Adaptation [UPDATED]

Robert Grumbine points out that the recent derecho that hit Washington DC demonstrates the folly of thinking we can simply adapt to climate change:

I live in the national Capitol area for what is supposed to be the richest and most technologically advanced country on the earth. ; And many, large population, counties around me are among the wealthiest in the country. ; If any area should be well-adapted to current weather, forget to climate ;change, it is this area. ; Let’s just consider events already in hand.
The storm:

  • Killed power for half the national Capitol area (1.5 million of about 3 million people lost power)
  • Took down 911 (emergency — life-threatening emergency — phone service) in some counties
  • Took down land line phone service in parts of the area
  • Took down cell phone service in parts of the area
  • 24 hours after the storm hit, about half of those who had lost power still didn’t have it back
  • The restoration of electricity to everybody is expected to take a week
  • Registered only about 50 mph (about 22 m/s, 80 kph) winds in a span of 30-60 minutes at the official recording station (DCA), with gusts about 40% faster. (different figures in other parts of the country that were hit).

One observation about those facts, is that none of them are exceptional for this area. ; The last time such a thing happened was … August 2011, due to rain fromIrene ;(which was not hurricane force in our area, hurricane force being 74 mph / 34 m/s). ; Thunderstorms do ordinarily pass 50 mph winds. ; They don’t do it as often in this area as Chicago, but it’s still a normal thing.

This wealthy area of a wealthy country is not adapted for weather it already gets on about an annual basis. ; It’s nonsense to claim that “we’ll adapt to climate change”.

Climate change adaptation is piffle. ; Pie in the sky nonsense. ; We are not adapted to weather we already get routinely.

emphasis mine

When it comes to any adaptation vs mitigation arguments, I always fall back to to John Holdren’s comments: There is mitigation adaptation and suffering, the question is what the ratio between the three will be.

As it stands now I am not at all happy about the ratio we are picking.

UPDATE: More from Robert Grumbine:

we had about 1 hour of winds averaging 50 mph (22 m/s) in the recent storm. Such winds are highly abnormal, in that the average is 5-10 mph. But there are 8766 hours in a year. It is normal, I believe (haven’t pulled down the full data set), for at least 1 hour in the year to average 50 mph here. One sense of normal is the arithmetic average. Another is ‘what are the winds you see less than 1% of the time’? That would be the 99th percentile winds — you get that or faster 87.66 hours per year. 99.9th percentile is 8.766 hours, which I think is about right for 50 mph in this area. 99.99th percentile is something you expect to see about 50 minutes each year (maybe this is where we were). In other words, it is normal to be that abnormal.

Comments:

  1. Such a soft and enticing word, "adaptation," but it entails iterative destruction leading to some form of convergence on new habits.

    Human nature being what it is the process of adaptation is absolutely not going to be efficient or painless. The very fact that we've boxed ourselves into making this situation far worse than need be tells us how poorly we'll execute on adaptation.

  2. I think Bob is being a tad unfair here. The conditions that hit DC were extraordinary but not unprecedented. What is unprecedented is the width of the region around DC that experienced comparable conditions. This means that the repair resources that normally could be concentrated on a local area are now dispersed around an area of several states.

    The event was meteorologically bizarre. Even modest derechos are rare east of the Allegheny range. There is no clear precedent I have heard of for a disruption of this scale in an area as densely populated as the Northern Virginia- DC-Baltimore-Philadelphia area.

    The good news is that this was not really "ordinary extraoridinary" weather. That's the bad news, too.

  3. Michael: I gave a longer reply at my blog. Didn't know that you'd commented here. A couple of things for here.

    1) An area that can get hurricanes should be able to cope with a derecho, even if it's rare to get a derecho. Hurricane winds are stronger and last longer.

    2) The scale of the power companies involved is not large. The scale of this storm was. But the individual power companies here experienced only ordinary thunderstorm-scale weather. And thunderstorms are normal. Even with 50 mph winds it's normal.

    Phil:
    I agree. More precisely, I still hold that old conservative notion of 'an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure'.

    Digressing: Yesterday was the 8th straight day of 95 degree heat in the area. That tied the record with 1987, 1993, 2002 (iirc). 1987, which set many of the, then, all-time heat records for the DC area was my first summer here. We'll probably obliterate that record this weekend as we're not forecast to be below 95 (nor even to be much below 100) until Monday.

  4. Wave of adaptation washes over Russian city:

    'Wave of water,' torrential rains kill dozens in Russia

    "Aleksandr Tkachyov, the governor of the Krasnodar region, urged local residents not to panic.

    "No one can remember such floods in our history. There was nothing of the kind for the last 70 years. More than 5,000 households were hit," Itar-Tass news agency quoted him as saying.

    "The water came with such force that it tore up the asphalt” in one area, he said via Twitter, according to RT."

    Stripped asphalt is remindful of Minnesota incident last month.


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