blame droughts or hurricanes on global warming. Like that obviates worry over world and US temperature rise.
- Washington Post/Capital Weather Gang – Jason Samenow: US experiences warmest and second most extreme weather year ever recorded, in 2012: NOAA's top climate man Tom Karl says here, the recent run actually started before 2012 and "has never occurred (in climate records) and is clearly symptomatic of a changing climate."
- Climate Central – Andrew Freedman: NOAA: 2012 Hottest and 2nd-Most Extreme Year on Record; Here's a well-composed summary graf, well down inside: "The year consisted of the fourth-warmest winter, the warmest spring, second-warmest summer, and a warmer-than-average fall. With an average temperature that was 3.6°F above average, July became the hottest month ever recorded in the contiguous U.S. The average springtime temperature in the lower 48 was so far above the 1901-2000 average — 5.2°F, to be exact — that the country set a record for the largest temperature departure for any season on record." Climate Central, by the way, did a persuasive job in December explaining why just such a record as this was already clearly inevitable well before the year ended.
The Other Hand Dept, or just so you don't for a moment think the climate fringe is throwing in the towel lookit this post:
- Powerline – John Hinderaker: Was 2012 The Hottest Year on Record in the US? ; Only if you believe the stats from NOAA and NCDC, which lack integrity it says here, going on to declare that this what you gotta expect of outfits that receive many millions of dollars to promote global warming theory, which'd be a scandal were it not for our Democratic Party-controlled media universe.
Grist for the Mill: NOAA 2012 State of the Climate report ;
MEANWHILE, Australia Burns:
- NYTimes – Matt Siegel: Record Heat Fuels Widespread Fires in Australia:
Sydney Morning Herald – Ben Cubby: Get Used to record-breaking heat: bureau ; Quite a quote here from a climate scientist (a quote also picked up by Siegel at the NYTimes) : "
“Those of us who spend our days trawling – and contributing to – the scientific literature on climate change are becoming increasingly gloomy about the future of human civilisation,’’ said Liz Hanna, convener of the human health division at the Australian National University’s Climate Change Adaptation Network. ‘‘We are well past the time of niceties, of avoiding the dire nature of what is unfolding, and politely trying not to scare the public. The unparalleled setting of new heat extremes is forcing the continual upwards trending of warming predictions for the future, and the timescale is contracting.’’
- Hamilton Spectator: Heat-fueled fires called most significant event in Australia's history ; Sure somebody sayd so but which, on reflection, cannot be. Can it? As it came from a climatologist in context of this event and previous such spells, surely means only in its climate history. The headline writer should have resisted the temptation to seize this non-contexted exaggeration and run with it.
- NYTimes Dot Earth (opinion) Andrew Revkin: Australian Forecasters Add New Colors to Temperature Charts to Capture Record Heat ; But as Andy says, actual temps have crept so far only into one of the new colors that for awhile looked like near-sure things. It's going purple, but not yet pink (which tops out at 54 C, or 129.2 F, and that'd be staggeringly hot even for Death Valley.
A contrary view worth pondering if not embracing is in The Telegraph from a gadfly on perceived enviro overreach, Brendan O'Neill, who headlines his column "Like mad millenarians, Greens view the Australian heatwave as punishment for Aussies' backward behaviour and beliefs." Behind the huffing to exalt unrestricted consumerism and other exaggeration of his point is that his point should be chewed and understood by reporters striving for objectivity. Which is, if not in his words: Even if the policies of the US and Australia are muddle-headed is no reason to take satisfaction when reality intrudes and wreaks wide suffering. I have to confess to unwisely chortling, when drought and brutal heat gripped Texas and Oklahoma last spring and summer, hah! and take THAT Jim Inhofe and Joe Barton! Just deserts is served? To think so out loud is no more worthy than when the mighty righty tribe makes Al Gore jokes whenever heavy snows fall on DC.
Grist for the Mill: Australian Gov't Bureau of Meteorology Press Release/ Record breaking heatwave to continue this week ; Also and however, OZ is not the USA. Its Met Bureau's 2012 summary reports that temperatures last year were warmer than the historic average, but not crazy warmer.